July 17, 2009

What D025 Has Done

Ann Rodgers wrote a story a couple of days ago for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headlined “Episcopal gay bishops decision confounds activists.” The story, of course, was about General Convention Resolution D025, which has now been passed in its final form by both houses. (The margin of victory was approximately 2–1 among bishops, clergy, and laity.) The resolution reads as follows:

Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of “listening to the experience of homosexual persons,” as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

I’m not sure this resolution has “confounded” any church “activists.” I do not feel confounded personally. Certainly, people are spinning the passage of D025 to see what they want to see, but I doubt that many are missing, in their heart of hearts, the real message of D025.

No doubt I will be accused of spin as well, but I want to take a crack at evaluating the significance of D025.


The big concern about D025 on both sides of the Atlantic seems to be with The Episcopal Church’s moratorium on gay bishops. Analysis here is best begun with a few questions and answers.

Q. Is there now a moratorium in The Episcopal Church on the consecration of gay bishops?

A. No.

Q. Was there ever such a moratorium?

A. No.

Q. Were the canons regarding the ordination of gays changed in 2006?

A. No.

Q. Were the canons regarding the ordination of gays changed in 2009?

A. No.

Q. Has anything changed?

A. Yes, definitely.

Q. Will there soon be more gay bishops in The Episcopal Church?

A. Maybe, maybe not. There surely will be eventually.

Resolution B033, passed at the end of the 2006 General Convention—see my 2006 essay “Is the Episcopal Church About to Surrender?”—“call[ed] upon” those responsible for approving the consecration of a new bishop to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” The resolution did not demand restraint, nor could it, as the constitution and canons of the church prescribe how bishops are chosen. Those regulations cannot be overridden by a General Convention resolution. In particular, Canon III.1.2 applies to the selection of bishops:
No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.
One can quibble about the relation of this canon to B033, but many considered the General Convention resolution to have either violated Canon III.1.2 directly (and to therefore have been of no legal effect) or to have encouraged its violation. In practice, no gay bishop has been selected since B033 was enacted. We cannot know if the resolution prevented a gay bishop from being selected; gay candidates for the episcopate were certainly considered during this period, even though none was actually elected.

The legislative committee out of which D025 emerged in nearly its final state chose to follow the advice of the Presiding Bishop in choosing how to deal with B033:
“I've been very clear in my public communications for the last few months that my hope is that we not attempt to repeal past legislation at General Convention—it’s a bad legislative practice,” said Jefferts Schori. “I would far more prefer us to say where we are today, in 2009, to make a positive statement about our desire to include all people fully in this church and that we be clear about who we are as the Episcopal Church.[”] (From “Episcopal Church leaders give webcast preview of General Convention .”)
The resulting legislation has three parts:
  1. A declaration of support for the Anglican Communion.
  2. A description of the church’s view of long-term, monogamous, same-sex couples and the access to ordained positions in the church afforded persons in such relationships.
  3. An acknowledgment that neither The Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion is of one mind with respect to the matters dealt with in the second part of the resolution.
One gets the feeling that parts (1) and (3) are sweeteners for, what for many, is the bitter pill of (2), the heart of the resolution. What the general convention did was to reiterate what the church has already said about gays, on one hand, and to call attention to the non-discriminatory canons by which people attain ordained positions, including bishop, in The Episcopal Church. The church has no problems with long-term, monogamous same-sex relationships, and persons in such relationships are perfectly acceptable as bishops, all things being equal.

B033, of course, is not mentioned in the resolution. What of it? Technically, B033 has been neither repealed nor modified, and it is therefore still in effect. On the other hand, as a later resolution, it is D025, not B033 that represents the General Convention’s current thinking on the matter of gay bishops. Is the church really saying now that anyone, including a gay person in a monogamous same-sex relationship, is as eligible to be considered for elevation to bishop as anyone else, but don’t dare vote for such a person? I think not. B033 is essentially dead. Some who must consent to the consecration of any future episcopal candidate may think about B033 in making their decision. Certainly, a responsible decision maker must consider the possible consequences of his or her vote, but D025 will make a vote for a gay candidate much easier, as the “advice” the General Convention gave in 2006 is rescinded, de facto, if not de jure, by D025.

Other Matters

I believe The Episcopal Church generally, and the 2006 General Convention particularly, has been disingenuous in its dealings with the Anglican Communion. Had it been asked directly if it wanted to declare an indefinitely long moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops, the 2006 General Convention would almost assuredly have voted no. Bishops were afraid they might not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference unless they did something that at least looked like a moratorium, however, so they came up with the ambiguous—some would say duplicitous—B033. Deputies were given insufficient time to consider the legislation fully and, at the urging the Presiding Bishop and his elected successor, probably acted against their collective better judgment.

What is refreshing about D025, despite a certain obliqueness I would have preferred to have seen eliminated, is that it represents The Episcopal Church as it is, rather than how we would like others to perceive it is in order to get them off our backs. After repeatedly playing games with the bigots and despots among the Anglican primates, our church has declared that it has no essential problem with homosexual sex and maintains no institutional barriers to the consecration of future gay bishops.

The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, in a video explaining D025 posted on the General Convention’s Media Hub Web site, described the resolution as being “honest,” “clear,” and “transparent.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but his point is well taken. Relating D025 to the Anglican Communion, Douglas said, “Communion is about being genuine with each other. There is no real communion if we don't speak the truth in love.” Someone should have told this to The Episcopal Church six years ago.

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori have now written a letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to offer their perspective on the passage of D025. “We understand Resolution D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature—a statement that reaffirms commitments already made by The Episcopal Church and that acknowledges certain realities of our common life,” they wrote. D025 was passed “with the hope that such authenticity would contribute to deeper conversation in these matters.” Anderson and Jefferts Schori assert that B033 has not been repealed, while acknowledging that, for many, at least, it effectively has been.

I strongly take issue with Jefferts Schori’s view that repealing past legislation is “bad legislative practice.” I think she made up this ludicrous assertion in order to be able to say to the Anglican Communion—to the Archbishop of Canterbury in this case—that B033 is still in effect. Practically, it is not.

I was disappointed in my own assisting bishop’s statement in Ann Rodgers’ story. The Rt. Rev. Robert H. Johnson apparently said that the General Convention did not repeal B033. “I don’t see that there would be any threat to the moratorium unless we get presented with another partnered lesbian or gay bishop. That would be the test. But [D025] was a clarification, reminding us of where we are in the Episcopal Church. That is the way the bishops saw it,” Rodgers quotes Johnson as saying. I’m sure that Johnson is concerned about retaining the conservatives who have remained in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and about not unnecessarily alienated those who have left the diocese but might conceivably come back.

My own view is that anyone who has been paying attention could not have been surprised by the position taken in D025, though he or she might have been surprised that General Convention had the courage actually to articulate it. Anyone who cannot live with a church that can pass a D025 might be happier in some other church.

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