Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Anglicans Await Lambeth Commission's Report

The report of The Lambeth Commission will be made public next month. There's lots of speculation going on about what it will contain in the press;

...Traditionally no one part of the church can dictate to another how it conducts itself but the conservative camp have demanded that the US Episcopal Church and its leaders should be disciplined for supporting the election of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson last year...

...It is thought likely that the US and perhaps the Canadian church, which has begun authorising gay blessings, may be disciplined by having their bishops refused invitations to future international meetings. It is unlikely that the national churches will be thrown out of the communion altogether.
The anger and outrage of the conservative camp has been evident for some time. I recall seeing it regularly expressed at Nashotah House 15 years ago when "the issue" was women's ordination (not in the Church in general, but at the House, where women are still not allowed to perform any sacerdotal functions on the campus). In the last few years, this conservative anger has developed a stronger bite, apparently intended to deeply wound. Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is spoken of with great disdain, with various derogatory labels attached to him. If someone declares a particular bishop to be a heretic, it seems to be open season on him or her. Even if there is some hope of reconciliation, these wounds caused by a lack of respect for at least the office of bishop if not the person will take a long time to heal.

The progressives, for the most part, have attempted to keep the conversation civil. Not being much of a team player, I've not always followed this guideline. I've been known to vent my frustration and anger now and then. In hindsight, such rants may have been personally beneficial, but most likely did not move the conversation forward.

What concerns me now are various premature reactions to the worse case scenario on the part of various progressives. I think these reactions unnecessarily add fuel to the fire. For instance, there are reports of threats to cut off funds to ministries in Africa if disciplinary actions are taken;

...But the North American bishop, who is one of those who may be disciplined after the commission report, said that the American church, which underwrites the funding of many dioceses in the developing world, might then cease paying for the rest of the communion.

He and other senior churchmen are making clear privately that they would expect African bishops to be disciplined for breaking Anglican conventions which prevent bishops intervening outside their own dioceses.

He added: "If Rowan snubs 10% of the communion's bishops, I predict others will not go to Lambeth 2008 in sympathy - other Canadians and Americans, plus some from New Zealand, Australia, and perhaps even the Celtic fringe. It would no longer be the Lambeth conference - more like an anti-homosexual society"...
Bishop Spong steps out of retirement to make a public statement that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has failed;

...He is now destined to be a long-serving but ineffective and empty man who has been revealed to be incapable of carrying the responsibility placed upon him. Leaders have only one opportunity to make a first impression. Rowan Williams has failed that test miserably...
These kinds of threats and character assassinations (including my own) are an attempt to play the game on the conservative's home field; using angry words as weapons to wound, and in some cases destroy, your opponent. The world is watching. Future generations will look back on how we conducted ourselves during this historical moment within Anglicanism. Debating an issue does not require that one launch personal attacks at the other side.

Regarding the controversy itself, I've offered my position numerous times, so I hope a brief summary will suffice.

1. The scriptures offer many standards of behavior on numerous ethical issues. Some of these standards (such as bans on usury, the submissive role of women, capital punishment for disobedient children, the affirmation of the concept of slavery, etc.) are rejected by the majority of Christendom as not being binding for today's Christian. At the root of the current controversy are six bible passages that some claim state that homosexuality is sinful. As I look at these verses, I'm not convinced they address the situation we are faced with today; people desiring to enter into faithful, committed relationships, and asking the Church to affirm God's blessing on these relationships.

What we do find in scripture is the overall message that sex driven only by lust is sinful. That which harms another is sinful. Promiscuity, in which someone is always hurt, is sinful. Casual sex, heterosexual or homosexual, is sinful. These are the kinds of homosexual relationships the scriptures are addressing, in my understanding. I'll not say more for now, but if you want to read additional material on these six bible verses, here is but one place you might want to visit.

2. I want to point out a couple of things that are often misrepresented concerning Bishop Gene Robinson. He did not divorce his wife to shack up with a man. When this slander started being tossed around, Bishop Robinson offered a very clear chronology of events;

August, 1972 - V. Gene Robinson and Isabella 'Boo' Martin are married, All Saints Church, Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA.

May, 1986 - Gene and Boo separate; Gene moves to Wilton, New Hampshire (five miles away), sharing joint custody of daughters Jamee and Ella.

March, 1987 - Boo meets Robert McDaniel, by May they are engaged to be married; Gene moves to Concord, NH, where he is now employed as Canon to the Ordinary.

August, 1987 - Boo and Gene's divorce is final; the Rector of Grace Church, Manchester, accompanies them to the judge's chambers for the final decree, and then they return to Grace Church, where they mark the ending of their marriage, the mutual release from their wedding vows (symbolized by the return of their wedding rings), and the pledging of themselves to the joint nurture and care of their children - all within the context of the Eucharist.

October, 1987 - Boo and Robert are married (within a couple of years, they have two sons).

November, 1987 - Gene meets Mark Andrew while on vacation.

February, 1989 - Mark leaves his career with the Peace Corps and moves to New Hampshire to be with Gene, Jamee, and Ella.

July, 1989 - Gene, Mark, Jamee and Ella host a 'Celebration of a Home' from the Book of Occasional Services.

Two things worth noting here; first, Gene's wife was remarried before he ever met Mark. Second, notice the inclusion of the House Blessing at the end of this timeline. Why do you think that was included? Considering the secular and religious laws that officially do not allow the blessing of unions in most places, I have always assumed that this was a quiet way of including the date that Gene and Mark's relationship was blessed by the Church; they are not simply "living together." This leads to my third and final point in this summary;

3. I think things would have been much clearer if TEC would have voted to allow the blessing of unions and developed a specific liturgy for this rite before giving the consent to the election of an openly gay bishop. But, that's water under the bridge now.

From its beginning, TEC chose to function in a very "democratic" way; we vote. Our structure is built around this method of decision-making, very similar to the way the federal government operates. Other parts of the Anglican Communion use other, more hierarchical, models. To them, the fact that we would support a decision based on a vote in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies even if we disagreed with it is a concept that just does not compute. It's an American thing. That we would take back a vote, regardless of how many Primates order us to do so, is simply unimaginable.

To demand that TEC repent is to assume that there is something to repent from, unless what is wanted is submission without a change of heart. The Church already has a long history of those holding positions of power treating those who are "different," be it by race or gender, as second class citizens. I hope that this time we begin writing a new history; one in which all God's people are included. To "repent" will send the wrong message to the world; that God's kingdom is exclusionary. Such a message would be contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have vowed to uphold. I can never affirm such a refutation of the Good News. I pray TEC doesn't either.

Ted Mellor has written about his thoughts and feelings in response to reading of the possible ousting of TEC from the Anglican Communion in a piece entitled The Eames Commission and Bishop Jones;

...I went to bed last night feeling like I had been kicked in the gut -- angry, disheartened, and questioning. Almost ready to give up on the church forever.

But this morning I remembered that tomorrow [September 4] is the commemoration in the Episcopal Church's calendar of Blessed Paul Jones, Bishop of Utah, a witness for peace and for justice for the greviously maltreated working people of his diocese. In 1917 he shocked the secular press and the church establishment by declaring that "war is unchristian". The "biblically orthodox" of his time were outraged and, quite logically, pointed to the near-universal practice of Christians over 1900 years as giving the lie to this "radical" innovator. In true Anglican fashion, a commission of the House of Bishops was appointed to investigate. It found, of course, that there was nothing unchristian about war, enormous pressure was placed on Bishop Jones, and he was forced to resign.

But today, it is the socialist bishop who is commemorated at the Eucharist, while the members of the commission are all but forgotten. Bishop Jones never "repented" of his convictions, but "For the next 23 years, until his death on September 4, 1941, he continued a ministry within the Church dedicated to peace and conscience, speaking always with a conviction and gentleness rooted in the Gospel." {Lesser Feasts and Fasts]

And if our own conviction that homophobia and discrimination are flatly unchristian means that we are not good enough to be included in that part of the establishment known as "the Anglican Communion", then we can only repeat with Bishop Jones, "Where I serve the Church is of small importance, so long as I can make my life count in the cause of Christ."
Whatever the Lambeth Commission reports, and the Anglican Communion decides, may we follow the example of Bishop Jones by continuing our ministries, "speaking always with conviction and gentleness rooted in the Gospel."

...And yes, I am preaching to myself.


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