So what exactly has happened here at Anaheim. Truthfully? No one is really completely sure. But some people appear certain.
The Episcopal News Service had what some bishops have described as a very unfortunate headline on Monday that declared confidently that the Episcopal Church had decided to "open ordination to gay and lesbian Christians". (Or something to that effect… I believe the headline has been pulled and the story spiked.) I’m told that something close to controlled fury errupted in the House of Bishops about that yesterday. Or at least that’s how it was described to me. The Presiding Bishop was not pleased. Not pleased at all. A new version of the story will be issued. Apologies were made to the bishops that the “inaccurate” story had been posted. The ordination process in the Episcopal Church has been open to Gay and Lesbian members for a very long time. There was never any question of backtracking on that question. The issue was over whether or not there would be additional ordinations of priests in same-gender partnerships to the episcopate at this time.
One hears that the phone lines between Anaheim and Lambeth have been burning over the last 24 hours.
Bishop NT Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the UK has written an op-ed, apparently reacting the the Episcopal News Service version of events, that charges the Episcopal Church with willfully deciding to walk apart from the rest of the Anglican Communion.
For my part, I did no such thing, nor to the best of my knowledge did anyone at the deputations around me on the floor. We tried to express our internal conflict as best we could. It’s hard to understand the import of what happened. We believe that there will be more partnered gay and lesbian bishops in the future. We strongly desire to be allowed to remain a part of the Communion. We don’t see those two statements as contradictory, but others do.
The lack of clarity is not meant to be obfuscatory – certainly not on my part. It represents the muddled and confused place the Episcopal Church finds itself right now. It’s was not meant to, and it does not deliver clarity according to the standards of those demanding it. It struggles to be honest. That’s why I was writing earlier this week that I would certainly be understanding of the anger of people on the left of the Episcopal Church and our gay and lebian brothers and sisters who feel that this action in D025 is pretty-weak sauce.
Bishop Kirk Smith probably has it right. If B033 was in fact a dejure ban on the ordination of additional gay or lesbian partnered bishops (and that’s been debatable for a while), that dejure ban is reasonably read to be ended. If B033 is read to be a defacto ban, then the ban is demonstratably still in effect until another gay or lesbian partnered bishop’s election is confirmed by the larger Episcopal Church. Is that going to happen soon? I don’t know. I’m not thinking its terribly likely right now when people are worried about balancing budgets and doing whatever they can to avoid conflict. On the other hand there’s nothing in formal in place to stop that election and consent from happening.
I’ve learned at General Convention to not worry about what may happen or what we might do. I’ve learned that we are asked to vote on specifics of the legislation in front of us, not the generalities of the explanations or the rhetoric of the debate. I think this focus on the particulars of each situation is going to be the best thing for us going forward. Anglican Moral Theology has always insisted that “circumstances alter cases”. Focusing on what is rather than on what might be coming right now is probably the best strategy going forward.
We have gay bishops in the Episcopal Church. We have two partnered gay bishops, one retired and one active. That’s a fact on the ground. Will we have more? Yes. When? That’s still not clear. We’ve moved beyond B033 certainly. But honestly, for good or ill, we’ve not moved very far.
Bishop Wright's op-ed piece seems a little prematurely posted. Americans are very good at being willful and sending clear signals. If we've not done so, it wasn't by mistake.