How has the verdict of the Joint Standing Committee been received around the world? The Church of England Evangelical Council headed by Bishop Benn has dissented from it. Those American Bishops and Dioceses who have been planning to leave The Episcopal Church have not been stopped in their tracks. A large group of African Primates ”“ representative of the people who posed the questions ”“ have said, ”˜on first reading we find it to be unsatisfactory. The assurances made are without credibility and its preparation is severely compromised by numerous conflicts of interest. The report itself appears to be a determined effort to find a way for the full inclusion of The Episcopal Church with no attempt at discipline or change from their prior position.’
Why this dissent from the Joint Committee? It would of course be best to have the whole Dar Es Salaam communiquÃ©, but, failing that, here are the two questions which were put to the Americans for an answer by September 30th:
”˜In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1.make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their diocese or through General Convention (cf TWR, 143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, 134);
Unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, 134).’
We only have time to look at the response to the first request. The wording of the reply certainly does not give the assurance that is sought. The Americans were asked to restrain General Convention from authorising a Rite of Blessing; they could do this, I am told, by exercising what amounts to a veto; but they undertake only to refrain ”˜until General Convention takes further action’, a different proposition altogether. In fact the Primates used, and stressed the word unless, the Bishops replied with ”˜until’. The difference tells us something about the enthusiasm of many Americans to see these developments agreed to. In short the different heart of the Americans and the different heart of their critics is not going to understand these words in the same way even if they were not ambiguous. This is not black-letter dispute over words.
The Primates already knew that no rite has been approved as yet by General Convention; the Americans observe that the majority of bishops ”˜do not make allowance for the blessing of same sex unions.’ But that concedes the very point at issue. This is a practice allowed by some Bishops at least; perhaps many. The consequence is, then, if I understand the situation correctly, at least one American Bishop, though a believer in same-sex blessings, has now forbidden them occurring. He understood that even permitting them was not an option. But they will still occur elsewhere. Thus Bishop Chane of Washington is reported in Washington Window, his own newspaper, as saying, that, ”˜the Diocese of Washington does not have an authorised rite for blessing same-sex relationships. However, he added that the statement passed by the bishops will allow for such blessings to continue in the Diocese.’
And here are the honest reflections of Bishop Gene Robinson on what has occurred. ”˜Let me also state strongly that the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates misunderstood us when they stated that the HOB in fact “declared a moratorium on all such public Rites.” Neither in our discussions nor in our statement did we agree to or declare such a moratorium on permitting such rites to take place. That may be true in many or most dioceses, but that is certainly not the case in my own diocese and many others. The General Convention has stated that such rites are indeed to be considered within the bounds of the pastoral ministry of this Church to its gay and lesbian members, and that remains the policy of The Episcopal Church.’
I believe that this is what Canon Kearon was referring to when he spoke of the need for some episcopalian bishops to consider their position in the Communion. It already dents the modified rapture of the Joint Committee in saying, ”˜The Communion should move towards closure on these matters, at least for the time being,’ It certainly justifies the response of Bishop Mouneer and others. The matter is not resolved.