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.