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Is the Episcopal Church
About to Surrender?
Lionel E. Deimel
June 20, 2006
 

Resolutions intended to respond to the Windsor Report have slowing been working their way to the legislative floors at General Convention in Columbus. Today, the House of Deputies will be debating resolution A161, which has become the critical resolution in that response. Much of the important material in the 11 resolutions proposed by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion has been crammed into the current version of A161.

Here is the version of A161 that emerged from the Special Commission:

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church regrets the extent to which we have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly, we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

The current version (as of 9 am, according to the official church Web site) is:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church regrets the extent to which we have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly, we are obliged to urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution refrain from the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.; and be it further
 
Resolved that this General Convention not proceed to develop or authorize Rites for the Blessing of same-sex unions at this time, thereby concurring with the Windsor Report in its exhortation to bishops of the Anglican Communion to honor the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003; and be it further
 
Resolved that this General Convention affirm the need to maintain a breadth of responses to situations of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians in this Church.
 
Resolved that this General Convention apologize to those gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters hurt by these decisions.
Changes are indicated with italics and strikeouts.

First, some facts:

  1. There have been questions about how, given our polity, a moratorium of any kind can be implemented. This is the reason for the language that, to some, may seem odd.
  2. The Special Commission used the words “exercise very considerable caution.” That language was a compromise, but one that attempted to be conciliatory without being subservient. The current text—which can be modified by the House of Deputies or the House of Bishops—is, arguably, obsequious and disingenuous.
  3. The second and third resolves deal with issues that were originally in resolution A162.
  4. The final resolve admits that that we are sacrificing our homosexual sisters and brothers for some notion of Anglican “unity.” There is also a lapse in continuity here. The previous resolve should probably end with “; and be it further.”

Episcopal Church shield and white flagNow, for some opinion:

On Thursday, June 15, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold asserted that—I apologize if this is not an exact quotation, but it is what I wrote down—“God’s concern is the world, not the Church.” That observation should inform what General Convention does at this critical time.

The actions of the 74th General Convention (and the years of discussion and steps taken that brought the church to where it found itself in 2003) were driven by pastoral concerns, by a willingness to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and by an understanding that there is no such thing as “the clear meaning of Scripture.” Being a Christian does not absolve one of the need to do hard work to discover what God would have one do in a particular time and place.

What is clear in Columbus is that the Episcopal Church, at least as represented by those participating in General Convention, believes in what was done at the last General Convention. Elements of the Anglican Communion reacted badly—I choose the word advisedly—to our actions. We have been asked to repent, and to declare moratoria on the consecration of openly gay bishops and on moving forward on the blessing of same sex unions.

The question we should ask is: Are we to follow our notion of what God is calling us to do in his world, or are we to try to “preserve” the Anglican Communion, a part, albeit a small part, of Christ’s Church? Is our concern the world or the Church?

There is no time for a long argument, as significant choices will be made by General Convention later today. I will try to offer a short argument.

First, I ask whether we really value (or should value) the Anglican Communion above our own Episcopal Church? Whereas those who are most insistent about our being submissive to the will of the Communion call us arrogant, is it not the case that their theology is more similar to that of the more fundamentalist elements of the Southern Baptist Convention than it is to anything that we would readily acknowledge as Anglican? I am sorry that we are not in communion with the Southern Baptist Convention, but I am not so sorry as to deny my own understanding of the Gospel for the sake of “unity” with it. Why should I do so for other churches whose theology is antithetical to my own, merely because they embrace the word “Anglican”?

Second, the resolutions of the Special Commission were indeed conciliatory. They fully satisfied neither the most liberal nor the most conservative elements of the Episcopal Church. Why are we suddenly about to throw in the towel and raise the white flag of surrender? (I ask your indulgence for that mixed metaphor.) Are we not tired of being lectured to about how we are about to destroy the Anglican Communion? The nature of the Communion is being changed by others without our advice or consent. Why do others get a vote and we do not? To resist the pressure we are experiencing from minority elements within our church and from reactionary and authoritarian elements outside it is, I assert, the most conservative step we could take. We are being called to save the Anglican Communion—certainly Anglicanism, anyway—not to capitulate to those intent on destroying it.

Third, one reason I am an Episcopalian is that I have a say in my church. I grew in New Orleans, which is heavily Roman Catholic. Why, I thought, does the Pope have dictatorial sway over what Christians believe and do? I have a say in the Episcopal Church. I do not have a say in the Anglican Communion. I have no representative I have had a part in selecting, and neither I nor my representatives have consented to be governed by it. The Anglican Communion is of value only insofar as it allows for consultation without acting like an Anglican Pope. Do we really want to change that relationship?

Finally, it is one thing to sacrifice oneself for a cause. It is quite another to volunteer to sacrifice someone else. Over a period of many years, the Episcopal Church has progressively eliminated discrimination against those whose sexuality differs from what is statistically most common. For the sake of a unity of questionable value, are we now going to ask our gay sisters and brothers to bear a burden because we do not want to, because we cannot stand up for our church and our beliefs? As I wrote in “Saving Anglicanism”:

We should consider making a more principled, straightforward, and courageous response. We should consider the novel ideal of proclaiming the Gospel as we understand it and defending the approach to theology that most theologians in our church actually use. In simple, clear sentences we could express our sorrow for the hurt that others have experienced and express our sincere desire to remain in communion with all our sister provinces. We could remind others of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s explanation for how we have always maintained communion—“we meet”—and insist that removing the Episcopal Church or its representatives from Communion discussion is hardly characteristic of the Anglican way. Before the Communion creates more rules, we could insist that existing ones be observed. Before we cede authority to others, we could insist that those to whom we have ceded no authority refrain from intimidation. And we could declare that that name-calling, misrepresentation, and subversion are unbecoming a Christian and unacceptable in a bishop.

We could, in other words, insist that we have as much right to make claims on the Communion as it does on the Episcopal Church. Most importantly, however, we could declare our commitment to save Anglicanism at all costs and to save the Anglican Communion if at all possible.

Resolution A161 should be defeated or substantially changed. I pray that, if this is not done by the House of Deputies, it will be by the House of Bishops. The life of the Episcopal Church hangs in the balance.
 

Update
 June 21, 2006
 

Resolution A161 was defeated in the House of Deputies yesterday. The complex sequence of parliamentary actions that led it its defeat is too complex to chronicle here. In the end, it seems as though conservatives voted against it because it did not go far enough, and liberals voted against it because it went too far. Details are available elsewhere.

Although newspapers around the world reported today that the Episcopal Church had rejected the requests of the Windsor Report, the game was not quite over. The House of Bishops was unhappy with the rejection of A161 by the House of Deputies. The Presiding Bishop explained to his episcopal colleagues that they might not be invited to the next Lambeth Conference. He called a joint session of the two houses today and asked a group of moderate bishops to draft another resolution. That resolution was presented today with the endorsement of both the current and incoming Presiding Bishop.

The new resolution, designated  B033, reads as follows:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction 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 the communion.

This resolution was passed by both houses, though not without discussion and controversy in the House of Deputies.

Arguably, B033 strengthens the original language of A161 regarding the election of gay (or otherwise “objectionable”) bishops. It replaces “exercise very considerable caution” with “exercise restraint by not consenting.” The intention is to impose a moratorium (or, in some minds perhaps, to seem to impose a moratorium); this was not so clear in the original wording. Also, whereas the original wording applied to “nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction,” B033 addresses only “Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction.” Of course, people are less likely to elect a gay bishop, say, if they do not expect his or her election to be consented to.

As significant as what was done is what was not done. General Convention passed (generally altered) versions of most of the 11 resolutions from the Special Commission, but no moratorium related to the blessing of same-sex unions—one of the big three Windsor Report requests—was enacted.

So, did the Episcopal Church surrender? Well, just a little. I am pleased that the House of Deputies rejected A161, which had become a very badly written resolution. I am not pleased that the House of Deputies surrendered to the entreaties of the Presiding Bishop under very severe time pressure. Bishop Griswold, if he did not actually violate the polity of the church, certainly pushed the constitutional envelope by directly intimidating the house of which he is not a member. I suspect that the pleas of Bishop Jefferts Schori, who is starting with a clean slate, as it were, helped to pass B033. (She, of course, had no business trying to influence the House of Deputies, either.)

One has to wonder what General Convention might have passed under different circumstances. General Convention has spoken vis-à-vis the Windsor Report, but it is hard to argue that we now know the will of General Convention in the abstract. Did we satisfy anybody? Probably not. Both deputies and bishops feel intimidated, and a number of bishops were angered to the point of issuing a statement complaining about the content of B033 and the processes that passed it. Bishop Chane announced that he does not consider himself bound by B033, as, indeed, he is not.

Certainly, the Archbishop of Canterbury does not seem satisfied (or perhaps has lost all ability to make any decision on his own). He issued a statement acknowledging the work of General Convention but implied that others would have to evaluate “the significance of what has been decided before we respond more fully.”

Of course, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDAP) quickly announced a statement, signed by 16 bishops (10 bishops with jurisdiction, 1 assistant bishop, 1 suffragan bishop, and 4 retired bishops)—all the usual suspects—that they “continue as The Episcopal Church in this country who uphold and propagate the historic faith and order we have come to know through the Anglican heritage of apostolic teaching and biblical faith; who desire to be fully a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; and who are ready to embrace and live under the Windsor Report without equivocation.” I must point out, of course, that Bishop Duncan and his cronies are not the Episcopal Church. Additionally, the statement essentially calls the actions of General Convention disingenuous. On that point, I have to agree. 


Update
 July 18, 2009
 

Although the Internet has some characteristics of a library, is decidedly unlike a library in the way that holdings can disappear or change without warning. Some of the links in the forgoing have been changed to display their original content, which is no longer available at the URLs originally cited. Here is a list of original and current links:

Additionally, I should note that the URL of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, http://www.acn-us.org/, now points to http://www.theacna.org/, the site of the Common Cause Partnership/Anglican Church in North America.

The 2009 General Convention passed Resolution D025, which essentially nullified B033. See my blog post, “What D025 Has Done.”

 

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