I alluded in my last post to some of the highs and lows of the recent session of General Convention, for the most part in the non-legislative portion. I’d like in this post to expand on a few others, as well as to share some thoughts about what went on in the legislative sessions.
A delicate dance of symbols
A great deal has already been said about the import and impact of D025, and whether it repeals, rescinds, rebuffs, or in any other way changes the status of the church regarding 2006-B033.
Much of what you think of D025 will hinge on what you think of B033. In my opinion the earlier legislation did not enact a du jure moratorium on openly partnered gay/lesbian bishops but it had a de facto effect in that direction. Clearly the operative concept in B033 was urging restraint. It was persuasive rather than prescriptive. How much such urging or persuasion was really needed, in light of the awareness many bishops and standing committees have of the ill regard in which some in the rest of the Anglican Communion hold us, is the operative question.
I think it fair to examine that question in some detail: How likely has it been since 2006, or is it now, that an openly gay or lesbian bishop could have been or is likely to be elected any time in the near future? To posit an answer to that question, I want to simply state a few things I believe to be true (not that I wish them to be true) as premises for or evidence in to coming to a conclusion.
- Gene Robinson’s successful candidacy and election was based in large part on the role he had played in New Hampshire for many years preceding it, and the high regard in which he was held by the people of that diocese, and in the wider church. He was not elected because he is gay, but in spite it. Although his election seemed to be a clear statement that one’s “manner of life” need not prohibit one from being called and chosen as a bishop, the affirmation in that action was not of Gene’s private (but acknowledged) life, but of his manifest public (though personal) gifts. Which, of course, is how it should be.
- Most dioceses do not, it seems, elect bishops “from within” or at least not immediately from within—that is, a person from a diocese may be elected after a sojourn in another parochial or seminary setting in another diocese. This is a general impression; I’ve not done a statistical examination in detail, but it seems to be the case.
- Many dioceses appear to put together slates of nominees on the “full menu” model—as a hat tip to diversity, in the full knowledge that a gay or lesbian candidate may be more a symbol of a diocese’s progressivism than a choice earnestly desired. Much as some might want to deny it, tokenism is alive and well. It actually does serve a positive purpose in indicating which dioceses may be more welcoming to such candidates in parochial settings as well as the episcopal seat.
- Minority candidates of whatever flavor appear to fare better in suffragan elections than in diocesan. There may be a stained-glass ceiling.
- There is still considerable reluctance among many bishops to rock the Anglican boat, even among moderate progressives. An examination of the signatories to the “Anaheim Statement” reveals a few bishops anxious to hoist such a pennant.
All in all, these premises lead me to believe that the election of an openly gay/lesbian bishop as a diocesan is probably unlikely in the next decade. A suffragan may be more likely, but even there, I doubt within the next triennium. There will be the occasional candidate, but I don’t foresee an election any time soon.
Of course, I could be wrong.
The sum of all this is to say that B033 was not really a necessary action, in spite of the earnest appeals for its passage. What was needed, it seems, was something like Mr. Chamberlain’s piece of paper, though in this case—and opposite to the Munich Accord— with a reality to back it up. A de facto moratorium already exists, simply due to the tenor of the church, then as now. So the difference with D025 to B033 lies not in the actual election of bishops, but in the willingness or unwillingness to make statement in support of or opposition to an idea.
What has changed with D025? Not a withdrawal of a legal prohibition, but a change in attitude. Restraint no longer needs to be “urged” because the natural (and unnatural) restraints already in place will likely be effective in mitigating against the election of an openly gay or lesbian person as a bishop.
Still, D025 is a step forward, even if also as largely symbolic as B033. It indicates that a door that for the last few years has been closed is at least now ajar, even if no one will swing it open and pass through within the near future.
The marriage of true minds
Resolution C056 on same-sex blessings was similarly a small step forward, though greeted with much consternation in some circles. One of the low points for me in this Convention was hearing a conservative deputy for whom I have a good deal of respect and affection (and with whom I share a number of views on other matters) declare that the passage of this resolution covered us with shame. The folks at Fulcrum have nit-picked the resolution and held it up as a complete repudiation of the various utterances of Windsor and the Primates. I will not enter into that particular logomachia, but it seems to me that C056 does little more than call for liturgical and theological study and provision of pastoral care—both of which appear to me to be within the ambit of the original Lambeth 1.10, though clearly pressing that envelope to its utter limit.
The most ironic position from the conservatives was summed up by one deputy who repeated the tiresome, “We haven’t done the theological work” argument. How odd then to speak against a resolution that calls for doing more theological work! That this involves liturgy is inherent in the issue at hand, which is about marriage and blessing—very odd it would be indeed if liturgies were not to be collected, developed, and studied, as this is how liturgical theology works. As to the range of generosity in the pastoral response—particularly in places where the civil law is already doing its part of the work—it appears that it will stop short of Windsor’s Rubicon: the authorization of public rites. It is a well established principle that only the General Convention can “authorize” rites, even though Bishops have the rubrical permission to “set forth” novel liturgies, explained in the Constitution as the capacity to “take order...for the use” of such special forms. Bishops will, I trust, be careful to make clear that this is what they are doing when they provide “generous pastoral responses.”
So, again, this is not revolutionary but evolutionary change. And most of the opposition comes precisely for that reason, as anyone with eyes to see can perceive where the trend will lead, sooner or later. The rearguard actions of many in the Anglican Communion will not in the long run be successful. While I know of many who once held traditional views on such issues, who later came to a more progressive position, I don’t know of anyone who has gone the other way. (Those who think Rowan Williams is an example of the latter don’t take account of his reasons, which have to do with his prevailing, and some might say Quixotic, desire to hold the communion together, and a hierarchy of values in which unity is dominant. I will say more on this, and my conversation with him, in a separate post.) In short, the process is not only evolutionary, but osmotic. Like the arrow of time, it goes only one way. As with almost all controversies with which the church has been embroiled, the “Traditionalist” (not traditional) position eventually fades away, or hardens into a sectarian nub. The circumcision parties of any age have their day, but eventually the church moves on, leaving behind those who have married the spirit of a former age instead of moving with the Spirit of Christ in whom novelty and creativity are the active principles.
Points of Personal Privilege
I was startled early in the Convention when I heard myself quoted on the floor by a young deputy from Massachusetts. The topic was the decision of the legislative committee on Prayer Book and liturgy to amend the reference to John Henry Newman in the now widely expanded calendar of commemorations from “Bishop” to “Priest.” He took this as an insult and cited my earlier post concerning Fr Avery Dulles of Fordham University having been created a cardinal, and my whimsical but heartfelt desire to congratulate a “parishioner”—Fordham University lying within my parish bounds. I was so startled at hearing my name come over the sound system in that cavernous hall that it took me a moment to make the connection. Did the deputy think the proper title should have been Cardinal? Like Avery Dulles, Newman was a Cardinal Priest, so honored for his theological work. [Correction, thanks to Scott Gunn: Newman and Dulles were both Cardinal Deacons. The Cardinal part of their designation has nothing to do with their Ordinal status ;-) But in any case, neither were bishops.] The motion to overturn the amendment failed.
I only spoke once on the floor of the Convention, on the last day, to offer a point of order on a second reading of a Constitutional amendment which ought to have been approved in a vote by orders but received only a simple majority. (I tried to get to the microphone as fast as I could, but was too late to stop the voice ballot.) The President graciously accepted my correction, and the matter was reconsidered and voted on properly. Now our Constitution officially provides that when TEC enters into a full communion Covenant or Concordat we will not have to amend the Constitution each time we do so. Thus the Moravian concord approved at this Convention will not require further constitutional tinkering.
Further reflections anon.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG