Saturday, September 22, 2007

What Can the Bishops Do?

In the previous post, I suggested that the bishops are restrained by the previous actions of the Executive Council. Unlike other parts of the Anglican Communion, the authority of our bishops is balanced by the authority of elected representatives from all four orders. Understanding this unique structure, in which it is not assumed that God will speak only through our bishops, appears to be difficult for those from other parts of the Communion to comprehend. Evidence of this difficulty, and the frustration it causes among our bishops, can be seen in this article from the NYT. The following segment is in regards to the day and a half that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Joint Standing Committee spent with our House of Bishops:

...Bishops also said that while the conversation this week was respectful, they felt disappointed it was so brief. And they said the archbishop and other Anglican leaders had failed to grasp and respect how the Episcopal Church was governed. Other provinces are much more hierarchical and bishops can legislate church policy, they said. Episcopal bishops assert that they cannot govern without the votes of clergy members and lay people, too.

One bishop who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “What was said to us was, ‘All this talk of laity aside, if you acted like a real bishop, what would you do?'”
The problem is, to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church, you cannot set aside the laity. And thanks be to God for that!

So, what can the bishops do, other than what has already been done? Is there something radical, creative and unexpected that might just send this whole matter in new direction?

There has been one suggestion, which I hesitate to mention, as I have my own reservations about it. But it is radical, and it is creative, and it is within the authority of the bishops to put in place.

Kendall Harmon has suggested that the bishops make the following statement:

We realize we have caused huge damage to the whole Anglican Communion and therefore, we, as a body, voluntarily withdraw from coming to Lambeth 2008.
Now, never mind the first part; that we have caused huge damage is certainly debatable. There's always two sides to every disagreement. That part could be cleaned up. Something like, "We recognize the strain caused to our bonds of affection because of our actions..."

Don't dismiss this too quickly. Note that as proposed, this would include all TEC's bishops. Bps. Iker and Duncan, for instance, would also surrender their seat at Lambeth.

Our Presiding Bishop has spoken to us about needing to make a "sacrifice," of "bearing our cross." The difficulty with those sentiments has been that those who were being asked to make such a sacrifice were a minority group within the Church. But what if the House of Bishops were the ones to offer up a sacrifice?

Would such a move have any impact? For one thing, the ugly Americans would no longer be the lightning rod. There are multiple reasons why North Americans are an easy target; some justifiable, some not. Many of those reasons have little or nothing to do with orthodoxy or human sexuality. If we are not present, maybe other parts of the Communion, which have been quietly supportive of our struggle, will speak out more boldly. Maybe then the Communion will acknowledge that there are honest gay bishops in the Communion other than Bp. Robinson. Maybe then it will be noted that same sex blessings are offered in many places within the Communion. It is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Maybe then the discussion will move away from the depiction of it being about "The Americans vs. the Global South." Maybe then the conversation can start becoming an honest exchange of ideas instead of an ever increasing escalation of conflict.

Is there a down side? Most definitely. Voluntarily removing ourselves from the ACC seems to have accomplished little except emboldening the bullies to press harder because their tactics seemed to have worked. But, most critically, it would remove our voice from the council of bishops, and so could result in harsh and punitive resolutions being approved at Lambeth; resolutions that would make Lambeth 1.10 appear docile.

But, it would turn the whole debate on its head. Should bishops act like bishops? Most definitely. But that does not limit their role to playing the prince bishop. It could mean being willing to be humble; being willing to don ashes and sackcloth for a season; it could mean climbing up on the cross to reveal to the world the radically inclusive love made known to us through Jesus Christ.


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