Monday, July 09, 2018

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.


decorus_veritas said...

Thank you for your reflections, Bishop. I invite you to see the situation less drastically. While the B102 amended version is not what you hoped for, I think it is a better path to compromise. Placing a congregation under alternate oversight deeply damages the very idea of an episcopal diocese. I don't like the idea. I much prefer the amended version's alternative that a Bishop can exempt themselves from the authorization of just those marriages, providing oversight there rather than in general. This seems to me to be more apt, so as to not divorce a Bishop from their parishes. Thus if a same-sex couple appears in your diocese, they are not excluded from the sacraments of the church, though they will be excluded from your blessing on their marriage. That seems acceptable, allowing you to preserve your teaching and action, while they can avoid disenfranchisement by geography. Think about it from the point of view of theology. I'm a high-church, theologically orthodox member of the Diocese of California, which does not particularly specialize in the high-church or the orthodox. Should I be disenfranchised from sound preaching and teaching just because I live in California and not in Tennessee? No. I have every reason to demand of my priests and bishops here a higher preaching and teaching as same-sex couples do to demand access to the sacraments in your diocese. If my bishops and priests do not want to teach a full doctrine of the atonement, then I absolutely would petition for additional instruction in those areas from someone who will so teach.

This is how we preserve not only diversity in the church, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, undermine homogeneity in the church. You were elected because your diocese is largely homogeneous in its theology, just as my bishop was elected because my diocese is largely homogeneous. This is bad. My diocese sorely needs conservatives, and your diocese sorely needs liberals, precisely so that we can balance each other out (and better learn how to live together). Please think and pray on this and see if you can help lead our church to more reasonable compromises for ALL Christians in the United States province of the Anglican Communion.

C SEITZ said...

My prediction:

1) BO12 clarifies that rectors cannot be held hostage to resolutions of GC; canons assure this;
2) so parishes cannot themselves insist on all LGBT couples can be 'married', as seems to be implied by B012;
3) DEPO is gone
4) Bishops' role vis-a-vis the diocese is now changed
5) BCP is en route to change, beginning now.

Conservative Bishops are the big losers when the dust settles, and the disruptions begin in dioceses.

Dale Matson said...

Chris Seitz,
In TEC, the house always wins. So much for the inside strategy.

Michael Berry said...

ENS has this story:

If I understand this correctly, and I may not, the amended resolution says that if a rector wants to do a same sex marriage and his Bishop refuses to allow it, the rector may uses one of the trial same sex liturgy and proceed anyway ignoring his Bishop.

While this is called a compromise I see little compromising about it.

C SEITZ said...

The inside strategy is what exactly? I would say EDSC followed it. Others with legal ability should have (EDOD)or could (Springfield).

But I have retired from TEC and am living in France. I guess that is the outside strategy.

On topic. It appears that B012 sets up a conflict between rectors who can stand aside personally from direct involvement, but who have to allow ss marriages to be undertaken in their parishes if requested.

If the HOB doesn't get rid of this, it will be yet one further slow burn.

Michael Berry, as written, yes. Parishes in dissenting dioceses get to have ss marriages. They are overseen by another bishop. How the diocese as diocese is affected by this I don't think anyone can predict.

Paul Hartt said...

Paul Hartt

If the rector is protected from penalty for declining to preside at SSB/M in his or her parish, why did the amended B012 deliberately axe the section that assured freedom from canonical penalty? Does one have discretion only to be later potentially penalized? This ambiguity very much needs clearing up.