This is the day that the Bishops will elect the next Presiding Bishop. The House of Deputies has already elected their President and Vice-President. (Bonnie Anderson and the Rev. Brian Pryor respectively.)
We had a wonderful, moving tribute to Dean Werner, the outgoing President of the House of Deputies yesterday. There was an extraordinary amount of irony in the moment. George was, in my humble opinion, the person we have desperately needed in these last three years. He has worked to reach out to everyone in the Episcopal Church and to make a place for everyone at the table – and more importantly to give each of them a real voice in the work we do at the highest levels. He has not merely paid lip service to the idea of a broad and inclusive Church.
It’s not clear that he was ready to retire. But he wasn’t given that choice. The Diocese of Pittsburgh meeting in Diocesan Convention voted to not return him to the House, and instead voted in another person – a priest who is an old friend of mine, who introduced himself to Convention by declaring that because we were so sinful, he would not join with us at the Lord’s table nor would he study the Bible with us. I’m still struggling to figure out what the heck they were thinking. George had the ability to reach out to all of us, and now… If there is not room for George as a moderate’s moderate in the Church, where would that leave someone like me?
Andrew Gerns has posted a piece on the principles he’s planning on using in making the decisions that we’ll be asked to make in the next days. He and I have been talking a great deal over the past week and the list he gives represents my thinking as well. We’ll probably end up voting the same way. I do want to underscore his point that if Convention does vote to adopt “Windsor compliant” language (so to speak) then we will tried to achieve unity on the backs of our GLBT brothers and sisters.
I’ve been thinking about what this means, and if I can do this. Andrew is reporting accurately when he says that in conversations with friends, some GLBT Christians are saying that they are willing to accept this language out of love for others in the Communion even though it would mean that they would become second-class citizens within the Church. They are willing to do this because they know what it is like to be excluded and they will not allow others to be treated as they have been treated.
Contrast this to the voices calling for an immediate split – the voices that are saying that they cannot join themselves with people with whom they disagree and that clarity and purity of thought must be our greatest goal. You can see this in the decision of the Diocesan Convention in Pittsburgh to remove their most prestigious member of Convention because they disagreed with his vote to consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson. They were not willing to let this voice come to our table anymore.
When two groups make competing claims of possessing the truth, how shall we decide? Both groups claim that the Bible supports their stance. Both groups claim to be reasonable. Both groups can make arguments from Tradition – though in very different ways. The criteria for decision becomes a matter of looking for the fruit of the trees they represent (to borrow a phrase from the Gospel.) I find myself looking for the signs of the Holy Spirit in the life and actions of the people asking me to decide between them.
On one hand we have voices that are willing to sacrifice themselves so that none will be lost. On the other hand we have voices that asking to be unyoked from those they disagree with, and asking to be given their birthrights and inheritance as they leave.
I also note that the second group is unwilling to stay behind to try to teach the people they believe are “in error” why those people are in error. Rather they need to separate so that they will not be compromised. I wonder why they can’t stay and fight for what they believe? The GLBT folks are committed to staying and witnessing to their beliefs – even if Convention were to adopt the full requirements of the Windsor Report. They have not made any threats that I have heard.
Is there hope? Yes! I think there is developing a coalition of voices from the broad center that is being made up of folks who are placing the good of the larger community ahead of their own. These are voices from the broad 80% of the Church that are willing to do vote to do things that they may personally disagree with. I’m seeing a firming up of this sort of coalition – it may still fall apart, but I think that would be unlikely. The coalition is made up of folks who are committed to staying and continuing to witness to what they believe – whether progressive or orthodox – because they recognize that separation will lead to fragmentation. And fragmentation will lead to further fragmentation and on and on until we have no right to claim to be a true branch of the Catholic Church.
Pray for us all. Pray for those who are going to be asked to vote against their consciences so that the conversation can continue and the truth be revealed to all. Pray that God will be present in the room, and that we will do will of the Holy Trinity – the eternal loving conversation of three persons of one equal being.