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Who can speak for the Church?

Who can speak for the Church?

Lionel Deimel writes of his concern that the provisional bishop of Pittsburgh, Ken Price, has signed onto a document that opposes a federal mandate regarding universal access to contraceptives.

“I was upset to learn today that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—its bishop, anyway—signed on to a statement by Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania (CASP) expressing opposition to the federal mandate that institutions with a religious affiliation must provide no-cost contraceptives to their female employees.

[…]Upset as I am about the CASP statement, I am that much more upset by the fact that my own bishop, Kenneth Price, was willing to lend his support to this horrible document. It is even more galling that our deposed bishop, now Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America Robert Duncan, is so publicly associated with the statement.

I do not doubt that Duncan supported the statement with some enthusiasm, but his appearance at the news conference was largely dictated by the fact that he is the current chair of the Council of Bishops and Judicatory Executives of Christian Associates. Interestingly, although 26 judicatories of various churches are represented in CASP, the 18 signers of the statement represent only about 14 of them. Apparently, the thinking on this matter was less than uniform. Reputedly, some did not sign due to restrictions on what their representatives to CASP are allowed to do. The United Methodist Conference of Western Pennsylvania is not represented on the statement, however, because the United Methodist Church has a policy of supporting universal access to reproductive services. (Apparently, the Methodists know insincerity when they see it.)

It is not actually clear to me that Bishop Price had the right to commit the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the CASP statement, a matter that perhaps will need to be considered at the next diocesan convention. Certainly, he does not represent my own view in this case, and I know he does not represent the views of a number of fellow Episcopalians with whom I have discussed this matter.”

I think Lionel’s issue is not so much that his bishop apparently holds a view regarding this matter that is different than his own, but that the bishop’s signature on the document makes it appear that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has taken a stance it hasn’t formally taken.

Is there a way that Bishop Price could have signed onto the statement in a way that makes it clear that he’s speaking personally and not on behalf of the diocese?

This is an issue for lay and clergy leaders as well. One of my predecessors in a previous congregation created a stir that ultimately cost him his job when we wrote an op-ed piece in the local newspaper that took a stance that his congregation disagreed with. They claimed he was putting words in their mouths.

How have you seen this tension between speaking prophetically to the world and speaking corporately for the body managed? Is it a fair concern?


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Bill Dilworth


First of all, no one here seems to be arguing that conservative bishops cannot express their own views and opinions. The issue is their presenting those views and opinions as if they bound the diocese to a certain course of action or a certain opinion.

“”They’re just resolutions, nothing’s official till it’s in the BCP.” ”

There seems to be some disagreement on the HoD list concerning just how binding resolutions are. You and I, however, seem to be speaking about two different uses of resolutions. When I point out that GC has gone on record as supporting gay people, or the right of women to make their own reproductive choices, there doesn’t seem to be any question of binding authority; how could there be? Rather, in these examples GC is expressing the mind of the Church.

Other resolutions result in changes to the Constitution, Canons, or BCP. For example, in 1997 GC passed a resolution that changed the Canons so that the discernment process and the admission of candidates for ordination applied to both men and women. (By the way, I don’t know when your “liberal” sources made the quote you cite, but they were surely wrong about only the BCP being “official.”)

As far as partisan groups are concerned, I agree. Churches should not give to partisan groups – that is, religious bodies ought not to contribute money to political parties or the organizations run by them. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is not a partisan group; as their website states, “The Religious Coalition is a non-profit, non-partisan education and advocacy organization…”

Chris H.

Bill, I remember back when a resolution passed requiring all the diocese to get female clergy or have plans to by a certain GC, the conservatives got mad and the libersls said “They’re just resolutions, nothing’s official till it’s in the BCP.” Then change the BCP and send out the memo like the Church of Sweden did telling all the conservatives to shut up or get out. Most importantly, stop pretending this is a big tent church. If liberals are the only ones allowed to speak, make it official. If not, allow the conservatives the same rights to say and do things that others disagree with. As for funding partisan groups, my libertarian father is probably correct that churches giving to partisan grouops on either side shoudn’t be allowed if they want to keep tax free status. Individuals yes, institutions, no.

Chris Harwood

Nicole Porter

JC, I don’t think that “the least of these” passage means what you are trying to make it mean. Further more, I don’t speak in code, please write plainly.

Michael Russell

Really, we’re rehashing access to contraception? Really? That said, Bp. Price, like any of us, is free to express his opinion and take a position as long as he is willing to bear the consequences. That is the price of free speech in an open market.

There is only one reason to deny people access to contraceptives and that is to impose a moral position upon another. The parallel demand that women provide proof of some other medical need for contraception before it is covered is as heinous as requiring men to prove they are using Viagra to lower cholesterol. (Oh wise insurers, here is another way to deny paying for something!!!! Let those with ears hear).

I continue to be amused at the Canutian efforts to stop the tide from coming in through proclamation or legislation. The tide will wash away those who make such efforts.

What we should object too is the entire profit driven foundation of the healing arts, particularly in the insurance field. The rising cost of health care is in part due to the rising expectation of shareholders for more dividends from other people’s illness. Those who oppose some universal system or a mandate leave us with a system that has to treat “freeloaders”, those who won’t get coverage, or the poor, who can’t afford it, in the most expensive venue there is, the emergency room. We already have a one payer universal system because hospitals pass the costs of treating the uninsured to us all. And unless we want to just let people die when they can’t pay for medical care, then we need to get smart about seeing that everyone is covered.

Bill Dilworth

For some reason, one of my links didn’t post as I had thought it would:

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