Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori why the mind of the house statement said:
"We ... pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of same-sex blessings until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action" (emphasis my own)
instead of: "unless a broader consensus ... unless General Convention ..."
as the primates' communique said.
The presiding bishop responded that "until" was Windsor language. I concurred and asked if any bishop objected to the use of "until" as opposed to "unless," and she replied, "no." She could not recall any opposition to this major shift in wording.
That's incredible. Let's remember that while the Windsor Report said "until," the primates deliberately changed that word to "unless."
There's a huge difference here. The primates asked the House of Bishops for assurances that they would stop same-sex blessings and stop consenting to the consecration of bishops in a same-sex relationship unless the mind of the Communion ever changed on these matters.
Now the Episcopal Church is saying, essentially, that the mind of the Communion inevitably will change -- or, at absolute minimum, that's a strong hope. Any moratoria -- a word intentionally left out of the statement -- will only be temporary. And the Episcopal Church is only concerned about stopping the "authorization" of "public rites" that currently do not exist. Local same-sex blessings will continue.
Apparently part of the Episcopal Church's mission is now to witness to the Anglican Communion of the rightness of the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians. This mind of the house statement only maintains the status quo for as long as the mind of the Episcopal Church does not change -- and there's no doubt that there will be a major push in 2009 to reverse the current state of affairs.
*When questioned about how the wording of the final mind of the house statement is not likely to satisfy other primates of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Thomas Shaw of the Diocese of Massachusetts said that to take that angle would be to miss the spirit of the document. He said that the two purposes of the statement were 1) "to respect the integrity of the Episcopal Church," and 2) "to embrace the Anglican Communion."
*Shaw further noted, "I personally ... am disappointed ... that the gay and lesbian gifts for ministry are not going to be recognized in the near future in the Episcopal Church."
*Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, when asked why there was nothing in the statement about the covenant, said "That's still in process ... we're not a creedal church ... [we have] less of a rationally-defined life" than other Christian denominations with more defined creeds. "We are watching to make sure a covenant helps us to be in conversation with our Anglican partners rather than to define what that conversation should be like."
*I asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori why the mind of the house statement said:
"We ... pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of same-sex blessings until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action" (emphasis my own).
"unless a broader consensus ... unless General Convention ..."
as the primates' communique said.
The presiding bishop responded that "until" was Windsor language. I concurred and asked if any bishop objected to the use of "until" as opposed to "unless," and she replied, "no." She could not recall any opposition to this major shift in wording.
*When asked whether she saw any hope for gays and lesbians relating to the repeal of resolution B033, Bishop Jefferts Schori responded that the Episcopal Church's General Convention would have to act to change the resolution and, hence, the status quo. She said that she had no doubt the 2009 General Convention would work to address this issue.
*When questioned about whether the House had ignored the requests of the primates for moratoria on consents to the consecrations of bishops living in a same-sex relationship and same-sex blessings, the bishops assembled were quick to correct what they said was a misunderstanding. For more information, see my previous post.
When questioned about whether the House had ignored the requests of the primates for moratoria on consents to the consecrations of bishops living in a same-sex relationship and same-sex blessings, the bishops assembled were quick to correct what they said was a misunderstanding.
It is "not accurate to talk about moratoria," said Bishop Thomas Ely of the Diocese of Vermont. "This House is committed to the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. We have ... work to do" to bring the rest of the Communion along, he said.
Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, responding to the same question, said, "We're on a journey, and the journey has not changed." He cited John 13:35-36 as a theme verse, apparently in connection with the Episcopal Church's struggle for the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians.
At the end of the press conference, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, who clarified that "Moratoria is not the word we used," made the most revealing comment. She said that one member of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council had told them that they had a role to play in demonstrating the gifts of gays and lesbians to the wider Anglican Communion.
"The conflict that you read about in the headlines is not reality for 95 percent" of the church.
Really? But then what do we make of the Episcopal Church's own summary of its 2005 congregational research?
The most frequent source of confl ict mentioned, however, was "actions of General Convention 2003 regarding the Bishop of New Hampshire." Overall, 78% of Episcopal congregations reported experiencing some confl ict over this issue, with almost half (47%) of all congregations reporting that they had moderately serious or very serious conflict.
And according to the denomination's 2005 FAST Facts, only 35 percent of parishes with conflict over General Convention issues had their conflict resolved.
Two years have passed, but for the presiding bishop's (admittedly possibly loose, intended just to give a general impression) statistic to be anywhere near accurate, a vast change must have taken place thanks to the departures of so many parishioners.
Once again, we see the Episcopal Church's denial of the reality facing the church. Couple these statistics with the comment this morning that the denomination could lose half of its "active clergy" (later clarified as meaning full-time priests) in tne next 10 years, and it's clear that the church faces very serious challenges.
Monday, September 24, 2007
"The fact of life is that [the Episcopal Church has] never authorized same-sex blessings .. It does not happen in my diocese with my permission."
Bishop Jon J. Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles, at the House of Bishops Monday afternoon press conference
But a same-sex "wedding" occurred just Saturday. From the Sunday, September 23 New York Times (All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills is part of the Diocese of Los Angeles):
And as far back as 2003, when the Episcopal Church allowed for local same-sex blessings in resolution C051 at General Convention 2003, this comment was made, according to the Episcopal News Service:
While the resolution will not make a big difference in her diocese of Los Angeles, where blessings already occur, convention’s action will be welcomed by bishops who were seeking national authorization to respond to pastoral needs of gays and lesbians, said the Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, an organization that supports gay and lesbian concerns.
Do they say that the Episcopal Church's actions have "imperiled" the Anglican Communion? Nope.
Do they say that the Episcopal Church's actions have "imperiled" the unity of the Episcopal Church, even with the loss of thousands of Anglicans as a result of those actions? Guess again.
Here it is:
"We pray that a way forward can be found which will bring an end to the incursions of extra-provincial bishops. These incursions imperil the Communion's principle of honoring one another as we work together in good faith on these very difficult issues" (emphasis my own).
Yes, it's the action of bishops from the Global South and other locations making "incursions" (i.e., starting groups like the Convocation of Anglicans in North America [CANA] to provide a home outside of the Episcopal Church for orthodox Anglicans) -- who cause the authors to use the word "imperil" -- and in connection with the Anglican Communion, no less. (Comparatively, the authors admit only that "the blessings of same sex unions, no matter how public or private, is unacceptable" to other member provinces of the Anglican Communion.)
Hmmm. "Unacceptable" vs. "imperil." There's still a vast difference in the way that the bishops view the Episcopal Church's own actions when compared with those of other bishops in the Anglican Communion. And the deep denial on the Episcopal Church's part of both the negative effect its actions have had on the Communion, and within the denomination itself, continues.
Stephen Bates in The Guardian is reporting that:
Senior Anglican church officials and American bishops were last night meeting in New Orleans to draft a statement aimed at keeping the US Episcopal Church within the worldwide communion in the face of attacks from conservative church members over the Americans' attempt to remain welcoming towards gays.
The move, which will be discussed within the US house of bishops at its meeting today, seeks to allow liberal clergy to continue offering pastoral support to gay couples while ruling out, at least for the present, formal blessings services or the appointment of more openly gay bishops.Note the wording: "formal blessings services" (emphasis my own).
To this writer's ears, it sounds like a lot like the progressive spin that bishops rarely, if ever, actually authorize same-sex blessings. It also raises the questions of (1) what constitutes informal "blessings services", (2) whether "informal blessings services" are authorized, (3) what constitutes a "formal blessings service," and (4) whether it is possible to hold a same-sex blessing without either a "service" or a "formal service."
Of course, details are lacking at this point, and I have no idea how specific Bates is being in his wording. It's what comes out of the House of Bishops that will count. But whenever you read formal Anglican communications, it's time to put on your analytical hat and remember this guiding principle: every word counts.
Oh, and this too: Watch out for the technicality land mines.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
But one element of the service, sadly, encapsulated the mixture of emotions that my wife and I have experienced the last couple of years as we've watched the Episcopal Church depart from biblical, Anglican, and Christian orthodoxy: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon. There was much to commend in it; in some ways, it pointed to the very best elements of the Episcopal Church. But it also contained assertions that deeply disturbed us.
First, the good: The sermon contained much that demonstrated compassion for the least and the last among us -- and in this situation, for the people of New Orleans. Bishop Jefferts Schori may have used a somewhat strained comparison, taking Jesus' words to his disciples about his disciples traveling light on their missionary journey and comparing them with the exodus of New Orleans residents from the city due to Katrina. Nonetheless, her point that "those forced to travel or even start over can find ... grace" was a good word.
Furthermore, the presiding bishop is an articulate speaker, and she can compose wonderful phrases. "The God who gives us breath is going to sing the jazz of life in you once more," was deeply moving and even stunningly poetic. And given the blessing of the trumpet that occurred after the prayers of the people, Bishop Jefferts Schori's description of Christians as "trumpeters of good news" was a clever, and relevant, metaphor.
But there were also troubling aspects to the sermon. Early in the sermon, Bishop Jefferts Schori said that Jesus' words about "driving out demons" were "about removing the forces that divide." Later, she described Christians as "banishers of ... division."
If this is so, what are we to make of the Episcopal Church's actions? Its movements away from orthodox belief and practice, away from the larger Anglican Communion, and away from the body of Christ as a whole have caused almost nothing but division. Where have we seen unity result from the Episcopal Church's actions? What does it say when bishops who have served the denomination faithfully leave the church -- some for Rome, some for a home in the Anglican Communion outside of the Episcopal Church? What does it say when thousands of laypeople leave the church?
(There are also theological issues here for orthodox Anglicans, including taking the text at a metaphorical level to the exclusion of a literal level. But that's the subject for another post.)
But the most troubling assertion came at the end of the sermon: "None of us is going home until all of us have a place to lay our heads ... When the saints go marching in, it's going to be with every last one of us!"
My wife looked at me and asked, "Universalism?" I replied, "I'm afraid so." Because unless "us" simply referred to Christians assembled in the cathedral, or even the Episcopal Church as a whole, there's no other way to take it. Furthermore, the presiding bishop had inclusively spoken of people of New Orleans in general earlier in the sermon, and had broadened the picture to everyone in the world by the end of the sermon. (If the presiding bishop was not speaking of universalism, clarification to that effect would be greatly appreciated!)
I know it may be difficult for progressives to understand this, but universalism is something deeply troubling to orthodox Anglicans -- and not due to any "theology of scarcity" or somehow "less gracious" theology. Yes, we love John 3:16, and we believe it fervently. But we also find that we cannot dismiss or ignore Jesus' warnings concerning eternal separation from God -- concerning Hell. We believe that God has entrusted the Church with the Scriptures; the Church is not free to overlook any part of Scripture. And universal salvation at best appears to be just a faint hope in Scripture, as Roman Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus once said; many orthodox Christians do not hold to any possibility of it.
It's been said many times over that the issues creating our current unhappy state are deep ones far below the surface of our differences over sexuality. The sermon by Bishop Jefferts Schori demonstrates this. The issues that I've mentioned grieve me and my wife to the point that we are now essentially Episcopalians in exile attending a CANA church. There is so much promise for the Episcopal Church, but its drift away from orthodoxy, and its apparent insistence on putting its convictions before those of the worldwide body of Christ, are creating division, not unity.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
But I would have asked Rowan Williams this:
Your Grace, what would you say to the priests who have watched their congregations dwindle by the dozens or even hundreds over the last several years because the departing parishioners believe they can no longer stay in the Episcopal Church? What would you say to those priests who have seen the loss of key lay ministry leaders and well-loved families who have been in the church for years or decades? What would you say to those priests who have seen parish ministries decrease in their effectiveness or even fold because the support for them is no longer there, thanks to the loss of so many people? What would you say to the priests who in light of these factors believe that their congregations will lose most of their vitality if they remain in the Episcopal Church and are on the verge of leaving-- or to the priests who already have taken their congregations out of the Episcopal Church for such reasons?
Because that's happening, folks. Orthodox Anglican parishioners and clergy can testify to it, and it has happened to progressive parishes as well. Nearly three years ago, a progressive friend of mine was taking over Sunday School at her progressive congregation because, by her account, 100 to 200 people of her 300-to-400 average Sunday attendance parish had left over the Episcopal Church's General Convention 2003 decisions.
Let me speak personally here. I consider myself an evangelical with a not-fully-formed Anglo-Catholic heart. The visible unity of the Church, and the reunion of all Christian denominations, has been a passion for about 16 years now. I am a strong proponent of the catholicity of the Church. I am very sympathetic to orthodox Anglicans who want to work within the existing structures of the Anglican Communion. That is my first desire as well. (I am also an idealist, a strong INFP for Myers-Briggs scorekeepers.)
But when I see parishes losing their people and ministries over this issue, then the evangelical and more practical sides of me say, "What can they do but leave?" My desire for the visible unity of the church runs up against my concern for individuals and individual congregations. And it's also clear that the Episcopal Church's heterodox actions are not helping to unite either the Anglican Communion or the body of Christ as a whole.
I would have liked to have heard some measure of understanding from the archbishop over the extremely difficult choices that orthodox Anglican clergy are facing. (I imagine that many-to-most priests have wrestled or continue to wrestle far more than I do on this issue.) I wonder if he would have said anything different than "don't leave because the sacraments are still valid," which is essentially what he told Mary Ailes (better known as Baby Blue) at the press conference. The archbishop's point about the sacraments is one with which I thoroughly agree, but there are other serious considerations at hand here.
*First, thank you to all who have been praying for Louisiana/gulf coast weather. The sub-tropical depression turned into a tropical depression, but is now just a low. The biggest threat now appears to be "an isolated tornado" along the gulf coast. Of course neither the bishops, nor visitors and press, nor -- most especially of all -- the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast need another hurricane or anything even remotely similar. So thank you all for your continued prayers.
*Second, there's naturally been a lot of discussion today about the afternoon press conference with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Some people have been on an emotional rollercoaster over the Archbishop of Canterbury's words. Personally, nothing that he said surprised me. Technically, I can agree with him that the September 30 deadline was not an "ultimatum" in the strictest sense of the word. (It's hard to say that something is an ultimatum when discipline has never been applied across the Anglican Communion and measures currently are not in place for such discipline.)
But to be technical on this issue misses the real point -- and, distressingly (though not surprisingly), the Episcopal Church leadership's stances on the primates' communique continually have relied far, far too much on technicalities. We've seen it before many times:
*Only x percent of parishes have left? That may be technically correct, although here the Episcopal Church's statistics don't match up with those of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN). But even if accurate, it conveniently ignores the fact that thousands of people have left and continue to leave the Episcopal Church -- and progressive parishes have not been immune to this trend -- in a denomination suffering from decreasing attendance that is wracked with conflict over the denomination's stances on the consecration of non-celibate gay and lesbian bishops and same-sex blessings.
*We don't need a "pastoral scheme" from the primates, thank you very much; we already have Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) and we will look for additional pastoral solutions? Again, technically true regarding the existence of DEPO. But DEPO has not been effective at keeping thousands of people from leaving the Episcopal Church. And now the Episcopal Church has eight bishops who have agreed to provide pastoral oversight, but is there any substance to the plan? The Episcopal Church's appointed bishops for yesterday's press conference couldn't tell us of any; they said that the details were still being worked out.
* Everything will be fine if we can just focus people on mission? True, common mission often helps build bonds even among people with major differences. But this time people on both sides of the aisle truly believe the gospel is at sake. The Rev. Susan Russell and the Integrity crowd trumpet it. Orthodox Anglicans believe it not just concerning homosexuality, but issues more fundamental to the faith, including who Jesus is.
Many more examples could be cited. But the fact remains that the September 30 deadline can only be disregarded by the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion's great detriment -- and possible collapse. The primates' requests may not constitute an "ultimatum" in the fully technical sense of the word, but given the current structures of the Anglican Communion, it's about as close to an "ultimatum" as you can get. And there's no denying that at minimum several Anglican Communion provinces see the deadline as a crisis point -- effectively, an ultimatum.
And so when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams downplays the deadline at a press conference, it is gravely disappointing. The requests that the primates have made are extremely serious ones that the Episcopal Church cannot afford to sidestep.
Fortunately, there are other indications that Williams emphasized the seriousness of the matter to the Episcopal Church -- at least behind closed doors. In fact, he evidently was rebuked by some Episcopal Church bishops for telling the denomination that it needed to find a way to give the primates the assurances for which they have asked.
The question remains: Will the Episcopal Church put the needs of the larger Anglican Communion above its own interests? Or is it now thoroughly convinced (despite the opposition of many of its priests and some of its bishops) that it must stay faithful to its "gospel" of "inclusion"? Has it deceived itself into believing that everything will be fine if it both remains in the Anglican Communion and continues on its present course away from biblical and Christian orthodoxy? These are questions with which the bishops must continue to wrestle at its meeting in New Orleans.
Many published responses to the primates made by dioceses, bishops, and others in the Episcopal Church have insisted on technicalities, blinding the authors to the heart of the matter in the process. Ultimately, the bishops now need to respond to the spirit of the primates' requests, which asked for "unequivocal" responses made "in good conscience" -- not look for loopholes around the letter of the requests.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
*The word "conversations" was uttered more times than I could count. We essentially were assured that "deep listening" was occurring in abundance, although that phrase was never used. We were told more than once that the bishops listened with utmost seriousness to the whole range of viewpoints.
*Almost every attempt to get word on what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had said to the bishops was sidestepped. Bishop O' Neill was the first to initiate the disclaimer that he couldn't speak for the Archbishop, and that line was used repeatedly (and even once was applied to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori).
And, indeed, we were given the impression that almost everything was in process. Archbishop Williams' two questions for the bishops -- how they viewed their roles, lives, and ministries; and how they would provide adequate pastoral care for orthodox Anglicans -- were described as general questions designed to lead to deeper discussions. We were told that there were no current details available about how the eight bishops appointed as episcopal visitors for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) would operate. Instead, Bishop Jefferts Schori is still "exploring ways" for providing pastoral care. And we were told that the Dar es Salaam communique was not the "essence" of what the bishops discussed; it was only part of a larger, more wide-ranging conversation.
But then there was this curious tidbit from Bishop O'Neill: "we're two-thirds of the way through the conversation for this meeting."
"The conversation" with the Archbishop of Canterbury? That's surely true. But was O'Neill instead referring to the entire conversation about the larger issues of which the Dar es Salaam communique apparently was not the "essence"?
It's not surprising if the bishops want to hold their cards close to their chests at this point in the meeting. But how much of this is holding back, and how much is happening on the fly? Bishops Rabb and O'Neill seemed genuinely uncertain as to whether any detailed plans had been made for DEPO beyond the announcement of the bishops who would serve as visitors. So is there any real substance (at this time, at least), or is this just something assembled quickly in an attempt to satisfy the larger Anglican Communion?
Most troubling of all, of course, is the thought that the bishops are attempting to minimize the Dar es Salaam communique by focusing on a (from their point of view or desire) bigger picture, or from what they consider to be the "essence" of the matter (whatever that may be). In that case, they might either attempt to delay a full response or maneuver around the real issues that the primates asked them to address. Neither response would be unexpected, but neither would help in the healing of the Anglican Communion.
This summer, two important Anglican meetings illustrated the divergent directions of progressive and orthodox Anglicans in the United States.
First, the Episcopal Church's Executive Council met in Parsippany, NJ, from June 11-14. The Executive Council is one of the major leadership bodies within the denomination; it meets three times a year to deal with Episcopal Church governance in the three years between General Conventions.
Second, the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) held its annual council meeting in Bedford, TX, from July 30-31. The ACN is, as its name suggests, a network of orthodox Anglicans both inside and outside the Episcopal Church. Since its formation in early 2004, it has been a major voice of orthodox Anglicanism in the United States.Both meetings were held against the backdrop of a tense time in the Anglican Communion. The primates of Anglican Communion provinces had issued a communiqué that followed their highly-publicized February meeting in Tanzania. In it, the primates had requested the following of the Episcopal Church:
*That the denomination's House of Bishops would, by September 30, 2007, assure the primates of the denomination's reversal of course regarding the blessing of same-sex unions and the consent to the consecration of bishops in same-sex relationships
*That the Episcopal Church would participate in a "pastoral scheme" designed to provide pastoral relief for orthodox Anglicans in the Episcopal Church and mend the deep divisions between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion
*That all parties involved in lawsuits over church property—including the Episcopal Church itself—would end their legal actions immediately
Against this backdrop, the two meetings proved to be vastly different. In fact, they demonstrated vividly the gap in worldviews between the groups.
For the rest of the article, go to the IRD website: http://www.ird-renew.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=399595&ct=4447647