Sunday, December 06, 2009

And the Beat Goes On

The news is barely more than a day old and I already feel like I'm Johnny-come-lately by weighing in even now. I'm not sure I have anything original to say on the matter, but, if not, then it's still a chorus that needs to be joined.

The Diocese of Los Angeles elected a second Suffragan Bishop yesterday, the Reverend Canon Mary Glasspool of Maryland. It would be largely unremarkable but for the fact that she is an open and partnered lesbian, and so the event of her election is the next large domino to fall in a chain reaction that was set in motion nearly seven years ago with the election of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.

I have to say at the outset that Mary Glasspool is a gracious and competent woman and I have no reason to doubt that she has substantial gifts for ministry. I got to know her just a bit at General Convention in 2006, when she served as a legislative aide to Special Committee 26 (Inter-Anglican Relations), and she and I shared a brief reminiscence of those heady days just this past July in Anaheim. So there truly is "nothing personal" in anything that follows.

A really telescoped selective history: In 2006, General Convention said, in effect, "Oops, we goofed. We made Gene Robinson a bishop without taking fully into account the effect our action would have on the rest of the Anglican Communion. Our bad. Sorry." (A160). We also said, in effect,"We're going to hold off on doing it again. For a while, at any rate." (B033) Then, in 2009, we said, "Hey, let's get real. We all know that God has called partnered LGBT people to the episcopate before, and will probably do it again. When that happens, we're going to be ready." (D025)

Now, before we formally debated D025, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the convention, in effect, "I really hope you don't do this. In fact, I'm asking nicely: Please don't do this." After we went and did it anyway, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies (aka the Co-Primates) fired a letter off to Dr Williams (who had since returned to Lambeth Palace) earnestly denying that D025 actually changed anything, that it was manifestly not an abrogation of B033. "The moratorium won't be lifted until we actually do something that lifts it," they said (once again, in effect).

Well, "something" has now been done. At least by the clergy and lay delegates of the Diocese of Los Angeles (the diocese in which, for the record, I was confirmed in 1975). Before the moratorium of B033 can be said to have been formally lifted, Canon Glasspool must actually be consecrated, and before that can happen, a majority of the Standing Committees and a majority of the bishops-with-jurisdiction must consent to the election.

It was with these contingencies in mind that Rowan Williams issued a statement only some eleven hours after the election. It is uncharacteristically brief and to the point:
The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.
The nub of the matter is this, I believe: The Archbishop is asking--one might even say "pleading with," given his proclivity for British diplomatic understatement--those bodies and individuals with a role in the consent process to withhold such consent, for the greater good of the unity and vitality of the rest of the Anglican Communion.

As one might imagine, Dr Williams has already been excoriated by both the left and the right. The left considers him a quisling, a moral coward, lacking the courage of his convictions, kowtowing to the forces of bigotry and fundamentalism of the worst sort. The right considers him a toothless dog who barks at all the right times (though someone timidly, so as to raise the suspicion that he's not really doing so with conviction), but is incapable of chomping down on an intruder's leg. Lots of talk, but no follow-through.

Sadly, this is a script--both Rowan's statement and the responses to it--that could have been written accurately before the events actually transpired. There is nothing here that is new or surprising. (Even the election itself was a virtual foregone conclusion; if not Mary Glasspool, it would have been somebody else later.) This is why it has all the qualities of few more frames in the slow-motion train wreck that is the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. One may criticize the Archbishop's words and deeds--as indeed many are; Rowan is taking hits from both directions--but he certainly cannot be faulted for lack of consistency. The conservatives who complain, "Great bark, but we'd like to see some actual biting take place" are quite correct in not expecting their worthy opponents to be displaying Canterburian toothmarks any time soon. From Day One it has been Rowan's position that, if any "discipline" is going to take place, it will be exercised by the organic processes of the whole communion, and not by the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. At present, those organic forces are following a trajectory that will lead to an Anglican Covenant. That is the mechanism by which TEC will suffer any consequences for her recalcitrant behavior. Some may argue that the Covenant will end up as toothless as the Archbishop, and they may well be correct. But for the time being, the Covenant is the next vessel with which the Episcopal Church is on a collision course. If the election of Mary Glasspool hastens that collision, perhaps it is an occasion for gratitude, even among those whose default inclination is to be dismayed by it. We can't start picking up the pieces until the debris stops flying.


Bob G+ said...

All that is going on within this Church will have to be played through until anything different will arise. All of these "happenings" are the result, I'm becoming more convinced of this, of a generations' obsession or perhaps even pathology. I don't want to suggest a new inter-generational rivalry, but generations have common characteristics. Duncan and Bruno act the same way, frankly, but from different corners of the mat. This generation of leaders, no matter what socio-political/theological positions held, don't know how to do anything other than what they are doing right now. All they know how to do is rebel against authority and divide in their hubris - conservative and liberal alike. This is all too human, obviously, but now there is a reveling in the proclivity. Perhaps the next generation of leadership will do no better, but we will be those who have to pick up the wreckage left behind by this generation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, perhaps we can begin to rebuild a consistently Anglican form of the Church (and it will look nothing like what either present-day conservative or liberal leaders wish for) - a much smaller and more insignificant organization. It has to just play out.

robroy said...

Communion wide discipline via the Covenant? How naive.

Let's see. The DeS statement offered communion wide discipline. Rowan gave us "The deadline is no deadline." Rowan then torpedoed the Covenant in Jamaica. Yes, George Conger says that "he was real upset" after the vote which he himself had just threw in a wrench. I am sure that Rowan cried lots of crocodile tears. Then he appoints a committee with one token comm-con and the rest liberals. And finally the recommendations will be given to the JSC with Ms Schori playing a central role but really should be recused by Windsor. And who put Ms Schori on the JSC? Right. Rowan did.

Communion wide discipline via the Covenant? How naive.

Rowan has been consistent all right. Consistently playing conservatives for fools. Albert Mohler points out that "gracious restraint" is just a process to get to the liberals' end point.

"Gracious restraint" will not hold back strong conviction, as the actions in Los Angeles make clear. The conservatives and the liberals agree on this much -- "gracious restraint" is no excuse for violating conviction on a matter of this significance.

tjmcmahon said...

Fr. Dan,
"At present, those organic forces are following a trajectory that will lead to an Anglican Covenant."
I completely agreed with your analysis up to that point. However, following the same logic that you enunciated above, leads to the conclusion that there will indeed be no Covenant. Or perhaps 2. Since the final wording of the Covenant is in the hands of the JSC, which is clearly in the control of KJS (proven at both New Orleans and Jamaica), if any Anglican Communion Covenant is released at all, it will be one that is utterly pointless. Or, if she really has her way, will be one that will force the GAFCON provinces out of the Communion for the "sins" of border crossing and breaking communion with TEC. This has been the "process" all along. TEC does whatever it wants, and the Communion puts TEC in charge of determining the consequences. Hence, no consequences. Remember Dar. The "Covenant process" is the same thing all over again. In 2 weeks, Lucy will, for the umpteenth time in 7 years, pull the football away from Charlie Brown.

Anonymous said...

As a more orthodox Anglican (life long Episcopalian)lay person, I believe that marriage as a sacrament is a union between a man and a woman. But what bothers me even more than gay marriage and ordination of partnered homosexuals is TECs support of abortion on demand. It's a very difficult time and there doesn't seem to be much tolerance for a diversity of views in TEC. I often wonder if the people I go to church with really knew what I believe, whether I would be welcome in the church. I think that ACNA is filling a very important need.

Young fogey emeritus said...

This outsider's (with roots in Anglo-Catholicism like you) view:

In your global church politics it won't change anything.

The Episcopalians will be invited to Lambeth next time.

The only real crisis would be if one of the Anglican churches stopped playing the game since the 1700s of giving lip service to the creeds but really being agnostic and officially through General Synod or General Convention became unitarian: leaving Christianity.

How Lambeth reacts to that will make or break you, so to speak. (It won't put you out of business either way.)

(I don't think the Episcopalians will do that any time soon. Schori and Robinson are of the last generation that thinks such agnosticism is cool. The few young Episcopalians seem credally orthodox like Williams. And on board with WO and the gay movement as he is.)

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Dan: Forgive me if this sounds naive, but you wrote:

Mary Glasspool is a gracious and competent woman and I have no reason to doubt that she has substantial gifts for ministry.

Seems to me that is precisely why she was elected. If it had been a political statement the election would not have been as close as it was, and she would have been the first one elected, not the second. So it appears that the only thing that disqualifies her in your mind is that the 20+ year relationship of fidelity and monogamy she has had has been with a person of the same gender.

I will agree with you on one point--the election of another partnered gay or lesbian priest to the episcopate in TEC was a foregone conclusion, primarily because there are many, many GLBT priests with "substantial gifts for ministry." I'm wondering if God doesn't approve of homosexuality, why does God seem to endow so many GLBT folks with such gifts for ministry?

As a centrist, I deplore the rhetoric on both sides: the "it's nobody's business but ours" from the left and the "you've clearly chosen to walk apart" from the right. However, I'm wondering exactly what the alternative to the current situation is. Say we maintain the moratorium until General Convention 2018, which would be 15 years. What exactly would change in that time? Would TEC just decide "oops, we made a mistake--God never calls GLBT priests to the episcopate"? Would the Primates of Nigeria, Uganda, and others suddenly decide "OK, we're now willing to at least take communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ that elect and consecrate GLBT priests as bishops"? I think no to both. Which puts us exactly where we are today, just with perhaps somewhat different players.

My point is that I'm wondering what the result of this "gracious restraint" repeatedly called for is supposed to be. If it is to give conservatives time to get used to gay bishops, is that realistic? If it is to give TEC time to "repent," is that realistic? And if there actually is no positive result from such a moratorium, then let us do what we are going to do, let the consequences work themselves out, and get on with the business of being church. If folks have issues with gay and lesbian bishops, then that is the way it is. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Tom: The point of "gracious restraint" is that one part of a global communion ought not to redefine the apostolic faith or discipline unilaterally. That means that TEC might think that acting out on homosexual behavior is just fine for the next 100 years, but if the rest of the Communion continues to believe it to be a serious doctrinal and disciplinary error, then TEC doesn't act on it further. That seems to be to be the essence of being a catholic communion.

As for your red herring about some GLBT people being nice and having gifts for some things, and that therefore acting out on their homosexuality should be blessed by the church, that is an appallingly bad argument, as I think you know. If I regularly speed through school zones, but I otherwise have gifts for ministry, does that mean that the Church ought to bless my speeding? If a candidate for bishop is a white supremacist, but otherwise possesses a gift for ministry and is nice (to white people anyway), should that person be made a bishop regardless? Or does the person's white supremacy create a barrier despite their other gifts?


robroy said...

"Seems to me that is precisely why she was elected."

One of the repugnant aspects of this whole business is the complete lack of integrity on the left: "The moratoria are still in place and B033 is still in place." "This had nothing to do with Glasspool's sexual orientation."

There are plenty of clergy that are gracious with gifts of ministry. The selection Glasspool was all about provocation. It is simple cowardice of conviction to try to spin it as anything else.

Fr. Yousuf said...

Dear Fr Sramek,

I am sure that by far and away most folk with "substantial gifts for ministry" don't become bishops.

We all know that it is hopelessly naive to think that Glasspool's gifts for ministry have ever been the only subject as much with those who promoted and supported her candidacy as those that oppose it.

What TEC seems willfully oblivious to is that this is appropriate for the selection of Bishops. Bishops are not, now or ever, picked solely for gifts of ministry. This is because of their ecclesiological role. A bishop is not merely a local pastor, but that which relates the local to the universal, this is why they are different than presbyters. Through the bishop one is in communion with the Church.

Canon Glasspool can not fulfill this ministry in the Church. Can Not. Regardless of her personal gifts. As a bishop she will be a sign of breaking communion.

And as to those called to Holy Orders, I almost want to say "leave God out of it". None of us can claim certainty to the knowledge of the will of God. I rather doubt that that God wants her to be a bishop of anything. But how can I be certain of His purposes, what he plans to bring about? Once we say "God is calling so and so" we are using the language of Dogma. Who can argue with it? Who can argue with God?

The call to ordination to any rank comes from the Church. The Bishop calls locally on behalf of the Church. Therefore when the Church calls to the episcopacy, it is a matter for the whole Church. Not just a diocese. Or even a province. The TEC activists emphasize the Province right now, because that is where they can win. But what are provinces in any respectable ecclesiological theology? The Diocese is the fundamental unit - the E in TEC. The Province then coordinates certain dioceses.

One thing is certain though. God is not calling Canon Glasspool to be a bishop of the Anglican Communion, because she won't be, even if consecrated and installed. If He is calling her to be bishop it is to lead TEC out of the Anglican Communion. She may have gifts of minstry that assist her local ministry, but she will not fulfill the role of bishop in reflecting the communion of her diocese to the whole. She will reflect and embody the fact that TEC has chosen to leave the Communion.

What AbC RW has asked of TEC is that they consecrate only bishops of the Anglican Communion, bishops whose minstry fulfills both its local and universal role. That is what the moratorium meant - it was never wait just wait a brief space, and then do what you like, or wait for those "backwards savages" (didn't Spong say something to that effect in 1998?) to catch up. The Moratorium had within it both a request and a demand that TEC have a greater ecclesiogical conscience beyond its province.

You all can say you want to be in the Anglican Communion very badly, you can even write a poem about it and set it to a sturdy English hymn tune and sing it as you process out the door of the communion on your way to consecration of Canon Glasspool. TEC is making the choice. Be honest that you are making it.

Fr. Yousuf Rassam

Fr. Yousuf said...

PS, Dear Fr Dan, I think that you and your good bishop and those like you will, for at least a space, be recognized as not taking part in the procession out I described in my post, I hope so, at least.