Monday, October 1, 2007

On the House of Bishops

This entry was written Wednesday, September 26, 2007.

So, our House of Bishops has made their much awaited statement. The New York Times has proclaimed that we have rejected Anglican demands. The Atlanta Journal Constitution sees us ‘retreating’ on gays. Conservative Bishops left the meeting early to attend their own enclave and are predictably saying ‘too little, too late’.

Already today I have heard the statement judged ‘firmly ambiguous’, ‘gutless’ ‘regressive on gays’, ‘dishonest’ and worse.

If we read the statement in search of clarity as to what The Episcopal Church thinks about homosexuality then we will be disappointed. The bishops have clearly affirmed the muddy and muddled status quo which itself reflects the reality of our church trying to find its way forward towards consensus over time.

Those who want a clear unambiguous affirmation of gay and lesbian people will be disappointed by apparently negative statements in which the bishops pledge to exercise restraint in the event that a gay or lesbian person is elected bishop somewhere, and pledge “as a body” not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex unions. Both statements reflect the reality of our church and the position of General Convention at the moment. Both leave the future open. In addition, they make clear that they are not backing away from “unequivocal and active commitment…to gay and lesbian persons.” In spite of this, Susan Russell, President of Integrity is showing guarded support for the Bishops. Many in our parish experience this statement as one more hypocritical refusal to do the right thing by gay and lesbian Christians and one more unwise and unjust attempt to placate conservatives and seek communion on the backs of one sub set of the church’s membership.

Those who want a clear condemnation of any move toward affirming the relationships of gay and lesbian people and an unambiguous promise that we will not now or ever go that direction will be disappointed to find that the bishops have only affirmed the current reality of the church. For some in this camp, the real issue is indeed homosexuality and they are continuing to seek to go their separate way, clear that The Episcopal Church is not going to attempt to put toothpaste back in the tube.

If we read the statement in search of clarity as to what The Episcopal Church thinks about communion, then we can be greatly encouraged. Our bishops have affirmed their “passionate desire to remain in communion” They have reiterated und underlined the reality of our polity as involving all orders of the church in discerning the will of God in any matter before us. They have made provision for Episcopal Visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight and done that graciously within the discipline of our common life. They welcome communion wide consultation and affirm the listening process.

To the degree that the wider conversation is about strained communion when one province of the church takes action on matters that others find difficult or even unimaginable, then our bishops have made positive strides allowing for communion founded in real relationship (even when ‘impaired’) within the communion.

This clarity will be a disappointment to those in the communion who would like unity to be founded in doctrinal agreement, rather in the model of the Roman Catholic communion. Our bishops are affirming the Anglican tradition of unity found in common prayer, common history, common or mutual respect all in covenant relationship as followers of Jesus. They are, in effect, prepared to welcome difficulties and challenges as opportunities for deepening understanding and mutual regard even through difference, and hope that our communion partners will want to continue with us on that basis.

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