Wednesday, June 21, 2006

" 'Komm Schopfer Geist!' I bellow..."

Pardon me for delving so deeply into this issue, but I've found that things seen "from a distance" often look quite different when seen "from the ground." This post has grown like topsy as I've googled various statements and issues. Because of that, I have purposely included as many different sources as is practical. Some, I realize, are groups that would strongly disagree with me, and I, perhaps, with them. So be it. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we hope that our unity may one day be restored.

Rowan Williams walks the tightrope:

“I send my greetings to Bishop Katharine and she has my prayers and good wishes as she takes up a deeply demanding position at a critical time. She will bring many intellectual and pastoral gifts to her new work, and I am pleased to see the strength of her commitment to mission and to the Millennium Development Goals.

Her election will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues.

We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices.”
The Rt. Rev. Schori is not gay, nor is she a sharply ideological figure, from what I can discern. The issue is her sex; the fact that she is female. The issue is also that she is a supporter of gays and lesbians, both in the priesthood, and in same-sex unions. But the issue of her gender may resonate more within the Communion, or the Protestant Episcopalian Church (to give the American church an old but formal title) than outside it:

Roman Catholic Bishop Edward Clark of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the impact was made 30 years ago when the Episcopal Church chose to ordain women as bishops. "With a woman bishop now becoming Presiding Bishop, I don't see that adding any complications to our relationship," he said.

The Roman Catholics are the oldest ecumenical partners of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church participates in the international Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC), sponsored by the Anglican Communion Office, as well as the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA).

"I think it is going to be a challenge for [Jefferts Schori] within the Anglican Communion, and I wish her well in that," he added. "But she seems to have some very good talents for working with people, and that will stand her in very good stead."
Itis the statement of Bishop Vercammen that intrigues me:

Bishop Joris Vercammen, Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, described the election as a "minor" decision. "The major decision was made 30 years ago in accepting female bishops," he said. "If you have someone among the bishops who has the capacity to be the Presiding Bishop, and it's a woman, you have to elect that person. You elected your best bishop, and I don't have any critical commentary on that."

Signed in 1931 and celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Bonn agreement between the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is one if the earliest ecumenical agreements.

"It expresses that the churches respect one another and accept one another as churches," said Vercammen, praising the initiative some years ago when the Episcopal Church appointed a permanent representative, Bishop W. Michie Klusmeyer of West Virginia, to sit in conference with the Old Catholic bishops.
Why is it this attitude is easier to foster between church, than among churches? The answer, of course, is painfully obvious. But it is also a measure of the painful division among churches that the answer is so easily given, so seemingly impossible to overcome. So much seems to come down to a question of intent, and again, Bishop Vercammen points the way:

"No one was interested in making this a historic decision or a historic step," he said. "No one was interested in shocking fellow Christians or other churches. On the basis of that integrity, I think [ecumenical dialogue] will develop in the right way."
Bishop Schori's election was being closely watched last week, as an indicator of which way the ECUSA would go within the Anglican Communion. Attention now, of course, has shifted to the vote of the Deputies. As the Guardian reports, the issue presents a "headache" for Archbishop Williams, and the election of Bishop Schori is taken as an indication of the independence of the ECUSA. No real surprise there, actually. As the Guardian reports:

In a measure of the uncompromising pressure on Dr Williams, one English conservative evangelical, the Most Rev Greg Venables, who heads the tiny Anglican church presence in South America and who has been prominent in campaigning against the Americans, insisted last night: "The Anglican primates ... could not have been more clear over what the Episcopal church has been asked to do. The election of the new presiding bishop has provided us with abundant clarity of [its] commitment and direction."
Actually, perhaps the primates could have been clearer, since some of the deputies at the General Convention read the language of the Windsor Report as an "invitation," not a commandment. And that issue returns us to the issue of ecumenism.

As the Guardian describes it, "traditionalists" wish to hasten a split in the Communion, while liberals emphasize the autonomy of the ECUSA. And it all reminds me of the saying from my tradition (and how many others? I've never traced down the origin of this phrase):

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity."
If you take that sentiment seriously, essentials and non-essentials are subsumed in the universal of "all things," and taken under the protection of charity. Which the more modern than King James translations of 1 Corinthians 13 translate as: "love." In good Christian practice, the first becomes last, the last first. And I believe that is what Bishop Camerra is getting at, actually.

Which is a valuable teaching when approaching the other issue facing the ECUSA: the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops and priests. The Deputies at the General Convention rejected a resolution A161, which "would have urged bishops and dioceses to refrain from electing bishops 'whose manner of life presents a wider challenge to the wider church,'" and "also would have directed the church not to develop rites for blessing same-sex unions. It affirmed the need to provide pastoral care for gay and lesbian Episcopalians -- and at the same time apologized to gays and lesbians for those decisions."

Once again, walking a tightrope; but this time, one the Deputies and bishops refused to cross. Which is not to say the Church is now of one mind. I urge you to read the article; it deals quite fairly with all the concerns raised over what is, in truth, a very difficult issue. Difficult not because I disagree with the actions of the Church in ordaining gays and lesbians; but difficult because this is an exercise of power. And no matter how good our intentions are, Christians are never called to wield power to the exclusion of someone else. That is what "love your enemies" is all about. And it is certainly clear this is a dialogue that needs to occur:

Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana said the Church should "shift the anxiety back to those who gave it to us, put it back where it belongs. I believe what we have is one church with two minds. To say that is to say something very plain to the Anglican Communion."

Bishop William Gregg of Eastern Oregon pointed out that the Windsor Report invites the Episcopal Church on a journey and calls all its members to conversation. "Not that we have answers. We're going to explore. We're going to ask the questions, we're going to get it wrong, we're going to fall down, but we're going to do it together," he said.

Building upon comments by Jenkins, Pierre Whalon, bishop in charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, said, "it is one church of several minds."
However, the Archbishop may not see it that way. Here is his message to the General Convention. As several commenters at this site point out, this is clearly a solemn warning: the Anglican Communion is lined up against the ECUSA. I don't think events this week have poured any oil on the waters. This is why the Presiding Bishop has called for the bishops and deputies to meet to prepare a resolution for the joint session. For more on that, here is a statement released by Bishop John Howe, who says in relevant part:

Let me tell you where I think we are. I have never heard such a high level of hope and desire among the Bishops to preserve our relationship with Canterbury and the rest of the Communion. This is real. It is deep. It is impassioned.

But for many, almost certainly a majority of our Bishops, their view that these matters are “justice” issues for gays and lesbians, and that “we cannot preserve the unity of the Communion at the expense of one segment of the Body of Christ” is equally real, deep, and passionate.

Thus, we are, quite simply, “one church with two minds” as one of the Bishops put it.

Somewhere I read that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We can (and do) admit that we are divided against ourselves. Which is to say that we are united about being divided! But whether we can live with the division is what (part of) this whole debate is all about.
This much returns me to my statement about charity in all things. Unfortunately, that is not the final position of Bishop Howe, who insists he can withhold charity in all things in the name of unity in what he considers the essentials.

A bit more about Katharine Jefferts Schori. At the time of her election I did not know she had authorized same-sex blessings in Nevada. Of course I knew she had consented to the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire, but we were (and are) in the process of re-evaluating that decision, and responding to the Communion’s objections to it.

Thus, when I said to her, “Come visit Central Florida,” it was on the assumption many of you would want to meet the new Presiding Bishop, and interact with her first hand.

I have since questioned her about the blessings. She said she has not authorized them in the sense of approving or establishing a Rite, but of “permitting a pastoral response” within a congregation that wishes to provide support to a gay or lesbian couple. She said she believes there have been two such instances that have taken place in Nevada.

I told her our Diocesan Convention was very clearly on record as not wanting anyone who had made even that kind of an authorization to be invited to Central Florida, and that we probably would not be able to arrange for her to visit.

I understand it has been reported that I voted in favor of her election. I did not.

I told you I will “support” her. Of course I will, as I would anyone who was elected Presiding Bishop. Does that mean I agree with her? Of course it does not. I am simply amazed that anyone could even ask the question.
His concept of "support" is extremely limited; but then, perhaps, that is the price of being a church, too. As I have to remind myself: "in all things, charity."

Titus 1:9, by the way (it took me more than a moment to decipher the title of that website; my attention was elsewhere) is from a pseudo-Pauline letter, one written, unlike the authentic Pauline letters, to enforce dogma, not to open the church to all in Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, or even (as Luke allowed, in Acts), eunuchs (who were unclean under Jewish law). This is the verse: "He must keep firm hold of the true doctrine, so that he may be wll able both to appeal to his hearers with sound teaching and to refute those who raise objections."

I will make only this observation on that verse: the irony of it. This is precisely the complaint raised against Jesus by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the ones set up as "enemies" of Jesus in the Gospels. He associated with the unclean (whores, beggars, tax collectors), didn't observe Torah (healing on the Sabbath, allowing his disciples to pluck wheat and eat it on the Sabbath, etc.). And yet, having now established "the true doctrine," according to the author of Titus, we are to adhere strictly to what Jesus taught.

Which, when you consider the complexities of a parable like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, or the blessings and curses of the Beatitudes, is a difficult tightrope to walk. Perhaps, if this situation puts us in the wilderness, that is where we need to be. Perhaps we need to learn that it is in the wilderness, not in the city, that we find God.

Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church,
That we may all be one.

Grant that every member of ths Church may truly and humbly serve you;
That your Name may be glorified by all people.

We pray for all bishops, priests, and deacons;
That they may be faithful ministers of your Word and Sacraments.

We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world;
That there may be peace and justice on the earth.

Give us grace to do your will in all that we undertake;
That our works may find favor in your sight.

Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief of trouble;
That they may be delivered from their distress.

Give to the departed eternal rest;
Let light perpetual shine on them.

We praise you for your saints who have entered into joy;
May we also come to share in your heavenly kingdom.

--Prayers of the People, Form III, Book of Common Prayer (ECUSA)

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