Secret theology committee studies same sex relationships

UPDATE: Chicago Consultation calls for release of names of scholars studying same sex relationships. Also response from Integrity. See below.

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The House of Bishops Theology Committee is refusing to release the names of members of a sub-committee it has appointed to study same-sex relationships. The existence of the panel was first reported in the Blue Book, which contains information relevant to General Convention, 2009. However, the Rt. Rev. Henry Parsley of Alabama, chair of the Theology Committee has refused several requests to disclose the names of its members.


The anonymity of the panel raises serious concerns in the Church that prides itself on the transparency of its representative form of governance. In addition, the work of this secret panel has already been cited by some bishops as a reason to delay further legislative action on the issue of same-sex relationships until the panel finishes its work in 2011.

From the report of the Theology Committee:

We have been asked by the House of Bishops to undertake a theological study of same-sex relationships in the life of the church. This is 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. A diverse and balanced panel of theologians has been appointed by the Committee and is presently beginning this work. This is a long-term, multi-step project that is designed to be completed in 2011.

Currently serving as members of the Theology Committee:

The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Chair

The Rt. Rev. David A. Alvarez

The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt

The Rt. Rev. Joe G. Burnett

Dr. Ellen T. Charry

The Rev. Dr. Sathianathan Clarke

Dr. Stephen E. Fowl

The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb

The Rt. Rev Robert W. Ihloff

Dr. Charles T. Mathewes

Dr. Joy A. McDougall

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller

Dr. Kathryn Tanner

Dr. Louie Crew, former member of the Executive Council, writes:

[I] find that decision [to be] an abomination. LGBT in life commitments face huge hostility in this church, and yet those who “study” us need to be secret?!

Integrity responds:

“If this isn’t the height of absurdity and insult I don’t know what is,” said the Reverend Susan Russell, President of Integrity USA, the LGBT advocacy group within the Episcopal Church. “It sends a horrific message to gay and lesbian people – both inside and outside the church. The very concept of “secret studies” elicits painful memories of secret studies done on other minority groups in the past and is utterly contrary to our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. There is absolutely nothing dignified about a secret study of a group already being discriminated against. It is suspect, disingenuous and dishonest. ”

CHICAGO CONSULTATION CALLS FOR HOUSE OF BISHOPS THEOLOGY COMMITTEE TO RELEASE NAMES OF SCHOLARS STUDYING SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS

CHICAGO, June 2, 2009—Ruth Meyers, professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and General Convention deputy from the Diocese of Chicago, released this statement today in her role as co-convener of the Chicago Consultation:

The report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, included on page 51 of the Blue Book for the 76th General Convention, states that the committee has been asked by the House of Bishops to undertake a theological study of same-sex relationships in the life of the church. According to the report, the Theology Committee has appointed “a diverse and balanced panel of theologians” that has already begun its work.

The church’s history of homophobia is largely based on cultural prejudice that has resulted in inaccurate and incomplete interpretations of biblical texts. Therefore, the Chicago Consultation commends the House of Bishops on its desire to continue the decade-and-a-half long study of human sexuality in the life of the church, especially in light of four recent official Episcopal Church studies—released in 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003. Three of these previous studies have, in fact, involved the House of Bishops Theology Committee[1].

Continued scholarly work, done with particular attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in committed, life-long, monogamous unions of faithful gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians, can liberate the church to discern more fully the work of the Spirit in all life-long unions of fidelity and mutual love. So that further study can be enriched by common prayer, we call upon General Convention to enrich this new theological work by establishing a common rite for the blessing of unions across the Episcopal Church.

However, we are saddened that the House of Bishops Theology Committee has chosen to begin this important scholarly work without making public the names of the bishops, theologians and scholars who are serving on this panel. The theological study of human sexuality is essential to our common life, to our mission and evangelism, and to our ability to live out our baptismal promises. Such important work deserves to be no less than a model of the transparent governance that the Episcopal Church has upheld for centuries.

As theologians, priests, bishops and laypeople from across the Episcopal Church, we call upon the House of Bishops Theology Committee to release at once the names of those serving on the panel it has appointed to study same-sex relationships. We commit to praying for them by name and to providing our assistance as they continue their work.

The Chicago Consultation, a group of Episcopal and Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people, supports the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Christians in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. We believe that our baptismal covenant requires this.

The Chicago Consultation believes that, like the church’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, excluding GLBT people from the sacramental life of the church is a sin. Through study, prayer and conversation, we seek to provide clergy and laypeople across The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion with biblical and theological perspectives that will rid the church of this sin.

###

[1] 1994 Continuing the Dialogue: a Pastoral Study Document of the House of Bishops to the Church as the Church Considers Issues of Human Sexuality (The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, 1994).

1997“The Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships,” in Report of the Standing Liturgical Commission with the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to the 72nd General Convention (1997 Blue Book, p. 285-300).

2000 “Theological Aspects of Committed Relationships of Same-Sex Couples,” in the Report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to the 73rd General Convention (2000 Blue Book, pp. 205-232).

2003 “The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective,” a Report of the Theology Committee to the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, March 2003 (2003 General Convention Journal, p. 780-788).

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22 Comments
  1. Christopher Evans

    A theology subcommittee that is not openly engaged with persons in same-sex relationships and transparent in its processes is extremely problematic.

    I don’t mind delay if it will result in deepened understanding and theological grounding, but I mind very much a theological in which we are studied in secret as objects. This reveals a great disrespect and hostility toward our persons no matter the intent or findings.

  2. I believe there ought be live video transmissions on ALL *sensitive* meetings regarding the participation of LGBT people at ALL levels of Churchlife (I also think the HOB ought be live streamed as well)…why must we seek to be OPEN and ¨informed¨ about the REAL discussion(s) regarding REAL Episcopalians and OUR acceptability at Church?

    I also think it is irresponsible for the HOB´s to cloak themselves in secrecy (but then I guess they would just go to ¨cloakroom¨ and prepare statements that ¨sounded¨ good for their performances to a wider audience).

    What we don´t need is more ¨prudent¨ involuntary fasting…afterall, that ¨fasting¨ has simply becoming a form of manipulative dishonesty and many are tired of being treated as irresponsible children…being RESPONSIBLE and ACCOUNTABLE is what we are called to do as members of The Body of Christ…let´s stop playing pretend.

  3. The House of Bishops Theology Committee is refusing to release the names of members of a sub-committee it has appointed to study same-sex relationships. The existence of the panel was first reported in the Blue Book, which contains information relevant to General Convention, 2009.¨

    Oh, it´s sort of like a surprise EPISCOPAL CHURCH Windsor Continuation Group? Has the ABC ¨suggested¨ this as another one of his behind-the-scenes actions of delay? Who proposed this group and this assignment and who voted for it?

  4. I have appealed to the PB. In NY where TEC is incorporated, it is illegal to deny such information from the governing body (GC).

    Louie, L1 Newark

  5. garydasein

    Theological study is an oxymoron. All similarly situated persons should be treated alike, as the Iowa Supreme Court said unanimously. A Christian denomination which refuses to stand for full civil and religious equality of all persons lacks moral convictions. Theology will do nothing because there is nothing to study. Theology will tempt them into invoking the old Patriarchal sky-God, who has moved and left no forwarding address. A demythologized Ascension would be that instead of looking up into space the community should work for justice in the here and now.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  6. revsusan

    A “closeted” sub-committee studying same sex unions seems too bizarre a thing to even make it into a Monty Python episode, much less be a course intentionally taken by a church that committed to full and equal claim for its gay and lesbian baptized 33 years ago.

    If this important work is to have ANY CREDIBILITY WHATSOEVER it is critical

    that the work be done in a context of honesty and transparency.

    Susan Russell

  7. Bill Eadie

    I am currently serving on a task force of this nature for the Diocese of San Diego. We were formed by resolution of our diocesan convention, and the membership of the task force is not secret. By the terms of the resolution, we have a diverse group of members, including lesbian and gay individuals, as well as clergy and lay members who believe that sexuality outside of traditional marriage should not be sanctioned by the Church.

    The general positions of many on this group are well known in the diocese, but we still agreed to keep our deliberations confidential. As a result, I think, we were able to have some very open discussions and come together as a working group to take the best interests of the diocese, rather than our personal agendas, into account as we did our work.

    We will soon issue our report. We were asked in the resolution to discuss holiness in relationships and the blessing of same-sex relationships from the perspectives of Holy Scripture, church history and tradition, practical pastoral, and sacramental theology, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I cannot discuss the specifics of the report at this time, but I can tell you that we agreed far more than we disagreed. I believe that our level of agreement is directly related to the fact that we have kept this group and its deliberations low-key and low-profile.

    Bill Eadie

    member, St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego

  8. revsusan

    Keeping deliberations confidential is absolutely appropriate.

    Keeping members secret is not.

    Susan Russell

  9. A sub-committee whose membership is secret? Problematic indeed! I can perhaps understand keeping the discussions confidential, until the final report, so long as the membership of the sub-committee includes persons in same-sex relationships.

    June Butler

  10. dutchfox

    Yes, I’m all for transparency and agree with the comments about the names being published.

    How were the names of the committee in this post ‘outed’? – Jay Vos

  11. The names of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops are in the Blue Book as are all names of people on committees, commissions and boards of TEC. Except the secret study committee

  12. Father Ron

    Those of us residing outside of TEC’s jurisdiction, who are looking to TEC’s leadership in this important area of LGBT justice in the world-wide Anglican Communion, are puzzled – to say the least – about a decision to ‘closet’ the membership of a ‘secret Committee’ of persons dedicated to the task of ‘studying’ the case for inclusivity in the Church. At this stage of the proceedings, surely this is a dangerous precept to follow – especially when the culture of secrecy is what has held back the cause of justice for LGBT persons in the Church for so long. It does sound a bit like the Inquisition!

    Father Ron Smith

  13. Liz Zivanov

    How long, O Lord, must this topic be “studied”? 30 years, 40 years, 100 years? Frankly, this is a stalling tactic by the HoB and it’s really sad that they not only think they need to plane this kind of scheme (as our ABC might say), but they have to be secret about it at the same time. Well-known and respected theologians have studied this over and over again. Are we supposed to believe that there are bishops who will determine something new or more holy or more theologically sound or more scholarly than those who are trained in theology and have done and published the work? Perhaps someone can send the HoB a list of publications and research so they can see if they really want to re-invent this wheel and expect us to believe it’s the first or best wheel. I’m stunned at this entire situation.

  14. Christopher Evans

    I think the work of the Chicago Consultation, including the latest publication of the ATS, shows that richer and stronger theological presentations are not only necessary but possible, than say, To Set Our Hope on Christ. I’m all for a deepening of theological engagement. After all, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the problem isn’t that the conservatives are conservative, it’s that they aren’t conservative enough, bandying about rather modern notions of biblical interpretation and literalist readings of the human body, as in “complementarity theories” that the Fathers and Scholastics would have found not in keeping with Chalcedon.

    But we have endured enough secrecy. Secrecy is deadly to the life of the Church and to Truth. To be unwilling to give the names of a theological subcommittee that will likely set the future tone is deeply troubling.

  15. tgflux

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant (whereas secrecy is TOXIC).

    JC Fisher

  16. Paul Woodrum

    Ah, but reinventing the wheel in the closet! Perhaps this is a here-to-fore undisclosed process for producing empathy. One question: Is the light on or off?

    PS: Is not the Presiding Bishop the de jure source and chair of all HoB committees? Cannot her primatial self reveal the names?

  17. dutchfox

    “Cannot her primatial self reveal the names?”

    Exactly! Done with her knowledge/approval? Well, I’m waiting patiently for her to explain what is going on. And I don’t want any more lame excuses. – Jay Vos

  18. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    I don’t suppose the list requires my “ditto” on the impropriety of a secret commission. I would, however, make the further inappropriate suggestion that, if the members and proceedings are kept secret, then the report be kept secret as well, PERMANENTLY!

    I understand that the church needs periodic reflection and reassessment of its theological perspectives, but I also agree that this topic has, in the very recent past, been done and done again. Do we really expect that this commission can say anything new? Would we respect the decisions of a committee whose members and deliberations were secret if they did say something new/novel, or is this just more placating for the (sometimes not-so-conscientious) objectors to full inclusion? To have a “2011” report date is the toll of an ominous bell that GC 2009 is going to be more “just a little longer” which looks more and more like it will be “in practicality never” or at least until the rest of the world has gone so far beyond the church’s position, that any further objection would simply have to be absurd.

  19. Leonardo Ricardo

    Keeping deliberations confidential is absolutely appropriate.

    Keeping members secret is not.

    Susan Russell

    No doubt C-SPAN will be interested in knowing what is ¨appropriate¨ and not ¨appropriate¨. So much manipulative nonsense goes on behind the scenes…I´ve experienced it on ¨my side¨ of the aisle as well.

  20. k8conant

    This is a horrific example of the behind-closed-doors policies of the

    current bishops of the Episcopal Church.

  21. Although I understand the handwringing about the secrecy, I think attributing nefarious motives isn’t the way to go. This is not “horrific” or an “abomination.” It may be a bad decision. It may be offensive.

    I would like to know the logic behind the secrecy, of course. To some extent, I can also understand that the deliberations should be public, but the names anonymous, in part because ad hominem attacks are often part of the way conversations work – especially in the blogosphere.

    Finally, what are we expecting from the report? What kind of authority will it have?

    (Editor’s note: Thanks, Padre. We need your real name next time.)

  22. I don’t know… frankly I don’t have a problem with this. People need time away from the pressure groups and the haranguing and the “media.” This could be the “time of fasting” that the PB mentioned early on.

    Remember, these are theologians and not authorities or people’s representatives. What if there is a third way of going forward, and not just the same old dualistic identity politics and division? Let them do their work in peace and quiet and let’s see whether all of this can be approached and dealt with in a different and perhaps better way. I willing to give them some space!

    Frankly, the “theological work” around marriage – gay or straight – has been quite weak of late. Of course, whatever “theological outcome” supports one side of a disagreement over the other is considered just fine with the “winning” side.

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