Sunday, October 28, 2007

Executive Council Responds to HOB Statement

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church passed resolution NAC 026, "Response to House of Bishops Statement on Resolution B033," this afternoon without any amendments.

Resolution NAC 026 raises sharp questions concerning the House of Bishops’ mind of the house statement, declaring that the statement “may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.”

The resolution praises the House of Bishops “for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar es Salaam communiqué.”

Nonetheless, it criticizes the statement for “exacerbate[ing] feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 … to include lesbian and gay people.” It also claims that both B033 (and implicitly, by extension, the HOB statement) “discourage[s] the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine[s] discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church.”
The resolution also endorses the “listening process.”


Resolved, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, expresses its appreciation to the House of Bishops for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar E [sic] Salaam communiqué, and be it further

Resolved, the Executive Council affirms with the House of Bishops the essential and renewed study of human sexuality as noted in the “listening process” of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and be it further

Resolved, that the House of Bishops’ statement exacerbated feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 from the 75th General Convention to include lesbian and gay people, and be it further

Resolved, that by calling particular attention to the application of B033 to lesbian and gay person [sic], it may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitutions and canons of the church, and be it further

Resolved, that while B033 focuses on the consent process for bishops, the broader impact is to discourage the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church, and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council acknowledge with regret the additional pain and estrangement inflicted on lesbian and gay members of the church, and we pledge to work toward a time when our church will fully respect the dignity of every human being in all aspects of the life of our church.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When Episcopal Church Struggles Hit Your Father's Home Town

Even in small-town New England, Episcopal Church issues are hitting home.

My wife Sharon and I spent an extended Columbus Day weekend in the Northeast, largely in Newburyport, MA. My father was born there over 80 years ago and grew up during the depression. His family attended a Congregational church that now is a member of the United Church of Christ. We were blessed to visit family there, but we found that even in small town New England, Episcopal Church issues were having an impact.

Because when I picked up Saturday's local paper, I couldn't help notice a front-page article detailing the local Episcopal Church's (one town over) struggle to survive after the majority of its congregants left for the Anglican Church of Kenya. Only 10 families remained to keep the original Episcopal Church afloat. In contrast, according to congregational statistics from the Episcopal Church, average worship attendance had been at over 300 in 2006.

That's a huge drop. If we apply the U.S. 2006 average family size of 3.20 persons to the families that remain (and that seems to be close to the mark, given year 2000 census figures for both the town and the county), we're looking at roughly 32 members left in the Episcopal congregation. That means that at most roughly 11 percent of the congregation did not break away to form the new All Saints Anglican Church in a nearby community and remained with the Episcopal Church.

I can't imagine the pain that those who remain with the local congregation must feel to see their congregation shrink by roughly 90 percent. And while the article mentioned that 40 families are now involved with the Episcopal parish, it also noted that "[t]he group of Episcopalians in West Newbury was left with so little money, it will now be recognized as a mission, not a church. ... All Saints West Newbury no longer has the legal status of a church due to its financial state and does not have an ordained priest to lead them."

This congregation provides just one example of the type of pain that Episcopal Church parishes around the country are experiencing due to the denomination's departure from Christian orthodoxy. Long-time friends become strangers and perhaps even enemies to one another as parishes split apart. Financial concerns become an albatross around the neck of parishes. In some locations, priests are unavailable to lead parishes suffering from a split. And as the recent House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans demonstrated, the Episcopal Church continues to downplay the effects of the departures.

All Saints West Newbury says that it does not want to merge with another Episcopal parish. Instead, members are hoping to raise enough money to get the congregation back to church status within a year. If it is not able to rebuild, will it be able to survive? Or might it end up like my father's church, a United Church of Christ congregation now obviously progressive both theologically and in its social witness, with apparently only a few dozen people in average Sunday attendance? (Sharon and I went there on Sunday.)

Even in very secular New England, neither the possibility of closure nor the prospect of a small remnant can be desirable for the Episcopal Church. But as long as the denomination continues on its present trajectory (and the recent House of Bishops statement did absolutely nothing to suggest that the Episcopal Church is changing direction), it doesn't take rocket science to see the continuing effect: more alienated parishioners and more departures. And when it hits everywhere from small-town New England to Chicago, IL ; from Broomfield, CO, to Savannah, GA -- Houston, the Episcopal Church has a huge problem.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) on the House of Bishops Statement

Here's the "money quote" from an excellent response to the recent House of Bishops statement:

[W]hen faced with a clear choice, the local audience was ultimately still more determinative than the global one and the demands of being an American denomination triumphed over the disciplines of belonging to the Church Catholic.

To all of those arguing that the ACI statement is "soft": remember that this is probably the most critical issue for the ACI. This is strong criticism indeed. And it is also sober-minded about the implications that now arise for the whole Anglican Communion:

[I]t may be many years before another crossroads is provided at which all those who have traditionally gathered together as constituent members of the Anglican Communion are able to meet in order to nurture their common mission, strengthen the bonds of affection and seek to find a common mind for our common life together as Anglican Christians.

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice (or an Infinite Number of Times)...

The Most Rev. Henry Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, nails it in his comments concerning the recent House of Bishops statement (emphasis my own in the following paragraphs):

(Church of Uganda News)

The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) has clarified its commitment to continue on their path to abandon the Biblical and historic faith of Anglicanism. They, in fact, have decided to walk apart, and we are distressed that they are trying to take the rest of the Anglican Communion with them.

We cannot take seriously a statement from TEC that merely pledges “as a body” to not do something. TEC betrayed the Anglican Communion when it elected and confirmed as bishop a divorced man living in a same-sex relationship. We were further betrayed when its Presiding Bishop agreed to the Communiqué from the 2003 emergency Primates’ Meeting that he deeply regretted the “actions of the…Episcopal Church (USA),” and immediately proceeded to assert at a press conference that he would preside at that consecration. He then explained that the Primates believed their statement “as a body,” but individual primates were free to disagree.

Now, TEC has told us that they pledge “as a body” not to “authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.” We have every reason to believe that individual bishops will feel free to disagree and continue to permit blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses, rationalizing it as part of the breadth of their pastoral response, and all the while denying their complicity. This is unacceptable.

TEC has lost the right to give assurances of their direction as a church through more words and statements. They write one thing and do another. We, therefore, cannot know what they mean by their words until we see their meaning demonstrated by their actions.

Archbishop Orombi, meet the Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who voted "no" to the final House of Bishops statement:

When, on September 25, the House of Bishops ... affirmed that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom [General Convention 2006 resolution] B033 pertains, knowing that resolutions are recommendatory, not canonically mandatory, and that therefore compliance is voluntary, I honestly could not promise I would not consent to the election of a gay or lesbian priest to the episcopate.

As I said in one of my House of Bishops posts, "whenever you read formal Anglican communications, it's time to put on your analytical hat and remember this guiding principle: every word counts." Bishop Orombi has analyzed the House of Bishops' statement well.

Because whether we're talking about consent to the consecration of a priest living in a gay or lesbian relationship or same-sex blessings, given its track record, how can the Episcopal Church be trusted? How many other bishops might leave open the option of going against the House of Bishops statement, using the argument that "resolutions are recommendatory, not canonically mandatory, and that therefore compliance is voluntary"?

Hat tip: Kendall Harmon

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's at the "Epicentre of Tensions" in the Anglican Communion Today?

The Joint Standing Committee's report to the Archbishop of Canterbury has just been released. There are many problems with the report, not the least of which is, as Kendall Harmon and others have pointed out, that not everyone on the committee signed off on it.

But one fundamental error stands out to me at this time: the committee's evaluation of what it calls "the epicentre of tensions in the [Anglican] Communion."

"At the epicentre of tensions in the Communion over the last five years has been the fact that the Episcopal Church elected and consecrated as a Bishop a person publicly acknowledged to be living in a committed same-sex relationship" (emphasis my own).

No, no, a thousand times no. The issue is not, and never has been, "[public] acknowledg[ment]" of such a relationship. The issue always has been the actual relationship -- or, as the House of Bishops itself put it, "[n]on-celibate gay and lesbian persons."

Ironically, the quotes that follow in the report from the primates and the Windsor Report emphasize this very fact (all emphasis my own):

"[Gene Robinson's] chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop" -- the primates, October 2003

"... any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union" -- the Windsor Report

Yes, everyone knows the standard progressive rejoinder: "We've had gay and lesbian clergy for centuries; they just haven't been open about it." That argument can be applied to clergy with a myriad of issues and sins, however. Is it the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" that's divisive, or the actual relationship? If a single bishop living in a relationship with a man or woman outside of marriage caused similar tensions, would the issue be the public acknowledgment of the relationship, or the actual relationship?

Because at heart this is still fundamentally an issue of what the church is to teach regarding marriage and holiness in sexual relationships. As the committee itself noted, Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, which upheld the traditional definition of marriage as a "lifelong union" of one man and one woman and encouraged sexual abstinence outside of marriage, "expresses the understanding on Christian marriage and sexual relationships actually taught and held by the vast majority of Anglican churches and bishops across the globe - indeed, by the vast majority of Christian denominations and their leadership."

It's possible that the committee did not intend to stress the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" over the actual relationship. If so, we have here a case of poor wording choices. Otherwise, we have at best shortsightedness. No doubt everyone could agree with the committee if it had said only that the consecration of a bishop living in a same-sex relationship was "[a]t the epicentre of tensions" -- at least on a surface level. (The roots of the tensions, of course, extend to much deeper issues.) But let's not forget here that public knowledge of a gay bishop is not causing the "tear in the fabric" of the Anglican Communion garment. It's the fact that the Episcopal Church goes against standard Anglican Communion, and Christian, teaching that's important here.