Theology committee controversy: Bishop Parsley responds

By the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.

Chair, Theology Committee of the House of Bishops:

In response to questions that have been raised about the panel of theologians appointed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to prepare a paper on same-sex relationships in the life of the church, I wish to assure those concerned that the panel very intentionally represents a robust range of views on the subject and includes gay and lesbian persons.

This project has been designed in full communication with the House of Bishops. It has always been the committee’s intention to publish the names of the panel when the work has reached the appropriate stage. We believe that for a season the work can best be accomplished by allowing the panel to work in confidence. This supports the full collegiality and academic freedom of the theologians and provides the space they need for the deep dialogue and reflection that is taking place among them.


This project is designed to articulate theologically a full range of views on the matter of same sex relationships in the church’s life and to foster better understanding and respectful discernment among us. It will also be a contribution to the listening process of the larger Communion. It has several stages and is scheduled to be complete by early 2011. We are grateful to the distinguished theologians for their generous service to the church.

We wish to invite any member of the church who wishes to address the panel to send comments to the Theology Committee. We will see that these are communicated to the theologians to enrich their reflection and dialogue.

Comments should be directed to the chair of the committee, Bishop Henry Parsley, at hparsley@dioala.org.

Episcopal Cafe would also like to invite you to send those comments to us if you feel so inclined at feedback@episcopalcafe.com

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28 Comments
  1. Secret committees are a bad idea. This whole study is a bad idea. 2011 is too late – time to act on full inclusion is now.

  2. Here is a letter to the bishops of the Diocese of Olympia that relates the effect of one more study and the secrecy.

  3. Bryant A. Hudson

    Secrecy about who is on the committee is not the same as confidential deliberations.

    This committee and their eventual report is already tainted. Their findings will be suspect, no matter what they find.

  4. Paul Woodrum

    If the goal of this secret, gnostic, closeted panel is to present a full range of views and not a theological position useful to the deliberations of the HoB, why bother? The full range of opinions is one thing that is not a secret. It runs from gays are pond scum to they are little lower than the angels. Or maybe a bit higher. But theologically all these culturally conditioned opinions add up to nothing except weapons in the culture wars. Why waste anyone’s time rehashing them all again?

  5. Mark Harris’ commnets are here:

    http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.com/2009/06/house-of-bishops-theology-committee.html

    He argues that the Theology Committee is a creature of General Convention, not the House of Bishops and is therefore its membership and the membership of any sub-committee are subject to the same rules as any other committee. Meaning that the members must be named.

    I am not sure that this is the case. The Theology Committee may be a creation of the HOB. Still, the Church’s money is being spent on a panel whose members names have not been disclosed. Did the Bishop’s approve this? Did they tell us?

  6. Leonardo Ricardo

    No secrets…but, I do have a question.

    Was this ¨study¨ initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ¨endorsed¨ by the Presiding Bishop? Is this a Windsor Continuation Group type fabrication by the ABC and those who aim to please him in his quest to PUNISH TEC?

  7. Not to be too blunt, but I see most of this debate as needless anxiety. I fail to see any real issue here.

    Granted, Bishop Parsley’s response is not at all convincing. What competent theologian would be unduly swayed by pressure? Is he saying that they chose people without any professional, intellectual, or personal integrity? But that’s irrelevant, because I don’t see why this decision has to be justified to anyone. I’m not sure Mark Harris’ reading of the canons is at all convincing on this point. A panel convened to advise the committee is not necessarily a subcommittee thereof. I assume there are outside experts. I’m hoping for +Tom Briedenthal, Charles Hefling, Mark Jordan, and Eugene Rogers.

    The report will either argue for true conclusions with sound arguments or for false conclusions with shoddy arguments. Probably some mixture of both.

    Once the names are released we’ll be able to tell whether the committee was appropriately diverse and competent. But what matters is the quality of the product.

    I don’t have a lot of confidence in theology by committee to begin with, though there are some very fine members of the HOB committee and no doubt the panel.

    Let the Bishops and Deputies receive the report or reject it, depending on how convincing it is. In the meantime, let them be reading some good books and talking with all the LGBT folks they know.

    I hope a few of them are on the panel. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t stupid enough not to have included some. If they were that stupid, they deserve what they get.

    I will say that even temporary concealment is a huge tactical mistake in what is ultimately going to be an open deliberative process. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. And I simply don’t agree with my friends who are making such a huge stink about it. It’s a tactical mistake, not one that necessarily taints the work.

    It is equally a tactical mistake for Integrity and others to overblow this thing. The people we need to convince are going to be turned off by this particular tactic. Let’s assume that the committee and the HOB is acting in good faith. If they aren’t, that will be easy enough to spot soon enough.

  8. We have had this stuff coming out of our ears for twenty years – why are we wasting time and money when what we need is a personal decision to move on – not do some more study. Doing it to protect the people who are academic? Why? – this is a time for them to avoid being cloistered – not to cherish it. Walter Righter

  9. Lapinbizarre

    Not often you see a “drop dead” letter this politely worded.

    Roger Mortimer

  10. Karen Nagel

    When it comes to issues of inclusion, as Desmond Tutu has so succinctly said….”All means all”…..Find me a passage in the Gospels that compels us to consider a contradictory view. What exactly is the specific question that the worldwide communion, the national church or this committee needs to debate?

  11. Exercising all the restraint I can, the best I can say about Bishop Parsley’s response is that it is paternalistic in the extreme. What I read is “Hush, now. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about this. We were just kidding in the 1979 BCP when we said that the first order of ministry is that of all the baptized. There are some things you just cannot understand.”

    I also recall the statement on our church’s website that claims the Episcopal Church exercises “transparent governance.” So much for that.

    But to my main points. I have two.

    About 3 years ago, when I was newly elected to the vestry, our priest of 34 years announced his resignation, and it fell to us to appoint a search committee. We knew that emotions might run high, as most of our parishioners would feel a stake in the outcome and would have very strong opinions about what they did and did not want to see in our next rector. By the logic of Bishop Parsley’s statement, the vestry should have kept the names of the search committee members secret so that they could deliberate appropriately. Have any of you kept secret the names of your search committees? Of course, that’s bull-hockey. As is Bishop Parsley’s rationale.

    And my second point: The Bishops have unilaterally chosen to delay this report until 2011. After three decades of serious study and discussion, the Bishops have carefully put this report off until the 2012 General Convention. Personally, this infuriates me. Much work has been done. Tobias Haller’s recent book is a major contribution to the theological discussion. My hermeneutic of suspicion has kicked in. I fear the Bishops have been lulled into Rowan’s miasma. As I see it, this is a “shot across the bow” to the House of Deputies. I read here that the Bishops will stonewall any forward movement at GC09; they will claim that they just cannot act until they hear from their super-secret panel. I see this as a very deliberate and unfortunate (if not nefarious) move.

    As to the composition of the committee. I really wouldn’t care who was on the committee as long as I knew that someone of the status of Bishop Gene Robinson or Brother Tobias Haller were on that super-secret panel. No matter what conservatives were on the panel, I would rest easier if I knew either of these were present.

    Secondary points:

    I believe the Bishop’s choice of panel members will tell us a great deal.

    As Bill Carroll put it, this is at best a huge “tactical mistake” by the House of Bishops. Only time will tell whether or what kind of other mistake(s) it may be.

    Like so many others, I find it hilarious that this super-secret panel is going to deliberate in the closet. That is just too funny for words!

  12. Bill, I think you are being naive. If form holds, the deputies might well be presented with this report as a fait accompli, and have their arms twisted B033-style to accept it under duress to save the church and the communion. I am not surprised that they would fight for every inch of ground on issues like this one.

  13. Christopher Evans

    I think the Integrity statement overblows this, but I think I have to disagree a bit with my friend, Fr. Bill.

    In another milieu, this might read different, but given the contexted realities of lgbt persons and what we actually have faced and do face in the Church, including TEC, this reinforces precisely the sort of behaviors we have had to deal with–in particular secrecy and a non-ending talking “about” that tends to do theology in abstraction and objectification of our persons. Openness and assurance that real lgbt persons are a part of those theological discussions goes a long way toward making clear that our official theological panels are not practicing longstanding attitudes and behaviors toward us (i.e., secrecy and talking about). Again, the cultural realities dictate undoing a particular ecclesial way of being that has done us a great deal of harm and a way of being that clearly is not yet undone.

    So I reiterate what I said before:

    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.

    And I agree with Lisa, the tone of Bp Parsley’s response is paternalistic. Another attitude and behavior we’ve often been on the receiving end of in this Chruch, and not just by conservatives or moderates, but by so-called liberals including our PB.

  14. Christopher Evans

    I might add our sister Church, the ELCA has held repeated studies of this sort and always with the transparency of naming who is serving on a committee in capacity similar to this.

    I would also point out that their committees looks at sexuality more broadly and didn’t do the usual churchy lets objectify and dissect lgbt persons and their relationships.

    No this reads as heterosexist church culture and just because the problem isn’t noticeable to many doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  15. Two thoughts on Bishop Parsley’s letter.

    1. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently named the four person Working group whose task is to sort out the now infamous Section 4 of the Ridley draft Anglican Covenant. It is hard to imagine four persons in the AC more likely to be pressured by various interest groups in the church during the time of their work. If the AoC thinks they can handle it without a season of confidence, why cannot the subcommittee of the HoB theology committee?

    2. As an academic theologian myself, I completely reject the notion that this has anything to do with protecting academic freedom. We academics live, struggle, and thrive in the context of open, sometimes heated, even hostile questioning, necessary to pursue and hone our ideas. That is our academic freedom, nothing less! To think we need to be protected from the push, pull, passions and challenges to our theological ideas in order to be free is utter nonsense. We can only do it to the extent that we are freely exposed to the good, bad and the ugly in the life of the church we love and serve.

  16. Christopher Evans

    I agree with Clark.

    I might further add that this sort of thing, secrecy etc., is exactly the kind of habits, behaviors, emotions, attitudes that have done harm to lgbt persons in the Church, and that history doesn’t just go away. We who have that history in our bones from firsthand experience of such find this offensive because it represents patterns of behavior on the part of the Church that do us harm.

  17. garydasein

    Wow! What a lovely commercial for the Episcopal Church! A secret commission to study LGBTs communicates that LGBTs are so unworthy of membership that they have to be studied in secret. The message is LGBTs are not good enough for TEC whereas it is TEC which is not good enough for LGBTs.

    Is anyone surprised by Bishop Parsley’s patronizing tone? Straight privilege works like that, people telling us not to lose our sleep over the ongoing denial of our civil rights. The website of his diocese has absolutely nothing on LGBTs. They do not exist in his diocese, I would guess. He has expressed full support of B033 and is against the blessing of same-sex couples. I also recall he voted against Gene Robinson at General Convention 2003. He embodies the new image of the Episcopal Church.

    People I know from more progressive faith groups tell me they see TEC as having capitulated to Canterbury.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  18. Jim’s and Christopher’s points are well taken.

    I still think that the fundamental issue is whether the Deputies and Bishops can show some backbone.

    This process may be flawed. I think on pragmatic grounds alone the names should have been released.

    But the real problem is whether the General Convention, where things will happen more or less right out in the open, will allow itself to be strongarmed.

    I’m not necessarily pleased with how things have been and will be done. They reflect underlying dynamics that are problematic on several levels. But I’d rather focus on interventions that will help sway undecided deputies and bishops.

    Any competent theologian who is still holding on to heteronormativity is doing so for other than theological reasons. First person testimony and the example of life lived with integrity is the only thing that will make any difference.

  19. dutchfox

    Yes, I agree with the comments about pervading heterosexism and paternalism of Bp Parsley’s statement. I also agree that he doesn’t have a clue about the meaning of academic freedom, in fact he’s insulted those people who truly fight for it throughout the world.

    I’m confused. Can anyone here please tell me the difference between the dialogues and conversations surrounding/leading up to the release of the Windsor Report and the proposed work of this theology group? Hasn’t all this stuff been done before?

    2011? Ridiculous! It’s a delaying obfuscatory tactic of the powerful bishops! – Jay Vos

  20. Ellen Lincourt

    Secret committees are not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, the US Constitutiion was hammered out in secrecy. The delegates were not allowed to speak about their deliberations and look what resulted. Sometimes secret committees are able to argue, discuss and haggle out details without publicity and pressure.

  21. The names of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were well known.

  22. revsusan

    I want to respectfully disagree with my friend and colleague Bill Carroll. My mail is tellling me that “the diverse center” of the church is sick of being manipulated — whether it’s by parliamentary procedures on the floor of the House of Deputies or 11th Hour “for a season” resolutions from the House of Bishops.

    The secrecy of this committee falls — for many — into that same bucket. And so while Integrity did NOT launch this “outing” process we applaud it.

    Susan Russell

  23. SO, WE REPEAT,

    +++Rowan Williams

    ++Kathryn Jefferts Schori

    +Parsley

    ¨TEAR DOWN this wall!¨

  24. Christopher Evans

    My letter to the bishops.

  25. Susan,

    Can we at least agree that the panel has no more power than the General Convention gives it? The real issue here is that GC has shown itself susceptible to this kind of manipulation.

    I’m much more concerned about the presence of Rowan Williams and how that will affect bishops and deputies more wedded to their Anglophilia than to the baptismal covenant.

    Could Bonnie Anderson as well as the chairs of several standing commissions with an interest in the panel’s work make a formal request for the names of the members?

    Let me be clear about one thing: I think that it was a mistake on every level to do this in secret. I just don’t see what good freaking out about it does. There are better ways to shine light here. There are more important corners to shine it into.

    But that’s just a disagreement among friends about tactics, and you’re a far better activist than I am.

  26. Christopher Evans

    Maybe my Benedictine instincts are kicking in here, but this is not about tactics. “Be it not so with you,” commands our Lord. It is this that sits at the heart of Benedictine notions of power and authority. I would suggest that as Bp Sykes notes in Unashamed Anglicanism, it is this that also sits at the heart of challengeability of authority in our Anglican tradition.

    No, this is not about tactics, of who can win or get our way, this is about how we are together with one another in Christ and before His throne of grace.

    Rather of great consequence or merely symbolic, within the matrix of a history in which secrecy coupled with shame has done a great deal of harm through various forms of bullying (and things said and left unsaid in the “closet” of ecclesial offices have many times been the most scarring), this gesture on the part of a HOB committee raises up a pattern of mendaciousness lgbt Christians know well and that is far from the Mind of Christ and the way Christ is with us and expects us to be with one another. That is the crux of the matter, not tactics, on any side. Let us not fall into the double-thought of the likes of the ACI by resorting to tactics when how we do Truth is at matter.

  27. KJ

    I’m encouraged to learn that there are bishops who are as troubled about the anonymity as many of the rest of us.

    Kevin Johnson

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