Saturday, March 10, 2007

What Now? Even More Brainstorming

Okay, back to brainstorming again. The previous entries are here and here.

My first suggestion reflects a story that many of us have heard. Some will know the story of the frog and the scorpion. I grew up hearing “The Snake” by Al Wilson. (Conveniently enough, I chanced up on a blog that has both posted.) The point of both stories has come into my vocabulary as a saying: “you can trust a snake – to be a snake.” I don’t mean this as a specific comment about a specific person these days. I simply mean to suggest that people will behave according to their nature, and you can’t expect a significant change in behavior to happen suddenly, or without a great deal of work.

With that in mind, it seems to me that the House of Bishops, and individual bishops as members of it, can trust one another without overthinking or tedious parsing. Look at what folks have said and trust that they meant it as they said it. We should then hold them to what they have said.

For example, we have two statements of the intent of the Windsor Bishops: the letter from the first meeting of “Windsor bishops,” and the presentation of Bishop MacPherson to the Primates’ Meeting. While both acknowledge the demand of a few for some “alternative oversight,” both also commit to work with the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Their willingness to maintain relationships and share in the pursuit of reconciliation should thus be how the bishops as a body, and how we outside, should assess their participation.

Conversely, statements from AMiA and from Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, in his role as Moderator of the Network, state clearly that they believe they are not called by the Communiqué (or, really, by anything else) to seek reconciliation and/or (re)integration into the Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops should trust them on that point and act accordingly.

We are currently watching this dynamic working itself out in events. In light of the fact that as of Friday the bishop-elect of South Carolina had not received sufficient consents from Standing Committees, he has issued a statement that quite unambiguously commits to serve in, stay in, and conform to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of” the Episcopal Church. Indeed, he says that he had actually said this in his earlier statement. If sufficient consents to arrive, then this should be the standard for assessing his behavior, and his leadership in that diocese.

We should look at the differences in interpretation of the Communiqué between Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and Archbishops Akinola and Orombi. There is a significant difference between a commitment “not to authorize rites” to bless same-sex couples and to “prohibit” such blessings. There is a significant difference between expectation that the Episcopal Church will “fast for a season” from confirming the election of a GLBT person in a relationship and a commitment “NOT to consent” period. We need to trust that those are the standards, and the minimal standards, that will impress those African prelates, and make our choices accordingly. We should trust that they aren’t about to stop their cross-provincial interventions short of that, and have appropriate expectations.

In sum, we should trust that folks have said what they mean to say (including those Episcopal bishops who have stated unequivocally “not one step back!” Check here.). We should not be surprised or shocked if they do as they say.

By the same token, our bishops must say what they mean. For example, we quibble over whether Lambeth resolution 1998-1.10 is “the standard of teaching” for the Communion. Like our arguments after the 2003 General Convention over the word “recognize,” we need to simply get explicit. We might say, for example, “If by standard you mean what we can normally and normatively expect to hear if we attend an educational event in most provinces of the Communion, then yes, perhaps we can call this a ‘standard.’ If, on the other hand, you mean a doctrine, an official teaching authorized by the appropriate council of the Church, we can’t agree; for neither the Lambeth Conference nor any other council of the Communion has ever claimed such authority to establish a ‘doctrine.” Moreover, a majority opinion is not the same as a consensus; and so we can’t agree to those definitions of ‘a standard.’”

The bishops might get explicit about how we view the Instruments of Communion and their authority. We have heard expectations from the Primates’ Meetings, and arguably from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bishops might clarify their expectation to also receive guidance from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference before deciding on next steps in responding to the Windsor Report. (Of course, that could raise an interesting question. Could we recognize – could anyone really recognize – the Lambeth Conference as an “Instrument of Communion” if a significant viewpoint, much less a significant portion of the bishops, isn’t invited to participate in communion?) If, as the Windsor Report holds, there is no meaningful priority between the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference (save perhaps in history), how can the Episcopal Church make a meaningful response without hearing from and participating in all three?

Finally, the bishops might take the initiative in seeking reconciliation within our own province. Certainly, that was envisioned by Bishop MacPherson in his presentation to the Primates. Thus, our bishops could support the Presiding Bishop and help her develop the role of a Primatial Vicar. They could even choose with her one of the Windsor Bishops for the role – perhaps Bishop Howard of Florida, elected for his conservative views, and still beset by clergy and congregations for whom he wasn’t conservative enough. Surely he is in a position to see both sides. Or perhaps Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana, or Bishop Wimberly himself. If the Windsor Bishops are committed to working within the Episcopal Church and to work with those who feel estranged; if the Communiqué endorses their interest in helping with reconciliation; and if the Communiqué has endorsed the model of a Primatial Vicar with authority and responsibilities delegated by the Presiding Bishop, why do we need to wait for a Primatial Pastoral Council? We can show our commitment to those who feel estranged in earnest, making the first move without being formally coerced – and making it on our own terms, within our own structures. No outside council, not English bishops sent as questionable emissaries: just Episcopal bishops working together to show that the goal is acceptance of both all our GLBT siblings and all our dissatisfied siblings.

Now isn’t that a thought? We’d have done as best we can what Bishop Katherine originally suggested, using the resources endorsed by the Primates’ Communiqué, and we’d have done it without waiting for outside direction. Now, how could folks disagree with that?


Reverend Ref + said...

We can show our commitment to those who feel estranged in earnest, making the first move without being formally coerced – and making it on our own terms, within our own structures. No outside council, not English bishops sent as questionable emissaries: just Episcopal bishops working together to show that the goal is acceptance of both all our GLBT siblings and all our dissatisfied siblings.

I think that this is a very polite way of saying, "We are Americans; don't tread on me." Which may not be all that bad, actually.

At a recent deanery meeting, I got the impression from my bishop that the response will be something along the lines of, "Thanks for caring; we'll get back to you after GC09." He seems to think that the HoB will consider seriously the Communique, the repurcussions of future actions, and a desire to maintain the WWAC. But he doesn't seem to think that the HoB will simply cave to the demands being made, falling back on the polity of TEC.

Now, that was the general sense from one man whom I respect a great deal. Trying to read tea leaves about the entire House, however, is another matter. At the moment, I am feeling slightly encouraged about the upcoming meeting.

Prayers for the HoB in the coming days.

obadiahslope said...

I guess a possible response from the communion to "thanks for caring: we'll get back to you after GC09" might be "We look forward to your response. In the meantime please send observers not delegates to the ACC, primates meetings and Lambeth".

Marshall said...


I think my point was more, "Yes, we're also concerned about our unhappy traditionalist Episcopalians, and we're glad you like the idea we had to care for them; and so we can take it from here." Some results might well be the same - a conservative bishop from within the Episcopal Church, with certain responsibilities for oversight delegated by Bishop Katherine - but the context and the meaning would be significantly different. It would be a clear statement from us that we're about reconciliation within and for the Episcopal Church, without outside manipulation (and to that extent, perhaps, "don't tread on me").


So nice to have you back. I would suggest something more specific: that the Primates might say that. Conceivably, Canterbury might say that. I expect the ACC, however, would not; and I would think it in our interest to participate in ACC until ACC responds officially. Granted, two thirds of the Primates could exclude us from ACC; but I frankly don't think they have the votes.

You may have looked at my other "Brainstorming" posts. I still think voluntarily withdrawing from Lambeth is a reasonable thought; but note that I said "from Lambeth," and not either from ACC or from Primates' Meetings. (You can see my arguments for that in the first "Brainstorming" post.)

In any case, I'm believing strongly these days is deciding what we can do, and then doing it without reference positive or negative to the Primates. Either it's the right thing to do (both extending pastoral care to GLBT persons and to those uncomfortable with GLBT persons), or it's not. It is not right or wrong based on the endorsement or lack thereof from one Instrument of Communion.