Monday, June 19, 2006

General Convention: Monday, Monday

The joy of Bishop Jefferts Schori election as Presiding Bishop-elect seems short-lived after a grueling day of legistlative debate today in the House of Deputies. The General Convention is something of an alternative universe all its own, so I haven't been able to follow much of the reaction in the wider world. The Archbishop of Canterbury did make the following tepid comments:

"I send my greetings to Bishop Katharine and she has my prayers and good wishes as she takes up a deeply demanding position at a critical time. She will bring many intellectual and pastoral gifts to her new work, and I am pleased to see the strength of her commitment to mission and to the Millennium Development Goals.

Her election will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues.

We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices."

In other words: "You haven't made my job an easier!" Well, too bad. Bishop Katharine is smart, multilingual (French & Spanish), and committed to the Church's mission. Given that ECUSA includes dioceses in places like Haiti, Columbia, and Puerto Rico, her linguisitic and cultural skills will come in handy. In fact, the Latino, along with the women, bishops were crucial to her election. I believe she will help us to become a "browner" church that looks more like the culture around us. These very same gifts may prove critical to her ability to face the "collegial challenges" with the other Primates.

The main Windsor "response" resolutions came to the floor: one dealing with expressing regret for the pain caused by the election, consent to, and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, and another calling upon dioceses and the General Convention to refrain from consecrating openly gay or lesbian parterned clergy as bishops as well as refraining from having the General Convention authorize rites for blessing same-sex unions.

The first resolution, A160, passed with an amendment that progressives proposed. It now reads as follows:

"Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, mindful of “the repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ” (Windsor Report, paragraph 134), express its regret for breaching the proper constraints of straining the bonds of affection in the events surrounding the General Convention of 2003 and the consequences which followed; offer its sincerest apology to those within our Anglican Communion who are offended by our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our church and other parts of the Communion; and ask forgiveness as we seek to live into deeper levels of communion one with another."

Even though I voted for the amendment, I voted against the final resolution. I could not in good conscience ask forgiveness for something I don't believe was wrong. Still, the amendment was an improvement. It makes clear that relationships in the Communion are strained, but not broken. It expresses regret for the pain others experienced, not for the actions of GC 2003 themselves. And it gets rid of the language of "constraints" that implies the Windsor Report has an authority that it does not have. True, true, and true: and it is still disengenuous. Let's see how the bishops tinker with it.

The other resolution, A161, which was still being debated when the House recessed tonight, will be voted on tomorrow and currently reads as follows:

"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."

Now, this resolution is truly a disaster. It completely capitulates to the Windsor Report as a binding document and casts a deep chill on the future election and consecration of bishops living openly in same-gender unions (I guess its OK if you're closeted). The language about authorizing rites for blessing is actually an improvement over previous proposals, as it speaks only to the General Convention's authorization of such rites and NOT to that of diocesan bishops. Thus, it enshrines C051, passed at GC 2003, as the status quo: acknowledging that local communities that experiment with blessing rites are operating within the bounds of our common life. It also drops the language of "private" responses to the pastoral care needs of lesbian and gay folks, so redolent of the closet.

The debate on this resolution so far has been painful to hear. So-called liberals like the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas would have us believe that LGBT people must fall on their swords for the sake of the Communion, so that we can continue to serve the poor in the Third World. As if our oppression helps to liberate others. As if a number of those poor are not themselves gay men and lesbians (as I testified this morning on a resolution calling for support of LGBT asylum seekers). Rebecca Snow, a long-time, openly lesbian deputy and, like Douglas, a member of the Special Committee that proposed this legislation, spoke of the pain she felt in calling upon gay men and lesbians to bear this burden for the Church - to bear the marks of Christ crucified for the sake of the Body. I could feel her soul shriveling up as she spoke words that must have seared her conscience. Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means: I desire compassion, not sacrifice." I guess we still haven't learned what this means. At least, we are certainly quite ready to sacrifice gay and lesbian people for the sake of a unity that couldn't possibly be called Christian, rooted as it is in the dynamics of scapegoating.

One 18 year-old deputy saw right through the duplicity of it all. He noted that the last resolve apologizes to gay men and lesbians for the actions of this resolution, and pointed out that if we need to apologize for it, why are we doing it in the first place? Indeed. Why, if we believe that the election and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire was of the Holy Spirit, are we apologizing for that? Bishop Doug Theuner was right in 2003. The issue here isn't homosexuality; its honesty.


Christopher said...

If we cannot maintain unity outside of moratoria, why not general moratoria? No bishops. No blessings of any relationships by the ordained. Rather than ask a small minority to bear the wounds, why aren't folks like Douglas willing to bear the wounds also and not watch his grandchildren walk down the aisle of the Church for their wedding? At least general moratoria would say we value the relationships with our sister Churches and with lgbt Anglican Christians enough that we're willing to take on the suffering as well as a Body. As it is, this is scapegoating and marginalization. That is the difference between a liberal and a Pauline Body approach.

Otherwise, as I wrote at Fr. Jake's place, the apology needs to go. It negates past apologies by TEC to lgbt people altogether. We need to be honest that we're going to continue marginalizing lgbt members of the Body to maintain unity.

Father forgive them for they know what they do.

Brian said...

If I were an American Episcopalian and at the GC, I would also have voted against resolution A160. My American sisters and brothers have little to apologise for but obedience to the command to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6.8).

DF in Massachusetts said...

What exactly did Ian Douglas say?

He's the co-chair of the deputation from my diocese and I really would like to know.

I would be extremely disappointed if Ian Douglas, as co-chair of a deputation from the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, advocated a position more in line with what we see from conservative Republican politicians in this state.

Jim Strader said...

Good Morning - I studied under Ian + at Episcopal Divinity School. He was my senior year advisor and was helpful to me as a supporter and friend. Ian is at heart a missiologist and deeply relational with people across the Anglican Communion. I do not know his moral and ethical decision-making matrixes (sp?); so, I cannot vouch for his words on the floor the convention yesterday. I imagine that he does in some (sub)conscious ways see gay and lesbian issues in the North American churches as a distraction from getting work done in the greater world. Ian may hope, as many progressives do, that some more patience and "sacrifice" on the part of the Episcopal Church will permit leaders in the broader Anglican Communion time to "catch up" with our innovations. I don't agree with his aspirations, if he in fact thinks this way. I do respect him for being a principled, wise, devoted Anglican who does indeed support gay and lesbian people, including myself.

Lisa said...

I certainly have been enjoying your reports. It's really helpful to get these in-person accounts to flesh-out the official stories from ENS. Thank you for taking the time to do this writing in your busy and too-long days.

I am heartbroken at A161. If this thing passes, I'd better hide my glasses and china from myself, for there will be a powerful desire to throw many things.

I do have one question, though. Given this language --
refrain from the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church --
will that not require that GC withhold consent for Canon Beisner's consecration? Surely two remarriages-after-divorce would "present a challenge" to some in the "wider church." It will be interesting to see whether the Nutwork crowd acts with integrity or not; otherwise, they'll have proven it really was about "hating queers" all along.

Anonymous said...

My brother, you are exactly right (and that 18-year-old was correct in his perception).
A Country Parson (Misplaced)