Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Leaning on B033

So the House of Bishops has released a concise, clear statement, to the broader Church.
Yet 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. Unless you are a stranger to this blog, you will know I'm very glad they didn't. Beyond the dreadful face it would have turned to some of our sisters and brothers in Christ, I think it would have spelt pastoral suicide for some bishops in their home dioceses and made heroes out of others. And finally 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. As friend, colleague, and General Convention deputy John Kirkley describes, it was the outcome of an "exercise in spiritual violence."
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?
Are their committed relationships with others of the same gender 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 saddened by 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 respect to our bishops, and my best prayers, B033 is most certainly not.
See more commentary over at The Lead.
Jared Cramer offers a more optimistic appraisal at Scribere Orare Est.
Episcopal Café is tracking news articles and other reactions here and here and here.
Tobias Haller offers up his usually profound insight.


June Butler said...

Richard, I spent today in a glum mood, because the number of troops that have died in Iraq turned the 3800 corner and because I expected the statement that actually did come out of the HOB meeting.

They cannot have it both ways regarding our LGBT brothers and sisters.

They cannot say this:

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.

and this:

"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." The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.

and this:

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.

and expect us to believe that the first statement and the two latter statements can be true at the same time.

That they probably could not have done very much more, makes it no easier to swallow.

Just as with the war in Iraq, in which only the troops and their families and friends pay a price and are asked to sacrifice, with the rest of us living our lives as usual, so too, with the HOB. What sacrifice do the bishops make, even as they ask their GLTB brothers and sisters to bear the brunt of the sacrifice?

R said...

Dearest Grandmére,

Couldn't have posed the question better.

Kit Carlson over at Episcopal Café says something in one of her comments that I think illumines the situation.

We remain in a position very much like a family with a member who is just coming out of the closet.

Messy and contradictory reactions.

And I'm not any happier with it than you.

Thanks for the reminder about the ongoing wheel of death. Might our bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury have spent two days in prayer and conversation about how to work Christ's peace in a world at war.

Love and prayers.

Anonymous said...

What's really getting to me, Richard, is that our diocese just elected a new bishop who came to our parish the Sunday before his consecration--just a couple weeks ago--and told us when we greeted him that he would continue the policy of his predecessor and let priests celebrate SSBs if they needed to. He also made a big deal of supporting full inclusion for everyone, and he was applauded for it. This is why our delegates elected him.

But now (if he was at the HoB conference--I don't know for sure) he's consented to this hypocritical document, one which makes it more difficult for glbt couples to have SSBs and will make it almost impossible for Tracy Lind+ to be considered as her gifts demand in the Chicago episcopal election.

I feel that we've been had, big time. It's as if once our new bishop got his mitre, he didn't have to care about anyone else any more. I didn't hear his voice saying nay to the document. All I see are contradictions which add up to a zero sum for glbts instead of the breath of fresh air our diocese thought we were getting with his election.

It makes me wonder about the corrupting influence of institutions and how we can trust anyone when s/he reaches a certain level of "power" over others in this church.

I have seen people stopped dead in their tracks in the discernment process because they were honest and admitted they were gay, and it's devastating and ugly. The bishops just tightened the ropes.

It also makes me wonder whether I should be walking to another place. I'm finding it very hard indeed remain part of this. I was thinking this evening if I could even renew my baptismal vows, knowing that by belonging to this institution, I'm perpetuating injustice and hurt--violating my promise to help everyone fully realize his life in Christ. It's not much of a nourishing place any more.


June Butler said...

It also makes me wonder whether I should be walking to another place.

Sheila, I hope and pray not. We need you to stay. I need you to stay. We are all diminished if you go.

R said...


Institutions can be so ugly, and too frequently.

My thoughts and prayers go with you. This was a painful statement for me, too, and I anticipate hard questions for our bishop when he returns home as well.

I find some comfort in recognizing that the true Church is not bounded by the institution, but by the Spirit, and the Spirit will out.

That's where our shared baptism is rooted, it seems to me.

Again, you have my prayers, and my earnest hope that you are gifted with the strength to remain with us who hunger and struggle to see the end of this longstanding ugliness in our church.

Padre Wayne said...

I fully understand Sheila's feelings. At the moment I am sad -- sad, I suppose, that once more we glbt folks are relegated to the back of the bus. Once more we are told we are not "worthy." Once more we are told that the glass ceiling is more important than who we are as children of God.

But I will go on loving my sweet partner, loving my sweet parish, and humbly doing Christ's work in a broken world. Because there is always Easter to look forward to.

KJ said...

Good thoughts, Rich. Kit's comments to which you linked are spot-on. This is a messy business and there's much work to be done; as followers of Christ, can we really be surprised that there's a price to be paid?

Meanwhile, as a church, how do we step in harm's way in provinces where GLBT individuals are in danger with church leaders as accomplices? Borders be damned!

Chris+ said...


I hear what you are saying, and share your sadness for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I would like to raise one point. Unity is not merely a principle. Unity represents individuals. We are speaking about people, when we talk about unity. I do not care for the polemic of the far-right and their obsession with a few lines of Scripture that are peripheral at best. But, I feel that I am just as obligated to those that I disagree with, as those I do. That is what makes our current situation so difficult. God's grace is the gift of all, not just those I like.

The challenge our bishops face is keeping as many individuals as possible at the table. People are slow to accept change, and we are talking about change. My prayer is that gay and lesbian persons are fully included in the Church. I am certain it will happen, and not as soon as I would like. Yet, the way we bring this about is as important as it happening. It is not about peace at any price, but being compassionate to those that just are not there now.

My bishop spoke to a group of clergy, upon her return from the meeting. She told us the story of a very well educated African women expressing her confusion about the actions of TEC. The women spoke about the inability of her culture to address these issues. She said they barely have the language to even start. She stated her view of the Anglican Communion as a family, and that the people of her land engage members of the family, when making decisions. A member of the family doesn't act without including the family.

Whether or not her perception is accurate, it is her perception. I want us to work to change perceptions. We certainly will not be able to keep everyone at the table, but if we are thoughtful, and practice compassion and patience, more will make it than otherwise.

It would also be naive to think that every gay and lesbian person can or will put up with this painstaking journey. No one could blame a gay or lesbian person for finding a faster moving tradition. But, every person that relents, right or left makes us all poorer.

This is my church, and today, I am not ready to quit.