Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Crisis of Trust

A few days stuck in the hills of Ohio gave me the opportunity to think a little more about recent developments, and achieve some degree of emotional distance from the events.

Here’s my concerns at the moment. We are now in the midst of a crisis. But it’s not a crisis that has much of anything to do with morality, except tangentially. The crisis concerns the damage done to the trust relationship between the elected members of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.

Let’s start at the top and work down. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for some reason he has yet to articulate, is responding from a position of fear. That is not a good place to start when addressing moral issues. From his past actions, we know his personal position on the questions facing us today. But, some factor has caused him to deny those positions, and to give ear to those whose approach to morality is to use an iron fist to get the rabble in line. As long as Dr. Williams continues to listen to these voices, our trust in his ability to address any issues regarding ethics or morality has been severely compromised.

Symbolic of the warrior bishops who seem to now run the Communion is Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria. His solution to one particular ethical issue is to incarcerate those who even voice disagreement with his position. And, before this is refuted, let me simply point out that I don’t find it a coincidence that only a few weeks after the Church of Nigeria failed in their campaign to silence Changing Attitude, this new legislation was introduced. The President of Nigeria is known to have close ties to Akinola. One would have to be quite na├»ve to not understand what happened behind the scenes. Deny it all you want, but I have little doubt that this new legislation was initiated by Peter Akinola. If nothing else, we have the Archbishop’s clear statement that he supports this legislation, which seeks to put in prison anyone who dares to speak out against injustice in Nigeria.

This type of bishop, and others of a similar stripe, who have clearly abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are pressuring the Anglican Communion to make their twisted morality the norm around the globe. Such voices, regardless of their purple shirts, cannot be trusted.

The Instruments of Unity all consist of bishops, except for the Anglican Consultative Council. But the ACC has recently decided to allow the Primates to become members. They have also been taken over by the purple shirts. The Instruments are responding out of fear now as well. It is questionable if they can be trusted to speak for us regarding moral issues.

Our own House of Bishops asserted their authority in the 11th hour of General Convention, and got the resolution they wanted. One of the last bastions of protection against the potential oppression by those who consider themselves the aristocracy of our Church was broken down; the bishop’s representatives, the current and future Presiding Bishops, were allowed to address the House of Deputies regarding a critical vote.

If you read what happened in the House of Bishops prior to this, it becomes quite obvious that Bp. Griswold suddenly found himself under great pressure to do something. I would suppose that he received a message from Canterbury. And so, responding out of fear, our bishops used a heavy hand to force the House of Deputies to reconsider a matter that they had already decided.

I watched the deliberations in the House of Deputies. I was proud of the way the questions of morality were taken seriously and debated with civility. Those who suggest that the Deputies acted immaturely and needed to be corrected by purple shirts clearly did not witness what unfolded on the floor.

We must never forget the scene of the Presiding Bishop-elect intruding onto the floor of the House of Deputies in the midst of a debate to instruct the Deputies on how to vote. That was the moment when the trust relationship between the members of the Episcopal Church and their bishops was deeply damaged.

The relationship is damaged, but maybe not beyond repair. We must consider the bishops who stood to affirm the Statement of Conscience. We must also consider the many years that Bishop Griswold has stood against oppression. For him to use such hardball tactics is surprising, and suggests that there may be much more to this story that will never become public.

Beyond that, we have to consider that clergy are all “persons under authority.” Some of the House of Bishops voted for this resolution because they believed in it. But, I would be willing to wager that many others supported it because their Presiding Bishop and Presiding Bishop-elect asked them to do so. I disagree with such motives, but it is helpful to at least understand them.

I am also a person under authority, as is every priest, which is another aspect of the vote in the House of Deputies that troubles me. The clergy take a vow to obey their bishop. In some respects, the Presiding Bishop is their chief Bishop. There is no question that the plea by Bp. Jefferts Schori influenced the clerical vote.

Having said all the above, I would be negligent if I did not note Bishop Robinson’s comments regarding this vote:

…Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire expressed some disappointment with the resolution because it does not affirm the role of gay and lesbian people in the church, but seemed encouraged by the seriousness with which the Episcopal Church has grappled with the issues in public.

"The church has a picture of the wide diversity in this church and people have been remarkably honest and loving in all of this," he said in an interview after the vote. "I have been approached by all kinds of people who have felt called to vote for this resolution in order for us to continue the conversation with the Anglican Communion."

Robinson encouraged support for Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori "in every way possible...to give her everything that she can have in her pocket to go to the primates meeting, to go to the rest of the Communion," he said. "In some sense, having given the Anglican Communion what it asked for regarding gay and lesbian members of this church, we'll be looking to them to see if they were serious about wanting to be in conversation about this, or whether they wanted this to end the conversation."

Describing the process as a journey, Robinson acknowledged that there will be bumps in the road.

"This is not what we hoped for, but it's what we have, so I'm much more interested in talking about tomorrow than I am about today or yesterday," he said…
It may also be helpful to consider the specific words used by Bishop Jefferts Schori when addressing the Deputies:

…During the debate in Deputies, Jefferts Schori asked to be invited to speak to the House. The deputies agreed and she reiterated the comments she made in the House of Bishops, saying that the image of conjoined twins came to her the day before when Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana spoke of there being one church and two minds.

She went on to say that she is "fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church," she said.

"I certainly don't understand adopting this resolution as slamming the door. I think if you do pass this resolution you have to be willing to keep working with all your might at finding a common mind in this church. I don't find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church's history"…
I’m willing to move on to “talking about tomorrow” as Bishop Robinson suggests. But I think it would be a mistake to simply forget these heavy-handed tactics that were used to push through this resolution. Pay attention, Deputies: NEVER ALLOW A BISHOP ONTO THE FLOOR OF THE HOUSE OF DEPUTIES. There are good reasons for this rule, as Wednesday hopefully made clear to everyone.

In the future, it will be difficult to trust our House of Bishops, the Instruments of Unity, or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their words often seem to spring from a fear of scarcity; the fear that if they do or say the wrong thing, their numbers might drop. As long as they deny that there is another hidden agenda; the agenda of oppression, pushed by those who seem willing to use any means to force their "purity code" on the global communion, their words must be carefully questioned, and when necessary refuted.

Some have asked what the Holy Spirit was doing in Columbus. I suggest to you that the Spirit has revealed to us that our means to discern the will of God has been severely damaged. There are few places left in the Communion for the Spirit to speak through anyone who is not a bishop. And some of those bishops have shown us that they cannot be trusted.

In the end, my trust rests in God, who offers us the promise of abundant life, not in purple shirts, many of whom appear to be in bondage to their fear of scarcity. I trust God to mend the broken hearts within the Episcopal Church, and to strengthen us for the struggles of tomorrow.

It is time to rethink the way we embody the Church. It is time to empower all the orders, and shake off the shackles of those who fancy themselves to be Prince Bishops. If some of our bishops lack the courage to confront those who continue to victimize the innocent in the name of God, then it is time for the laity, priests and deacons, three-fourths of those called to ministry in this Church, and those courageous bishops who will stand with us, to rise up against bigotry and oppression.

J.

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