Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Episcopal Church's nuances lost in news bites

Someone in the secular press finally gets it right. From Fredricksburg Maryland-

TWO WEEKS in Anaheim, Calif., and 44 years in the news business have convinced me that the Episcopal Church and the media are not a good mix.

A church that champions nuance and balance doesn't talk in ways that translate easily into sound bites and headlines. That's certainly the case with this month's 11-day-long Episcopal General Convention in a sprawling convention hall next to Disneyland.

Read the stories about the hot-button issues of the day (if you guessed sex, you're right), and you'd think the Episcopalians had: 1) lifted the moratorium on gay bishops and 2) as a headline in The Free Lance-Star suggested, OK'd prayer for gay couples.

To which I, as the editor of an opinion journal at the convention published by the Diocese of Virginia, say: 1) not necessarily, and 2) no.

Let's begin with the issue of prayers for those in same-gender unions.

It's no secret that informal blessings of such unions have been going on for some time in the church, particularly in those jurisdictions where such partnerships have legal standing.

But it's incorrect to suggest, as some reports have, that changes in church-sanctioned prayers have been authorized.

Indeed, a reference to such "rites" was deleted from the resolution passed by the convention. So was a reference to "action" that the next General Convention might take on this matter in 2012.

What was approved was the "collection and development" of materials to be "considered" by the next convention. Bishops also were authorized, in a wonderful touch of Anglican vagueness, to offer "generous pastoral support" for those in same-gender unions. And that's it.

As for the lifting of a moratorium on gay bishops, some will certainly interpret the actions of this convention as doing just that. But, as is so often the case, it's a bit more complicated than that.

For starters, there never was an official moratorium on such consents to gay bishops. Three years ago, the convention asked dioceses to exercise "restraint" in such matters.

Second, this year's resolution does not explicitly repeal the call for "restraint" from 2006. It states that God has called and may call in the future gay and lesbian people to all levels of ordination--deacons, priests and bishops. But it leaves these decisions where they've always been--in the hands of dioceses, which are free to continue to exercise restraint.

Leaders of the church have stressed that this resolution on ordination is meant to be an honest description of where the church is now, not a prescription for future action.

Too much nuance, you say? Why indulge in such legalistic hair-splitting, you ask?

Call it dithering, if you like. But I consider this heavy dose of Anglican ambivalence to be an honest effort to reflect a church that is still striving and discerning on these issues. This is a church where passions are being tempered by humility.

It's also a church whose actions will never fit into the first paragraph of a news story, much less on a bumper sticker.


wlh1933 said...

This article ought to be required reading for every member in a leadership position in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC), and it wouldn't hurt if it was spread throughout the Diocese for everyone to read!

Lee Hicks

Anonymous said...

"gets it right"?! Not even close.

1. "there never was an official moratorium on such consents to gay bishops"

But TEC spent the last three years explaining to the Anglican Communion that B033 was exactly a moratorium, bringing it into compliance with the request of the Windsor Report. The House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans in September 2007 pledged to the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion that indeed B033 was such a moratorium. And Katherine Jefforts Schori clearly understands that B033 was such a moratorium. In response to a question from Bishop Gulick in the debate over D025 she quite clearly stated that she believed a moratorium was in place and that D025 would not lift such a moratorium. To claim B033 was not a moratorium is just wrong.

2. "But it (D025) leaves these decisions where they've always been--in the hands of dioceses, which are free to continue to exercise restraint"

But it no longer asks for such restraint. And the Presiding Bishop has admitted in her letter to Rowan Williams that dioceses and standing committees will feel "free" to consent to gay bishops. A moratorium is a pledge not to do something. It is most certainly not a pledge not to do something until that something is done. Integrity believes the moratorium is lifted. Rowan Williams believes the moratorium is lifted. To pretend that D025 has changed nothing is simply nonsense.

3. "But it's incorrect to suggest, as some reports have, that changes in church-sanctioned prayers have been authorized"

Wrong. C056 officially authorizes any bishop, and this is a first, to bless same-sex unions in basically in any manner in which he/she wants to. It encourages development of same-sex marriage rites which everyone knows will be approved in 2012. Again, the pretense that C056 represents no change is patently false.

Even Rowan Williams can't swallow the spin: "There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully...However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour.."