The Living Church, which is, no doubt, gravely disappointed both by Glasspool’s election and her subsequent confirmation by the wider church, has published an editorial suggesting that the Presiding Bishop should allow someone else to be chief consecrator. The editorial concludes with the following paragraph:
We ask the Presiding Bishop to consider exercising her own gracious restraint on May 15 by not presiding at the consecrations of Mary Glasspool and of Canon Glasspool’s sister bishop-elect, the Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce. We do not ask this lightly. We ask it as a simple acknowledgment that, even if the Episcopal Church has decided the time for gracious restraint has passed, the importance of graciousness in dissent never expires.Presiding Bishops usually, but not invariably, participate in episcopal consecrations. The Living Church editorial cites consecrations for which the Presiding Bishop was absent. Notable among these is that of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. In that case, Jefferts Schori was indeed gracious, stepping aside knowing that neither the diocese not the bishop-elect seemed fond of The Episcopal Church generally or the Presiding Bishop in particular. (Little graciousness—or even simple respect—was shown the Presiding Bishop when she subsequently attended a meeting with the bishop and clergy of South Carolina, however.) Presumably, both the Diocese of Los Angeles and the bishops-elect want the Presiding Bishop to be present in this case.
The argument in the editorial is a bit hard to follow, but I will try to capture it here. The editorial acknowledges that it is usual for the Presiding Bishop to “take order for the consecration of bishops” (a peculiar term of art embedded in the Episcopal Church canons). It even acknowledges, albeit obliquely, that Jefferts Schori played no substantive role in the church’s decision to make Glasspool a bishop.
The Living Church notes, however, that Jefferts Schori is a member of what is now being called the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. That that body issued a statement last December taking notice of the Glasspool election and reiterating, inter alia, a call for “gracious restraint” with respect to the consecration of partnered gay bishops.
Then comes this non sequitur in the editorial:
Nevertheless, even a rudimentary grasp of Jesus’ admonition to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37) highlights a conflict between the Episcopal Church’s rhetoric of reconciliation and autonomous actions. Leaders of other Anglican provinces have good reason to think that for some Episcopalians, words have become symbol systems in which today’s yes becomes tomorrow morning’s no.The essay seems to be suggesting that, as a member of the Standing Committee, the Presiding Bishop necessarily subscribes to its December declaration. By taking part in Glasspool’s consecration, she is therefore being duplicitous. This is nonsense.
One would actually like to know how statements like the one from the Standing Committee are decided upon. Bodies such as the Standing Committee and Parimates’ Meeting take place in secret, sometimes behind armed guards. Anyone who believes that Katharine Jefferts Schori actually approved of the December statement, however, is surely delusional. This is equally true about the various communiqués coming from the primates since October 2003 and Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishops (both Frank Griswold and Katharine Jefferts Schori). If there is any insincerity going on here, it is the lack of denunciations of the various pronouncements by our Presiding Bishops once the meetings out of which they have come are concluded.
A certain Anglican politeness seems to have led to the understanding that, when a body like the Primates’ Meeting issues a communiqué, any suggestion that there might be a minority opinion is unseemly. This is analogous, it might be argued, to the actions of a board of directors of a nonprofit corporation. Decisions of the board are expected to be supported by all directors, and serious dissent requires resignation. This analogy is defective, however, because (1) the primates’ or members of the Standing Committee have no real power to wield, and (2) not all members—certainly not the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church—have the power to bind their churches. The Presiding Bishop’s role in these Anglican bodies is more akin to that of the United States’ United Nations ambassador. Jefferts Schori’s failure openly to dissent causes unnecessary anxiety among Episcopalians and inappropriate expectations elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. It is, in other words, seriously dysfunctional.
Under the circumstances, participating in the consecration of Glasspool is a significantly more honest response by the Presiding Bishop than would be not participating. Moreover, the Presiding Bishop has a duty to participate, whereas she has no similar duty to the Standing Committee or to the Primates’ Meeting.
I am all for graciousness, of course, but not at the expense of sincerity. The Living Church editorial is not so much about encouraging graciousness as promoting hypocrisy. Oh, and Matthew 5:37 is about avoiding oaths, not about sincerity, and certainly not about graciousness.