As an Episcopalian, I have a vested interest in what is going on in the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) and take great interest in the statement issued by the House of Bishops on September 25, 2007. This statement is the bishops’ response to a request by the Primates of the Anglican Communion who met in Tanzania back in February 2007. I am not necessarily concerned about the larger history but would like to actually look at and analyze what the bishops have said this week. The statement concerns itself with eight areas, four of which I will address in this post. They are:
1. We reconfirm 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.”
2. We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.
3. We commend our Presiding Bishop’s plan for episcopal visitors.
4. We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.
Statement 1 is, in some ways, actually encouraging to read. The bishops are recognizing that they are being restrained by the very canons of the ECUSA and their own General Convention from acting individually and unilaterally regarding the issue of ordaining homosexuals. Of course, they have already made one gay man a bishop and given that he will not step down in light of the canons and the General Convention then, in essence, the House of Bishops is saying, “For the moment, we will not ordain any additional gay or lesbian persons to the episcopate.” What they are not acknowledging is that homosexuality is a sin, rather, they are simply affirming that they will abide by their own guidelines. Of course, all they need to do is change the guidelines and they can then ordain gay and lesbians. It will be made more obvious below that the ECUSA is more interested in following its own manufactured rules than honoring the authority of the Bible. So while this first statement is encouraging, it continues to perpetuate and reveal the ECUSA’s agenda in this area.
Statement 2 is highly problematic. Though the bishops affirm that they will not authorize public rites for same-sex unions, they only claim to exercise this restraint “until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action.” In other words, we will keep waiting for all of the fundamental, small-minded provinces in the Anglican Communion who oppose same-sex unions to catch up with us enlightened, American Episcopalians. What the bishops keep missing is that there is already a broader consensus in the Communion which says that homosexuality is a sin and, therefore, anyone entering into a same-sex union is sinning. There is no need to wait, the broader Communion is speaking loudly that homosexuality is a sin. It’s time for the ECUSA House of Bishops to start listening! Further, this statement gives far too much allowance to the General Convention to authorize same-sex blessings and then all of the bishops will, by canon law, have to authorize these public rites. Again, what the bishops are saying is something like this: “We will wait to authorize liturgies for same-sex unions until the unenlightened crowed catches up or until we can get them approved by the General Convention. If the Convention approves them first, then who cares about the broader Communion. One way or another, we are, in time, going to approve public rites for same-sex unions. How can we do otherwise given the fact that one of us is living in a non-celibate gay union? Of course, we are going to veil all of this under the guise of ‘pastoral care,’ but we’re going to do it anyway.”
Statement 3 is in response to many conservative Episcopal parishes asking for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), that is, where a bishop other than their own can lawfully (i.e., be within canon law) come into a diocese other than his own and preside over liturgical functions. The Presiding Bishop has asked eight current bishops to be officially delegated bishops to perform this task. The point is this, “If you do not wish to be pastored by your own bishop (for whatever reason), then you can request one of these bishops to come and provide such pastoral care.” This is a good step forward and parishes should take advantage of this offer.
Finally, statement 4 brings us back to the liberal agenda of the ECUSA that is shared by the majority of her bishops. Since at least 2003 (when a gay man was made a bishop in New Hampshire) some parishes have invited non-ECUSA bishops to provide them with pastoral oversight. Often these churches are turning to African Anglican bishops and these bishops have not hesitated to honor this request. Unfortunately, such a step goes against ancient ecumenical councils (including Nicea), statements made by the Lambeth Conferences and the Windsor Report. This leads the ECUSA bishops to demand that this practice end because it goes against the canons and historic practice of the church. Again, the bishops are simply making an appeal to the man-made practices of the church and are missing the main point. These churches are saying, “Because of your liberal agenda and/or sexual orientation and/or your heterodox theology you are in no position to be my pastor. Please provide me with an orthodox pastor.” This is the message that the ECUSA bishops seem deaf to. When convenient they will adhere to the statements of the Anglican Communion, but when they disagree with the larger Communion then they pursue their own agenda. In my world, this is called duplicity. So, while putting forward eight ECUSA bishops to provide DEPO, the ECUSA bishops refuse to extend this right to bishops from another Anglican Communion. So much for ecumenism!