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Monday, July 16, 2018

2018 General Convention: Wrap-Up

Back home now, recovering a sense of normalcy after the hothouse environment of General Convention, and getting ready to take myself out of action for a about a month later this week--annuel summer holiday. So, some quick thoughts while it's all still somewhat fresh.

This was my sixth convention, spanning fifteen years--three as a Deputy and now three as a Bishop. Of the six--and, frankly, also of the handful that I followed prior to 2003--I feel comfortable in saying that this one was, in terms of end results, the least horrible of the bunch. 

Let's be clear: the outcome was not in any way good. The Episcopal Church has arrogated to itself authority that it does not inherently have, and redefined a sacramental relationship that was instituted by God in creation. That is monumental hubris. And, to add insult to injury, it has deprived bishops of the authority of teaching and liturgical leadership that does properly inhere in the episcopal office. This is scandalous, and a source of shame.

All that said, the silver lining is that the "progressive'" juggernaut, for the first time in my memory, came away with significantly less than it had sought. They had aimed for quick insertion of the new marriage rites into the Book of Common Prayer, and amendment of the catechism. They got neither. They had sought to begin a formal process of comprehensive Prayer Book revision, culminating in a second constitutional reading in 2030. Instead, convention opted for an indeterminate season of creative liturgical anarchy for an by those who want such things, but with the current book enshrined as the constitutional standard indefinitely. And the Prayer Book is the locus of the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. This is not ground that will be held without a struggle. Vigilance is necessary. But we have evaded the ecclesiastical equivalent of nuclear war. This is reason to give thanks.

Friday, July 13, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 11

It's over. And sooner than expected. While I was at lunch with some bishop colleagues, we learned that the House of Deputies had adjourned. When the HOB came back to order at 2:30, we had exactly one substantive resolution to concur with, and then the Committee of Dispatch informed the Presiding Bishop that we had completed our legislative agenda, and we adjourned before 2:45. This is the earliest adjournment I can remember from my six General Conventions.

There's lot that can be and needs to be written about this 78th such event, and I will have more to say over the weekend. For now, I'l simply observe that we try to do way too much, and therefore probably don't do a lot of it very well. As the HOB was flying fast and low this morning, I had about ten seconds to look at a resolution before being asked to vote on it. Yes, I could have done in advance, but ... in the name of all that is real ... when? So much of what we are asked to do is utterly unnecessary to the good order and common life of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. 

We could start by banning all resolutions that have to do with public policy, because nobody cares! We're in an echo chamber pretending that we have the power to actually do anything, when we don't. Then, we could continue by banning all resolutions that merely "encourage" or "suggest" or "call on." Usually, they're about stuff that's already happening. Those who are interested are doing it anyway, and those who aren't are never even going to notice.

More later. But ... so glad this is behind us.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 10

General Convention was doing its part to "keep Austin weird" today. Never before in my experience in the House of Bishops has legislative activity just ground to a halt. We spent probably two hours today just "standing at ease" with nothing to do, because we were all caught up on resolution for which the HOB was the "house of initial action," and the stream of legislation from the House of Deputies dried to a trickle, and then was gone completely. There was some speculation that there are so many new Deputies this time--more than 40%--that parliamentary discipline has eroded, with people lining up to "pile on" in favor of motions that are clearly going to pass, and opposing motions that are clearly going to either pass or fail, and this eats up time. At any rate, the bishops took advantage of this for a lot of informal collegial conversation. 

The really big and really hot resolutions are behind us now. I've already written about them at some length, and will have some summary comments when the convention is completely in the rear view mirror, probably after I'm home, sometime Sunday. On a second tier, we passed two today that I think are kind of problematic. 

One is a partially revised Book of Occasional Services. Much of the SCLM proposal was sent back to them for more work, but a great deal was considered by the majority ready to be let loose in the wild. I don't have the time right now to enumerate my concerns in detail, but most inevitably spring from the guiding hermeneutic of expansive/inclusive language, which means instances of masculine pronouns and images for God (Father, Lord, Almighty, inter alia) being ruthlessly redacted. It's the cumulative effect of such efforts that undermine the whole collection. Any single given instance of swapping our "Lord" in a prayer for "Savior," for example, is arguably innocuous. But when I look over the results from a balcony level, I'm not sure I recognize the faith of the Church Catholic. I just don't.

Concerns are similar for a collection of emendations of the Eucharistic Prayers for Rite II, putting them into the new non-offensive idiom, and authorizing them for trial use. This one was a fiarly hasty and recent effort by a single priest, who found some supportive Deputies to move it along. It had some egregious problems, some of which were fixed by the Deputies before we got it (kudos to them), but it's still half-baked and highly problematic. To my chagrin, they will now be authorized rites--of course, canonically subject to the authority of the Bishop.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 9

Convention has reached the point where anxiety rises about getting all the work done that's supposed to get done. Most of the committees have wound down; mine finished its work this morning at 8:30, after meeting for an hour. By contrast the legislative sessions are getting more frenetic. Time limits on debate are more strictly enforced--both the total time on any given issue and the time allotted to each speaker. Amendments are discouraged, because, by this time, each house is in the place of being asked to concur with an action already taken by the other, and with a time certain for adjournment of Friday at 5:00pm, there's limited time for legislative volleyball between the two houses. So, for me, the good news is that I can sleep in a bit tomorrow, since there's no committee meeting. The bad news is that the presiding officers have exercised their option of scheduling a legislative session for this evening (I write around 5:30).

The most significant debate in the House of Bishops today was on Resolution B012. It actually began life several months ago in the Task Force for the Study of Marriage. Its stated objective was to remove the ability of bishops to simply proscribe the celebration of same-sex marriage in their dioceses. In that form, it was named A085. Then, a couple of weeks ago, three moderate bishops introduced a resolution, which was named B012, that was intended to be friendlier to the conservative theological minority. It still mandated that SSM be made available "conveniently" to all who ask for it, but gave dissenting bishops the option of assigning the parish making the request to the oversight of another bishop (aka DEPO). 

In the legislative sausage grinder, A085 was folded into B012, with the language about DEPO significantly weakened (though not obliterated) and with a great deal of ambiguity about whether even rectors can decline to host such a celebration, apparently running afoul of canons that give rectors full control over what happens on their church property. The House of Deputies passed B012 in this form. Within the last 24 hours, the original movers of the original B012, along with the bishops on Committee 13, in consultation with the Presiding Bishop's chancellors, produced a slightly cleaned-up version that clearly retains the authority of a rector over church property, and it came to the bishops in that amended form. It passed on an overwhelming voice vote, and now goes back to the Deputies to concur (or not) with the amendment.

I am very pleased the B012 passed, and hope the Deputies concur. It is significantly less problematic than other versions of itself that were floating around the General Convention ether a few days ago. I am grateful for the charitable work of so many in moing toward a viable compromise. 

However, I did not vote for it. I abstained, when it became clear that my vote would not be needed for it to pass. It is unconscionably wrong to erode the authority of a bishop to exercise the ministry of chief teacher and chief liturgical officer in a diocese. I'm grateful that there's a path--a painful one, to be sure, but a clear one--for keeping the spiritual fingerprints of both the diocese and its bishop off a liturgical act that purports to be what it simply cannot be, and which denies the first article of both the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, that God is "Creator of heaven and earth." As the Archbishop of Capetown reminded us yesterday, the male-female binary is part of creation. Marriage is not a human social construct. It is God-ordained. General Convention is presuming to deal with a matter well above its pay-grade.

So B012 was the "least bad" possible outcome. The church is a political animal, and politics, as has been said, is the art of the possible.

Among my concerns going forward is that both B012 and A068--the resolution on liturgical revision (it's not quite accurate to call it Prayer Book revision anymore), which is passed by the Bishops yesterday and concurred with by the Deputies today--will get spun in opposite directions by the two main sides (one much larger than the other), and we'll end up with a classic batch of "Anglican fudge." I'll probably have more to say about that in due course.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 8

A couple of vignettes from my committee meeting this morning are illustrative of the state of things in the Episcopal Church these days:
  • In revising the revision of the Book of Occasional Services, one member, a bishop, pointed out the conclusion to a prayer in one of the liturgies, a conclusion that was attempting to be trinitarian without using masculine language (Father, Son), so it read, "Creator, Word, and Holy Spirit." The bishop (rightly) observed that to use "Creator" as a surrogate for "Father" is theologically questionable, since all three Persons of the Godhead are involved in the act of creation. So he suggested "Fount" instead, citing ancient sources as precedent. This led to a longish time of vigorous debate, and the committee finally settled on "Holy and Undivided Trinity" instead of delineating the individual Persons. This is ridiculous, of course, because you can't indefinitely avoid saying "Father" when talking about God. You can temporarily do so for some individual instance--though, as we saw today, not easily--but eventually you have to come back around to "Father" or you lose your moorings entirely. As another bishop pointed out to me yesterday, "Jesus' devotion was focused on the Father. How can ours do anything less?"
  • There was, once again this convention, as there has been at least for the last two, a resolution asking for the study of the practice of offering Holy Communion to unbaptized persons. Pleas for it in testimony were quite passionate. But they were all completely non-theological, focusing rather on strategic and hortatory concerns like hospitality. In the end, I am grateful to say, the resolution was defeated among both the Bishops and the Deputies on Committee 12. It fails. But we will, no doubt, see it again in three years. It's an old friend.
The headline news of the afternoon was the Bishops' consideration of the Prayer Book revision resolution that we began discussing yesterday. Rather than a protracted and messy floor debate--rumor was that there were forty pre-filed amendments in the queue--the chair immediately recognized the Bishop of Texas, who moved a substitute resolution that, instead of calling for a process of Prayer Book revision, calls for retaining BCP79 as the authorized liturgical standard in TEC, but the development of a robust and ever-growing/changing collection of alternatives to Prayer Book texts that display some of the characteristic that the proposers of Prayer Book revision have been hoping to see. So, in terms of form if not content, this adopts the English and Canadians models, where the Prayer Books of 1662 and 1958, respectively, retain their status as the official liturgical standards, but are largely ignored in favor of collections of alternative services. 

There were a good many questions, and a relatively small amount of actual debate, but in a relatively short time, this substitute was adopted and became the main motion and was passed overwhelmingly, with scarcely audible opposition. I find this a surprising and positive development. It will allow Episcopalians in places that are minded to do so to continue worshiping in the familiar forms without the shadow of revision constantly looming over them. It will now go back to the House of Deputies, via a newly-appointed small conference committee, and Committee 13. This is an encouraging development. 

I should not fail to also mention that the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba back into union with General Convention, following a 52 year hiatus, passed overwhelmingly and joyfully. The Bishop of Cuba was immediately seated on the floor of the House.

Monday, July 09, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 7

We've now reached that phase of convention where the big bits of legislative sausage are emerging from the committee grinder and are ready to be fried up in the pan.

Resolution A068, which calls for the beginning of the SCLM process for Prayer Book revision was passed, somewhat narrowly, by the House of Deputies yesterday. This afternoon, it floated to the surface in the House of Bishops. We spent about an hour on it in a committee-of-the-whole format--so, without actual parliamentary debate--including table conversation, questions and answers of the committee chair (Bishop Jeff Lee of Chicago), and statements from the microphones. Then it was time for recess.

My quick read--at this moment--is that it will either be substantially modified, or just be defeated, which is to say, way more spoke against it than for it. Of course, the energy behind the whole thing is is a desire for less (or no) masculine language for God, and a generally less patriarchal tone in liturgical diction. I've already shared my views on that subject. Most all but the handful of truly conservative bishops are conceptually in favor of this. However, there are countervailing forces, chief among which are concern about the cost, and concern that it represents a turn inward at a moment when TEC needs to be looking outward, that the process of liturgical revision will distract us from the Presiding Bishop's announced emphases on evangelism, racial reconciliation, and care of creation. So I'm not making any predictions, because I've been around long enough to know that the political winds can turn abruptly. One bishop could yet get up and push just the right rhetorical buttons during a two-minute floor speech, and incite a major shift of opinion. But it's by no means a done deal.

Many have suggested--and this would be my hope--that we follow the lead of the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Canada, among others, and create a new collection of liturgical resources, fully authorized, that would bleed off the energy around inclusive-expansive language texts, and leave the Prayer Book alone. It would certainly cost less, and be far less divisive churchwide. I expect something like this will come up in tomorrow's floor debate.

The other news today is that the House of Deputies passed an amended version of B012. There is still a lack of a clear consensus on just what it says or means. One reading of the language can quite plausibly be interpret to re-insert the concept of DEPO, though not the term itself, which was in the original version drafted by three moderate bishops. It's not as clear as I and my Communion Partner colleagues would like, but it's there, if interpreted generously (as a clause in the resolution encourages). It can also be plausibly read to reassure rectors that their canonical authority to decline to either preside at or even allow any wedding in their church for any reason is preserved intact. 

However ... the language of B012 is also capable of being spun in a way that would require a dissenting rector to step aside and allow another priest to come in and conduct a same-sex wedding if the demand is made. It actually sets up a canonical conflict. And the provision for dissenting bishops to turn responsibility for such an event over to another bishop is clear enough if you're just talking about "DEPO for the afternoon," but it's less clear about how a dissenting bishop might create even thicker insulation between him/herself and a parish that wishes to host same-sex weddings. This "alternative truth" narrative is being enthusiastically purveyed in social media by "progressive" voices.

So the fat lady has not yet sung on this one either. Tomorrow will be an interesting day.

2018 General Convention, Day 6

Life in the House of Bishops was pretty mundane today, so much so that we finished our agenda ahead of schedule. So I hung out in the gallery of the House of Deputies for about the last 40 minutes of their session. When the time ran out, they were in the middle of the alloted time for debating resolution B012.

B012 was originally authored by a trio of center-left "moderate" bishops, in consultation with the leadership of the Communion Partners. Their aim was to provide a viable alternative to the more draconian A085, which came out of the Marriage Task Force. A085 would simply mandate a right for same-sex marriage to occur in all dioceses, despite the objection of the Bishop, simply by inserting the new liturgies into a "quickie" revision of the Prayer Book, as well as by amending the catechism on the subject of marriage. B012, as originally drafted, still removes the Bishop's authority to forbit the rites, but leaves the Prayer Book intact, and gives the Bishop the right to insist that a parish wanting to do this accept oversight and supervision from another bishop, not just fot the narrow purpose of the wedding ceremony, but ... in general. B012 also called for the creation of a Task Force on Communion Across Differences, which would be charged with making actual canonical proposals to the 2021 General Convention that would solidify both access of those who wish it to same-sex weddings, and create structures that would enable those who hold the minority viewpoint on marriage to not only exist and survive, but flourish and thrive.

Committee 13 was charged with dealing with both A-85 and B012. They ended of laying A085 aside and sending B012 forward, but with significant amendments. On the plus side of the ledger, from my perspective, short-term insertion into the Prayer Book is taken off the table. But the committee gutted the language about alternative episcopal oversight. They have hailed this as a magnanimous gesture of compromise, but it is, in fact, no compromise at all, but, rather, the same rock disguised by a thicker coat of moss.

Much has been made of the conscience of the dissenting bishops, often in a derisive manner, as if these recalcitrant eight (plus the ones of Province IX) are somehow holding the rest of the church by the throat, merely for the sake of their individual consciences. The reality is, however, that most of these bishops were elected by dioceses that were fully aware of their views on sexuality and marriage. I know I was, and I am quite confident that if I were to be run over by the proverbial bus tomorrow, the 12th Bishop of Springfield would be someone who holds similar views. So it's not just the conscience of the bishop, but the integrity of the diocese, that is at stake.

But it goes deeper. A diocese, including the clergy, and its bishop are, in effect, sacramentally fused. The Bishop is the outward and visible sign of the diocese's inward and spiritual reality. St Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 2nd century, puts it this way:
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected wit the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Epistle to the Smrynaeans, Chapter 8)
Every liturgical and sacramental act of a priest implicates the Bishop, and bears the "spiritual fingerprints" of the Bishop. This is why some form of delegated oversight is critical for bishops and dioceses that maintain the received teaching on marriage. They (we, I should probably say) need a thick layer of insulation to give us plausible distance from a priest and a parish where a public liturgical event happens that, by the lights of most of the Christian world, is a fundamental offense against the gospel. 

In order for both parties to maintain their integrity, they must tread a painful course. If I want to maintain my witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ "as this church was received it" (from the ordination rites), then I must bear the pain of handing over my pastoral authority over a parish that believes itself called to celebrate same-sex marriage to another bishop. If a parish under my oversight wants to celebrate same-sex marriage, then it must embrace the pain of parting company with my pastoral care. This truly hurts, but such things ought to hurt, and hurt a lot, because anything less than that doesn't take seriously the gravity of what we're doing. Such a level of pain makes us think twice ... or three or four times ... about whether this is a line in the sand that we really need to draw. It is a token of the cost of our fidelity to the truth as we have discerned it.

When B012 is taken up again by the Deputies on Monday morning, there will be amendments offered that attempt to restore it to something more like its original form. If tat doesn't succeed, the same attempt will be made in the House of Bishops when we get it. May grace abound and the Lord have mercy.