Sunday, July 19, 2009

General Convention Reflection

The latest General Convention of the Episcopal Church has concluded. Many matters were taken up to be considered, some were resolved, some were left on the table. Two matters are certain to be news worthy in the secular press. Before commenting on those matters not apt to be addressed in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, let me say a few words about the two issues that you will be reading about in the "news."

First, the convention (the highest earthly authority in the Episcopal Church) will make headlines for doing nothing. Resolution D025 (which passed both houses) says what the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church already made clear--sexual orientation is not a criterion utilized in the consideration of who to ordain. This is not a change, it is not really even a clarification. It is probably best seen as a "bone" thrown to those who were upset by last convention's resolution B033. Therefore, one should read the two resolutions side by side.

For most of us who have forgotten B033, we need to remember that it called for "restraint" in ordaining anyone whose ordination would cause "strain" in the Anglican Communion. Despite that fact that B033 did not explicitly say "sexual orientation", the resolution was widely seen as providing a moratorium on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons to be bishop in the Episcopal Church. And supporting that interpretation is the fact that no openly gay or lesbian person has been ordained Bishop in the Episcopal Church since the passage of B033.

I believe it is best to read the new resolution (D025) in light of B033. The General Convention seems to be saying on the one hand that "we do not wish to cause strain to the Anglican Communion and dioceses and bishops should show restraint when ordaining anyone whose ordination would cause such a strain" and on the other hand that "there is no canonical prohibition against such ordinations." That is to say, "restraint" is not "prohibition." We all knew that to be the case and dioceses have voluntarily (without need of a prohibition) shown "restraint" since the passage of B033. Therefore, D025 does nothing more than state the position in which the Episcopal Church finds itself. In short, we live with ambiguity. For those who hate ambiguity, this state of affairs is intolerable. For those of us who believe that learning to live with ambiguity is essential to a maturing faith--it is par for the course. As for the moritorium, it will hold, until it does not. Frankly, I am surprised it has held as long as it has. Meanwhile, until a diocese elects an openly homosexual person to be bishop, the candidate recieves the necessary approvals from other dioceses, and the consecration of the candidate takes place, the moritorium will be lifted--but not until that moment.

Second, General Convention (in passing C056) voted to ask the Standing Liturgical Commission (the body responsible for such things) to develop a liturgy for responding to the pastoral needs of same-gender couples and voted to give bishops some discretion in utilizing such liturgical resources in the interim. Such discretion was already happening, particularly in states in which civil unions of same-gender couples are legal. This resolution, however, makes it official. Further, it means that at the next General Convention (in 2012) a vote on particular liturgical resources addressing the pastoral needs of same-gender couples will be brought up for a vote. Regardless of the particularities of the resources or the outcome of the vote--it is sure to be news in 2012.

As for all those matters you are not apt to read about in the New York Times, I will be posting about those in the coming days.