Friday, April 07, 2006

Toward Columbus

The report from the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, entitled "One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call," has been released. The full report (pdf) can be found here. The Episcopal News Service summary of the 11 resolutions is here.

The specific task of the Special Commission is described by ENS:

The Special Commission's official charge was to assist the 75th General Convention in "considering how to maintain the highest degree of communion within the Anglican Communion given the different perspectives held with regard to the place of homosexual persons in the life of the church."
It's important to keep in mind that these are proposed resolutions. They will be debated and possibly amended or rejected by General Convention in Columbus this June.

Having only given the report a cursory reading, I can only offer a few initial responses.

Resolution A159, Commitment to Interdependence in the Anglican Communion...ask the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons to make provision for persons from other provinces of the Communion to serve with voice, but not vote, on each of the convention's standing commissions.

This is an unusual development. It would certainly enhance our ability to immediately hear global voices, and possibly avoid our inclination to sometimes be oblivious to the way our actions might be viewed by other cultures.

Resolution A160, Expression of Regret...our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking these actions.

Repentance is a much stronger term than regret, suggesting a change of mind and purpose. Possibly A159, including the voices of those from outside TEC in our deliberations, is intended to signal our intention to sincerely change the way we function. Note that there is no reference to any specific action for which we are expressing our repentance. This will not fly with the Global South.

Resolution A161, Election of Bishops...regrets the extent to which we have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union...urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

Now Bp. Robinson is named, but with the term "regret." No indication of changing that decision. "Very considerable caution" is a rather vague expression. Some will be upset with the fuzziness of the phrase. If we took out the "whose manner of life" terminology, and left it as "considerable caution in the...consecration of bishops...who will lead to further strains on communion," we could exercise such caution regarding the upcoming election of a bishop of Fort Worth, for instance. Another bishop who is against the ordination of women, as their current bishop is, would certainly "lead to further strains" in some segments of the communion.

Resolution A162, Public Rites of Blessing for Same-Sex Unions...affirm the need to maintain a breadth of private responses to situations of individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians...not authorize public rites of blessing...advise bishops who have authorized public diocesan rites to express regret...

I don't think anyone is going to like this one. It doesn't go far enough for the Global South, and will be seen as a step backwards by the majority of TEC. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with making the distinction between "public" and "private." Let's have it one way or another. This kind of language encourages us to return to the days of "don't ask, don't tell." Been there, done that, and it felt dishonest. I suspect this one will be amended a few times.

Resolution A163, Pastoral Care and Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight...urge bishops "to seek the highest degree of communion and reconciliation within their own dioceses"...urge "continued attention" to diocesan boundaries and the authority of diocesan bishops".

Delegated Episcopal Oversight(DEPO) has had minimal success so far, due primarily to its rejection by the AAC/Network. They don't want it. They want their own Province. That we can't offer. So DEPO it is. Urging "continued attention" to the Pillagers in Purple sounds pretty weak to me. Something like "prosecution to the full extent of the law" would be more like it.

Resolution A164, Continued Attention to the Millennium Development a sign of the Episcopal Church's understanding that participation in the Millennium Development Goals is an expression of the hunger of this church for far deeper communion with all of God's beloved.

Another expression of repentance, a changing of our ways. We will do what we can to strengthen the bonds of affection. It's also a mother and apple pie resolution. It will easily pass, most likely with little discussion or amendment.

Resolution A165, Commitment to Windsor and Listening Processes...commend the Windsor Report as an "important contribution to the process of living into communion," commit the church to "the ongoing 'Windsor Process'...

If this is passed, it will shift things a bit. The "Windsor Report" will become the "Windsor Process". It will be the beginning of the conversation, not the end result. Windsor will be an evolving concept, not a "rope of sands, which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee good cable, to enforce and draw, and be thy law."

Resolution A166, Anglican Covenant Development Process

I don't like the idea of developing a "Covenant," but better minds seem to think it is the only way forward. We've got the creeds; one would think they were sufficient. Must we develop yet another litmus test?

Resolution A167, "Full and Equal Claim" for All the and lesbian persons are by Baptism full members of the Body of Christ and of the Episcopal Church," that apologize "on behalf of the Episcopal Church to its members who are gay or lesbian, and to lesbians and gay men outside the Church, for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church

We've stated this at previous Conventions, and it certainly is worth repeating, but it sounds a bit hollow in light of A161 and A162. Full members, unless you want your union blessed or have a vocational call to the episcopate.

Resolution A168, Human Rights for "Homosexual Persons"...reaffirm "its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws...affirm the Windsor Report statement...that "any demonizing of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care...

And the consequences if one continues the "demonizing" that we witness daily? This is a good statement, but without some way for bishops to enforce it, I'm not sure it will change much. A bishop saying "David, please stop demonizing" will most likely not motivate him to suddenly repent and begin using more virtuous language.

Resolution A169, Amend Canon III.1: Quadrilateral and Exercise of Ministry...No person shall be denied access to any discernment process under these canons or to the exercise of any ministry in this Church on account of theological opinions consistent with (a) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, (b) the Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, (c) the two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and the elements ordained by Him, and (d) the Historic Episcopate...

I like this one, and really hope it passes. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral needs to be pulled out of the dustbin of "historic documents" more often. It is a concise and thorough summation of our tradition. It served us well as guide toward full communion with the ELCA (although I think we should have been more adamant regarding the episcopate). This particular resolution will clearly identify the specific elements of our common faith that cannot be compromised. It names the essentials, and by so doing, also places any other factors in the realm of nonessentials.

Mark Harris, a member of the Commission that is proposing these resolutions, has some insights worth considering. Since he has first-hand knowledge regarding how these particular proposals were developed, keep an eye on his site over the next few days.

Your initial thoughts?


UPDATE: Sarah Dylan Breuer, a member of the Special Commission, has offered her insights on the Report; A Personal Reflection on the Special Commission's Report.

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