June 19, 2006

It’s one week down and one to go for The Episcopal Church (TEC – formerly ECUSA)’s General Convention in Columbus, OH, and what a first week it has been.

First, TEC has a new Presiding Bishop (the office heading up the entire TEC operation), and – surprise! it’s a she. The UK Telegraph sums up the news and the initial response:

The Bishop of Nevada, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is a leading liberal on homosexuality, is the first women primate in the history of Anglicanism. Her role as Presiding Bishop is the equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury [in the Church of England].

Her surprise election was greeted with whoops of joy by pro-women campaigners at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, where she was chosen by her fellow bishops in four hours of voting.

But conservatives predicted that she would lead the Episcopal Church further along its liberal path on issues such as homosexuality, and her election will dismay traditionalists opposed to women priests.

In those three little paragraphs, you have the basic story. This is a historic step for The Episcopal Church, but one that comes amidst increasing rancor and the possibility of open fracture with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Virtue Online’s Hans Ziegler summarizes the elation of the TEC’s liberal activist wing…

Radical Left-wing leaders in the Episcopal Church were elated by the news, likening it to the approval of women’s ordination in 1976 and the consecration of homosexual Bishop V. Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire three years ago.

“I hope you enjoy hearing the sound of another glass ceiling being shattered,” John Vanderstar of the Diocese of Washington told the House of Deputies.

Jefferts-Schori’s election is a victory for radical feminists in the Episcopal Church as well as the rapidly growing homosexual movement among Episcopalians.

Moments after Jefferts Schori’s election was announced to the House of Deputies, Virtue Online spoke with the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, the leading homosexual advocacy group in the Episcopal Church. “I’m thrilled,” said Russell. “I can’t think of a better Father’s Day present to the Communion than a woman primate. And the fact that it happens on the thirtieth anniversary of the ordination of women is a sign that God’s favor is with us.”

…while those from the Church’s embattled conservative wing see only difficult times ahead. Peter Toon, head of The Prayer Book Society, an organization seeking to keep alive the historical and liturgical traditions of Anglicanism, was quick to note:

As Presiding Bishop, Mrs. Jefferts Schori will have the task of being chief pastor of this mainline denomination, of commending and defending its teachings, especially its controversial ones in sexual ethics and ordination policies, and of initiating new mission and outreach in her Church. As she is enthusiastic about the innovations in progressive liberal religion of this Church, her domestic leadership will not be controversial, at least amongst the majority of Episcopalians. She is a very intelligent person and a good communicator and this will count for a lot in the USA.

Yet in representing the Episcopal Church to the Anglican provinces and their Primates overseas, at this time of crisis for the Communion, she will undoubtedly have a hard time, maybe an impossibly difficult time.

This prospect arises from two factors. First of all, she is an enthusiastic supporter of the consecration of Gene Robinson and of the blessing of same-sex couples, and is not apologetic about these things. In the second place, she is a woman whom the Episcopal Church has ordained deacon, priest and bishop and now elected as Chief Pastor, and there are still many provinces in the Anglican Communion, where a majority is opposed to the consecration of women as bishops, for they hold to the biblical doctrine of headship in family and church, and hold that only a man can be the icon of Christ at the altar.

I think Toon has it about right here. The word on the street is that Jefferts Schori is very articulate and smooth, and someone free of the huge amount of baggage accumulated by former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in his prior dealings with conservative bishops in the USA and his fellow Church Primates over the years. Nevertheless, the hard fact is that Jefferts Schori voted for the Robinson ordination and enthusiastically supports political efforts in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage.

Also, Toon is very correct in that there are large segments of the Anglican Communion that don’t even support women as clerics, let alone bishops (in regard to the latter, the Church of England is currently wrestling with this very issue). In fact, most of the fastest-growing churches in the Communion (in Africa and Asia) haven’t yet begun to even broach the issue. Here, Jefferts Schori has an opportunity to break important ground in the acceptance of women as ordained leaders in the Anglican Communion; however, her support of the Robinson ordination and other so-called “liberal” positions will make her task in this area a very difficult one to achieve, indeed.

One final note: I congratulate Jefferts Schori on her election as Presiding Bishop and, in doing so, the Convention for its wisdom in rejecting the candidacy of the Rt. Rev. Edwin “Ted” Gulick, Bishop of the Diocese of Kentucky. Having witnessed Gulick’s treatment of so-called “orthodox” priests and candidates for the priesthood in his diocese first-hand, how someone so arrogant and utterly lacking in integrity and compassion could have even been considered for Presiding Bishop was beyond me. Given the number of votes he received during the voting process, others, apparently, were of a like mind.

The other big news out of Convention’s first week is that the language of a key resolution to be voted on by TEC’s House of Bishops and House of Deputies (think: England’s Parliament in an American ecclesiastical setting) articulating TEC’s formal response to the Windsor Report. in response to the Windsor Report has been finalized.

(The Windsor Report, in short, was a document released in 2004 by a commission charged by the Anglican Communion’s titular head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to examine the challenges to Communion unity following TEC’s consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly-gay priest, as Bishop of New Hampshire, and to provide a framework by which Communion members could respond. Among other things, the Report seeks to have all the Churches in the Communion sign a “covenant” that would, in part, commit them to consulting the wider Communion whenever embarking on courses of action that could further threaten unity. It also urged those who had contributed to disunity (read:TEC) to express their regret.)

The final draft of the resolution going to the House of Deputies reads as follows:

“Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, mindful of ‘the repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ’ (The Windsor Report paragraph 134), express its regret for breaching the proper constraints of the bonds of affection in the events surrounding the General Convention of 2003 and the consequences that followed; offer its sincerest apology to those within the Anglican Communion who are offended by our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our church and other parts of the Communion; and ask forgiveness as we seek to live into deeper levels of communion one with another.”

Talk about “whistling pass the graveyard”. While obviously attempting to meet the most basic requirements recommended by the Windsor Report, it is obvious that, while a) apologizing to the Anglican Communion for allowing the Robinson consecration to cause great tension and threaten Anglican unity, and b) asking forgiveness from its fellow member Churches, it has no intention of reversing the Robinson consecration.

If this resolution is formally adopted by Convention, I believe the final course will be set for some kind of disciplinary action by the Communion’s Primates – perhaps even formal suspension from the Communion – in the very near future, perhaps as soon as next February, when the Communion’s Primates are next scheduled to meet.

That being said, I honestly don’t see what else TEC can do – they have painted themselves into a very small corner, and no matter what course of action they take, there would be severe repercussions. If it were to go the full extent of the Windor recommendations and not just apologize and ask forgiveness for the Robinson consecration, but in fact nullify it, it would alienate the powerful gay/lesbian activist faction of TEC; if it uses even weaker language than it already contains, disciplinary action on the part of the Anglican Primates would be certain. In this case, TEC has carefully articulated its only possible response, and will simply have to face the consequences down the line.

In both of these areas: the election of a female Presiding Bishop and the Windsor Report resolution, it is clear that The Episcopal Church is preparing itself for a future alone and apart from the Anglican Communion – a Church liturgically, historically, and informally linked to that worldwide body, but alienated and no longer a formal member of that body. What that would mean for TEC in both the near and long-term is anyone’s guess, but I guarantee it won’t be pretty.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 08:05 | Comments Off on General Convention Update
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