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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Liar Society

Susan Brooks Thistletwait's Washington Post essay, 'The Lies We All Tell' has caused me to consider a conversation I recently had with a dear friend. He also posed a challenging question to me which I have been carefully considering.

This friend is now a retired priest who was once one of the organizing forces behind the movement in this church to ordain women. He's a brilliant political strategist with a keen mind which is astutely tuned at the cross roads of cultural and theological analysis, so I always listen to him, even when he annoys me.

He said, "Elizabeth, listen to me. You don't want to hear what I'm saying, but you have to listen. What the bishops - especially the ABC - did was good political strategy. They know that the Left - even the 'radical fringes of it - will stay. They know that nothing will appease the 'radical fringes' of the Right. So, they gave enough to the "middle" of the Anglican Communion for them to stay as The Radical Right goes off in a huff and they can work with the rest."

"The ABC did this by "selling" something the HOB could buy, which they, in fact did. Now, he can "sell" Public vs. Private Rites to the Middle while the Radical Right continues the act of schism which they launched when they said, "Choose The Day" and distributed the Chapman Memo."

"Is this scheme politically solid? You bet. Will it work? No doubt. Is it duplicitous and morally bankrupt? Absolutely. But when, in the course of the civil rights of anyone has the church not been effective politically and bankrupt morally?"

I listened to him. Through my annoyance and revulsion, I listened to him. While I was unusually quiet, he took advantage to move me further along in my thinking.

"So," he asked, "what would you have done? If you had been in a purple shirt in NOLA, what would you have written as your statement?"

I've thought a great deal about this. Here's what I would have said

* We are keenly aware that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

We also understand that we are the "junior" House of a bicameral governance which can not over turn, by ourselves, a resolution of General Convention. This action has caused this house, on both sides of the issue, to experience profound discomfort.

We are very clear that those whose 'manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion' includes our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers in Christ. We pledge to stand in solidarity and prayer at the foot of the cross, one of our own institutional making and on which they hang while the long arc of history bends, as Martin Luther King reminded us, inevitably toward justice.

* We understand that a serious consideration of our common life in Christ reveals another reality that is also displeasing to many on both sides of this issue. For decades, The Episcopal Church as had a "local option" for the pastoral care of our LGBT sisters and brothers by providing liturgical rites of blessing of their covenants.

On the one hand, this has satisfied those who do not wish our church, as a whole, to sanctify that which some of us do not consider holy. On the other hand it is extremely displeasing to LGBT people and straight allies because it has felt duplicitous and dishonest in terms of what we profess to be the unconditional love of God as made manifest in Christ Jesus.

That being said, we pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. Indeed, only both Houses of General Convention can authorize these rites for inclusion in our common life of worship. This does not mean that 'local option' will not continue. We assure you it will. To honor your request, however, we pledge ourselves to 'considerable restraint' as bishops until General Convention 2009.

* We commend our Presiding Bishop's plan for episcopal visitors as a sign and symbol of our deep commitment to have unity in the Body. We pledge ourselves to live into the uncomfortable realities it brings to us as bishops as well as the entire membership of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

* We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end. We expect full participation from every part of the World Wide Anglican Communion in working to bring about an end to this practice which has been deplored by bishops in the church for centuries.

* We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons. We deeply respect the polity and practice of other constituent members of the WWAC. We ask the same for ours from our sisters and brothers in Christ around the globe.

* We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008. We acknowledge that resolutions of Lambeth have no legislative authority, yet we accept them as a 'mind of the communion' in matters of spirituality and theology. We further acknowledge that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 does not adequately reflect the spiritual and theological realities of the mind of TEC. We deplore the actions of those who call a strict, legalistic adherence to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 while actively ignoring or rejecting the listening process.

* We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference. We who laid hands on his head to consecrate him bishop not only stand in solidarity with the episcopacy of the Bishop of New Hampshire as a friend, colleague and brother in Christ, but also understand our complicity in his consecration. To exclude or include him is to exclude or include us.

* We acknowledge that the church everywhere is "in the world but not of the world." Even so, because we are in the world we must expect that the world will be in the church. Therefore, we call upon all bishops, priests, deacons and laity for a global, unequivocal and active commitment to the civil and human rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons. This, we believe, in keeping with the vows we take in the Great Sacrament of Baptism and reaffirm for ourselves as young adults during the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation. The church at its best when it provides a compass for the liberation of gospel morality and ethical behavior for the world.

Truth be told, this does not go as far as I would like, but as my friend, Susan Russell said after General Convention 2000 in Denver, "It's not the whole enchilada, but there's enough guacamole in there to keep me satisfied."

For me, telling the truth in love is not an easy standard to maintain, but Jesus asks us to do this, nonetheless. It is our particular cross to bear as a community of faith as well as an institutional church.

If it were easy, everyone could claim to be a faithful Christian - even some bishops, priests, deacons and laity - which is obviously not the case. Some of us engage in "telling lies in love" which may be politically astute but leaves us morally bankrupt.

Jesus taught us to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" - not to create or participate in "a liar society" - in our culture or in the church.

May we confess our sins, repent, and return to Christ Jesus now and in the hour of our death.


Bill said...

Elizabeth, welcome to politics. Doesn’t it just make you want to rush out and wash your hands and scrub your nails until they bleed.

Which then is harder, telling lies or telling secrets? Or perhaps there is an interesting corollary.

Christopher said...

I could have lived with this. Perhaps with a pledge to explore with lgbt faithful what would be helpful pastorally and ritually in their lives...

Fr. John has some thoughts on that at meditatio in part drawing upon my own letter to the bishops.

But what we got was contradictions and dishonesty--again. And it is that that is untenable not matter how astute, and we have no place to stand before the world when we deal falsely. Indeed, the world should shame us for being so worldly.

Jim said...

I might add two paragraphs, along these lines:

It is important that our communion brothers understand a key fact about our authority. We are bishops in the Episcopal Church. We lead, we do not command. That is, our canon and our province's policies are set by bodies in which we participate: General Convention, Executive Council and diocesan conventions. Those are all bodies which consist of laity, deacons, priests and bishops. We can not command the outcome of their votes.

The outcome of the votes is our policy. An individual bishop may disagree, she or he may attempt to mitigate the impact of a vote in her or his diocese, but the vote remains the policy of TEC.

Of course, one might add for the presiding bishops past and present, that when bishops try to command the outcome we lunacy like B033.