Saturday, July 18, 2009

Post-Convention Follow-Up

Here's a follow-up note about some things I think may be of interest to some who follow General Convention.

First, a note to my congregation. Kathy has just arrived in Anaheim. She has a conference at UCLA starting Sunday afternoon, so we're spending the time together between now and then. I'll fly back to Fayetteville Sunday afternoon.

My "Friends Talking" class on Sunday, July 26 will feature conversation about the General Convention at 10:00 in the Parish Hall.

As I reflect on General Convention, with particular attention to our relationship with the Anglican Communion I've had a thought.

From the perspective of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church is now the position St. Paul found himself in Acts 15. Paul had recognized the gifts of the Spirit in Gentiles -- despite the teaching of scripture and the tradition requiring circumcision and adherence to Torah -- and Paul had baptized and laid hands on those Gentiles nonetheless. Paul came to Jerusalem to the Apostolic Council to give witness about the presence of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit in the lives and ministries of Gentiles. The Apostolic Council listened to his witness, blessed his work, and sent him forth as the Apostle to the Gentiles. I hope the Anglican Communion will do likewise.

At the least, the Communion might want to take the advice of Gamaliel, the first century rabbi who appealed to the Sadhedrin not to act punitively against the Christians. His argument: if their movement is not of God, it will die of its own weight; but if it is of God, you could find yourself fighting futilely against God's Spirit.

Let's stay together; talk; listen; agree to disagree; go to communion together; and go out into the world in mission to serve the world in Christ's name.

I had the opportunity to be on a telephone interview with BBC Radio 4 along with Bishop Ed Little. Bishop Little is a gracious spokesman for conservative Episcopalians and someone I have admired from a distance for a long time. (He sits at the same table with Larry Benfield in the House, and I know how fond Larry is of him.) I thought we had a constructive conversation, and I hope it will be edited for the British audience in a constructive way.

When the House of Bishops took up debate about D025 concerning the Episcopal Church's relationship with the Anglican Communion and our policies on ordination, our Bishop Larry Benfield was the first, or among the first to speak. I've heard from several other bishops how much they appreciated his words and his leadership.

Here is the text of Bishop Benfield's address to the House of Bishops during that debate.

Statement by Larry Benfield, bishop of Arkansas, on the floor of the House of Bishops regarding Resolution D 025
July 13, 2009

I speak in favor of D 025.

One thing of which I stand in awe is how the early church was able to put into words God’s revelation of the Trinity and develop a creedal language 1600 years ago that has lasted down to the current age.

The revelation and the creedal language tell us of a Trinity that is mysteriously and intimately intertwined, with an unbounded reciprocal love. We do not understand its complexity, but we do see the results of that love; it is an outpouring of love for all of creation, especially an outpouring of love toward humanity, a love whose ultimate expression is in the love of Christ for humankind.

Likewise, the love of one human being for another, as creatures created in the image of God, is a complex and mysterious thing. Such love can take the form of friendship, or of what the New Testament calls agape, or of sexual love, to name but a few examples. Just as with the reciprocal love of the Trinity, we rarely understand human love, and sometimes are even frightened by it, as in the case of sexual love, because it is so personal, indeed, so intimate.

But we do see the results of such human love, as when the love of two people for one another causes them to reach out in love and concern for others. By saying that we will limit that love and concern for one another and, by extension, to others, simply on the basis of chromosomal make-up is fearful at best, and at worst a human obfuscation of the very mystery of the outpouring love of the Trinity.

I contend that we already have a theological rationale for moving forward in areas of human sexuality. In fact, we have had it for 1600 years, but only in this generation have the scales begun falling from our eyes. In ways that we frequently do not understand, we have a tangible glimpse of the divine love of the Trinity.

We need to witness to this generation, bringing good news now. Proclaiming the good news is never a future event; it is always a present honor and responsibility. If we as bishops always want to wait for a more opportune time, I fear that we are forgetful of our ordination vow to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of our people.

The General Convention spoke on some other issues that are of interest to many. Here are some that caught my attention.

B006 – Immigration
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention recognize that all people living in the United States are entitled to protection provided by due process of law and that all immigrants and their families are entitled to receive protection granted by our laws and Constitution; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention call for a moratorium on roadside checkpoints and raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at work sites, transportation systems, community gatherings, places of worship, lawful assemblies and private residences leaving families torn apart and children parentless and negatively affecting businesses, workers, and communities; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention advocate for a return of congressional consideration and implementation of comprehensive immigration reform which will allow millions of undocumented immigrants who have established roots in the United States and are often parents and spouses of U.S. Citizens to have a pathway to legalization and to full social and economic integration in to the United States; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention deplore conditions found in immigration detention centers and the over-reliance on a costly prison-like detention system for immigrants, and urge the uses of alternatives to detention, and calls for accountability and oversight to ensure detainees are provided with humanitarian treatment, adequate food and medical care and sanitary conditions; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention call for termination of any program which allows or funds local enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law, and return that enforcement to Federal Immigration Agents, leaving local law enforcement agencies the work of keeping communities safe and dedicating their resources to that end, and provide for a sense of safety for immigrant victims of crimes to come forward and report without fear of detention and deportation, and be it further

Resolved, That in as much as youth are a priority of the Episcopal Church, the 76th General Convention support the provision of conditional legal status for undocumented youth who arrived as infants and/or children and have grown up as members of our communities and schools, providing for them the opportunity to pursue higher education and/or serve the United States so they can become full contributing members of our communities and could eventually become U.S. Citizens.

The convention also passed the following resolution about health care.

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention call on its congregations to undertake discussions within the parish of the issue of health care coverage in the United States, including:

a) recognition that health is multi-dimensional, with spiritual, social, environmental, and mental elements as well as physical,

b) reminder of personal responsibility for healthy life choices and concern for maintaining one's own health,

c) proclaiming the Gospel message of concern for others which extends to concern for their physical health as well as spiritual well-being,

d) responsibility as a parish to attend to the needs (including health-related needs) of others, both other members of the parish family and those of the wider community, the nation, and the world,

e) recognition that there are limits to what the healthcare system can and should provide and thus that some uncomfortable and difficult choices may have to be made if we are to limit healthcare costs; and be it further

Resolved, That, The Episcopal Church urge its members to contact elected federal, state and territorial officials encouraging them to:

a) create, with the assistance of experts in related fields, a comprehensive definition of "basic healthcare" to which our nation's citizens have a right,

b) establish a system to provide basic healthcare to all,

c) create an oversight mechanism, separate from the immediate political arena, to audit the delivery of that "basic healthcare,"

d) educate our citizens in the need for limitations on what each person can be expected to receive in the way of medical care under a universal coverage program in order to make the program sustainable financially,

e) educate our citizens in the role of personal responsibility in promoting good health; and be it further,

Resolved, That this resolution be distributed to all Provinces and dioceses of The Episcopal Church for their consideration and support.

D048 – Health Care: Single Payer Universal Health Care Program

passed very narrowly in the House of Deputies – 404/396

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th Convention of the Episcopal Church urge passage of federal legislation establishing a "single payer" universal health care program which would provide health care coverage for all of the people of the United States; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations to assess, negotiate, and deliberate the range of proposed federal health care policy options in the effort to reach the goal of universal health care coverage, and to pursue short-term, incremental, innovative, and creative approaches to universal health care until a "single payer" universal health care program is established; and be it further

Resolved, That the Episcopal Church shall work with other people of good will to finally and concretely realize the goal of universal health care coverage; and be it further

Resolved, That church members and the Office of Government Relations communicate the position of the Episcopal Church on this issue to the President and Members of Congress, and advocate passage of legislation consistent with this resolution.

We'll be getting the deputation together to visit around the state for Q & A and further conversation about General Convention.



At 6:25 AM , Blogger Janet said...

I appreciate the honest search for truth, no matter what church denomination, religion, or which group or individual is doing the seeking. As a Christian I believe the Holy Spirit is the phrase we use to describe a divine guide and a holy teacher leading us into all truth. The decisions and resolutions passed at convention lean into this open search for truth. Oppression and prejudice, of whatever form or label, can never be a part of this search. Thank you for listening for the truth, and for speaking to it. Janet L. Graige an Arkansan Episcopalian

At 7:13 AM , Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Janet, and for your open search for truth. That is the journey.



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