Thinking theologically; responding pastorally: General Convention Resolution C056

On Wednesday, the House of Bishops at the 76th General Convention approved Resolution C056, entitled “Liturgy for Blessings.”  The version passed by the Bishops and now forwarded to the Deputies is a thoughtful and temperate document.  It reflects that within our Church we are in a period of prayer and discernment that mirrors similar reflection we see going on in our national life.

Presently, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia recognize either same-sex marriage or some form of legal civil unions or partnerships between people of the same sex.  At the same time, thirty states ban same-sex marriage through constitutional amendment, and nineteen states disallow any kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

All that is to say, our society and culture are grappling with how best to respond to the growing consensus that one’s human sexuality is an orientation largely influenced by biological factors and not primarily a social choice.  Our reality is a world in which very many gay and lesbian persons are attempting to conform their relationships to an ethic of monogamy, fidelity, and love.  Given this reality, Resolution C056 seeks to offer “a renewed pastoral response” so that the Church is not left out of society’s conversation about same-sex unions.

There are surely those who would prefer the Church remain on the sidelines, and in all honesty some days I’ve felt that way myself.  And yet, our Lord calls us into the world with a Word of Good News.  We are not given the option of sideline-sitting.  Neither are issues surrounding same-sex unions clear-cut theologically.  They beg the questions, “What is marriage?” and “Are there appropriate faithful covenant relationships outside of marriage that can be entered into by same-sex partners seeking to conform their lives to God?”  These questions must be addressed by the careful study of Holy Scripture and thoughtful theological reflection using our God-given reason and an examination of God’s creation.

Resolution C056 seeks to provide space for such study.  The version passed by the Bishops and forwarded to the Deputies calls for an “open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.”  This process will invite participation by any group within the Church (including input from across the Anglican Communion) that is ready to do the serious theological work necessary to inform our understanding.

C056 also allows bishops in those dioceses in which the civil authorities have legalized same-sex unions to respond pastorally to couples who have committed their lives to one another in this way.  I imagine that such responses would most often include prayers that both partners will honor their relationship with love, fidelity and mutual respect.

Any theological or liturgical resources developed through the Church’s process of discernment will be brought back before the next General Convention.  Because the media will likely mischaracterize C056, it is worth saying clearly that the resolution does not authorize the creation of any liturgies for use. Rather it offers us an opportunity to think, listen, and pray about how we as the Body of Christ can respond faithfully in today’s world.

Advertisements

Sifting Grace from Sand: Resolution D025 at the 76th General Convention

Today our General Convention in Anaheim, California, approved passage of Resolution D025, entitled, “Commitment and Witness to [the] Anglican Communion.”  This morning The New York Times ran an article related to the adoption of D025.  Though The Times is an august newspaper whose reporting I usually trust, in this case I was disappointed.  Referring to the version of the resolution first passed by the House of Bishops on Sunday, the first line of the article read, “The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open ‘any ordained ministry’ to gay and lesbian people, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.”

The Times article contends that General Convention has done something novel, that it has changed the processes that have long been in place for the discernment of men and women toward Holy Orders.  That is not the case.  Here are the details of Resolution D025, its implications, and the events surrounding its passage:

Resolution D025 begins by affirming the Episcopal Church’s membership in and dedication to the Anglican Communion.  As a sacramental reminder of that dedication, D025 prescribes that the Episcopal Church will continue its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion’s operating budget, even in light of current strains in our international relationships.  (It is worth noting that the Episcopal Church consists of 2.1 million of the 80 million Anglicans on the globe, but we provide fully 1/3 of the Anglican Communion’s budget.)

Despite that prescription, D025 is primarily a descriptive resolution rather than a prescriptive one.  It describes and acknowledges things that have long been and are presently “facts on the ground” in our Church.  These include that:

v     Gay and lesbian persons in various places have exercised and continue to exercise faithful ministry in the life of the Episcopal Church.

v     God calls such persons to service just as God calls all people, and the discernment process for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church makes space for any faithful person to consider God’s call in his or her life.

v     The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church (those laws that govern the Church’s life) have not and do not preclude the possibility that gay and lesbian persons may be ordained, though (as with anyone) participation in a discernment process does not render ordination a foregone conclusion.  The discernment process intends to evaluate and test one’s call on behalf of both the person in discernment and the Church, and the things considered in a discernment process are many.

v     Within our Church there are heartfelt and faithful differences of belief and opinion regarding both our continued role in the Anglican Communion and the suitability of partnered gay and lesbian persons for ordination.

(The entire text of D025 can be found at http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=986&type=Final.)

In much of the coverage surrounding Resolution D025, mention has been made that the resolution “overturns the moratorium on ordaining gay bishops” that was adopted at the 2006 General Convention.  What the media refers to as the “moratorium” is embodied in another resolution, B033, which urged bishops and standing committees 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.”

In point of fact (and despite what some on the polar ends of our Church are claiming), Resolution D025 does not rescind or overturn B033.  The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington, shared as much at General Convention’s official press briefing on Monday morning:

“[Resolution D025] changes nothing about the situation.  It states the reality that all persons in this church are entitled to engage in the discernment process for ordained ministry.  This has always been true.  It was true before 2006.  It has been true since 2006.  Part of that process is the consent process of bishops and standing committees.  They were asked in 2006 by B033 to exercise restraint, and I’m sure that restraint will continue to be on their minds.”

If Bishop Sauls is correct (and I believe he is) then why go to the trouble of passing Resolution D025 at all?  In response I’ll repeat what I said in my cover article for The Record this month:  Christian history is measured in years—even centuries—and not days or months.  The Episcopal Church is necessarily praying, discerning, and deliberating over time how best to enfranchise all Christians in the life of the Church and do so with fidelity to Scripture and Church Tradition.

In this process, our Church has spoken at each of its last several triennial General Conventions regarding human sexuality and the life of the Church.  Each statement has built upon its predecessors in the hope that we will eventually speak a fully-formed word of grace and truth.  To the outside world (and to ourselves!) this may appear wishy-washy, but I don’t believe it is:

In 2000, General Convention acknowledged that the Church includes same-sex couples who live in lifelong relationships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect” which evidence the “holy love” of each partner toward the other.  In other words, there are gay and lesbian Episcopalians who seek to conform their relationships to their faith in God.

In 2003, General Convention affirmed the election of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a partnered gay man.  That affirmation, made with a lack of broad consensus in the Church, proved to be too much for many Episcopalians, and both our Church and the Anglican Communion suffered strain as a result.

In 2006, B033 (discussed above) was passed, which sought to mend the fractures in our common life.  And yet, some had concern that B033 was interpreted as a denial of the reality that gay and lesbian persons currently minister in our Church.  In 2009, Resolution D025 clarifies our reality.  In so doing, it is an honest and true appraisal of our shared life.

I take comfort and strength from the fact that we are part of a Church willing to struggle with the profound issues that bear upon our common life.  Like Jacob wrestling with God at the River Jabbock, I pray we will discover in hindsight that our struggle itself is a blessing.  Most especially, I pray we heed the words of St. Paul, who exhorts us to “Bear with one another…and above all clothes yourselves with love, which binds all things together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:13-14)

Of course, General Convention is on-going, and most of the Convention’s time and activity focus on items that the media unfortunately deems un-newsworthy.  These include the passage of an ambitious ministry program to Spanish-speaking people and a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.  For up-to-date news and information about General Convention, please navigate to www.stjohnsroanoke.org and click on the “Episcopal Life Online” tab on the right hand side of the page.  Also know we will host a Rector’s Forum to recap General Convention at 9 a.m. on Sunday, August 16.  In the meantime, I am available to visit with anyone who wishes to have further conversation about the General Convention.  I invite you continually to pray for the Episcopal Church, for the General Convention, and for our journey toward God.