If you read the Bible carefully, you may observe that the prophets reserve some of their strongest condemnations for lack of honesty””before God and before others. These people honor me with their lips, Isaiah says, but their hearts are far from me. The God of reality wants his people to face the reality about God, our world and ourselves, and we do nearly everything in our power to avoid it.
All this brings us to the central question facing the House of Bishops meeting this week in New Orleans: Is the leadership of the Episcopal Church going to be honest about what they really believe and are doing or will they hide behind an institutional and verbal smokescreen?
Again and again in Minneapolis in 2003 we heard that God is doing a new thing and that the gospel of justice demanded that we must change our teaching to say that persons in non-celibate same sex unions are appropriate models for Christian leadership. But now that the Archbishop of Canterbury is coming to town and there might be serious consequences, a number of bishops are coming to the meeting like Monty Hall seeking to play “Let’s Make a Deal!!” Instead of owning the new theology they have embraced, they are going to hide behind words and phrases which say one thing while a number of them believe and do something else.
You can arrange the subterfuge yourself. First they will say as Bishop Parsley said to the New York Times this week:
The primates want us to say that we don’t approve public rites of blessing, and we have not done that. They don’t want us to approve gay bishops in committed relationships, and the 2006 general convention resolution makes that unlikely. Basically, what I’m saying is that what they are asking is essentially already the case.
So some are going to claim they are already doing two of the three things they have been asked, and then you add some kind of new Primatial Vicar proposal and–tada!–the institutional smokescreen is up.
Ah, but we need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain because what you see in the Episcopal Church is not what you get.
First, the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the others who gather in New Orleans need to focus on the key issue of whether there is “local pastoral provision” for same sex blessings in certain parts of the Episcopal Church. Here is the wording in the relevant section of the Tanzania communique:
There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
The activist group Integrity says it knows of 11 dioceses that have official, written policies allowing the blessing of same-sex relationships:
Delaware [Bishop Wright’s office will only provide a copy to other bishops, apparently]
Beyond these, there are numerous others which allow for blessings ”“ Newark, [see also here], Los Angeles, Massachusetts [see also here, and here], New York, and the list could go on.
For example the just consecrated new bishop of Olympia said just recently:
he is comfortable continuing Bishop Warner’s stance of letting individual priests decide whether to perform blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions.
The other key phrase is the phrase from Lambeth 1998 1.10, that Anglicans
…cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions
The Bishop of New Jersey just said recently in a New Jersey newspaper:
We in the Diocese of New Jersey respect the discernment of the local congregations as they search for and call clergy to serve in leadership. All clergy candidates are subject to the same reference and background checks, including conversations with the bishops and deployment officers of those applying from other dioceses. Among the questions that I always ask is the following, based upon one of the ordination vows in our Book of Common Prayer: “Is this priest’s personal life a wholesome example to the people?”
I believe that gay and lesbian clergy, living in monogamous, faithful and stable unions, are a wholesome example to the people of our churches. Once assured of that, I welcome congregations to call such clergy to lead them in their life and ministry.
I have met the Rev. Debra Bullock, who comes with the very highest recommendations from her seminary faculty and from the clergy and lay leaders where she served in Chicago. She is a faithful, dedicated, hard-working, warm and talented priest. She will bring new life and new energy to St. Barnabas in Villas and to St. Mary’s, Stone Harbor.
This IS legitimizing a non-celibate same sex relationship for someone ordained, and it is against the mind and teaching of the Anglican Communion.
Second, the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the others who gather in New Orleans need to focus on the inadequacy of resolution B033 as passed in a hurried and confusing manner on the last day of General Convention 2006. [note from elves: and dissented to immediately by a group of up to 20 bishops, and rejected by at least 9 dioceses at their diocesan conventions last year]
It is very important to quote over and over again the key section of the Windsor Report which invites TEC to
effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges” (Windsor Report 134)
Notice three things. First, it is a specific aspect of the person’s life in view””their involvement in a non-celibate same sex union. Second, it is both a moratorium on the election and on the consent to such a person. So it is not just the consent process which is spoken about. Third, VERY IMPORTANT, note that it has a time frame “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.”
With regard to the SECOND aspect just mentioned, it is worthwhile to recall the resolution proposed by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion for the General Convention 2006 (this wording never made it to the floor but it is important in that it shows the intent of Windsor in this regard WAS understood by the special commission):
Proposed resolution A161 read:
Resolved, the House of _____ 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 urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in 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.
Please observe that the committee included nomination, election and consent as all these were clearly in view. In the last two years three dioceses””California, Newark and now Chicago, have nominated non-celibate same sex parterned persons to be finalists for bishop in their dioceses. This is not what the Anglican Communion asked for.
Resolution B033 reads
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
Note that the focus has been broadened and is no longer on the specific issue that Windsor asked for, that the nomination and election aspects are eliminated, and that there is no time frame specified.
In the Episcopal Church we have not done what was requested of us in either case. Bishop Parsley is wrong.
Finally, any discussion of the Tanzania Primatial Vicar proposal–which was rejected by the House of Bishops when they last met, and by the Executive Council thereafter–does not matter until BOTH of these first two matters are resolved and TEC’s leadership makes clear that it will do what the Anglican Communion wants.
I for one will be delighted if all of these issues are resolved on the terms which were called for, and the Anglican Communion finds a future of unity in truth which God intends for us as we proceed further into the twenty-first century. But it must come as we honor the Lord with our lips and our hearts.
So, my prayer for New Orleans is for HONESTY. The leadership of the Episcopal Church changed its teaching and practice climactically in 2003 and moved it away from that of the Anglican Communion. God did a new thing and justice had to be done. So let the TEC leaders have the courage of their convictions and say what they actually believe before God and the global Anglican leaders. If they fail to do so, where is the justice in that?