Monday, June 21, 2010

A Never-Ending, Circular Dialogue

[A dialogue. Two Episcopalians, Quincy and Alex, are exchanging views over their cups of coffee.]

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) has explained to us the constitutional framework within which the election and confirmation of a new bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) takes place. As Primates, it is not for us to pass judgement on the constitutional processes of another province. We recognise the sensitive balance between provincial autonomy and the expression of critical opinion by others on the internal actions of a province. Nevertheless, many Primates have pointed to the grave difficulties that this election has raised and will continue to raise. In most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop.

If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).
Q But all the Primates in the Communion have no authority over our Church. They cannot tell us what to do.

A They didn't try to tell us, as that excerpt just quoted says. They asked us not to go ahead with +Robinson's consecration.

Q All right, and we turned them down. If they can't compel us to do anything, what's wrong with that?

A But who is this "we" who turned them down?

Q The bishops who consecrated +Robinson -- and the ones who just consecrated +Glasspool.

A And are those bishops the whole Episcopal Church?

Q No, of course not.

A So what gave those particular bishops the right to turn down the unanimous request of all of the assembled Primates of the Anglican Communion?

Q They did it to demonstrate their solidarity with gays and lesbians. As our baptismal vow says, we are to "seek and serve Christ in all persons," and to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

A But I never took that vow. I was baptized long before 1979, and so were a number of the bishops who consecrated +Robinson and +Glasspool. And anyway, the vow is far too general to claim that it mandates one to "tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level." So I repeat my question: who authorized those bishops to turn down, in the name of the whole Episcopal Church, the unanimous request of the assembled Primates of the Anglican Communion -- a request signed, I might add, by our own Presiding Bishop at the time?

Q Well, as Presiding Bishop Griswold said, when he responded to the objections made at the ordination ceremony for Bishop Robinson by those who did not want the consecration to proceed, "We're learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level." I guess he meant the level at which the Primates said the Communion would tear.

A You just dodged my question -- and there's that "we" again. Just whom did +Griswold mean by "we", in your opinion?

Q The Episcopal Church.

A The whole Episcopal Church?

Q Yes.

A But not everyone in the Episcopal Church agreed with his decision to go ahead despite the objections of all of the other primates. In fact, don't you agree that the majority of Episcopalians probably would not have agreed to go forward if they had been told of the consequences that would ensue -- the depositions, the lawsuits, the millions of dollars wasted?

Q What makes you say that? How do you know it would have been a majority? Did you ever take a vote?

A That's my point. The bishops who consecrated +Robinson, and the ones who just consecrated +Glasspool, never asked anyone whether the consequences which have flowed from those actions would be acceptable, did they?

Q They didn't have to. The canons authorized the Presiding Bishop to perform the ordinations; if there were consequences from following the canons, then the ones who enacted the canons should have thought of that at the time. No doubt that is what the Presiding Bishop meant when he said that as a result of the consecration of +Robinson, the Episcopal Church would be "learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level" -- he accepted that there would be consequences.

A And who gave the Presiding Bishop the authority to decide that all Episcopalians should learn "to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level", and should accept whatever consequences should happen to flow from his act?

Q He was elected Presiding Bishop in accordance with our canons.

A Yes, I know that, but I cannot find in the descriptions or duties of his position the power to perform an act that results in most of the rest of the churches in the Communion declaring us "out of communion" with them.

Q He did it because, as he said, he was bound by his conscience.

A Granted -- but how does that give him the right to act out his conscience in the name of all the rest of us?

Q What do you mean?

A Consider the case of Martin Luther King, who also acted out of his conscience. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if he had said, "Out of my conscience, I am going to disobey what the City of Birmingham wants us to do under 'their' law. But I will let you also suffer the consequences of my act, because I am going to tell them that I am doing it in your name, with your authority. Then you can go to jail, too." The point is that civil disobedience is an individual, and not a collective, act. Individuals have to suffer and accept the consequences of their individual actions, otherwise there is no purpose to them. No one commits civil disobedience so that others may be punished for something they did not authorize, or ratify.

Q Well, under our canons, the Presiding Bishop is the one authorized to "take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly elected". So once their dioceses elected +Robinson and +Glasspool, and once a majority of diocesan bishops and the standing committees or Convention deputies approved their elections, they had to be consecrated.

A Are you saying that if our canons made horses eligible to be bishops, that a horse which was duly elected and confirmed would have to be ordained as a bishop in the Church -- regardless of what the rest of the Communion thought?

Q No, of course not. Now you're being ridiculous. A majority of the Church would never authorize a canon that allowed a horse to become a bishop.

A What makes you so sure? Is there any passage in Scripture which forbids making a horse a bishop? The supporters of +Robinson and +Glasspool argue, you see, that properly understood, there is no passage in Scripture which prevents the ordination of a same-sex partnered individual as a bishop. So why not a horse?

Q Our canons currently prohibit the denial to any person, on the grounds of sexual orientation or otherwise, of access to ordination to any of the orders in this Church. The operative word is "person," not "creature." So don't be ridiculous.

A But General Convention amended that canon in 1994 to add the words "sexual orientation". So what's to stop General Convention from adding other categories in the future?

Q Nothing, really. I agree that the powers of General Convention are unlimited. But we aren't there yet, and so I don't have to deal with it. It's enough that our canons say what they say, and that we followed them in electing both +Robinson and +Glasspool. If the rest of the Communion doesn't like it, that's their problem, not ours.

A Why is it just "their" problem? Isn't it a fact that neither +Robinson nor +Glasspool can be recognized as bishops in those provinces which disagreed with our action?

Q True, but that does not make them anything less than bishops. We (ECUSA) are a member church of the Anglican Communion, and so the bishops we elect and ordain are all Anglican bishops in the apostolic succession, regardless of what anyone else says.

A Is that really the case? We just saw an instance of where our Presiding Bishop was not allowed to function as a bishop in the Church of England, because it does not yet have authorization from Parliament to ordain women as bishops. So it is not correct to say that whoever ECUSA chooses to ordain as a bishop may function as a bishop throughout the Anglican Communion, is it?

Q No, but that does not mean we are not Anglican. Nobody has the power to tell me that I am not an Anglican, if I belong to the Episcopal Church.

A Well, if the supporters of +Robinson and +Glasspool want to be sure that whoever they ordain as a bishop will be recognized as a bishop, then why did they not split off and form their own church? What gave them the right to impose their vision on the majority of Episcopalians?

Q But any church that split off would not automatically be a member of the Anglican Communion -- look at ACNA. And you just said that the majority of provinces disagreed with us, so they obviously would not vote to admit the new church to the Communion.

A So as a member of ECUSA, you want to be a member of the Anglican Communion?

Q Absolutely, yes.

A But you don't want to accede to the request of all the other provinces not to ordain same-sex partnered individuals to be bishops, whom they cannot then recognize as bishops in the Communion?

Q What is wrong with ordaining same-sex-partnered persons as bishops of the Episcopal Church?

[Return to the beginning, and start again. Continue ad infinitem.]


  1. Brilliant and remarkably fair to the revisionist position.

  2. Great Dialogue! I have heard versions of this over the years- sigh. However, I am not convinced that many in the "Episcopagan" revisionist camp really care much about staying in the Anglican Communion.

    Why? When at lunch after church one Sunday, I stated that I had thought of myself as Anglican for close to couple of decades now. My statement was met with "Then LEAVE the Episcopal Church!" from a revisionist "Episcopagan Unitarian" in our parish, ACK! WHy should I have to leave because I want to be Anglican?? Does that mean being Episcopalian and Anglican are mutually exclusive ? I think it does to many on the left.

    SC Blu Cat Lady

  3. The progressives have been quick to suggest that less progressive folk leave the denomination, but the question that I cannot answer is why they want to stay in the Anglican Communion if there are entities that will allow gays to participate in the life of the church, e.g., Metropolitan Community Churches? None of the possible answers seem very uplifting. :-(

  4. Amazing that you were able to complete the dialogue without answering the original question with something about Bible.
    But, then, that would seem to make the entire conversation authentic.

  5. Alcoholics have a phrase that applies here: "Self will run riot".

  6. Ummm, since when can you discuss the Bible with an "Episcopagan Unitarian" revisionist? Discussing the Bible would mean that one of the parties was not truly an Episcopagan. SO i think The Curmudgeon was probably being faithful to what a revisionist would actually discuss.

    SC Blu Cat Lady

  7. Cat Lady,
    That's what I said. That is in fact what makes the curmudgeon's dialogue realistic. No bible references among two otherwise non-descript Episcopalians.

  8. It continues to amaze me that the statements of Primates or Bishops can be seen as reflecting the mind of the Communion, e.g. "The rest of the Anglican Communion begged us not to do it." Or this priceless quote: " don't want to accede to the request of all the other provinces not to ordain same-sex partnered individuals to be bishops." All the other provinces? Really!

  9. Sorry, Father Weir, you can't have it both ways. Either the Primates speak for their provinces, or they don't. Do you contend that ECUSA's Bishop Griswold was not speaking in the name of ECUSA when he said that he would go ahead with the ordination of +Robinson, despite the request by every other Primate in the Communion not to do so? If he was not, fine and dandy -- then +Griswold acted on his own.

    But if (as I believe you will say), he acted on ECUSA's behalf, as its elected Primate, then you must also accept that the rest of the Primates in October 2003 were acting on behalf of their provinces, as well.

  10. Mr. Haley,

    I agree that the Primates were expressing - as clearly as they could - the stand of their churches on the issue, even though it is unlikely that the synods of many of those churches had formally responded to the NH election. The PB, however, was reporting on the decision of TEC's synod. While the difference may be a minor, it is worth making as the PB was speaking on the basis of a formal decision of GC, which was not the case for some of the other Primates.

  11. With regard to the horse/person argument, if the question asked was whether a person who worshipped satan and made sacrifices should be consecrated I wonder what the response would have been. Such a person could certainly claim to be Anglican and who is to tell them they're not?

  12. Sorry, that was not my understanding. I gather we DO agree that any Bible discussion with an "Epicopagan" revisionist is not really possible. Got it.

  13. Cat lady,
    Right. The Curmudgeon knows this well. It is a problem on both sides of the aisle. On the one hand, although God knows this should be markedly improved by now in this season of upheaval, those who might be called "conservatives" (but not as a matter of Faith, if you get my drift) do not know their bible well enough to engage a discussion making use of scripture. And on the other hand the "Episcopagans" (as you called them) probably also do not know their bible well enough -- but know enough not to bring it into discussion!
    And those revisionists who DO know their bible will simply choose to avoid it, seemingly at all cost - even to their souls' wholeness.

  14. I would suggest that are many revisionists who know the Bible quite well and have come to their convictions on the basis of serious sudy of Scripture.

  15. Daniel+,
    Episcopagans as a term was not defined, not by me, anyway, although I used it. However, as a group of Episcopalians, so called, who really don't know their faith - and so pagan - you haven't added anything to the argument by your contrary comment.
    I think the one who "coined" the term would suggest that a revisionist - as YOU inserted the term, not me - actually does know at least some of their bible and has chosen to reject portions of it, or at least "revise" parts of it as it is written.
    Contrary? Well, not completely, I suppose. While you attempted to defend what you called "revisionist", you failed to be contrary in balance and defend what I called the "conservatives" and their own biblical illiteracy by "suggesting", as you could have included, that there are many who do know their bible, too.
    The point, Daniel, is that the biblical teaching is extremely clear, and yet that is not where the argument goes, as the Curmudgeon has illustrated.

    Perhaps spend a little more time holding the thin line rather than pulling it to one side.....

    I know you have retirement coming up quickly, but, c'mon.
    And congratulations.

  16. I agree with Rob Eaton that there are conservatives/traditionalists and liberals/revisionists who are biblically literate and those who are not. The circular dialog that Mr. Haley has crafted - wonderfully - may well reflect the nature of much of the discussion on this important issue, but it does not reflect the thoughtful discussion of the biblically literate on both/all sides. Very little of that is conducted on blogs like this, where far too many of the responses to thoughful post by blog owners are merely "zingers."