Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More Brainstorming

Let us return again to the brainstorming session. After all, in the midst of the (great) reaction and the (rare) reflection, it might bring some new thoughts. (And you can find my earlier brainstorming here.)

And the reaction and reflection process certainly goes on. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met this past week in Portland, Oregon. They issued a statement about their meeting that attempted to speak of reconciliation and full inclusion. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has circulated a pastoral letter to his colleague Primates. The content is largely a review of the results of the Primates Meeting in Tanzania. There are some interesting nuances – a nod, if a faint one, to the polity and structures of the Episcopal Church; a clear statement that the goal he sees for the Episcopal Church is reconciliation, some way to keep unhappy conservatives within the Episcopal Church – but little else that is new. Both of these publications will be bashed, trashed, and rehashed by the usual suspects, and I commend you to them for that.

But as for our brainstorming session: let’s return again to considering how the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church might respond to the Communique from Tanzania.

One possible response would simply be to agree, to make statements that for the time being they will not consent to the election of a GLBT bishop-elect who is in a committed relationship, and they will not give permission for blessings of the unions of same-sex couples within their dioceses. (Remember, now, that we’re brainstorming, and every suggestion goes on the board, however unacceptable it might be.) Contrary to many statements, I fear that such a decision is within their capacity, at least for a period of time. They can simply make a gentleperson’s agreement as to how they will act as individuals. After all, that’s how the moratorium on consenting to any episcopal election for a period prior to the 2006 General Convention happened. They agreed; and as long as a majority followed through, any election was bound to fail the consent process. (The pastoral from Canterbury made reference to this room, albeit it limited, for independent function. Who says he doesn’t understand our structures?) They could certainly commit to one another (and whatever satisfaction it might give some and heartache it might give others, it would only be their commitment to one another) not to consent; and as long as 51% were dependable, the issue would be moot.

The actions regarding blessing of same-sex couples would be a bit more difficult. There is no consensus among the Primates as to whether we’ve been asked to not approve rites; to not approve public ceremonies; or to actively discourage any such blessings (presumably punishing any violation). There is hardly likely to be consensus among Episcopal bishops, without even addressing those bishops who are prepared to act anyway. I fear those distinctions are ultimately the point on which this will fall apart. There enough of those in the Communion of the third opinion who will be utterly dissatisfied with those of the first opinion; and so such a response would once again be “inadequate.” However, some effort might be made to craft a statement covering the first opinion, and possibly the second. It would be much harder to enforce. The practical result might even be to move local option in practical terms from the diocesan to the congregational level. In any case, it is within the capacity of the House of Bishops to try to craft such gentleperson’s agreements.

Conversely, the House of Bishops could simply say, “No, we’re not interested.” They could say it politely (“Thank you so much for your concern, and we’re so sorry, but we can’t comply.”); bluntly (“We don’t recognize your authority, and we’re not interested in acceding.”); theologically (“When we consider that phrase of the Quadrilateral, ‘the episcopate as locally adapted,’ it’s clear that you don’t appreciate what it means to be a bishop in this locality.”); or prophetically (“We believe profoundly that this is where God in his Holy Spirit is calling us.”). The gist would be the same, and the consequences would be the same. To respond so directly would be to accept the resulting responses, some mourning and some fiery, that relations with some Anglican provinces were clearly ended. It would be to accept resulting conflict within the Episcopal Church. I think it unlikely; but it is within the capacity of the House of Bishops.

The House could once again say that the critical response must come from the General Convention, and that any steps they took were once again interim until time certain. They could once again commit not to consent to any episcopal ordinations for a set period of time. (Someone close to me suggested they might not participate in any ordinations.) Such a decision would at least suggest a “fast” that was not focused on GLBT Episcopalians.

The House, at least for its first meeting, might take a different tack. The Bishops might decide that they need more information, at least between the meetings in March and September. They might, for example, ask to have the same report on the listening process that the Primates heard. That report would be some indication of just how other provinces expressed their own compliance with that part of the Windsor Report. Since so much emphasis has been placed on restoring trust, the report on the listening process might engender greater trust on the part of the Episcopal bishops that others are also taking steps.

And in the interest of reestablishing trust, the House might offer its own schedule. The current “invitation” seems to be all or nothing. The House might suggest interim steps it might take – say, a commitment until time certain not to consent to the election of a GLBT person in a relationship – and a response from outside that the House might consider appropriate – say, an instruction from the Bishop Lyons to those congregations under his oversight to forego property and negotiate a civil separation (in both senses of the term) from the dioceses that they left. If this is not an ultimatum (don’t say it; I know what you’re thinking) but instead steps between colleague provinces to reestablish trust, it would seem appropriate that both sides move in concert.

So there are my next thoughts. What are yours? And think quickly. Not only do the Bishops meet soon, but other events continue. That’s all the more reason for us to help our Bishops think about unexpected possibilities.


Unknown said...

I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to respond until we all agree that Primates do not have the authority they have arrogated to themselves, and that there is no such thing as "official teaching" in the AC. My fear is that to respond in any way gives tacit assent to these rather monumental shifts in polity.

It seems to me that the confusion is not over bishops, ordinations or blessings but at the very foundation of our baptismal theology. If I am correct in this, then perhaps we should consider a moratorium on all baptisms until this mess is cleared up. I realize that sounds radical and reactionary but I'm serious. Exactly what kind of baptismal community are we inviting people to join?

Richard Lyon said...

I agree that there is a good probability that the HOB will attempt to craft a gentleperson fudge agreement to deal with the issues of blessings and consecrations. I don't think it will satisfy the primates, but it is certainly the kind of approach that would appeal to many bishops.

However, the matter of the pastoral council is different. Implementing the plan requires the establishment of new structures. The HOB seems to be placed in a position of having to agree or not. Muddling through doesn't seem to be an option. An attempt to consent to this without the concurrence of the HOD would seem to me to be a very grave step.

Anonymous said...


(Caps for emphsis, not shoouting!)

It seems to me that the initial three issues are these:

(1) The Primates have no legal, traditional, ecclesiastical, or constitutional authority to demand ANYTHING of the Episcopal House of Bishops. Whatever the HoB decides to do in response to the Tanzania Communiqué, this matter should be plain and foremost in their response. They must find a way somehow to say, “You do not have authority over us.” even if they add “….however….”

(2) The HoB does not have canonical authority to legislate – even to its own members. We know that the HoB will not come to a complete consensus on matters re. gay ordinations and/or blessings, since some of their members have already publicly declared they will not alter their practices or commitments. The HoB may pass something by majority vote, but it will have effect only in dioceses whose bishops were in that voting majority. If that majority wishes, it can refuse confirmation of a gay bishop-elect, but the HoB simply does not have the canonical clout by itself to stop SSU blessings in all dioceses. Hence, even if it may WANT to, the HoB simply does not have the legal standing to satisfy the demands of the Tanzanian Primates.

(3) The most potentially damning possibility, however, is that without seeing the implications, the HoB may move towards accepting the extra-territorial Primate plans (which ABC seems to be pushing even before the HoB has met!) – “peace at any price”, you know. The matter of the ordination of gay bishops or blessings of gay unions may come and go over the years as General Convention acts or refuses to act, i.e., HoB actions in those matters do not have “permanent” implications. But the acceptance of a plan for a non-territorial Primate for dissenting dioceses overseen by foreign Primates would be a genie that could NEVER be put back into the bottle, and is absolutely certain eventually to establish a second Anglican Province in the USA – one seriously and overtly and admittedly committed to replacing TEC in the AC!

It seems to me that the HoB can merely claim its canonical inability to respond in any thorough way to the Tanzanian demands, make a gesture or two (e.g. no Province-wide authorization of rites, etc.) and live with the resulting reality.

Marshall Scott said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Rodney, I agree that there is an issue of baptismal theology. I think it is highlighted by the inclusion of the Baptismal covenant in all baptisms, as we do in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada; and in adult baptisms, as in the Church of England (at least for some) and in the Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Contrasted with the necessary but minimal rejection of the world, the flesh, and the devil, following the 1662 rite, the Baptismal Covenant is quite an activist commitment. I think it does highlight a difference between Christians focused first and foremost on personal salvation, and Christians who see salvation not expressed in the world as "faith without works."

Richard, the Pastoral Council would certainly be a new structure, if (supposedly) an interim one. Of more concern is to whom a Primatial Vicar would be responsible. Would such a person be responsible to - arguably, Suffragan to - the Presiding Bishop, or to - arguably, Commissary for - the Council, or the Primates Steering Committee behind it? i do think it would require participation of Deputies to accept it; but it wouldn't require that to form it; for, as you recognize, it wouldn't be a structure of the Episcopal Church.

crescens, I agree that the Bishops can't legislate (as you're using the term) and so any decision they make is a reflection of their individual commitments; and I also agree that, as I said, those commitments would be virtually unenforceable. I agree that a Primatial Vicar subject to the Pastoral Council would be a serious precedent; and one I don't know other provinces would find themselves wanting to live with. A lot depends on who Canterbury appoints. Assume Bishop Katherine nominates two who see our point, and the Global South Steering Committee rams through two who don't. The "swing vote" will be appointed by Canterbury; and considering his most recent statements, I wouldn't be hopeful.

Richard Lyon said...

From the way Rowan Williams is proceeding with his plans to establish the pastoral council, it seems plausible to assume that he thinks that he has a commitment from KJS to implement it. Her vague statements seem to lend support to that notion. Can the person who sold B033 pull another rabbit out of her pointy hat?

Anonymous said...

I've sent the following suggestion to our Presiding Bishop, and I'll put it to you for your thoughts. IF the Episcopal Church is supposed to allow this Vicar/Pastoral Council to have oversight of dissenters, shouldn't all provinces alike have the same system, in order for us to agree to such a thing? (And, I would suggest that Bishop Robinson might be an excellent choice to help supervise those among Archbishop Akinola's flock who may disagree with his positions.)

Marshall Scott said...

robin, it's an interesting question. Of course, the idea of a primatial vicar is intended to apply in provinces that are divided. So, perhaps there should be primatial vicars for the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Australia as well.

richard, while Rowan may think that (and indeed may be correct), it doesn't require that. He can push forward, first, because the position is his to appoint; second, because he really thinks the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar program can band-aid the Episcopal Church, at least through the next Lambeth; and finally he wants something to offer the Episcopal House of Bishops that he hopes they will accept.