Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So, if you're getting your way, what are you complaining about?

It occurred to me this morning that the conservative spin on the Archbishop's statement may be a good thing. They're playing up the idea of the two-tier system, with one province in full communion (the Network) and one that's loosely affiliated (The Episcopal Church).

If they're saying they're going to get their way, then they have no justification for splitting in the immediate future. They need to wait for future action from the ABC and his consulting group, a couple of years down the road. That bit of logic may escape them, though.

The ABC's statement is murky, as always, but my take on it is different.

The Archbishop of Canterbury sounds rather supportive of, and noted the intention "to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation."

He doesn't indicate any censure, kicking out, etc., of the Episcopal Church, that the Network bishops wanted from him. The Archbishop's pretty much telling everyone to settle it out themselves -- it isn't his role to play judge or policeman in squabbles among the constituents.

Question: Will the churches in Nigeria, Uganda, an alternate province in the U.S., if such occurs, or others be willing to "limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness," as the ABC stated, to stay in full communion? The conservatives think it will be them setting rules for The Episcopal Church, without any limits put on their "alternative province." I don't think so.

Will polygamy and church-sanctioned hate crimes against gays cease?

Will provinces come into compliance in ordaining women, to meet the ABC's call for greater involvement of women in the life of the church?

Will primates cease crossing their jurisdictions?

What changes would all the provinces have to make to fit this scheme of unity? What changes will everyone be willing to make?

In the meantime, here's an insightful pastoral letter from the Bishop of Arizona about the convention, thanks to the Episcopal Voices listserv. He explains how B033 came to be passed.

Pentecost III, 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have just returned from the 75th General Convention of our church held in Columbus, Ohio, and would like to share with you my thoughts about that meeting in the form of a pastoral letter.*

Much legislation was enacted that will effect our life together, and I would direct you to the Episcopal Church's website ( for further information and the full text of the over 300 resolutions which were considered. In this letter, I wish to focus on what I believe are the three most important actions of the Convention: 1) The election of a new Presiding Bishop, 2) The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, and 3) Our response to the Windsor Report.

1). I have known Katharine Jefferts Schori for several years as both a friend and colleague. You may remember that I asked her to be one of my co-consecrators when I became your bishop two years ago. As a former scientist, she brings a certain calm and analytic approach to the problems of the church. She is deeply centered in prayer, but is courageous and energetic. She flies her own plane, runs marathons, and speaks Spanish. We will be well served by her. Her election was the high point of the convention and a deeply emotional moment, especially for women who just thirty years ago were admitted to the priesthood. The day after the election, many were sporting pink buttons which read, "It's a girl!" Some have asked if her election will jeopardize our standing with other parts of the communion where women cannot be ordained. That may be the case, although part of the Windsor Report calls for greater involvement of women in the life of the church.

2) Most of you probably have not heard of the Millennium Development Goals. Very briefly, this is a plan to eradicate the worst forms of the poverty in the world funded by governments, institutions, and individuals pledging seven tenths of one percent (.7%) of their income to agencies of their choice who are working on such projects as: clean water, basic health services, primary education, and medical care in underdeveloped countries. Economists have predicted that if these goals are supported, worldwide poverty could be eradicated by 2015. The United Nations has adopted this plan, and now our church has. We will ask for such a line item in our own Diocesan Budget for next year, and I would urge your congregation to do the same. Laura and I are already researching how our tithe to the church can include such work.

3) Finally, most of the media attention of last week was focused on our response to the Windsor Report, as was much of the energy of our meeting.

As you might expect, the focus of the Windsor Report debate was on the section which asked the American Church to refrain from electing bishops living in same-sex partnerships and from authorizing liturgies blessing same-sex unions, "until which time a consensus is reached in the Communion."

Their were several resolutions passed in response to this request, which reaffirmed, in general terms, our commitment to the Communion, but complying with the exact words of the Report proved difficult. Very simply put, some conservatives felt that anything short of a total acceptance of the exact language of the Windsor Report did not go far enough and would come across as an example of American arrogance towards the rest of the world. On the other side, liberals felt that to agree to a moratorium towards either action would be a backing away from the decisions made in 2003, and hence a betrayal of gay and lesbian people and was therefore a resolution they could not in good conscience support.

The middle position, one which I share, was eventually adopted. It held that even if we were supportive of the actions of our last convention, we also need to do what was asked of us by the Communion and show restraint in taking further action so the dialogue could continue. It was clear that if we did not come as close to the language of Windsor as possible, then we would most likely not be invited to the upcoming Lambeth Conference and hence be excluded from the Anglican Communion. This would be a tragedy for everyone. We needed to do something to keep everyone talking. The resulting compromise, like all compromises, made no one happy, but at least is workable. It "calls for bishops and standing committees to exercise restraint in consecrating bishops 'whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.'"

I realize that some will be upset by my vote to accept this resolution. I joined with the Presiding Bishop, the Presiding Bishop-Elect and the majority of the House of Bishops in doing so, because I believe that it is not a vote about sexuality, but a vote about communion. Complying as closely as we possibly can with the Report will give our new Presiding Bishop the support she will need in order to continue to be at the table with our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world.

That is good news, but there is more: First, we made it through this convention in one piece. Even though the General Convention process has many limitations (what other legislative body in the world has over 1000 members?), and although legislation is never a good way to deal with issues which are fundamentally relational, we managed to make it through the debate and come out with a compromise position which reflects the broad middle of the church. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I believe we have demonstrated seriousness about being part of the Anglican Communion which will be accepted by the majority of our partner provinces.

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged our resolve and called for further discussion leading to an Anglican Covenant, an idea which our General Convention has already endorsed. This discussion will begin next year when the Primates meet and will no doubt continue when we all meet together at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. It is clear, that for the Archbishop, the Episcopal Church is still very much a part of the Anglican Communion.

There are plenty of people hurting. Our lesbian and gay members will no doubt be saddened and disappointed by my vote. To them I offer my apology, for I know that our decision calls for their sacrifice, not mine. Our more traditionalist members may see what I have done as an expedient compromise. To them I can only give my reassurances of how much I value our place in the worldwide Communion, and how committed I am to keeping our own American church part of it.

We haven't solved the problem, but at least we have kept people talking, and as long as there is that dialogue, there is hope. As Anglicans, we have a long history of living together in diversity; we are the world's experts in finding the "via media." We've done it before, and with God's help, I believe we can do it again.

I returned from our Convention physically tired, but also spiritually energized. We have not solved all the problems of the church, and I am sure that controversy will continue. But I was also heartened by the feeling of the Holy Spirit at work -- ?in our election of a dynamic new leader, in our greater commitment to the needs of the world, and yes, even in our struggle to find a way to turn our attention from our disagreements to our common call to the Gospel mission.

We have a great church. I am proud to be an Episcopalian, and even more proud and honored to be your bishop.


The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith

This is a healing sort of letter. For all the noise from the right, the breath of the Holy Spirit was blowing through that convention, (though I write as one who witnessed it only second-hand), and I believe all those who want to be in unity are moving in that direction.

The convention did some important things we've heard very little about in the diocese, but which are exciting: the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and partnerships with other churches to fight poverty.

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