House of Bishops posts
same-sex report(s)

Once again the Episcopal News Service is on top the story with a timely report:

The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, concluding its six-day retreat meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, has posted a draft of the long-awaited 95-page report titled "Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church" on the College of Bishops' website [resources page]here.

[Thanks, College, for giving Episcopal Cafe a prominent place on your links page.]
The House of Bishops had asked its theology committee in 2009 -- prior to the 76th meeting of General Convention -- to study the theology of same-gender relationships. In its report to the convention the committee said that the study would be "designed to reflect a full spectrum of views and to be a contribution to the listening process of the Anglican Communion, as well as to the discussion of this subject in our province." The committee said the study would be "a long-term, multi-step project that is designed to be completed in 2011."

Controversy developed in early June 2009 when Parsley initially declined to release the names of the theologians appointed by the committee to conduct the study. The names have since been released and the authors listed on the report....

ENS notes that one blogging bishops pointed out that the HOB requested one study but got two papers with familiar opposing views. In the report these are given the labels, Liberal and Traditionalist.

From the preface of the report:

[A]fter much conversation, the eight theologians formed two affinity groups consisting of four theologians each and have prepared two main papers. One adheres to what it understands to be the church’s traditional ethical and sacramental teaching about marriage. The other revisits this teaching in order to call for the church’s recognition of faithful, monogamous same-gender relationships. Each affinity group has then prepared a formal response to the other’s work.

The Traditionalists:
John E. Goldingay, Fuller Theological Seminary
Grant R. LeMarquand, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
George R. Sumner, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada
Daniel A. Westberg, Nashotah House

The Liberals:
Deirdre J. Good, General Theological Seminary
Cynthia B. Kittredge, Seminary of the Southwest
Eugene F. Rogers, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Willis J. Jenkins, Yale Divinity School

The Editor:
Ellen Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary

Let the reading begin.

Early returns:

Hmmm from Susan Russell
Read this from Kendall Harmon

Comments (10)

[Before I read the reports]

Seeing the compositions of these two "equally-balanced committees" reminds me of the "bipartisan" Senate Health Panel of a year ago: 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans, in a Senate that was 60-40 Democratic majority!

Arguably, GC is far MORE "Liberal" than 60% . . . so why is there equal representation? [If the % had been more reflective of GC, then I think there could have been ONE Majority Report!]

JC Fisher

Just a preliminary thought before I sit down to read:

Can we all agree that from now on, no one, in any context, ever gets to say, "You haven't done the theology" on this subject.

Period. Ever again.

Thank you.

Jason Cox

From the ENS report:

Lambert, Diocese of Dallas bishop suffragan and member of meeting's planning committee, wrote on the Anglicans United website that the report "was received with some caution and we will continue to use the report as a basis for further conversations and it should not be seen as the definitive statement of the church's statement on same-sex relationships, although some would see it as so."
Lambert and other blogging bishops noted that while the house had requested one paper on same-gender relationships in the life of the church, two were presented.
Lane in his blog said the theologians, one either side, "identified themselves traditionalist and expansionist." Lambert wrote that the theologians "determined early on in their study that it was not possible to present one paper on the subject. So the conversation continues with two very divergent views, which in my mind, shows where we are as a church on the matter of same-sex relationships."
In a related matter, Lambert wrote that the church's recent majority decision to consent to the ordination and consecration of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as a bishop suffragan for the Diocese of Los Angeles was discussed by bishops at the meeting, but not in a formal way during a plenary session.
"Of course, her presence at our meeting makes it difficult to discuss this openly and honestly, both for her and the house gathered," Lambert wrote. "I bid your prayers that we may have a spirit of mutual respect and forbearance for all involved. I do believe that we will do so with sensitivity and concern for all."

And that's the whole point, Bp. Lambert (of Dio. Dallas and Anglicans United), right there: not so easy to talk ABOUT us, when we're in the room, is it?

JC Fisher

It's disappointing that they didn't actually attempt to lay out those things things, if any, on which they agreed. Surely there is some point of consensus.

I've only skimmed it, but a couple of things stand out. First, while the "traditionals" admit the problems for gays and lesbians of celibacy, heterosexual marriage, and the overwhelming failure of therapy in overcoming same-sex attraction, they offer no positive alternative; in other words they condemn gays and lesbians to lives that fall short of human flourishing.

The liberals, on the other hand, seem to make several problematic moves. The most obvious one to me is here:

"Thus, both same- and opposite-sex marriage may represent the marriage of Christ and the church, because Christ is the spouse of all believers. Men do not represent Christ by maleness alone, nor do women represent the church by femaleness alone. Same-sex marriage witnesses to the reality that a male Christ also saves men and a female church also saves women." 55

Given the way bridal imagery was used by both male and female mystics over the centuries, to link it so literally to marriage doesn't do justice to the tradition.

Still, there is a great deal here on which to ruminate, not least "Why did Jesus not climb down from the cross? - because he held himself accountable to put his body where his love was." 65

Jonathan Greiser

Posted this elsewhere but wanted to add it here.

Just raced through the thing. I know that I shouldn't frame it this way. And yet I can't help say this:

We won. There. It is said. We won with this exercise. They come off as bitter and just a little patronizing. Our side wrote a wonderful homage to marriage and explained in wonderful passages the argument for full on marriage equality. The conservatives even acknowledged in their response how well the four arguing for expansion and acceptance had done.

Set the papers side by side: the conservatives all but acknowledged that they worked from fear and often claimed how wrong welcome and tolerance are. You don't win support by arguing for a pure closed institution. And they wasted pages on "counseling" to change orientation (the stuff that every single last mental health organization in America has called out as unethical and wrong). They wasted space on arguing against much and hedging their words and complaining that they will be misunderstood.

Our side (labeled the liberals) wrote eloquently in defense of marriage - a broad accepting and welcoming model of marriage. Some of the passages for marriage equality are beautiful enough to be read at a wedding. It is that good.

We won. Rather, the Church and the faith and a welcoming and open understanding of the gospel won. Took all of the marbles. Cleared the field. Ran the scoreboard out. Swung for the bleachers. Call it what you want it is a good thing.

This was a great exercise for the church and will pave the way for the next GC to authorize same sex marriages.

Dennis Roberts


You wrote:

Just raced through the thing. I know that I shouldn't frame it this way....

Then don't. Part of the difficulty of the discussion is that people know they shouldn't say something and then say it anyway. Give it some time.

Well Tom, that certainly was a call out for what was honestly a rhetorical flourish. But let me change it to how I honestly believe I should have written it:
I am happy to proclaim that we have won. If this is the best that the voices of tradition and exclusion can do then we have nothing to fear. The radical welcome that we find in the gospel has held the day.
There it is, a message that I am happy to believe is never too soon to proclaim and feel strongly should be proclaimed. Sometimes saying "we have won" is but another way of announcing that life and love has triumphed over death.
Dennis Roberts

That we "heard nothing new" in this report is, I think, a pretty fair assessment, and perhaps that is something we should consider when we question as to whether we have "done the theology." (meaning that the lack of anything "new" suggests that there may not be much "theology to do")

In essence, the "conservative" case is made on the basis of the "plain" meaning of key scriptural passages along with a few other pieces. They counter the pneumatological claims of the "liberals" by making the case that it is not proven that homosexual orientation is part of a divine creator's intent and, in their view, is a product of original sin and the fallenness of humanity. They argue that the issue of same-sexuality is unique and cannot be cast as another round in battles like slavery and women's rights– battles which prior conservatives have already lost.

The liberal argument advances, in essence, the pneumatological approach that the church experiences the gifts of the Spirit in the lives of gay and lesbian persons who are not celibate. They admit that the scientific proof of sexual orientation is not conclusive (missing the opportunity to remind us that neither is the proof of "cause" of heterosexual orientation conclusively proven either in my neuroscientist opinion), but that such orientation seems innate and comes from a stage of human development that precedes reason and choice (in the womb). They also make a more "eastern" argument that nods to the contemporary western rediscovery of mostly-eastern patristic theologies of incarnation in creating a positive argument about the embodied nature of our spirituality.

None of this, as one of the bishops said, was particularly new or surprising.

The only "new" thing that I found was the liberal argument advanced that same-sex couples should not merely have the option to marry but that they must marry. Their view of marriage as a " an arduous discipline, a training in sanctification" strikes me as patently a brilliant and somewhat inspiring view of marriage, far from St. Paul's pre-apocalyptic view of marriage as a remedy for sexual desire for those too weak to remain celibate. (Better to marry than burn). It also moves us away from a Roman Catholic traditionalist view that a sexually expressed life is a kind of "second best" for those who do not have the charism of celibacy. As such, it might have the possibility of revitalizing the fading importance of heterosexual marriage in western society.

In the end, the conservatives offer the advice that we must wait and delay and continue to debate. My cynical view is that the conservatives know that they have lost this debate in the Christian West and especially so in the democratically constituted Episcopal Church. That fully 70% of Episcopalians in the Pew survey felt that homosexuality should be "accepted" confirms that this is not an "elitist and liberal establishment" in the church that has forced this conclusion on the poor and helpless people in the pews. They must bring in the "whole Anglican communion" and the churches of Africa and the global south to press their case by finding a new realm in which they can seat themselves again in a comfortable majority rather than a fading minority. Having lost the local argument, they hope to delay by taking the argument to a global stage and looking for superiority of numbers elsewhere. They make the other "new" argument of the day that, not to do so is both racist and imperialist– odd phrases coming from conservative mouths, but a somewhat brilliant new spin that has been increasingly heard today from such inspiring theologians as Pastor Martin Ssempa.

On the other side, I do believe that the liberals offer a fascinating "recommendation" at least in the way that they present it. I think that it is worth quoting, as it has the ring of charity and truth about it:

"Our interpretation of Scripture has suffered from these divisions. We have all favored self-authentication and despised common patterns of discernment. We have all abandoned the discipline of concern for one another. We have failed to practice friendship and hospitality and have not labored for the most charitable interpretations of one another. It is no accident that we now debate marriage. For marriage is an example of the concrete discipline that most of us (liberal and conservative) lack: in marriage we practice common discernment over self-interest. Marriage cultivates concern for an another; it offers life-long hospitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom, but, just now, with respect to one another.
In Acts, the parties agree to maintain hospitality. Jewish Christians may not refuse table-fellowship with Gentile sojourners. Gentiles must refrain from blood, strangled meat, and unchastity (Acts 15:28-29) Here is what we propose: Conservatives maintain table fellowship. Same-sex couples must marry."

That's my entirely biased liberal first reading of the report. I am looking forward to reading others.

The papers clarify the places from which both positions begin, and as I read the papers I think the conservatives have the better of the argument. The approvals of Canon Robinson and Canon Glasspool were a mistake.

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