Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hang it all, Robert Browning

There can be but one tradition!
But tradition, and my tradition?--Ezra Pound

So, what happened? When it ended on Tuesday, the Deputies at the General Convention had voted to reject a resolution that would inhibit in any way the ordination of gay or lesbian bishops. But Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had called a "special session" to deal with the issue, reading between the lines of Archbishop Williams' statement and recognizing the Anglican Communion was not going to accept the action of the Convention. When we left the topic, "love your enemy" was the verse that came to mind. After Wednesday, one is left reflecting on the words from the Revelation to John:

To the angel of the church at Laodicea write: "These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation: I know what you are doing; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either cold or hot! Because you are neither one nore the other, but just lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth."--Revelation 3:14-16
So, what happened? It started here:

As part of our response to the Windsor Report, we have passed Resolution A159 which reaffirms "the abiding commitment of the Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and to seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible." We have also passed Resolution A166 supporting the process of developing an Anglican Covenant for the purpose of strengthening our Communion. We have thus indicated our desire for continuing conversation.

However, unless there is a clear perception on the part of our Anglican brothers and sisters that they have been taken seriously in their concerns it will be impossible to have any genuine conversation. Therefore there will be no conversion and the bonds of affection which undergird communion will be further strained. We will be less able to recognize Christ in one another and the mission we are called to share together for the sake of the world will be further diminished and undermined.

For our voices to be heard there needs to be a clear sense that we are not ignoring the sensibilities of those who are genuinely unable to understand what we have done. Yes, there is anger, but to a greater degree, there is confusion.

And conversation works. I have already experienced some of its potential fruits in the course of primates' meetings, as difficult as they sometimes have been. There have been times when, with great difficulty, I have had to receive before I was able to give. Such moments have not been easy but they have been necessary.

Humility is not an easy virtue but it is very much required in this season. Humility requires at times a stance of restraint in order that something larger can happen. There are times when what may appear to be a step backward may be called for in order to go forward.

Let me say here: we need to be mindful of the dynamics that have brought us to where we are. Some among us feel that expressions of restraint with regard to the office of bishop demean the dignity of those among us who are gay and lesbian. Others among us may be opposed to expressions of restraint, which would make it more difficult for them to justify their apparent need to establish a separate ecclesial body. Nothing would better serve such purposes than to be able to say that we, because of our action or inaction, have chosen to walk apart from the rest of the Communion. In a strange way, those with very different views are able to vote on the same side of the question.

However, resolutions passed thus far indicate a desire on the part of the majority to find a way forward that may require relinquishments on all sides. The majority of us, whom I describe as the diverse center – made up of divergent opinions but unified by a common sense of being church together for the sake of mission, do not want to take a step that precludes further steps and genuine conversation.

I have said that conversation works and that I have seen the fruits of difficult conversations as hearts and minds have been opened. I want our 26th Presiding Bishop and our members of the Anglican Consultative Council to have an opportunity to be at the table, to engage in those conversations.

This is the final day of General Convention. What I believe we actually yearn for has not been adequately reflected through the workings of our legislative processes. Our conversations in both Houses reveal a much greater complexity. We must now act with generosity and imagination so that our actions are a clearer reflection of the willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose.
Humility is certainly a virtue, and something usually in short supply where power is being exerted, which is precisely what this issue is all about: who has the power, and who gets to exert it. In this case, as in most cases like it, power is the only side that won. Note how the British papers covered this issue:

The Guardian:

The leadership of the US Episcopal church resorted to arm-twisting tactics last night in an attempt to save its membership of the international Anglican communion by offering Archbishop Rowan Williams and the rest of the church an emollient statement promising not to consecrate any more gay bishops.

The proposal was rushed through both houses of the church's general convention, bishops and clergy and lay, in the last hours of its convention in Columbus, Ohio, in an effort to head off demands that the US church should be expelled from worldwide Anglicanism.
The Times of London:

The Episcopal Church in America descended into chaos last night after leading bishops on both the liberal and conservative wings dissassociated themselves from a last-gasp effort to avert a schism with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Just hours after its newly elected woman head preached a sermon in praise of “our mother Jesus”, the Episcopal Church agreed to “exercise restraint” in appointing any more gay bishops after a tense day of debate and argument.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, welcomed the resolution with gratitude and what appeared to be relief, but he also made clear his reservations.
Regarding the reference to "our Mother Jesus," the article later acknowledges Bishop Schori was drawing "on the writings of the 14th-century Julian of Norwich," but still asserts, quite bizarrely, that this was the Bishop's way of "signalling her feminist credentials." Which is why I prefer to rely on the reports of either the Episcopal News Service, or people attending the Convention. But this also raises the issue that is at stake here: just what is, exactly, "traditional"? And why? (Her sermon, by the way, is here.)

"Chaos" is a little strong, too. The Episcopal News Service provides the most reasoned coverage of the issue. Here, for example, is the Presiding Bishop again:

"What I believe we actually yearn for has not been adequately reflected through the workings of our legislative processes," Griswold said, in presenting the resolution. "Our conversations in both Houses reveal a much greater complexity. We must now act with generosity and imagination so that our actions are a clearer reflection of the willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose."
However, one can't help but reflect he was probably closer to right, here:

"We are trying to deal with something that does not fit easily into the legislative process," Griswold told the bishops during their discussion. "I hope we can find a way in which to maneuver through this that doesn't make us victims of the legislative process that gets us absolutely nowhere. If we aren't clear by lunchtime, we might as well forget the whole thing."
One almost wishes that's what had been done, because of the need for clarity:

He added, "If we don't have something substantial, it will be very difficult for the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the Presiding Bishop to the Lambeth Conference.
I do know the complexity of what the Archbishop dealing with, in communion terms, and he needs for something clear to come from the Episcopal Church."
But what has been produced is anything but clear:

We, the undersigned Bishops of this 75th General Convention, in the confidence of the Gospel and out of love for this great Church, must prayerfully dissent from the action of this Convention in Resolution B033 (on Election of Bishops). We do so for the following reasons:

The process used to arrive at Resolution B033 raises serious concerns about the integrity of our decision-making process as a Church. In particular we note that we discussed a resolution, A162 , on Tuesday, but were never given an opportunity to act upon it. Instead, we were presented with a different resolution this morning, and were given only 30 minutes for debate and discussion. This resolution bears great consequences both for the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and unfortunately was not adequately discussed.

Our conversation has been framed in a flawed paradigm, forcing us to choose between two goods—the full inclusion in the life of the Church of our brother and sister Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian and our full inclusion in the life of our beloved Communion.

The process that brought about the reconsideration of this matter failed to honor the integrity of the House of Deputies by bringing undue pressure to bear on that body.
Nor is the Achbishop exactly excited:

"It is not yet clear how far the resolutions passed this week and today represent the adoption by the Episcopal Church of all the proposals set out in the Windsor Report. The wider Communion will therefore need to reflect carefully on the significance of what has been decided before we respond more fully.

"I am grateful that the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and ACC has already appointed a small working group to assist this process of reflection and to advise me on these matters in the months leading up to the next Primates' Meeting.
More meetings, in other words, and no real sense that Resolution B033 will be of any real help in this matter.

So yes, it's fair to say it ended ugly; as ugly as it possibly could. My sympathies are with Bishop Griswold, if only because I have been in that position once or twice before, and know if for the precarious hotseat it is. It only gets hotter when it is a worldwide communion, not just a congregation, one is responsible for. In any position of leadership, you are always responsible for looking out for the bigger picture; and that is the problem of power. Power is never a means, power is always an end. Power, in fact, is the other player in the situation; it is the "house" at the gambling table of decision; and like the "house," power always wins. Which means, of course, everyone else loses. So my sympathies are with PB Griswold, and Archbishop Williams. But my sympathies are also with the people "on the ground," at the Convention:

A roller coaster is an apt description of this Convention. There are those tedious “clackety-clack” moments when the train is being dragged up hill. There are those moments of terror and thrill when the train is plunging toward what appears to be certain doom. There is the euphoria of the up surge again. There is the stress as you bank this way and that. At moments you may even be whisked upside down, or drenched when the train splashes its way toward home.

Yesterday, the Convention was rocked when the House of Deputies debated, then turned down resolution A161, which would have urged restraint on the consents to bishops “whose manner of life would lead to further strains on the Communion” and would also have deterred “this General Convention” from developing or authorizing rites for the blessing of same sex unions.

Over the last couple of years, the bishops of the Church and many others have repeatedly pointed out that only the General Convention could speak on how The Episcopal Church would respond to the Windsor Report. Given that the various attempts to amend this resolution were rebuffed, and that a substitute using strictly Windsor language was ruled out of order, this was the only resolution that would address the specific requests of the WR to declare a “moratorium” on either consents or rites. The defeat of the resolution was breathtaking. The Convention had spoken.

There followed an attempt to reconsider this resolution shortly afterward. No one could have imagined that the resolution would go down to defeat, so why not try again? There was a motion to restore the original language of the resolution.

There is a rule (28) of the House of Deputies that “Neither a Question once determined, nor any Question of like import, shall be drawn again into debate or presented for action again during the same Convention . . .” But there is this provision: “. . . except upon the adoption of a motion to reconsider the action previously taken on such Question.” So a vote was put whether to reconsider, and the motion lost for lack of sufficient votes. (It required a 2/3 affirmative.)

The matter was dead. Or was it? In the House of Bishops, an effort was made to recraft the resolution with a different number and by rearranging the clauses. This, it was thought, could be passed by the bishops and sent on to the Deputies.

But discussion among the bishops – perhaps the longest and frankest such discussion on any thing in my memory – could not find a way forward. The Bishop of New Hampshire led off the discussion. He pointed out that we have said that we must act as a Convention, and that the Deputies had spoken. He called for honesty. Other such voices were heard. The Bishop of Louisiana said we were a church with two minds. One said we were two churches. Many pleaded for a clear vote. Some questioned whether the resolution was even Constitutional, being discriminatory. Still others thought there could be some way of saying we want to be in the Communionand at the same time admt that we are not ready to address these specific concerns of the WR.

At the end of this meeting, the Presiding Bishop said that he would call for a joint meeting of the Houses for the next day. He asked the bishops on the Special Committee to meet together with their cognate members from the Deputies and produce a simple resolution that we could vote on. I found this strange, since in fact, the Special Committee had done just this all during the Convention.
Power, as I said, always prevails. There is always a procedure, an avenue, an out, for power to assert its authority and demand its due. This is why Jesus preached a brokerless kingdom (in Dom Crossan's phrase): a place that was constantly and always upended, where there the first were always last, and the last always first, where no one could get hold of the reigns, where the pole of heirarchy was always greased, and no one could climb it. We don't have a human institution like that; we never have. Which may be one more reason why we expect God to come an impose the kingdom on us; because we've done so precious little to try to simply live in it ourselves.

This notion of clean and unclean, fit and unfit, goes back to the laws of Moses: to restrictions on food and persons. "Gentiles" began as a designation of those who were not "children of Abraham," and despite the fact the prophets said Israel would be a light to the nations, there were strong assumptions, and outright assertions, that the children of Abraham would be, at least, first among equals. I say this only to say they were no different than the rest of us. Greeks, and later Romans, declared "barbarians" on anyone who didn't share their taste, their culture, their ideas of power and who should wield it. It was only 30 years ago that the General Convention decided that women indeed could provide the necessary sacerdotal presence to serve the sacrament. Of course, in the early days of the church, eunuchs were unclean, but that didn't slow Philip down from talking to one, or baptizing him as a Christian (Acts 8:46-40; an act I would connect, since Luke and Acts have one author, to Luke 7:36-50) And in Peter's vision 2 chapters later, God tells Peter not to declare unclean that which God has declared clean. But holiness means, if nothing else, purity; and so the battle of "clean" v. "unclean" has raged since the beginnings of the church. Sadly, this is just a continuation of the fight between Peter and Paul. But this time, we lacked Paul's resolve to go our own way in a matter of conscience and theology.

As several entries up now at Titusonenine indicate, this resolution has left no one happy. And that's just what I've stumbled across in a few minutes Googling. The internet is a big place, with lots of voices. Any sampling is at once indicative and grossly distorted at the same time. This is the resolution that was approved, on 30 minutes (and no more!) discussion:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
It is about as vague as it can possibly be. As a lawyer, I find it laughable. No surprise, however, considering what was done, and how. As one participant wrote about it:

So the bishops that constructed the B033 resolution last night had to construct something so small, so incredibly vague, that a significant number of hard-core revisionists would hold their nose and vote for it, as well as the shrinking middle — and peel away a few of the conservative traditionalists as well. This would outnumber those of us who believe that the language of the Windsor Report was the starting point for the conversation, and would outnumber the hard-core revisionist hold-outs.

And so, as Richard Crocker stated at the AAC lunch briefing they “labored mightily . . . and produced a mouse.”

They produced “a mouse” while at the same time engaging in a “full court press” — an unprecedented level of manipulation by desperate bishops, including a rather artificial “joint session of the houses” which mainly involved the retiring Presiding Bishop speaking in starkly clear terms to the house, with bishops sitting at the deputies tables. At least one bishop informed his deputation that they *would* be voting for the resolution and I am sure that there were many others. After this show of strength, the bishops filed out.
It was an exercise in power, which left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. What's worse, those seeking to wield the power, dropped it, let it get away, as power always does. Power won, and retired to the bar, laughing.

Everyone else is left with the bill, and the hangover.

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