As many in the Episcopal/Anglican world know, The Episcopal Church just completed its 76th General Convention in Anaheim, California. So, what are the medium-term prospects for the Episcopal Church in light of the decisions recently make by that 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.