Truth won out Monday afternoon

Posted on July 14, 2009

 By a vote of 99-45, with two abstaining, our church's bishops gave witness to the true state of affairs in The Episcopal Church.
And they did it for the right reasons.
After a debate marked by candor and courage, the bishops approved resolution D025 Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion.

Developed by the World Mission Committee, the measure is widely recognized as a means of moving beyond B033, a controversial resolution approved in the waning hours of the previous General Convention. B033 purported to represent an agreement among bishops, deputies, and clergy that The Episcopal Church would not elevate another homosexual priest to the episcopate. Whether B033 had the force of canon law or not, the truth remains that during the past three years not a single gay or lesbian priest has been elected by a diocesan convention to serve as their bishop.   
If that changes now -- if a LGBT priest becomes a bishop of The Episcopal Church -– that change will be based on the discernment process guided by the Holy Spirit and described in our Church’s Constitution and Canons. Today’s vote means our church will not try to constrain the action of the Holy Spirit -- that as a church we recognize that the spirit may move us to select an LGBT person to become a bishop. This approach also requires that if a priest becomes the next out and partnered bishop, it must be based on true discernment and not the candidate’s sexual orientation. It is hard for some to realize that New Hampshire was not a hotbed of gay liberation when they selected Gene Robinson to become their bishop. Elected lay and clerical leaders of that diocese chose Robinson because they wanted him as their bishop, a calling that dwarfed all other concerns.
Monday’s discussion in the House of Bishops was remarkable for its intensity and deeply personal nature. On both sides of this question, bishops spoke from their hearts. Some voiced theological objections or concerns about how D025 could affect the Anglican Communion. Others spoke movingly of their personal journey in growing to accept LGBT people as part of the church. Many will face repercussions at home for their vote for –- or against -– D025. The discussion, with complex parliamentary moves, was a riveting session, one that generated respect for all sides of the question.

Truth Telling Wins Out

One view voiced by several bishops centered on the importance of honesty in our relationship with the Anglican Communion. We recognize we are a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, those supporting this perspective said. We want to continue to be part of the Communion, and we seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible. We value our experience in Lambeth, for there we learned about the reality of your ministry. We hope you learned something of our reality, and that you see how our decisions flow out of our work ministering through the Gospel in our reality. We value our relationships within the Anglican Communion and we are interested in exploring how a Covenant might work.

We can’t enter into a new covenant, or even continue in our current relationship, if we are not honest with you and you are not honest with us. As called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, we’ve listened to the experience of LGBT people. Through our own listening we have come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." Some in these relationships have responded to God's call to exercise various ministries in our church. God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. This is our truth; it is the way God gives us grace to see the gospel.  

We have to be honest, Bishop Baxter said, we have to recognize the incompatibility of baptism and bondage.

We have to remember that ministry in the Anglican Communion means more than church to church mission,
Bishop Marc Andrus said. The film Voices of Witness shows the reality LGBT people live in some parts of Africa. They are beautiful people, Christians who must struggle to survive. As Harvey Milk said: We have to give them hope. What we do here can give them hope for tomorrow. We need to remember them when we speak of world mission.

Bishop Robinson pointed out that the issue is access to the discernment process, not that ordination be made a right for any group of people.  

Bishop Chane of Washington, D.C. spoke of the pain B033 caused and how it inhibited the church’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit. Bishop Robinson, he said, has been a breath of fresh air, the impetus to our consideration and recommitment to mission.

Bishop Beckwith thought this resolution washes away the negative experience of B033.

Bishop Johnson agreed with the resolution but could not support it for fear to would break apart the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Love read a letter in which a Church of England panel warned the Anglican Church of Sweden not to marry same gender couples. These warnings, he implied, also apply to our church.

Bishop Singh told how B033 reminded him of the caste system in India. When missionaries came, they set up schools for the lowest call, the dalit. Higher class Indians came and told the church they would not send their children to the schools unless the dalit were expelled. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t send your children to this school,” the church replied. Because of this, the dalit learned the gospel and how we live out the gospel. As the church stood with the dalit then, so now we should stand with LGBT people.

Throughout the discussion, the bishops clearly spoke their own thoughts and told what was on their hearts. Both sides spoke of hurt they had witnessed and of the pain a decision on D025 seemed bound to bring. After the vote a somber air hung in the house as the standing room only crowd slowly drifted away. No one cheered or booed: people moved on in silence, wrapped in their own thoughts of what the vote will mean.

Later, LGBT groups praised the decision: “While concurrence on the amended resolution by the House of Deputies is necessary before it is officially adopted by the church as a whole,” said Integrity President Susan Russell, “there is no question that today’s vote in the House of Bishops was an historic move forward and a great day for all who support the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ.”

“It was a tremendous privilege to be a witness to the courage and candor of the bishops who spoke truth to each other and to us -- and who called The Episcopal Church to speak our truth to our Anglican Communion brothers and sisters and to the world.”

The UK press –- which often seems a bit more hysterical than ours –- offered headlines ranging from "Vote on gay bishops threatens archbishop with another schism" at the Guardian to "Archbishop of Canterbury 'regrets' TEC move to gay ordination" at a Times of London blog. The truth is that -– as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William said here last week –- we still have a role to play in the Anglican Communion, otherwise we would be long gone.

During the daily evening media briefing, Bishop Sauls suggested that while the Archbishop of Canterbury's initial public reaction was negative, the Archbishop may not have fully understood D025. Dr. Ian Douglas added there has been some communication with the Archbishop about what the resolution really means. Then he added: In order to be in full communion we need to be honest. Honesty leads into communion and not a facile understanding of church relationships.

Some in the west assume people in Africa and Asia can’t think their way through complex issues. This vestige of colonialism plays into the idea that primates across the Anglican Communion will now break off all ties with the Episcopal Church. But that view assumes that African and Asian bishops at Lambeth were not moved by the stories told by our bishops, that African and Asian bishops do not see Communion as a two way street based in truth telling and understanding. If anything, D025 puts the Communion on a firm foundation and opens the way for honest consideration of a new Anglican Covenant.

Thomas Jackson is president of Oasis California.