Friday, August 25, 2006

A House Divided

by The Rev. Dr. Robert G. Certain
Diocese of San Diego

First, I need to state for the record that I am a moderate in the Episcopal Church. In spite of my current residence, I am also a Southerner, born and bred in Georgia, who believes that secession and civil war are not only particularly bad ideas, they have long and unpleasant consequences.

At the 75th General Convention I voted “yes” on both Resolution A161 and Resolution B033. I voted that way on A161 because the chairman of the Special Committee on Windsor noted that it was the best the committee could report out, even though all of us would find elements in it that were offensive. He also urged us to “hold our nose” in order to pass this flawed piece of legislation because we needed it to stay at the table with our sisters and brothers in other provinces of the Anglican Communion. With only two days to go in the Convention, and a parliamentary process that would prevent us from making anything better, I concluded that the best course of action was to endorse the committee’s recommendation.

Since the conclusion of the 75th General Convention in June, there has been much lamenting about the House of Deputies’ failure to pass appropriate legislation in response to the concerns of the Windsor Report, particularly A161, which called for a moratorium on consents to the ordination to the episcopate of anyone living in a same-sex union. As we all know by now, the following day both Houses passed B033 which was a complete revision of the original. That rewording was necessitated by the parliamentary fact that the House of Deputies could not reconsider its action of the previous day. Surely by now we are all aware of the extraordinary actions of both Presiding Bishop Griswold and Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori to get B033 adopted by both Houses.

One bit of history that I have not seen discussed concerns the votes by order in the House of Deputies on these two pieces of legislation. In mid-August I received a copy of the record of the House and discovered that these deputations were among those who voted to defeat A161: Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rio Grande (Lay), San Joaquin (divided clergy, counted as “no”), South Carolina, Springfield, Western Louisiana. These dioceses are all known for their very conservative stances on the issues addressed by A161. All but Western Louisiana are members of the Anglican Communion Network. Except for Quincy, every diocese formally affiliated with the Network is included.

When I looked at the results for B033, which was adopted, I noted again that nine of the ten ACN dioceses (except for San Joaquin this time) voted to defeat this resolution, too. In light of these votes, I have to ask, “Did the Anglican Communion Network dioceses really want to defeat the Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report?”

I also note that the bishops of both Dallas and Rio Grande have joined with the bishops of Texas and West Texas to call “Windsor Compliant” bishops to a conference. Do those two ACN bishops stand in opposition to their deputations? How many other “Windsor-compliant” bishops had deputations that voted against A161?

Without attributing motives to any Deputy, it seems to me that we – bishops, priests, lay people, Deputies, etc. – would do well to get seriously honest with one another about our motives and our actions. We need to think through the consequences of our actions and to ask if we really intend to bring those consequences about. We also need to think through the wisdom of taking separate counsel on matters of deep societal as well as ecclesiastical concern. If our goal is to discern God’s guidance, we must change our behavior and work together across the spectrum of insight and opinion. Separate counsel will only confirm our hardening positions and will close out the Holy Spirit from our deliberations. If our goal is to damage the Church out of our anger, fear, or arrogance, then we seem to be going in just the right direction.

I am confident that every Deputy to the General Convention cast flawed votes. I am equally confident that a vote of any kind will never settle many of the theological and ecclesiastical concerns we bear. To this moderate priest, the question is not “what did we do wrong?” It is rather “how are we as a community of faith going to witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ in spite of our sinful nature, our flawed votes, and our inadequate words?”

Here is the bottom line: We did a lot that was “right” at this General Convention to further the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in the world. We are in danger of allowing one issue to damage or destroy the good. We need to find God’s guidance for us in relation to our Anglican partners as well as in relation to our gay and lesbian members and neighbors. That is likely to take much more time than we would prefer. Wanting a different schedule will accomplish nothing. A better course would be to join forces with those with whom we have deep disagreements as we seek to accomplish our many shared goals and purposes. As we do so, I believe God will lead us through the fog of human relations to find his divine will in the matters that mark our divisions.

Be angry if you must, but do not let the sun go down on that anger. Instead, let us reason together, pray together, work together. Differences remind us that God alone is sovereign – not you, me, theologians, or doctrines. Divergent ideas and actions, even heretical ones, will not destroy us, our faith, or Our Lord. But they will lead us to ask more questions, find new answers, correct old errors, and rediscover the depths of the love of God in Christ Jesus.


Blogger Tad Pound said...

Finall a voice of reason and Love. Thank you Rev. Robert for your thoughts. I have grown sick of the "sides" that have been drawn up in our chruch. It was a breath of fresh air to read your words. We need more people who love our Episcopal Church to step up and voice our love for our Lord and to be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to move freely amongst us and to teach us about Jesus' love for all of God's creation. I come from a liberal church in the Diocese of the Rio Grande; our bishop speaks of treating each other with love yet he is making arrangements for the upcoming separation. Jesus loves uncondtionally. I believe he ask us to do the same. If we are followers of "The Way," why are there so many people who "KNOW" the way: Their way! Let's let God be God and let's follow and allow the Spirit to show us the way.

8/25/2006 4:26 PM  

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