Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bishops Adopt Three Resolutions

Bishops Respond to the Tanzania Communiqué

Episcopal News Service has posted this story, reporting that the House of Bishops today adopted three "mind of the house" resolutions regarding the current difficulties within the Anglican Communion. Full texts of the three resolutions are available here.

The first resolution is addressed to the Episcopal Church's Executive Council. In it, the House of Bishops "affirms its desire that The Episcopal Church remain a part of the councils of the Anglican Communion" and "pledges itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons."

The resolution also declares that "the House of Bishops believes the Pastoral Scheme of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007 would be injurious to the polity of the Episcopal Church and urges that the Executive Council decline to participate in it."

On cursory reading, we note that the bishops seem to be deferring to the Executive Council as the duly authorized body to speak for the General Convention between GC meetings. This is in contrast to the hopes of some people that the bishops would unilaterally implement the demands of the primates meeting in Tanzania.

In the second resolution, the bishops express "our passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership in both the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church" and an urgent need for us to meet face to face with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Primates' Standing Committee." The bishops invite the Archbishop and the Primates' Standing Committee "to join us at our expense for three days of prayer and conversation regarding these important matters."

In the last few months, several commentators have remarked upon the Archbishop of Canterbury's failure or unwillingness to visit the U.S. and engage Episcopalians in face-to-face discussions. The bishops' request for face-to-face dialogue is fully in keeping with our incarnational theology.

A third, longer resolution enumerates reasons why the bishops, hoping to remain "welcome in the councils" of the Anglican Communion, "nevertheless decline to participate in the Primates' Pastoral scheme for many reasons." Their reasons include violation of church law and founding principles of the Episcopal Church, fundamental change to the character of the Windsor process and proposed Anglican Covenant design process, and departure from English Reformation heritage and "the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition." The resolution calls the scheme "spiritually unsound" for its encouragement of "one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation."

You May Kick Us Out, But We Won't Walk Away

That is not the words of the bishops, but it seems to be the gist of this section of their third resolution:

We would therefore meet any decision to exclude us from gatherings of all Anglican Churches with great sorrow, but our commitment to our membership in the Anglican Communion as a way to participate in the alleviation of suffering and restoration of God's creation would remain constant. We have no intention of choosing to withdraw from our commitments, our relationships, or our own recognition of our full communion with the See of Canterbury or any of the other constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, we will seek to live fully into, and deepen, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Communion through companion relationships, the networks of Anglican women, the Anglican Indigenous Network, the Francophone Network, our support for the Anglican Diocese of Cuba, our existing covenant commitments with other provinces and dioceses . . . , and countless informal relationships for mission around the world.

One section of the bishops' resolution is particularly sad. They recount the many efforts that they, the Deputies, and General Convention have made to be responsive to the Anglican Communion. In each instance, they state the efforts the Episcopal Church made, then observe that "It was not accepted by the Primates," then "Our response was not accepted by the Primates," then "our efforts were not accepted by the Primates."

Boundary Violations

The Bishops speak quite clearly about the boundary violations:

We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease. The Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 did so. The Windsor Report did so. The Dromantine Communiqué did so. None of these assurances has been heeded.

"We Proclaim the Gospel . . . "

Read these words from the bishops' third resolution. It appears that the bishops are -- as many had urged -- articulating the positive witness of our church. And they are throwing nobody "under the bus."

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

Against Curialism

Also within the bishops' third resolution is this statement for opposing the "primatial scheme":

Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage.
It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices
the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking
Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the
16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people
with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.

A great many theologians and other commentators have expressed concern that the primates communiqué would cede too much power to a small group of archbishops. Apparently, our House of Bishops concurs.

To the Dissidents

The bishops speak of the dissidents who have sought to paint our church as one in turmoil:
. . . [W]e understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.

In other news . . .
Many voices had called for the bishops also to speak out against the proposed legislation in Nigeria, which would imprison homosexuals or those who advocate for their human rights. In her briefing today, the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam (bishop suffragan of the Diocese of New York) said: "As we deliberated we had on our hearts and on our minds our Anglican brothers and sisters and the people in our dioceses whom we serve. While this was not dealt with by resolution, great concern was expressed about human rights violations for gay and lesbians, particularly in Nigeria, and the need for us as Anglicans and Christians to advocate against it."

More to Come

ENS reports, "Further context around the resolutions and the House of Bishops' full six–day meeting will be provided in a written letter to be released by the House on March 21, when a news conference is also scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (Central time) . . . ."

Further comments and reflections will surely be offered in coming days. We will endeavor to link to them here and to offer our own, more thoughtful analysis of the bishops' resolutions.

Lisa Fox
for The Episcopal Majority


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