Secret theology committee studies same sex relationships

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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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blgriffith
Guest

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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Padre Mambo
Guest

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.)

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k8conant
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k8conant

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

current bishops of the Episcopal Church.

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Leonardo Ricardo
Guest
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.

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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.
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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.

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