Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Guy in the Pew Reflects on the House of Bishops

I have had a few days to reflect on what occurred in New Orleans this week--and these reflections were greatly informed by what others have written--I especially commend the thoughts of Tobias Haller and the commentary at the Episcopal Cafe. So with no claim to originality, here are some thoughts:

1. Until General Convention 2003, the status quo on the inclusion of GLBT persons in the Episcopal church was this: in most (but not all) dioceses, Bishops ordained GLBT men and women as priests, and while there was no official blessing for same sex committed relationships, more informal same sex blessings occurred in many dioceses. And while the Episcopal church had adopted no theology of inclusion in any official way, this a fact on the ground in many dioceses. While many conservative Primates and Episcopalians were unhappy with this state of affairs, this unhappiness did not result in threats of schism, foreign intrusions, or the creation of alternative Anglican provinces.

2. At General Convention 2003, much of this status quo remained unchanged. Despite some efforts, there was no approval of a rite for same sex blessings. All that did change was the approval of an openly gay man in a committed relationship as a Bishop. It is fair to say that the Episcopal Church grossly underestimated the earthquake that this decision would cause in the Anglican Communion--perhaps because most viewed this as consistent with the de facto theology of inclusion that seemed to have been tolerated by the Anglican Communion in the past. After all, if the ordination of GLBT men priests was tolerated, how large a step is it to ordain a GLBT Bishop? Choose your metaphor or analogy--this was the bridge too far, the tipping point, or the last straw for many.

3. Through the leadership of the Presiding Bishops (both old and new), General Convention aimed to return the status quo to where it was before General Convention 20003. B0033 can only be understood as a moratorium on the approval of GLBT Bishops in the short term at least.

4. And I think that the statement of the House of Bishops this last week was also an effort to articulate a return to the status quo before General Convention 2003--a status quo that had not threatened the integrity of the Anglican Communion, but assuredly displayed a degree of inclusion of GLBT people seen in few other denominations. The moratorium on GLBT Bishops (at least those not closeted) remains, no official rites for same sex blessings will be approved (and they could not be approved before General Convention 2009), but the pre-2003 toleration of more informal blessings continues in many dioceses.

5. Clearly there is a history after General Convention 2003 that means even a return to the pre-2003 status quo will not be enough for some Anglicans and some Episcopalians, but it appears that it will be enough for most---including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of the ACC and the Primates. If a schism occurs, it will not be the Episcopal Church that leaves the Anglican Communion. And if a schism indeed occurs, the Episcopal Church will have more room to continue its move toward full inclusion of GLBT men and women.

6. Clearly, there is understandable hurt and fear by our GLBT brothers and sisters. It may be a status quo step, but the status quo is not one of full inclusion. That needs to be recognized. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church still remains in the vanguard in this area.

So--I welcome your comments.

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