Friday, February 23, 2007

Deconstructing Bonnie

Bonnie Anderson, President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, has issued her response to the Dar es Salaam Communiqué. As I have said before, I like Bonnie, and hold her in high personal regard. What follows is not an attempt to show any disrespect. I just think she's mistaken in several ways, and it seems appropriate to not let a letter like this just slide.

The PHOD writes:
[The Primates'] Communiqué...raises profound and serious issues regarding their authority to require any member Church to take the types of specific actions the Communiqué contemplates...

Bonnie is correct; the Primates have no standing to impose a requirement. That's why the Primates have set forth a request and not issued a requirement. Yes, it's a firm request, and it has all the earmarks of a demand, an ultimatum. But it's not a requirement. TEC has the freedom to ignore it or deny it.

...and whether they have authority to enforce consequences or penalties against any member Church that does not act in a way they desire.

Any party to any relationship has the authority to say what he/she/it will do in response to the behavior of another party. If the Primates don't have the authority to tell us how to behave, then neither do we have the authority to tell them how to respond to our behavior.

The type of authority for the Primates implicit in the Communiqué would change not only the Episcopal Church but the essence of the Anglican Communion.

I think Bonnie is correct here, but she and I would disagree on whether it's a good or a bad thing. The Episcopal Church is sorely in need of some change, and "the essence of the Anglican Communion" is, we have seen to our dismay, inherently unstable. It needs to be reconstituted. The Primates are leading the way in making that happen.

The polity of the Episcopal Church is one of shared decision making among the laity, priest and deacons and bishops. The House of Bishops does not make binding, final decisions about the governance of the Church. Decisions like those requested by the Primates must be carefully considered and ultimately decided by the whole Church, all orders of ministry, together.

I would gently suggest that Bonnie needs to read the request of the Primates more carefully. It is addressed to the House of Bishops, through the Presiding Bishop. They haven't made a request of the Episcopal Church; they have made a request of the House of Bishops. Individual Episcopalians, including the PHOD, might question the wisdom of their decision, but they're the Primates and we're not. So they get to decide who they want to talk to.

Some are asking ... Is it a good idea for our House of Bishops to do what they have asked? Is the House of Bishops the right body within the Episcopal Church to respond to the Primates’ requests?

See above. If the request has been made of the HOB, then the HOB is clearly "the right body" to provide an answer. Anything else would be...well...impolite.

Our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people must be very carefully considered when we are being asked as Episcopalians to exclude some of our members from answering the Holy Spirit’s call to use their God-given gifts to lead faithful lives of ministry.

This statement makes all sorts of suppositions that are neither self-evident nor universally shared. They are, in fact, contested, and they are contested in good faith. The attempt to exploit our baptismal vows to shame Episcopalians who share theological and moral convictions with not only a majority of the world's Anglicans but the vast majority of the world's Christians is itself shameful. We (numbering myself with the majorities I just identified) would answer that we are not endorsing the exclusion of any who are called by God to the episcopate, but that we operate from a premise that God does not call to leadership positions in the church those who are involved in relationships that by their nature inherently fall short of God's own moral vision--a vision of which we have no proprietary knowledge, but which is revealed by God for all to see. Rather than subverting our promise to "seek and serve Christ in all people," then, we are being true to our promise to remain faithful to "the apostles' teaching and fellowship."

Our promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people binds us together.

I would respectfully disagree. It is our being "in Christ" (per St Paul) that binds us together.

The Episcopal Church has declared repeatedly that our understanding of the Baptismal Covenant requires that we treat all persons equally regardless of their race, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, color, ethnic origin, or national origin.

This begs the question. To comply with the Primates' request would not cause the violation of any of the non-discrimination canons. The Primates are not asking the HOB with withhold consecration of episcopal candidates who are merely of a homosexual orient. They are speaking of anyone who is living in an intimate relationship outside of marriage as the Communion understands marriage (cf. Lambeth I.10).

To honor all of the Primates’ requests would change the way the Episcopal Church understands its role in the Communion and the way Episcopalians make decisions about our common life. Our church makes policy and interprets its resolutions and Canons through the General Convention and, to a lesser extent, the Executive Council.

Bonnie is mostly correct here. But, as I have said, I think the changes she fears are good and necessary. For the sake of the long-term wholeness of the Episcopal Church, we need to submit to this discipline.

As president of the 800-plus member House of Deputies, it is my duty to ensure that the voice of the clergy and the laity of our Church will be heard as the Church discusses and debates the Primates’ requests and that that process will not be pre-empted by the House of Bishops or any other group. I have already begun to work toward that end.

Well, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, "there you go again." The Primates are talking to the Bishops. If other parties get involved, they are horning in uninvited. If the Bishops desire the counsel of the House of Deputies, it is their prerogative to ask for it, either by calling a special General Convention or allowing the Executive Council to act as proxy, which is not completely outside its scope of responsibility. But the Bishops are under no moral or canonical obligation to do so. Something has been asked of them, and it is up to them to respond.

All Anglicans must remember that the second Lambeth Conference in 1878 recommended that “the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.”

The other provinces of the Communion have no business dictating to us how we fund the pension plan, whether we use blue or purple vestments in Advent, or what lectionary we can use (though I wish I could find a reason for them to nullify the adoption of the RCL!). These are matters of internal discipline of the sort envisioned by Lambeth II. Upending two millennia of moral tradition is a matter that "touches all," so it must be "decided by all."

This has been the tradition of the Anglican Communion. To demand strict uniformity of practice diminishes our Anglican traditions.

This mischaracterizes the Primates' requests. No "strict uniformity of practice" is being demanded.

Our tradition of autonomous churches in the Anglican Communion, that come together because of our love of Christ and our common heritage, has allowed us to focus on mission and evangelism to our broken world which is in desperate need of the Good News of God in Christ. In recent times, however, we have spent too much of our time, talent and treasure debating if we ought to deny some people a place at the table to which Jesus calls us all.

This sounds full of a righteous sense of justice, but what does it actually mean? What table? Who's being denied? Who's doing the denying? Need I really say it again? I understand that the Episcopal majority sees a ban on partnered gays and lesbians in the episcopate, and a refusal to bless same-sex union, as a matter of gospel justice. But it doesn't help to merely restate an assumption that is neither self-evident nor universally shared. Argue your point, but don't just assume it.

Instead, we must listen to each other – really listen and not just read reports – so that we can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit moving through all of us and calling us to be more faithful.

I agree. Listening is good. But anyone in a listening process must be open to being surprised by what they hear. And we need to also remember that listening to one another isn't the only way we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.


Anonymous said...

Great Points! Thank you for keeping us all up to date! You have always been concerned about those in the pews. Those who may not have the insight or time to find all the information out there!, your writings here give us a one stop update of the goings on!
Keep on a writin'.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Fr. Dan! As always, you are a fine writer and thinker. I also appreciate your willingness to be gracious while discussing things that touch the very core of our being.

Archbishop Carnley's response to Ms. Anderson (re: Panel of Reference) makes similar points. One cannot help but feel that many in TEC have spent so much time talking only to those with whom they agree that they have become unable to see any other point of view, or to step back from their arguments and see logical flaws, unmerited assumptions, or poor reasoning. My prayer is that TEC will experience enlightenment about what it means to be part of a Body, rather than continue to operate in such a vacuum. Much of the rest of the Communion understands our Polity quite well; they just see it as insufficient to the work of the Church in our modern era and being used conveniently to avoid true dialogue. The Primate's meeting, like Lambeth, is one of the few times when we cannot set the agenda; we have to "face the music" from others and listen, rather than control the terms of conversation. This is painful for our Imperial Church, but necessary. All of us must learn anew and more deeply the charism of humility – and none more so, I would hazard, than those with the most money, comfort, power, and influence.

In Christ,


Non clamor sed amor psallit in aure Dei