Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday Evening Hearing

Tonight was the big hearing for the Special Committee that is charged with crafting resolutions of response to the Windsor Report. The crowd was too large for the largest ballroom at the Hyatt Convention Hotel. Each diocese got five tickets for a reserved section. Most of the seats were "general admission." Many people could not get in.

My overall impression was to note that we may have a compromise that can stand up in the form of the report of the special commission. There was vigorous opposition from both sides of the debate. "Conservatives" complained that the language was unclear and should embody an unequivocal repentance and compliance with a conservative interpretation of the Windsor Report. "Liberals" complained that the recommendations are part of a conversation that has excluded the voices of gay and lesbian Anglicans and do not represent the testimony of the Holy Spirit. There were people from both "sides" who commended the report as a comprehensive compromise.

The report of the Commission was the result of much work and prayer by a diverse group that worked together to craft resolutions to consider in our response to Windsor. The report came out with unanimous support from that commission.

The resolutions that we were taking comment on tonight include these features:

We declare our intention to live into the highest degree of communion possible with the Anglican Communion and commit to interdependence.
We express "our own deep regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003 and we offer our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking these actions."
"...the Episcopal Church regrets the extent to which we have ...contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
We "affirm the need to maintain a breadth of private responses to situations of individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians."
We "concur with the ...exhortation to bishops" not to "authorize public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, until some broader consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."
Bishops who have authorized public diocesan rites are invited "to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization.

(We didn't discuss the plan for delegated Episcopal pastoral oversight for congregations who are at odds with their own bishop. Nor the support of the Millennium Development Goals as part of our joint mission in the Anglican Communion. Nor did we directly address the commitment to an ongoing listening process or the possibility of the development of an Anglican Covenant. Nor a recommitment to several "full and equal claim" resolutions from previous General Conventions. Nor a resolution stating that "homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens." Those hearings were at another time. I'll try to get some reports.)

The chair Frank Wade opened the evening saying that our main activity would be listening. Our norms: respectful listening, undivided attention, no demonstrations of support or opposition, and the creation of a hospitable space. He quoted an old saying: "If two people agree on everything, one of them is not necessary.

Some comments from those who testified:

In 2003 the General Convention created a classical Anglican solution, incorporating compassion and compromise. It was a both/and policy rather than a parliamentary either/or. Take care not to abandon that.

Windsor said in clear language "stop." Our language saying "exercise considerable caution" is unclear.

Quoting Frank Wade -- We do need each other, and the Anglican Communion needs us to do more than simply say the same thing the Windsor Report is saying in a compliant single voice. Gay voices have been systematically excluded from every Anglican Communion forum for thirty years. When the primate of South Africa invited gay Anglicans to speak to Lambeth, they were not allowed. We need two voices to have conversation, not just compliance.

This set of resolutions is not perfect, but is comprehensive. It has unanimous support from a very diverse group. (comment from an openly gay deputy)

Saying that we regret our failure to consult the Anglican Communion is not the same as saying we regret our decision. We should say we regret our decisions in 2003.

We should have three more years of a moratorium on the consecration of new bishops. That will show how serious we are.

The motive of those who voted to consecrate Gene Robinson and to permit same-gender blessings was the movement of the Holy Spirit. To say that we regret such decisions would be to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, the only unforgivable sin.

One who had visited in Africa told of how hurt our brothers and sisters there were. But they appreciated our presence and our expressions of regret.

We should not repent of opposing oppression any more than Galileo should repent that the earth revolves around the sun or of the church's support of integration or women's equality.

Bob Duncan, the Bishop who heads the Network, said that we have come to an impossible place. There can be no resolution. Unless we comply fully with Windsor there must be a division. He and others will walk away. It is "comply or good bye."

Gene Robinson said the question is, do we recognize the light of Christ and the face of the creator in gay and lesbian Christians or do we not see in them, like we have come to see in black and women Christians, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

A person with connections with the Anglican Consultative Council said that her contact believes that the Special Commission report fulfills the expectations of the Windsor Report and that it is an impressive balance of concerns which will be received positively overseas.

It is a good balance. It shies away from naming a moratorium on incorporation of gay people until a consensus occurs in the Anglican Communion, which means "never." And it shies away from saying that the Episcopal Church will simply go our own way. That path is the path of conversation.

In 2003 we acted as we sometimes criticize our government of doing, we acted unilaterally. It is hubris to declare that our understanding of the Gospel is superior to others.

The Windsor Report was prepared without the input of a single gay or lesbian voice. We were silenced.

For a true conversation to take place, Rabbi Ed Friedman said that you need three things: 1. Two people must face one another. 2. They must have some distance between them so that they can be heard. 3. Static must be minimized. There is nuance in both the Windsor Report and the Special Commission's report, and this responsible nuance creates space which allows conversation.

The forum was handled in an atmosphere of respectful listening with the true sense that good committed Episcopalians come to very different conclusions about these important matters. There were no personal attacks nor was there anything that I heard that seemed inappropriate or unseemly. It was strong, passionate debate of the highest order.

Funny. We fell into chaos trying to operate voting instruments that were not much more complicated than a TV remote this afternoon. Then we stood up to the highest standards of truth-telling and respectful, passionate debate this evening.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Clergy Deputy to General Convention


At 9:30 AM , Blogger hapax said...

The report as you described it would deeply grieve me, as would anything less than a complete inclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as full members of Christ's body. Yet I have been re-reading Augustine's Sermons on I John (isn't this everybody's idea of good leisure reading?) and found him struggling with very similar issues about reconciling notions of right conduct with the potential of disrupting the union of the Church -- and always, always, always, Augustine argues, charity trumps all. The only way to show devotion to the Head is to cherish and respect all members of the Body. What to do when the hands declare to the feet: "You are not part of the body?" Augustine would argue that the one unforgiveable "sin unto death" was to break charity, to give up hope that through faith and love and unity, the Holy Spirit might yet "shed abroad the love of God in our hearts."

I can not reconcile myself to "apologizing" and "repenting" for the Episcopal Church's openness to the work of the Spirit in ALL persons. But the graver sin would be to fail to take any path, short of turning our backs on the Spirit, to allow ourselves to be a conduit of Divine grace, flowing to AND from the rest of the world.

Ugh. I don't envy with all of you wrestling with this decision.

-- Lesley K

At 5:40 AM , Blogger Lowell said...

You've described our situation precisely.



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