Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Bishops have spoken...

The latest salvo in the long running battle between the mostly liberal US Episcopal Church and the mostly conservative Anglican Communion was fired yesterday when the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church delivered its statement in response to the demands by the leaders of the Anglican Communion that they no longer consecrate non-celibate gays and lesbians as Bishops and do not authorize the creation of public rites of blessing for same-sex couples. As you may remember, back in the Tanzania meetings a few months ago, the Communion basically told the Episcopal Church (TEC) that they had until September 30th to respond to the above stated requests or suffer some unnamed punishment. After 5 days of meetings in New Orleans, the TEC bishops issued the following statement:

House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 25, 2007

A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners

In accordance with Our Lord's high priestly prayer that we be one, and in the spirit of Resolution A159 of the 75th General Convention, and in obedience to his Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples, and in gratitude for the gift of the Anglican Communion as a sign of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of reconciliation throughout the world, we offer the following to the Episcopal Church, the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and the larger Communion, with the hope of "mending the tear in the fabric" of our common life in Christ.

"I do it all for the sake of the Gospel so that I might share in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:23

Introduction

The House of Bishops expresses sincere and heartfelt thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates for accepting our invitation to join us in New Orleans. By their presence they have both honored us and assisted us in our discernment. Their presence was a living reminder of the unity that is Christ's promised gift in teh power of the Holy Spirit.

Much of our meeting time was spent in continuing discernment of our relationships within the Anglican Communion. We engaged in careful listening and straightforward dialogue with our guests. We expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that The Episcopal Church needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs The Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops offers the following responses to our Anglican Communion partners. We believe they provide clarity and point toward next steps in an ongoing process of dialogue. Within The Episcopal Church the common discernment of God's call is a lively partnership among laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and therefore necessarily includes the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council, and the General Convention.

Summary

  • We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

  • We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.

  • We commend our Presiding Bishop's plan for episcopal visitors.
    We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.

  • We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

  • We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008.

  • We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference.

  • We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons.

    Discussion:

    Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention

    The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.

    Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

    We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty "to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations." They further stated, "...[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care."

    Episcopal Visitors

    We affirm the Presiding Bishop's plan to appoint episcopal visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight. Such oversight would be provided by bishops who are a part of and subject to the communal life of this province. We believe this plan is consistent with and analogous to Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) as affirmed by the Windsor Report (paragraph 152). We thank those bishops who have generously offered themselves for this ministry. We hope that dioceses will make use of this plan and that the Presiding Bishop will continue conversation with those dioceses that may feel the need for such ministries. We appreciate and need to hear all voices in The Episcopal Church.

    Incursions by Uninvited Bishops

    We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops in accordance with the Windsor Report and consistent with the statements of past Lambeth Conferences and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our Communion. These principles include respect for local jurisdiction and recognition of the geographical boundaries of dioceses and provinces. As we continue to commit ourselves to honor both the spirit and the content of the Windsor Report, we call upon those provinces and bishops engaging in such insurvions likewise to honor the Windsor Report by ending them. We offer assurance that delegated episcopal pastoral care is being provided for those who seek it.

    Communion-wide Consultation

    In their communique of February 2007, the Primates proposed a "pastoral scheme." At our meeting in March 2007, we expressed our deep concern that this scheme would compromise the authority of our own primate and place the autonomy of The Episcopal Church at risk. The Executive Council reiterate our concerns and declined to participate. Nevertheless we recognize a useful role for communion-wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight, as well as the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian persons in this and other provinces. We encourage our Presiding Bishop to continue to explore such consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

    The Listening Process

    The 1998 Lambeth Conference called all the provinces of the Anglican Communion to engage in a "listening process" designed to bring gay and lesbian Anglicans fully into the church's conversation about sexuality. We look forward to receiving initial reports about this process at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and to participating with others in this crucial enterprise. We are aware that in some cultural contexts, conversation concerning homosexuality is difficult. We see an important role for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in this listening process, since it represents both the lay and ordained members of our constituent churches and so is well placed to engage every part of the body in this conversation. We encourage the ACC to identify the variety of resources needed to accomplish these conversations.

    The Lambeth Conference

    Invitations to the Lambeth Conference are extended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those among us who have received an invitation to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference look forward to that gathering with hope and expectation. Many of us are engaged in mission partnerships with bishops and dioceses around the world and cherish these relationships. Lambeth offers a wonderful opportunity to build on such partnerships.

    We are mindful that the Bishop of New Hampshire has not yet received an invitation to the conference. We also note that the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed a desire to explore a way for him to participate. We share the Archbishop's desire and encourage our Presiding Bishop to offer our assistance as bishops in this endeavor. It is our fervent hope that a way can be found for his full participation.

    Justice and Dignity for Gay and Lesbian Persons

    It is of fundamental importance that, as we continue to seek consensus in matters of human sexuality, we also be clear and outspoken in our shared commitment to establish and protect the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, and to name and oppose at every turn any action or policy that does violence to them, encourages violence towards them, or violates their dignity as children of God. We call all our partners in the Anglican Communion to recommit to this effort. As we stated at the conclusion of our meeting in March 2007: "We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecutive because of their differences, often in the name of God."
    ________________________________

    The above text was made available to us by epiScope. Many thanks to the Rev. Jan Nunley.

  • In short, the House of Bishops didn't really give anybody what they really wanted. The hard left wanted the Bishops to back up their claims about gays and lesbians being full members of the Church by allowing those who are in committed long-term relationships to be consecrated as bishops and the full authorization of public rites of same-sex blessings. The hard right merely got a pledge that the Bishops won't authorize same-sex blessings and that they would "exercise restraint" in consecrating a person as bishop who's "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and would lead to further strains on the Communion." instead of the outright denunciation and ban they had been looking for. the people in the big fat middle are lining up for and against the statement with no major consensus either way. In short, it was a classic TEC compromise. What has cheesed a lot of the GLBT crowd off is the explicit mention of non-celibate gays in the "exercise restraint" clause. There are a bunch of other folks whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church. Pedophiles, serial divorcees, why especially single out the gays and lesbians, other than they are the major focus of contention. Some GLBT activists accuse the Bishops of hypocrisy stating that on one hand, they acknowledge the full inclusion of GLBT folk into the life of the church and on the other, won't give them the right to have their unions blessed or fully endorse consecration of openly gay bishops. The Bishops also endorsed the PB's plan of providing Episcopal visitors to minister to those dioceses who do not support the authority of the current Presiding Bishop as well as recognizing the need for communion-wide consultation in matters of the pastoral needs of those requesting alternative oversight as well as the needs of the GLBT faction of the church. The Bishops also condemned the recent practice of incursion into the territory of TEC by Primates of the so called "Global South" for the purpose of setting up "safe harbors" for those parishes who have proclaimed themselves out of fellowship in the Episcopal Church. These incursions violate the rules of the Communion that state that each Communion member church is automonous and no other church in the AC can tell another how to conduct their business.

    I guess that this statement is about the best that can be had because the things that the Communion really wanted in terms of a response are not in the House of Bishops' power to give.
    You'll remember in my blog post: "Is We Is or Is We Ain't in the Communion?" back in February that the sole authority for change in the Episcopal Church is General Convention. This is the body that has the power to make and pass legislation affecting TEC, and that body only meets once every three years and isn't scheduled to meet again until 2009. Only they can call for outright binding endorsement or banning of same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishops. And the delegates of the Convention have already spoken when they passed the "exercise restraint" resolution b033 back in 2006. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church gave that level of authority to General Convention alone for a reason. In order to wield a big club that has the potential to hurt a lot of people, there has to be a damn good reason to do it and all possible avenues of discussion and debate have to exercised by the widest selection of people representing all sides of the debate. The House of Bishops does not have the authority to make statements that anyone HAS to follow. They were charged to come up with a response to the requests of the Primates at the Tanzania meeting and they have done so. They pissed a lot of people off in the process. But when dealing with folks at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, more often than not, they aren't going to be satisfied with anything less than total capitulation one way or the other. The liberals will blast the bishops for not having enough guts to totally go their way, and the conservatives have already dismissed the statement has not having gone far enough to meet their standards for reconciliation.

    And the people in the middle are left scratching their heads and figuring out what the next move is. In the conservative Diocese of Pittsburgh, where I am a member of a minority progressive parish, the Bishop has already stated that the upcoming Diocesan Convention will entertain legislation regarding removal of the accession clause in the diocesan constitution that requires that the diocese acknowledges its membership to, and defers to the authority of, the Episcopal Church. The resolution is pretty much expected to pass, because in this diocese, if the Bishop declared that 2+2=5, everybody would be storming the doors of the textbook manufacturers with pitchforks and torches demanding change in their kiddies math textbooks. That would pretty much open the door for him to take the Diocese out of TEC. Never mind the fact that a diocese is a creation of General Convention and only that body can create and dissolve dioceses. Bishop Duncan is convinced that he can wave his magic crozier and totally subvert canon law. He does not acknowledge the authority of the Presiding Bishop, won't let her visit the diocese, or any church therein. There are about a dozen churches in this diocese, mine included, that drew up vestry resolutions affirming their membership and support to TEC. What would happen to them? Right now, the only reason +Duncan even comes to Holy Cross is because he is still under the authority of TEC and is required to conduct visitation to every parish in his cure. Other than his visit to HC two weeks ago, he hasn't darkened our threshold since the installation of our rector and that was two years ago.

    It's safe to say that the ball is now in the court of the conservatives. They've been crowing about TEC "walking apart" from the rest of the communion, and they've been increasingly cozying up to the Global South primates who don't have to rely on such devices as General Conventions to impose their will on their parishioners and clergy. Their legislative bodies are paper tigers existing only to rubber stamp whatever the Primate wants. The Global South types envision an Anglican version of the Roman Catholic Church where edicts and pronouncements from on high are binding to all faithful and questioning and debate are at best tolerated and at worst outright disregarded. The messy business of discussion and debate and letting legislative bodies have all the power is distasteful to them. It's much easier and more orderly to tell the people what to believe and what would happen to them if they didn't. The next few years including Lambeth 2008 and General Convention 2009 may or may not make the muddy waters of Anglicanism in the US and the world any clearer, and a lot of people are tired of all the fighting and just want to move on. But one thing has been made clear: all this is about power. who has it, who wants it, and the price for getting and holding it. God isn't in any of this.
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