Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have reached the mid-point, and I want to give you some impressions. This is a remarkably different General Convention than any of the previous six I have attended as a Bishop. I would characterize all the previous Conventions as highly contentious. This one is not. We still have the same recurrent issues ahead of us, but the “conservative” wing is so greatly diminished that its voice is almost irrelevant.
I made that comment to one person who questioned whether I really meant it, “Irrelevant? Don’t you mean “hated?” No, there is no sense of animosity here. The conservatives state their position(s) respectfully and they are treated with respect in return. It is just that they are so hugely outnumbered that it doesn’t matter.
At the open hearings on the sexuality questions the “progressives” outnumber the “conservatives” somewhere between six and ten to one. I have been proud of the members of the Central Florida deputation entering into the debate, but often they have been nearly the only ones speaking on behalf of a “traditionalist” position. (Some of our folks have been approached and questioned by members of the “Youth Presence” that is here who seem never to have heard a “traditionalist” position articulated previously.)
All of which is to say that passage of some sort of authorization of same-sex blessings seems nearly a foregone conclusion. Two main arguments have emerged for doing so.
The first is “all the sacraments [and access to all offices and positions of leadership] for all the baptized.” This is the new basis for the position of the “Consultation” – a coalition of “progressive” activist groups including Integrity, the Oasis, Beyond Inclusion, etc. I think it is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of baptism, conversion, salvation, and what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ, but it has now become pervasive: “If I am unworthy of being ordained – or having my relationships blessed – why did you baptize me?”
The second is that we need to be “generous” in providing access to blessings in those (currently six) states where same-sex “marriage” is now authorized. It is being said that as many as twenty states may have authorized such “marriages” by the end of this triennium [how can anyone know this?], and the Bishops in those states need to be given the right to authorize their clergy to bless such unions.
There are over 30 resolutions addressing these matters in a variety of ways. My own sense at this point is that B033 from three years ago, pushed through at the last minute by the heavy endorsement of +Katharine Jefferts Schori, will not be formally rescinded or repealed, but rather we will “move beyond” it by giving some kind of limited authority to Bishops to make their own decisions about these things.
There may well be some sort of “conscience clause” saying that those who cannot accept such an innovation will not be required to do so. (The problem with that, of course, is that it can be over-ridden in the future, as was the case with regard to women’s ordination.)
Even a limited authorization BY THE GENERAL CONVENTION would put The Episcopal Church officially at variance with one of the key provisions of the Windsor Report and the Dar es Salaam Communique, and the Communion Partner Bishops will oppose it as vigorously as possible. (Not that our opposition will prevail.)
+KJS’s opening sermon provoked much discussion. To many she seemed to be saying that there is no such thing as personal, individual salvation. I think that is a misreading of what she was trying to say. I THINK she meant there is always a corporate dimension to the work of Christ, i.e., to be reconciled to God is to (have to) be in a new relationship to other people, as well. The “first and great” commandment has “another, like it.” “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments is a liar…” (I wish she had said it a bit more clearly!)
Southern California is beautiful this time of year, and I am told it is about ten degrees cooler than usual – mid 70s, a nice break from Central Florida’s 90s! It is very weird to look out my hotel window and see Space Mountain about a block away (and smaller than it should be!) The prices are outrageous – a Continental Breakfast is $13, room service includes both an 18% gratuity AND a $3.00 service charge.
The atmosphere of Convention is cordial, the hours are long, and the heavy lifting is still ahead. The good news is this will all be over in another five days.
Love to all of you,
–(The Rt. Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida