Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing from New Orleans where the Fall House of Bishops meeting has just
concluded. You may already have seen some of the headlines, many of which are misleading. The New York Times headline "Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orders" is a case in point. That makes it sound as if what we did was done in defiance of what the world-wide Communion had asked of us. That is not my understanding. We spent four days prayerfully considering a response to the Anglican Primates which sought to be both supportive of gay and lesbian persons while at the same time being sensitive to the cultural and theological beliefs of our partners of the Global South. If I were writing the headline it would have read: "Bishops Bend Over Backwards to Hold Communion Together."
I am well aware that for some, we went too far. As I have stated before, I am acutely aware of the pain the House’s actions have caused our gay and lesbian members, who may view our response as again placing unity above justice. Yesterday’s communiqué (the entire three page text is attached below) is a confirmation of the actions of the 2006 General Convention. Our polity is such that the House of Bishops could not have changed that position, even had we wanted to. Even many of the most liberal bishops among us supported today’s response to the Primates .
For those on the more conservative side who feel that our language did not go far enough, I would remind them that the restraint shown by the House of Bishops in consecrating opening gay and lesbian bishops and the public blessings of same gender unions was already deemed acceptable by the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council last February in Dar Es Salaam. I expect, as I know our Presiding Bishop does, that our response will now likely receive the approval of the majority of the Primates as well. We will remain both Episcopalians and Anglicans.
That being said, the bottom line is that what we did this week is a compromise, and like all compromises runs the risk of pleasing no one. Each side had to give up something in getting to this point. But there is some good news in this. I feel that we are in a much better position to move ahead, both in our own American Church and with the larger Communion. There was a greater spirit of cooperation and consensus among liberal and conservative bishops in the House than I have ever seen. We have also strengthened the bonds of common mission between ourselves and most (not all) of our brothers and sisters in Africa. The clearer language about same gender blessings allows me to revisit this topic, which I plan to do with the clergy at our annual retreat in January.
To those for whom this has opened old wounds, I again counsel patience, even though I understand that might ring hollow. I do believe we are moving in the right direction, even though slower than many would like. Still, the goal of full inclusion is closer than it was before and we now have a better chance of being one people united in Christ when we get there.
What a moving letter. I have people in my own centrist diocese that are losing heart and even faith over the unfolding news from New Orleans, and his counsel to “have patience” is much needed. Everywhere.
Why did the Bishops not state clearly and without equivication that they do not have the power to over ride or change in anyway the decisions made by the General Convention and that any changes to those decisions will have to be visited in the next General Convention? Had that statement been made much of the hurt and disappointment would have been avoided.
A second clear statement affirming the fact that we embrace the ministry of Jesus as an inclusive ministry which accepted all manner of marginalized people who were rejected by the “church”, the conservative Jewish factions, especially the Pharasis, would have been helpful and have affirmed our position within the body of christ.