The House of Bishops Has Spoken

25 09 2007

The House of Bishops has released their statement on its response to the Dar Es Salaam Communique from the Primates of the Anglican Communion of Feb 2007. The Statement in its entirety can be read here, courtesy of Episcopal News Service. The summary of said statement is pasted below:

  • We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election Of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “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.”
  • We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.
  • We commend our Presiding Bishop’s plan for episcopal visitors.
  • We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.
  • We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.
  • We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008.
  • We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference.
  • We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons.

Seems plain enough … now, for the commentary, quotes from the statement in italics.

Point 1 — B033: The bishops clarify this today by saying The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains. Of course, I am not thrilled with this, but it’s something I can live with. In some ways, it represents a corner has been turned in the mind of the House of Bishops. I am speaking specifically of the phrase, non-celibate. Many, if not most, nay-sayers still believe that non-heterosexual orientation is a matter of choice. This is evidenced by the use of the phrase “lifestyle” and smacks of an inherent heterosexism. However, by using the term non-celibate, that opens the door to phrase the conversation of having a homosexual orientation as something ontological, or a mode of being, as opposed to something behavioural. In short, I believe that this is the best that could be hoped for all things being equal.

Point 2 — the Blessing of Same-sex Unions: We all know that these blessings do happen, with or without knowledge of the Bishop. In some cases, it is not authorized, but allowed. A blind eye might be turned to the fact that it happens. I am on record saying that civil unions (and by extension, these blessings) are really at bottom a form of apartheid and creates a two-tier structure for what may be called good and right in the eyes of the State or the eyes of God. A question that we haven’t really answered as a Church is “What type of relationship is the Church within its right to bless?” What about heterosexual co-habitating couples? Surely, if we offered Blessings of Unions to gay people, we couldn’t deny the same to a co-habitating straight couple! Should we finally say in all honesty, that the blessings covertly given are seen as a stepping stone to marriage, which is a sacramental rite and a covenantal relationship?

Keeping all this in mind, I understand the need and desire to have your relationship given some validation by the Church, for the connotation is, “if we have our relationship blessed in the Church by a priest, then we will have received some validation by God.” Personally, I would prefer if the Church never had blessings of unions at all and stuck with the marriage business. If the Church wants to have a wedding ceremony where gay marriage is legal, such as Massachusetts or Canada, then I think that is the right thing to do. If the Church wants to eliminate gender references such as husband and wife from the prayer book, then it should.

We are constantly comparing the inclusion of GLBT folks into mainstream society and into the Church as an extension of the Civil Rights movement. My question is … would our forebears fighting against racism and segregation in the country, especially in the South, settle for the blessing of a union for an interracial couple? If we are truly interested in civil rights, we will fight for marriage, not co-habitation.

Point 3 — Episcopal Visitor Program: The Episcopal Visitor Program seems like something to be worked out amongst the various bishops and no real details have been provided on how it would look. The explanation for this part of the statement concludes with the sentence, We appreciate and need to hear all voices in The Episcopal Church. I sincerely hope that this plan actually shows signs of people wanting to use it, and it doesn’t more or less fall by the wayside as the DEPO project has done.

One reason why I felt called to live out my Christian life in The Episcopal Church and specifically within my parish is the stated willingness for theological and social conservatives, liberals and everything in between to co-exist and work together. What matters is that we share a common faith, and our relationships with God through Christ and our relationships with each other matter more than theological hair-splitting. It is brought up by some that The Episcopal Church is starting to embrace some new religion. I do not believe that to be the case and I live in a very progressive diocese. However, I do believe that it may not hurt to have some simple reaffirmations of faith, redundant and unnecessary as they may seem, for the sake of our walking together in love as Christ has loved us.

Point 4 — Incursions by Uninvited Bishops: Naturally, they are calling for a halt to this gross practice of rudeness and dismissiveness. This also appears to be an invitation to serious consider DEPO or the Episcopal Visitor program.

Point 5 — Communion-Wide Consultation: The important part of the explanation is Nevertheless, we recognize a useful role for communion-wide consultation with repect to the Pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight, as well as the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian persons in this and other provinces. Now, if I didn’t know better, I would think this is a veiled threat. What about gay-friendly churches in conservative dioceses? What if Davis Mac-Ayalla wanted to plant a parish in Nigeria?

Point 6 — The Listening Process: I hope the Listening Process is actually taken seriously. From what I’ve read about the preliminary results of the process throughout the Communion (found on the Anglican Communion website) it seems like almost every province started and ended with pre-conceived notions. Some important questions which I believe need to be asked are: 1) What do GLBT folks actually WANT from the Church? What I want from the Church and what my good friend Beefeater wants are totally different things. 2) Can the Church really provide pastoral care? What exactly does Pastoral Care involve? We talk a great deal about providing pastoral care to homosexuals in the Church, but what exactly do we do, apart from having covert blessings and overt affirmations? What about our young people? What about conservatives? What about those who were considering ex-gay camps? What about those who are recovering from those experiences? What about homosexuals who desire to be celibate?

Point 7 — The Lambeth Conference: It seems that the overriding mind of the house is that regardless of how they feel about +Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire, the believe that +Gene is a bishop in the Church and deserves to be treated as such. Therefore, from reading the statement and its explanation, We share the Archbishop [of Canterbury] desire [for him to participate] and encourage our Presiding Bishop to offer our assistance as bishops in this endeavor. It is our fervent hope that a way can be found for his full participation.

Now, I doubt seriously that he will be given full seat and voice, but I do believe he will be present with a voice and a seat, if not a vote. Again, the statement above says to me that the House feels that regardless, he is a bishop in the Church of God, the Body of Christ, and his voice deserves to be heard.

Point 8 — Justice and Dignity for all Gay and Lesbian Persons: This is basically a re-affirmation of what was said by the bishops back in March, and I believe it is good that they reaffirmed their position. That being said, I hope the bishops and the larger Church look at better ways of pastoral response, which i addressed in point 6.

So what does all this mean? How does this change things for the day-to-day life of your Guy in the Pew? Well, not much, quite frankly. On the local level, not much will change. People will still go to morning prayer, people will still to go Church on Sunday, blessings of unions will continue to occur, and we will still have the witness of +Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. But is it status quo? More or less, yes. But I believe that we have turned a corner or sorts, and that we as a Communion will have started a turn along the very long arc of justice towards which salvation history bends.

At the end of the day, we have to trust the Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of our elected leadership and that conversations will continue as a result of their meeting. Will those who are hell-bent on leaving the fold continue down their path? Will there eventually two Communions (one Anglican and the other Anglo-Baptist in fancy dress)? Yes. But I am still at heart optimistic about the future of our Church and our Communion. It is a very long journey and a long race.

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