July 12, 2009

D025

NOTE: Apparently, I posted this essay after the House of Deputies passed the resolution in question. (The Web site tracking legislation apparently is not always updated in a timely fashion.) Since the resolution was not amended by the deputies, my comments about the resolution itself are still appropriate.
The Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention has a lot on its plate, not all of which is of great interest to the world (or even the Anglican Communion) at large. The world will certainly be watching how the convention deals with the 2006 convention’s eleventh-hour Resolution B033, however. (See my earlier post, “Kudos for Bonnie.”) The World Mission Legislative Committee (WMLC) has now reported out resolution D025 for consideration by the House of Deputies, making this a good time to look at how the convention might deal with what many now consider its mistake of three years ago.

Resolution D025 was proposed by D. Rebecca Snow, an attorney and deputy from the Diocese of Alaska. The original text can be found here. The WMLC was assigned a number of resolutions dealing with B033 and chose to rework D025 to produce a proposal on the subject for forwarding to the House of Deputies. The committee vote on the revised resolution was 24–2 among deputies but 2–3 among bishops. (More details are available in the ENS story “B033-related legislation to move to House of Deputies.”) The difference in the vote among deputies and bishops is striking, but it is not clear how significant it is. The bishops may want a stronger or a weaker resolution, or simply a better one, and the votes of five bishops may not be representative of the House of Bishops generally. We may never know, of course, as the resolution may not even reach the junior house in its current form.

I find it interesting (and unhelpful) that the WMLC, while editing D025 a good deal, did not at all modify the Explanation of the resolution. (I assume this is standard practice.) As I have complained before, the General Convention is not always clear about why it is doing what it does. Whereas members of the two legislative houses may cast identical votes for quite diverse reasons, legislative committees could be more helpful by explaining why they have done what they have done. In this case, however, although many words have been changed, the thrust and spirit of the original resolution seem to have come through the committee process intact. Actually, if the committee had to agree on a statement explaining what it just did, its work might take twice as long! Sigh!

I want to offer my own commentary on the current version of the resolution, which I will do paragraph by paragraph. In what follows, the original resolution appears on the left, and the current resolution appears on the right.

D025 as of July 12

The resolution begins:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That this 76th General Convention 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, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church in 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

Although the current resolution is not particularly objectionable, one wonders why the committee chose to tinker with the original. This paragraph has lost focus, which should be on our commitment to the Anglican Communion and to maintaining the highest degree of communion possible. (Am I the only person sick of this phrase?) Anyway, if we reaffirm our commitment, why do we need to reaffirm our participation? It seems to me that we reaffirm our participation—whatever that means—by participating. No doubt, the bishops on the committee were responsible for inserting the gratuitous thanks for the work of the Lambeth Conference. (Would bishops have the same fondness for the Anglican Communion if they didn’t get a junket to England every 10 years? Did I really say that? Sorry.) The committee avoided serious irony by not also expressing gratitude for the work of the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Reference to the Lambeth Conference calls attention unnecessarily to these omissions. Both the original and current texts omit a needed semicolon before “and seek.”

The resolution continues:

Resolved, That this 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, parishes, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion, including but not limited to networks involving youth, women, and indigenous people; networks and ministries concerned with ecumenical and interfaith work, peace and justice, liturgy, environmental issues, health, and education; and companion diocese relationships; 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

Mercifully, the committee shortened this provision. Sadly, it did not eliminate it. Participation of the church at all levels should be contingent on its facilitating mission; it should not be an end in itself. The lack of a needed comma after “networks” is clearly an artifact of a faulty editing process.

The next paragraph is the following:

Resolved, That this 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to maintain its full asking for the Inter-Anglican Budget; 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

I think the revised wording is less specific, and may therefore express a slightly weaker commitment than does the original resolution. Personally, I would like to see this resolve dropped. The first paragraph of the resolution implies that we will do our part financially. We should stop at that implication. (Arguably, we are paying more than our fair share. If Nigeria can make demands on the Communion by virtue of its containing such a large share of the world’s Anglicans, let it pay as though that fact means something.) Anyway, this resolve brings to mind our government’s reluctance ever to rule out using nuclear weapons, the purpose of which is to avoid giving our enemies the confidence that they are safe from our nuclear stockpile no matter what they do. Likewise, we should not give the Anglican Communion reason to think that our commitment to paying about a third of the Communion’s expenses is absolute, no matter how much our church is abused by the Communion.

The resolution continues:

Resolved, That this 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; 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

This resolve survived without any significant change. (Note, however, that the addition of “(2000-D039)” is not clearly marked as such on the legislation tracking site.) This resolve, of course, is getting to the heart of what the resolution is all about. The text makes its point powerfully and succinctly. The quotation from 2000-D039 is correct, although one might have wished that semicolons had been employed to clarify the syntax. I would also like to see commas around “through our own listening.”

Next, we have the following:

Resolved, That this 76th General Convention recognize that individuals 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 over the centuries and are currently doing so in our midst, often without the church’s recognition of their lifelong committed relationships and the blessings bestowed by such relationships, 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

It is certainly positive that this resolve identifies specifically the people about whom it is talking, rather than using the phrase “individuals who are part of such relationships,” referring to the previous resolve. On the other hand, it pleads its case somewhat less passionately. I would place a comma after “Apostolic Church.”

Moving right along, we have:

Resolved, That this 76th General Convention affirm that God may call such individuals, like any other baptized members, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested in our polity through our discernment processes carried out under Canon III of The Episcopal Church and the canons of its dioceses, 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, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

This resolve might be clarified by not having to refer to the previous resolve. I like the addition of “has called and” to the current text. One can quibble about other changes, but I have no strong feelings about them. Another comma fault is present as a result of careless editing. The comma after “individuals” is needed in the original, but it is misplaced in the revised paragraph. Then, there is the matter that our discernment process does not act. There are more serious problems here, however. (See below.)

And now, the last resolve:

Resolved, That this 76th General Convention acknowledge that, while the members of The Episcopal Church, like those in our sister Provinces of the Anglican Communion, are not all of one mind on this issue, and that Christians of good conscience, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, may disagree about this issue, the validity of the Church’s sacraments comes from the action of the Holy Spirit in and through them, not from the frail humans celebrating them in God’s name. 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.

This final paragraph acknowledges, quite properly, of course, that all Christians are not of one mind concerning LGBT persons, even if The Episcopal Church can agree on matters relating to such persons in a manner specified by its governing documents. The WMLC wisely threw out the reference to the Donatist heresy, which, though relevant, is too complicated to explain adequately here. Alas, the current text is not felicitously phrased. First, there should be a comma after “The Episcopal Church.” But the real problem is that the various elements of the sentence simply do not come in the most logical order. The original phrasing was much better, but it lead to the Donatist business that the committee decided to scrap. There are more serious problems, however, as the resolution refers to members of The Episcopal Church and members of the Anglican Communion. But members of The Episcopal Church are humans, and members of the Anglican Communion are provinces (churches). Oops! Something like the following should be substituted:
Resolved, That this 76th General Convention acknowledge that, whereas the members of The Episcopal Church, like those in our sister Provinces of the Anglican Communion, are not all of one mind about these matters, Christians of good conscience, based even on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, may disagree about them.
I still find myself uncomfortable about the use of “these matters,” as it is not completely clear what matters are being referenced.

Further Thoughts

On the whole, the revised D025 is not a bad effort, even though it needs another copyediting pass. I cannot help but feel that, although the resolution seems to mean to undo the effect of the infamous B033, it doesn’t quite do the job. The draft asserts that the call of “such individuals”—I hate the indirection here—to ordained ministry in our church “is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.” The implication is that the nondiscrimination provisions of our governing documents will cause us to ordain LGBT persons and even consecrate them as bishops. Why don’t we just say that? Those reading this may not know our canons well enough to get the implication. As Richard E. Helmer recently said of this moment in the life of The Episcopal Church,
So it seems to me certain in this moment, as General Convention meets and considers next steps in the aftermath of B033, our primary call is to speak the truth about who and where we are as a Church—perhaps with gusto, perhaps with some humility, or offered with the spice of both.

But it must be the truth. Period.
I could not agree more.

There will be consequences, of course, to passing a resolution such as this one, and not all of the consequences involve the churches of Nigeria, Uganda, or the Southern Cone. In my own diocese, the many conservatives who broke with Bishop Robert Duncan to remain with The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh will clearly be unhappy with the passage of D025 or anything like it that weakens the virtual moratorium of B033. (See “Diocesan Deputies Help Shape Sexuality Debate” on the diocese’s Web site.) On the other hand, those folks had to know that the trajectory of The Episcopal Church was targeted at the eventual approval of same-sex unions and the selection of bishops without regard to sexual orientation. A failure to abrogate B033 would trouble the more liberal members of the diocese, myself included. We have feelings and passions, too. There is concern that passage of something like D025 will discourage those who have left The Episcopal Church from returning to it. So be it. Non-passage will surely not encourage their return. Property lawsuits might.

As for the Anglican Communion, I believe that we, as a church, have prolonged the agony of the Communion by repeatedly suggesting that we may not go where we know we want to go, where we sincerely believe God is calling us to go, and where we know we are going soon, if not in 2009. We are not willing, and we should not be willing, to wait for consensus about LGBT persons within the Anglican Communion because we know that, effectively, that will happen when hell freezes over. We actually have a better chance of preserving the Anglican Communion by making it clear now where we stand, thereby telling the Communion that it can accept the decision of an autonomous member of the fellowship, or it can change the nature of the Communion and go its own way without us. One way or another, as our conservative brothers and sisters have advised us, the Anglican Communion is going to change. If we are to be a part of the Anglican Communion, we must ensure that we are part of a Communion we can live with. If a divorce in our fellowship is in our future, we will not stand alone, and we will be better off once that painful divorce is final.

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