Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009I have just returned from General Convention 2009 and have been in the process of emotionally unpacking the two week experience. Part of the process has been to reflect on readings from the Holy Scriptures and the Parable of the Good Samaritan edged its way into my heart and mind. I couldn't discern why until I read and prayed about it for thirty minutes or so then it came to me. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is fitting for the state of the Episcopal Church.
As I reflected upon this it occurred to me that over the past thirty years the self-righteous on both sides of the issues which have divided the Episcopal Church during this time continue on their way leaving the Church to languish on the side of the rode. Oh, to be sure, they have their reasons, just ask them, but the reality is the church has been beaten and battered by cries for justice on the one hand, and cries for religious purity on the other. Each has been guilty of , to use a term from Walter Brueggemann, exclusionary absolutism. Where is our Good Samaritan?
I do not have a right answer for this question but I do hope and pray that God will send his servant to us to help us to be healed and restored to wholeness and newness of life. It is clear, given the decline in the Episcopal Church's ASA, membership, and financial resources, what we are doing isn't working and to believe it to be working is a recipe for disaster.
We need a Good Samaritan, the one who will show mercy and what it truly means to love one another.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future
Monday 27 July 2009
Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion.
1. No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. Their generous welcome to guests from elsewhere, including myself, the manifest engagement with the crushing problems of the developing world and even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions all make plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. There is a clear commitment to seek counsel from elsewhere in the Communion about certain issues and an eloquent resolution in support of the 'Covenant for a Communion in Mission' as commended by ACC13. All of this merits grateful acknowledgement. The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.
2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.
3. There are two points which I believe need to be reiterated and thought through further, and it seems to fall to the Archbishop of Canterbury to try and articulate them. To some extent they echo part of what I wrote after the last General Convention, as well as things said at the Lambeth Conference and the ACC, but they still have some pertinence.
4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.
5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion's life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.
6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.
8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.
9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)
10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.
11. The second issue is the broader one of how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter. It is of the greatest importance to remember this aspect of the matter, so as not to be completely trapped in the particularly bitter and unpleasant atmosphere of the debate over sexuality, in which unexamined prejudice is still so much in evidence and accusations of bad faith and bigotry are so readily thrown around.
12. When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.
13. This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. On some issues, there emerges a recognition that a particular new development is not of such significance that a high level of global agreement is desirable; in the language used by the Doctrinal Commission of the Communion, there is a recognition that in 'intensity, substance and extent' it is not of fundamental importance. But such a recognition cannot be wished into being by one local church alone. It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally.
14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century. But this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.
15. There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. In an age of vastly improved communication, we must make the best use we can of the means available for consultation and try to build into our decision-making processes ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others. This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. The results of our ecumenical discussions are themselves important elements in shaping the theological vision within which we seek to resolve our own difficulties.
16. In recent years, local pastoral needs have been cited as the grounds for changes in the sacramental practice of particular local churches within the Communion, and theological rationales have been locally developed to defend and promote such changes. Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level, but the innovative practices concerned have a high degree of public support in some localities.
17. Clearly there are significant arguments to be had about such matters on the shared and agreed basis of Scripture, Tradition and reason. But it should be clear that an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. Hence the question of 'recognisability' once again arises.
18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'.
19. As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. There is nothing foolish or incoherent about this approach. But it is not the approach that has generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion – less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation.
20. The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local.
21. They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.
22. It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships, though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.
23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.
24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.
25. It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.
26. All of this is to do with becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be a great mistake to see the present situation as no more than an unhappy set of tensions within a global family struggling to find a coherence that not all its members actually want. Rather, it is an opportunity for clarity, renewal and deeper relation with one another – and so also with Our Lord and his Father, in the power of the Spirit. To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.
+ Rowan Cantuar:
From Lambeth Palace, Monday 27 July 2009
© Rowan Williams 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Diocese of Dallas,
I write to you in response to the actions of the recent General Convention of The Episcopal Church meeting in Anaheim, California. Some in the diocese will be pleased with much that happened, while others will view with alarm some of the resolutions passed.
I feel compelled to speak a word to the Diocese of Dallas concerning three actions in particular. The first two gathered the most press attention and later comment. Members of our Diocese as well as Anglicans throughout the Communion are particularly concerned about these actions, which took the form of resolutions.
The Communion at large has been looking for a clear word from The Episcopal Church as to whether we will continue to honor the moratoria on developing rites for the blessing of same sex unions and consenting to the election to the episcopate of a person living in a same sex relationship. These moratoria were first suggested in the Windsor Report of October 2004 and were occasioned by the consecration of a bishop in The Episcopal Church living in a non‐celibate same‐sex relationship. A pledge, known as B033, to “exercise restraint” in giving further consents to such persons was adopted by the Convention of 2006. And while the 2006 Convention did not declare a moratorium on blessing rites for same‐sex unions, it nevertheless turned away several resolutions calling for development of such rites. The Primates of the Anglican Communion took note of these actions with gratitude at their meeting in 2007 (Dar es Salaam), but requested greater clarity. That clarity would come in 2009.
It is clear from the resolutions passed, as well as from the floor debate in both Houses, that it is the intention of the leadership of The Episcopal Church that the moratoria requested by the Communion are no longer binding. Although a number of commentators, among them bishops, have maintained that the moratoria themselves were not specifically addressed, it is clear that both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops view their previous pledge as cancelled. It was the stated desire of both Bishops and Deputies that this General Convention speak clearly to the Communion concerning “the reality of where this church is.”
Resolution D025 reads (in part): “That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call [gay and lesbian persons in lifelong committed relationships], to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church” and further declares that it is competent to deal with these calls in its own “discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.”
Resolution C056 reads (in part): “That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention”.
While it is true that neither of these resolutions deal explicitly with repudiations of either previous actions of the Convention or of specific requests made of our Church, it is also quite true that their intent is plain. The 2006 resolution had called for restraint on giving consent to the consecration of any bishop “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” That concern is now completely absent in D025, and the only criteria in making such decisions are entirely internal. As for C056, the operative word is “develop.” The plain sense here is to “create,” “produce,” or “promote.”
C056 also resolves that bishops “may provide generous pastoral response” to meet the needs of same‐sex couples, and this, before providing any theological support for the rites themselves. This appears to give a “green light” to local, unilateral action, and is already being so interpreted by a number of bishops.
Taken together, this is de facto a repudiation of the repeated requests directed to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Communion, and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is also, I would argue, a repudiation of a previous actions of our own General Convention, in 1991, which mandated a “pan‐Anglican” and ecumenical consultation on these matters, because “these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.” (1991‐B020)
Although these resolutions deal specifically with matters concerning same‐sex relationships and persons living within them, I want to remind you of the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his paper following our 2006 General Convention (“The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today”):
“And, to make clear something that can get very much obscured in the rhetoric about 'inclusion', this is not and should never be a question about the contribution of gay and lesbian people as such to the Church of God and its ministry, about the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people. Instead it is a question, agonisingly difficult for many, as to what kinds of behaviour a Church that seeks to be loyal to the Bible can bless, and what kinds of behaviour it must warn against ‐ and so it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.”
There are many gay and lesbian members of our congregations. Some long for the day when the Church will recognize and bless their relationships. Others among them do not. Add to these a number of people who are considering whether they can even remain in The Episcopal Church any longer. Ministry in these circumstances can be agonizing indeed. The churches of the Diocese of Dallas will, I trust, continue to be a place where all are welcome. We all kneel on level ground before the cross of Christ.
But the larger question is what it means for “the Church” to make these decisions: is it right or good, or even possible, for a congregation, a diocese, or even a province of the Universal Church to make its own way and claim to give “the Church’s blessing” – or God’s? Discerning the mind of Christ surely must mean doing this together. The Christian faith is something we receive, not legislate. Our own Book of Common Prayer recognizes that “the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And Holy Scripture commends it to be honored by all people.” (BCP, p. 423)
In the meantime, we need to be clear about where “we are” as a Diocese:
• The Diocese of Dallas will continue to hold up and proclaim the apostles’ teaching that is the ground of Christian fellowship, and the foundational promise of our Baptismal vows.
• We will continue to stand with the larger Church in affirming the primacy of Scripture, the sanctity of marriage and the call to holiness of life.
• We will not consent to the election of a bishop living in a same‐sex relationship, and we will not allow the blessings of same‐sex relationships in this diocese.
• We will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, engage in mission at home and abroad, plant new congregations and make disciples of our Lord.
These commitments are in keeping with the historic teaching of the Holy Scriptures as held by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, and, for that matter, the Church throughout the centuries.
I mentioned earlier a third significant resolution passed by the General Convention. Resolution D020 “invites” the dioceses and congregations of the Episcopal Church to study the proposed Anglican Covenant and “to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion.” I commend this study to our churches and I intend to give a prominent place at our Diocesan Convention in October to such a consideration.
Bishop Lambert and I will be conferring with the Standing Committee and the Clergy of this Diocese on these matters. In the meantime, please know that we will continue to stand with the larger Communion and the historic Church in upholding the apostolic faith and fellowship.
It is imperative that we as a Diocese commit ourselves to one another and work together for the building up of God’s kingdom. At no time in the life of this Church has it been so critical for the community to stand together to carry the message of the Good News of Christ to a broken world. We cannot live in isolation from one another but must find ways to work with and support one another in our common mission and ministry. Now is not the time to “run for cover” but to step out in the name of Jesus Christ and continue to worship, work and witness for the glory of God.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Canon Neal Michell - Reflections on the Future of the Episcopal Church in Light of the Actions of the General Convention
Okay, let’s take a deep breath. Inhale deeply. . . exhale deeply. . . Here’s my take. First, the positives, and then the negatives.
1. Missions. First, on a positive note, it was evident that The Episcopal Church as a whole and as a sum of its parts is involved in lots of missionary endeavors throughout the world. All the resolutions concerning World Mission were considered with deep respect and generally found easy passage. This church has come a long way from the 1980’s and 1990’s when the World Mission Department of the Presiding Bishop’s office was in such disarray and serious attempts were made to cease sending missionaries from TEC to other parts of the world. Similarly, it is clear that those present at this General Convention value TEC’s membership and participation in the life of the Anglican Communion.
2. Diversity is a Value. The decisions of General Convention also evidence that TEC wants to be a church of more than the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of the last two centuries in which men dominated the leadership ranks of the church. Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, homosexual persons, and women obviously played prominent roles at various levels of the church. On the positive side, it is a good thing to be in a church that attracts gay and lesbian persons. TEC is attempting to be more inclusive of people who formerly felt alienated from the church. (The downside of this is that as a whole, TEC churches offer acceptance only and not any sense of healing or deeper wholeness. A further downside of this desire to include in positions of leadership people from these formerly marginalized groups is that in several elections, candidates who were more experienced and had a more proven record of service to the church were cast aside in favor of these formerly marginalized people with less experience.)
3. Strategic Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries. One glance at the Strategic plan put forward by the Hispanic and Latino Ministries shows that they get it.
Well, that’s about it for the positives. The rest looks pretty grim—and, by the way, it’s not all about sex. Let’s get sex out of the way first, because TEC has more problems than just the conflict over sexuality.
1. Widening Gap Between TEC and the Anglican Communion. The most commented on actions coming out of the Anaheim General Convention has to do with the declarations that discernment for all levels of ordained ministry is open to gay and lesbian persons. Although many have and will argue—specifically, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies—that the moratorium on consenting to the election of a bishop in a same sex union has not been repealed, both the rationale given for the proposed legislation, and the floor debate accompanying said legislation (“D025”) reveals that the intent of the General Convention legislation was to hold the self-restraint as called for in 2006 (“B033”) as no longer binding on the bishops. It must be added that the abrogation of B033 was stated gently, respectfully, and graciously, but the intent of both houses of Deputies and Bishops was to abrogate B033. To interpret D025 otherwise stretches the bounds of credulity. The result at the Communion level will be that the rift between TEC and the vast majority of the Anglican Communion (save for Canada and a number of individual dioceses) has now widened even more considerably, and the likelihood of some form of Communion discipline of TEC is increased.
The Episcopal Church through General Convention also authorized the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same sex unions to be presented to the 2012 General Convention (C061). Those who want TEC to remain a “constituent member of the Anglican Communion” will argue that no official rites were thereby authorized; it is equally clear through the floor debate on C061 as well as the statement in C056 that “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.” Again, signal that TEC would move forward on the blessing of same sex unions wase given gently, respectfully, and graciously, but the intent was to move TEC beyond the constraints of the second moratorium requested by the primates in the Windsor Report family of requests. (There is one other problem facing TEC that comes from the sexuality decisions of General Convention in Anaheim. We will deal with that issue later in section 5 below.
However, the problems in TEC expressed through the decisions of General Convention in Anaheim run deeper than the sexuality issues.
2. Financial Shortfall. It was obvious to all those in attendance at the General Convention in Anaheim that The Episcopal Church as an organization is facing tremendous financial difficulties. Although the economy in general was publicly cited as the reason for the financial problems, it was clear through a review of the contributing dioceses the printed materials that the departure of four dioceses and the disaffection of a number of dioceses also contributed significantly to the shortfall. According to notes distributed to the Bishops and deputies, at least 68 out of 109 dioceses failed in 2008 to pay to TEC the amount requested for the support of the program and structure of TEC. Many good and positive ministries are being given less support or provided no support at all. When the budget was passed, it was also announced that some thirty jobs at “815” would be eliminated within the year.
3. Fair Cuts versus Strategic Cuts. The cuts proposed in the budget for TEC were intended to be “fair” and “across the board.” Sounds fair and reasonable, right? Ah, but that’s the problem. They were not strategic. Any organization experiencing decline should be strategic in its budget allocation. There was no talk of strategy—except a proposal to take money from the strategic planning line item and use it to provide a second part-time assistant for the President of the House of Deputies.
4. Lack of Overall Strategic Direction. Even apart from the lack of strategic allocation of resources in the triennial budget, it is clear that TEC also lacks strategic direction at the highest levels of leadership in TEC. Cuts in Communications were made without consultation of either the Standing Commission on Communications or the Board of Episcopal Life. In addition, the staff and organization of the Presiding Bishop has been in disarray for the past three years and continues to this day. Positions have been eliminated, some staff members have been reassigned, with the result that areas of responsibility have fallen through the cracks in a seemingly disorganized reorganization. Seemingly strategic staff positions of three years ago and even one year ago were eliminated with little dissent.
Clearly, a denominational structure that served 3.6 million members that now serves 2.2 million members has to be reorganized. However, the decisions made at General Convention fails to show whether the leadership is really acknowledging that changed reality.
5. Impact of Liberal vs. Conservative Balance of Power. Most votes concerning issues of sexuality generally passed by similar margins: 70% to 30% in favor of what would be labeled the liberal position. (The one exception was the resolution calling on people in The Episcopal Church to work for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act: it passed by only 55% to 45% in the House of Deputies and was defeated in the House of Bishops). TEC has lost 10% of its average Sunday attendance since 2003 (the year when the bishop of New Hampshire was consecrated). At a time when TEC is in significant decline due to conservatives leaving the denomination, the decisions to allow partnered gays to serve as bishops and to bless same sex unions—while it may bring some people into Episcopal churches—the overall effect will be to cause more theologically and culturally conservative people to leave TEC and will make TEC an even less attractive church for other theologically and culturally conservative people to consider joining.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.
Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.
Of course, matters didn’t begin with the consecration of Gene Robinson. The floodgates opened several years before, particularly in 1996 when a church court acquitted a bishop who had ordained active homosexuals. Many in TEC have long embraced a theology in which chastity, as universally understood by the wider Christian tradition, has been optional.
That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).
Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.
The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.
Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.
We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.
The question then presses: who, in the US, is now in communion with the great majority of the Anglican world? It would be too hasty to answer, the newly formed “province” of the “Anglican Church in North America”. One can sympathise with some of the motivations of these breakaway Episcopalians. But we should not forget the Episcopalian bishops, who, doggedly loyal to their own Church, and to the expressed mind of the wider Communion, voted against the current resolution. Nor should we forget the many parishes and worshippers who take the same stance. There are many American Episcopalians, inside and outside the present TEC, who are eager to sign the proposed Covenant. That aspiration must be honoured.
Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.
Every General Convention generates its own "universe". It takes on a reality dimension that is out of proportion to, well, reality. It is like watching a dramatized version of a couple's life on TV or the movies: the conflicts,
the tensions and even the words strike home, but the speeches are a little too neat, the scenes a little too set, the interactions a little too stylized. The "real" reality is more complex than the dramatized version - more subtle, more unpredictable.
When Bishop Paul and I arrived, we were prepared to do some blogging. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortuitously) that has been problematic. Some technical difficulties have made that difficult. So you have not heard from us. And that may be just as well.
With the blogs, even from some bishops, being a play-by-play description (with interpretation) of what is going on, the interactions of the Convention, like the Convention itself, take on a life of their own - become their own universe.
There is no question that the vote yesterday on D025 was devastating to those of us who either 1) hold the Anglican Communion and our place in it to be sacred, or 2) who hold the Apostolic teaching of this Church sacred, or both. For one viewpoint on what the House of Bishops did yesterday, you might want to look at Tom Wright's article in Wednesday's London Times (online at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6710640.ece) (also posted above) There is no sugar coating the overwhelming consensus this vote represents.
But today, the Bishops stepped back for a moment and rather than press ahead with calling for the collection and development of same-sex blessings rites for "consideration" at the next General Convention, looked for a "non-legislative" way to deal with the matter. A surprising number of voices from yesterday's majority supported this move. Indeed, they called for it!
What does this mean for the fragile unity of this branch of the Communion? We shall have to wait and see. I certainly cannot predict.
Yesterday, and today for that matter, the telling phrase was "It is time." It is time, some speakers said, to get on with the direction we are headed. My sense was that some, certainly many who may think the outcome inevitable, were saying "hold on."
My word is "caution." And, of course, prayer.
I do not know what tomorrow (or the next couple of days) will hold. I am troubled, as many who have written me in emails are, about what has transpired until now. There is no getting around that.
Over all, however, I think we must walk through these days a step at a time. I will reserve judgment until this drama plays out and we see where we are then.
Thanks to all of you who have been holding Bishop Paul and myself, and our faithful deputation in prayer. Please continue to do so.
Hello again from
Sunday of General Convention started with a beautiful Eucharist and the receiving to the United Thank Offering. The Presiding Bishop presided and preached. During the offertory, representatives from every diocese mounted the stage area and placed their diocesan offerings in the collection plate. A special treat that morning was music added to the service by Elizabeth Von Trapp.
Sunday afternoon, our first major and controversial legislation came to the floor. This resolution was a crafted compromise (D025) on the debate over B033 that urged “restraint” on dioceses electing folks in same sex relationships. This resolution did not refer specifically to B033, but rather, after affirming our commitment to the Communion, stated that our own diocesan canons and election processes. After considerable debate this resolution was passed by about a 70% vote. It was sent on to the House of Bishops, modified slightly and returned to the Deputies on Tuesday. It passed again. There is very little doubt that this action will not be received favorably by the wider Anglican Communion.
I was honored to be asked to speak in favor of a major evangelistic resolution on the vision for Hispanic/Latino ministry, a resolution dear to our Cathedral community. This resolution was well-received and passed. The funding for this was referred to the Program, Finance and Budget Committee. It will probably be modified because the projections on our budget look very bleak for the next three years.
One painful aspect of this convention is the very slow pace at which legislation is proceeding in the House of Deputies. We are now moving toward the 9th legislative day but still on the day four legislative matters. This probably means that many pieces of legislation simply won’t be brought before both Houses.
We have also approved a major revision of Title IV which is our canon on clergy discipline. It is generally an attempt to make disciple more healing and reconciling, yet it will mean that all Bishops and Standing Committees will have to come up to speed quickly on these changes. We have also added over a hundred names to the lesser feasts and fast calendar. I found the list and rationale just overwhelming.
A number of important pieces of legislation still remain for action.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I have been serving on the World Mission Committee. This has been particularly time-consuming. We have been dealing with this convention's response to B033 (the moratorium on consenting to bishop elections whose lifestyle would cause a problem in the larger Communion) and the Covenant, among other issues. On most days my day starts with committee hearings at 7am and ends with the close of committee hearings at 10pm.
I am impressed with the thoughtfulness of everyone on this committee and their awareness of the importance of our place in the Communion and not wanting to do anything that might jeopardize our place among out Communion.
We crafted the Special Order of Business for the Convention to discuss the B033 related issues. We had individual sharing and then randomly drawn individuals speaking at the microphone followed later that evening by a two-hour open hearing on B033. The work is really exhausting but truly important.
By the way, I bought a Mickey Mouse watch at Disneyland on Monday. So, Mickey's big hand (minutes) is on the '2' and his little hand (hour) is on the '3.' That means I am going to get ready for the next legislative session.
Brief Report from Dean Kevin Martin
Our deputies have been working hard over the first days of convention attending hearings and participating in the various events that surround thus huge undertaking. Several of the Deputies are members of legislative committees which mean early morning and late evening meetings and hearings.
The past two major sessions of the House of Deputies has been taken up with a committee of the whole discussion of the now famous B033 Resolution from the past General Convention. Today, deputies selected randomly shared thoughts, feelings and stories about how this effort to comply with the Communion’s Windsor Report was experienced in different parts of the church. The sessions were informative and revealed the wide expression and diversity of the Church on the issues surrounding full participation of all members in all orders of the Church.
My legislative committee, Evangelism, finished its work and forwarded 7 resolutions to the floor for consideration. One of these is a very significant vision for the future of Hispanic/Latino work in the future. I believe this is an exciting piece of legislation that is absolutely consistent with the life of the Cathedral and Hispanic work in our Diocese. It also calls for a significant budget allocation to make this work.
Convention is a great time to see old friends and make new ones. I was very impressed with the quality of the Evangelism Committee led by Bishop Jones of Virginia and David Ota, priest from the Diocese of California.
By Friday afternoon, we should be involved in engaged some of the major business to come before the convention.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Ms. Laura Allen
Mr. Tim Mack, Esq. (it means he's an attorney)
Mr. Robby Gerber
Mrs. Dana Pope
Mr. Tom Graves, Alternate
Dean Kevin Martin
Canon Neal Michell
Fr. Ed. Monk
Fr. Bill Cavanaugh
Mtr. Trudie Smither, Alternate
Bp. Paul Lambert - Churches in Small Communities
Dean Kevin Martin - Evangelism
Canon Neal Michell - World Mission
Fr. Ed Monk - Dispatch of Business
Mrs. Laura Allen - Rules of Order
Mr. Tim Mack - Constitution
We, Bishops Stanton and Lambert, along with our deputies and other guest posters, will be posting our comments and reflections from the General Convention. Stay tuned.