House of Bishops passes compromise resolution

The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church has passed the following statement by a voice vote with only a single voice in opposition. A printer-friendly version is here.

House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 25, 2007

A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners:

In accordance with Our Lord's high priestly prayer that we be one, and in the spirit of Resolution A159 of the 75th General Convention, and in obedience to his Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples, and in gratitude for the gift of the Anglican Communion as a sign of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of reconciliation throughout the world, we offer the following to The Episcopal Church, the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and the larger Communion, with the hope of "mending the tear in the fabric" of our common life in Christ.

"I do it all for the sake of the Gospel so that I might share in its blessings."
1 Corinthians 9:23.

Introduction

The House of Bishops expresses sincere and heartfelt thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates for accepting our invitation to join us in New Orleans. By their presence they have both honored us and assisted us in our discernment. Their presence was a living reminder of the unity that is Christ's promised gift in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Much of our meeting time was spent in continuing discernment of our relationships within the Anglican Communion. We engaged in careful listening and straightforward dialogue with our guests. We expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that The Episcopal Church needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs The Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops offers the following responses to our Anglican Communion partners. We believe they provide clarity and point toward next steps in an ongoing process of dialogue. Within The Episcopal Church the common discernment of God's call is a lively partnership among laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and therefore necessarily includes the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council, and the General Convention.

Summary

  • 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.

Discussion

Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention
The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling 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." (1) The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.

Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty "to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations." They further stated, "…[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care."

Episcopal Visitors
We affirm the Presiding Bishop's plan to appoint episcopal visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight. Such oversight would be provided by bishops who are a part of and subject to the communal life of this province. We believe this plan is consistent with and analogous to Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) as affirmed by the Windsor Report (paragraph 152). We thank those bishops who have generously offered themselves for this ministry. We hope that dioceses will make use of this plan and that the Presiding Bishop will continue conversation with those dioceses that may feel the need for such ministries. We appreciate and need to hear all voices in The Episcopal Church.

Incursions by Uninvited Bishops
We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops in accordance with the Windsor Report and consistent with the statements of past Lambeth Conferences and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our Communion. These principles include respect for local jurisdiction and recognition of the geographical boundaries of dioceses and provinces. As we continue to commit ourselves to honor both the spirit and the content of the Windsor Report, we call upon those provinces and bishops engaging in such incursions likewise to honor the Windsor Report by ending them. We offer assurance that delegated episcopal pastoral care is being provided for those who seek it.

Communion-wide Consultation
In their communiqué of February 2007, the Primates proposed a "pastoral scheme." At our meeting in March 2007, we expressed our deep concern that this scheme would compromise the authority of our own primate and place the autonomy of The Episcopal Church at risk. The Executive Council reiterated our concerns and declined to participate. Nevertheless, we recognize a useful role for communion-wide consultation with respect 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. We encourage our Presiding Bishop to continue to explore such consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

The Listening Process
The 1998 Lambeth Conference called all the provinces of the Anglican Communion to engage in a "listening process" designed to bring gay and lesbian Anglicans fully into the Church's conversation about human sexuality. We look forward to receiving initial reports about this process at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and to participating with others in this crucial enterprise. We are aware that in some cultural contexts conversation concerning homosexuality is difficult. We see an important role for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in this listening process, since it represents both the lay and ordained members of our constituent churches, and so is well-placed to engage every part of the body in this conversation. We encourage the ACC to identify the variety of resources needed to accomplish these conversations.

The Lambeth Conference
Invitations to the Lambeth Conference are extended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those among us who have received an invitation to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference look forward to that gathering with hope and expectation. Many of us are engaged in mission partnerships with bishops and dioceses around the world and cherish these relationships. Lambeth offers a wonderful opportunity to build on such partnerships.

We are mindful that the Bishop of New Hampshire has not yet received an invitation to the conference. We also note that the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed a desire to explore a way for him to participate. We share the Archbishop's desire 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.

Justice and Dignity for Gay and Lesbian Persons
It is of fundamental importance that, as we continue to seek consensus in matters of human sexuality, we also be clear and outspoken in our shared commitment to establish and protect the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, and to name and oppose at every turn any action or policy that does violence to them, encourages violence toward them, or violates their dignity as children of God. We call all our partners in the Anglican Communion to recommit to this effort. As we stated at the conclusion of our meeting in March 2007: "We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God."
------
(1) The Communion Sub-Group noted that "the resolution uses the language of 'restraint', and the group noted that there has been considerable discussion since General Convention about the exact force of that word. By requiring that the restraint must be expressed in a particular way--'by not consenting...', however, the resolution is calling for a precise response, which complies with the force of the recommendation of the Windsor Report." The group also noted "that while the Windsor Report restricted its recommendation to candidates for the episcopate who were living in a same gender union, the resolution at General Convention widened this stricture to apply to a range of lifestyles which present a wider challenge. The group welcomed this widening of the principle, which was also recommended by the Windsor Report, and commend it to the Communion."

Comments (7)

It only clarifies that we remain very much with one foot in the closet, and the other out of it.

I concede, at least from a political angle, it is probably all our bishops could do at this point without over-stepping the bounds of their limited authority. The moratoria the Primates called for in their February Communiqué demanded almost draconian action of our episcopacy, a virtual running over of the laity and clergy in a number of dioceses without reference to their view or input. In short, the bishops were being asked to stop any legislation or decisions moving through General Convention and other authoritative bodies that would open the door of the episcopacy or authorized rites to our LGBT brothers and sisters. . . and for an indefinite period, as there is no timeline for the Anglican Communion reaching "consensus" on these matters.

Could they have done it? In theory, yes. Some would say they should have. I think it would have spelt pastoral suicide for some bishops in some home dioceses and made heroes out of others, but, regardless, it would have ultimately undermined the spirit of governance in this Church -- and I mean the Spirit being able to work freely across and through all four orders without bishops dictating terms and arrogating to themselves a great deal of power.

Fair enough.

But the other side of this statement is sorry in its own right, for the simple reason that the House of Bishops has staked our continued participation in the Anglican Communion on Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006, a piece of legislation that was pushed through in a tired moment and left many deputies (and some bishops) in frustrated, conflicted tears: hardly a reflection of prayerful contemplation and discernment.

But then, B033 perhaps reflects the general state of the Communion at the present time -- where compromises over the manifesting issues come with gritted teeth and grumbling.

Because, at the end of the day, we are wrestling with a series of fundamental yes or no questions, which Anglicans, historically, don't always handle that well.

These include:

Do lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans-gendered persons deserve to be treated with full dignity in Christian community or not?

Are their committed relationships with others of the same gender inherently sinful or blessed by God?

To these questions, our House of Bishops answered, in effect, a reserved "no," though I know many of them scarcely agree. They conceded to limit themselves to the boundaries of B033, hemming in their actions within the sorry and somewhat strange place our last General Convention left matters. . .all in the name of unity.

So, for that reason, I am not happy with what our bishops wrought. Especially for our LGBT sisters and brothers, including my colleagues in ministry who must continue wading through the gray of uncertainty as to whether or not they are fully welcomed as baptized members of this Church.

Despite the clear call "for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons," we refuse to embody this as a Church.
This is how systemic "-isms" work, including racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Promise all that is good and deliver. . .well. . .porridge.

It is my heartfelt prayer that our bishops will take up the "pastoral duty" they cite in this statement with enormous care. Pastoral duty and careful, sometimes painful conversation, will be the fare of the coming days in many places -- probably both in "conservative" dioceses where full accession to the Primates' Communiqué was desired, and in more "liberal" ones, not least of which is Chicago, where one nominee for bishop now has good reason to question whether it's worth the terrible media scrutiny she's already endured.

Betrayal is, in the best of circumstances, a terribly bitter pill to swallow.
God have mercy on all of us, and may we find tender places in our hearts for one another in the coming days.

Finally, the question remains whether B033, a flimsy and suspect piece of legislation, will be enough for our bishops to shield the integrity of the Body against our harshest detractors and help maintain the unity of the Communion.

In my view, probably not.

And just as well.

After all, God is "our strength and our shield," and a "very present help in trouble."

Christ is the ultimate source of our unity when it is threatened.

With all due respect to our bishops, B033 is most certainly not.

With Richard, I do not believe this will satisfy those noisiest in dissent, both in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, earliest indications are that they cry, as they have before, "It doesn't speak clearly (to say what we want it to say). It doesn't respond to Tanzania - or Dromantine or Kigali (with the decision that we want it to take)."

I appreciate that this is, if you will, an honest statement of the House, focusing on those points where they agree and placing the differences between even the voting bishops in the best possible light. I appreciate its clarity (and it is clear on the limits of what could be said). I appreciate that it isn't retrenchment, even if it isn't much progress. It is now the tool we have. It will be interesting to see how folks use it.

Marshall Scott

Scott: I don't perceive any belief among the House of Bishops that this statement will satisfy the most reactionary voices.

I think it's very interesting, given that fact, that this apparently was sent out from the HoB with a unanimous commendation as the mind of the House. I'm really still digesting the fact that such a statement was possible at all given the real pressure that was being applied.

I'm not sure yet what this will mean in the life of the Communion, but I think something important has changed in the life of own community of bishops.

No, this isn't going to satisfy Duncan, Iker, et. al., although it may satisfy ++ Rowan and the bulk of the primates. There will still be schism, dissension and legal battles. But now, not of our choosing, but of theirs.

This is messy. Yes, it's messy. It's not clear or clean or nice when you begin to expand your idea of love and commitment and inclusion. Ask any gay person who is not really "out." Ask any gay person who is out to friends, but not parents, to parents but not grandma.

These sorts of things take time. They do not proceed cleanly or clearly.

But they do proceed. And they will.

Well. After all the waiting.

The Bishops did the Episcopal-dodge.

Who can't agree with their pledge to "establish and protect the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, and to name and oppose at every turn any action or policy that does violence to them, encourages violence toward them, or violates their dignity as children of God"?

And what more could we hope than to hear the Bishops affirm "that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church"?

For one thing, we might have hoped they wouldn't dodge once again behind the smoke screen of "private response to situations of individual pastoral care" when talking about the blessing of same sex unions. This is not a 'private' matter; and it is not merely a matter of "individual private care". We are talking about gay and lesbian couples who are asking to have their committed union blessed publicly by the church in which they have just been told they are "full and equal participants." It is the church, not just the couple in question, that is blessed by such public rites.

The same goes for the Bishops' reaffirmation of the deeply lamentable B033 - which both excludes gay and lesbian candidates for the episcopacy because they are gay and does so on the basis that their "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church."

Can one really be told that someone is a "full and equal participant" in the life of the church and then be judged ad hominem to have a "manner of life" that presents such a challenge to the wider church that it disallows their consideration as a "full and equal participant" in episcopal nominations and elections?

Either my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ are "full participants" in the Body of Christ, or they aren't. We can't say "Welcome to the Body of Christ, but just because you're a lung, don't think you can breathe here!"

In my parish, our gay asst. rector and straight rector made the same promise to their Bishops when he asked
“Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?”

What matters most, Jesus himself told us, is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. To do our best to pattern our life on that teaching is what makes any one of us a wholesome example to anyone else -- and fit for any role to which the church calls us.

Being full participants in the Body of Christ in my book doesn't just make gay and lesbian Episcopalians 'eligible' for full participation all all levels of the church. If ANY of us are full members of Christ's church, then full participation is 'essential' for us. Gay and lesbian Episcopalians are not excused from participating fully with all the gifts that God has given them. We should rather be welcoming gays and lesbians into all the ministries of the church with the same radical hospitality that got Jesus in trouble in his own day.

And not worry about it.

Or do we really think we are more faithful when we say no to God's call and refuse to allow the practice of gifts that have been granted by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the very Church which would now disallow FULL participation solely on the basis of sexual orientation?

The issue in the end - at least for my parish - isn't toleration, or even inclusivity. Either all baptized Christians in our parish are fully 'the church' OR NONE OF US ARE.

If God has called us all out, can we put asterisks and quotation marks around certain of those called, but not others?

And if we all have been made full members in the Church by our baptisms, and thereby are fully members of the Body of Christ, then LET US GO - WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST - NOW LET'S ALL BE THE CHURCH!


Kit,

Thank you for the words of hope.

Glass half empty or half full? That always seems the question in compromise statements.

Or, as I wrote, we remain with one foot in the closet, the other out.

Won't last forever.

I have to say that I have long been an Episcopalian, by choice. I have thought that the Episcopal Church preserves a very real and subtle Christianity that is completely lost in currect society. This issue is simply about people who hurt. It is simply a matter of being excluded from God's love, after having been damaged in the first place, often in God's name. No amount of compromise will ever hide the fact that there is hurting and pain under this issue. One thing that +Spong got right was the concept of Christians in exile. I'm tired of pushing people into that category--whether they are gay or not. Too many have taken up a citizenship somewhere else--secular and non-Christian especially. I may feel a need to stay for the fight, but it's too much. I am going into exile simply to protect myself. I may come home someday. I dearly hope that I can, someday.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space