Tuesday, April 28, 2009

B033 - An Idea Whose Time has Come and Gone

Okay, just a bit of a warning for any non-Anglicans reading out there. I'm about to give you a history lesson on the Episcopal Church. If we sometimes seem confusing, this may clear up a few points. Or it make it all seems even scarier than your could ever have believed.

Here is the short version. In 2003, the Episcopal Church, having received a majority vote in the House of Bishops, consecrated Gene Robinson to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. The rest of the church went into apoplectic fits because Bp. Robinson is not only gay but living in a committed relationship. Everyone knew this at the time, so there was no deception going on here. Well, there was a lot of self deception from people who refused to see that this was going to happen sooner or later, but that's about it.

Skip ahead three years to 2006 General Convention (GC). By this time, the rest of the Anglican world (except Canada) had told us what bad people we were, demanded an apology and a promise that we would not do it again, and threw us off the playground. Mind you, our polity maintains that each Province of the Anglican Communion is separate and it really was none of their business what we did; but some other places felt there might be guilt by association.

Anyway, the 2006 GC was asked to make a promise to hold off on any more such consecrations. Initially, we rejected that demand. Then we did something else shocking. We elected a woman, Katherine Jefferts Schori, to be the Presiding Bishop of the USA. Not only was she (gasp!) female, but she was supportive of gays and lesbians in the church. However, she had a dilemma. There was no way she could participate in international Anglican events without some kind of a promise from the Episcopal Church not to make any more gay bishops, (or, at least, openly gay bishops).

So, on the last day of that GC, she brought forth a resolution numbered B033 which said we would not consecrate any bishops whose manner of life might strain the bonds of affection between the Episcopal Church (USA) and other parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Everyone knew that this language was targeted at one group only, but implied that there might be other manners of life (voting Republican?) that people would find offensive. The plea was made to do this for a 'season'.

Now here's the problem. GC meets again this summer and B033 will come up again, mostly in resolutions to repeal it. Here's why. In the three ensuing years, several dioceses have attempted to leave the Episcopal Church. Most are learning that they don't get to keep the money or the property, but that is a long slow legal process. The Presiding Bishop has been snubbed by a number of bishops around the world who refuse to go to meetings where she is present or to shake her hand. Bishops in other parts of the world have been interfering in American dioceses, sending so called missioners and appointing new bishops where there are already existing bishops. Not only is all of this redundant, but it goes explicitly against the other part of the agreement that was requested around the world. In the meantime, the Episcopal Church has not gone back on its word.

The final straw (in my opinion) was the refusal of some bishops to go to last year's Lambeth Conference. Lambeth takes place every ten years and is intended as a time of discussion, reflection, and education for bishops around the world. Some bishops have decided that they will not even listen to the thinking process that has preceded our decisions in this country, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand.

An interesting thing that happened out of Lambeth last summer is that a number of foreign bishops, taken out of the spotlight (the press is kept out of these meetings), had the chance to talk with American bishops and discover that there really is some theology taking place behind our actions, not just some cultural abdication of the Bible as they were led to believe. A growing collegiality has begun to develop, but not, of course, with those who refused to attend.

So we are left asking this question: Given that we got virtually nothing we wanted from B033, no dialogue, no retention of conservative dioceses, and no ending of the interfering by foreign bishops, why should we continue B033?

It was a bad compromise when it first happened, but I can easily see how people voted for it. I might actually have been one of them, had I been present. The newly elected Presiding Bishop was asking for something that she thought would allow the dialogue to continue. Instead, other forces decided they were done talking, that the body of Christ was irretrievably broken once again.

Worse than that, we sacrificed other people for our comfort. It is one thing for Christians to sacrifice themselves; our faith is rather based on that idea wouldn't you say? But it is another thing to sacrifice someone else. I don't see the biblical model for that.

So the only question, as far as I am concerned is whether we repeal B033 or confess our shame in having passed it in the first place. I, for one, am tired of putting the institution above human beings. To put it bluntly, B033 stank from the beginning, and it has gotten any better with age.


Jane R said...

Right on. Well said.

James said...

It is my understanding that +Griswold put forth B033 on the last day of convention. +J-S supported it, but it wasn't her initiative.

No more gay glass ceilings- as fabulous as those sound- they're not! Looking forward to hopefully clearing this one out.

Kevin M said...

A quick check shows that the actual Proposer was The Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr. of Upper South Carolina. I know that +KJS made a plea to the House of Deputies to give her something.