Saturday, March 24, 2007

Response to +Rio Grande

I was pointed today to an article entitled "TEC a defacto Integrity organization" attributed* to Jeffrey Steenson (Bishop of Rio Grande) originally posted over on Anglican Mainstream. (Note: There seems to be some debate about whether Bishop Steenson actually wrote the piece or not but [a] that's how it's attributed on Anglican Mainstream and [b] the authorship is less important that the content.)

Several points in the article beg clarification – so since I've got a few minutes this afternoon between today's Diocesan Ministry Fair and tonight's HRC Gala here goes:

Point One:

I believe the vast numbers of lay people in this and every other diocese love their parish church and are not interested in alternate structures or in joining marginal groups. They probably won’t want their congregations to take out parish memberships in Integrity for the same reason they won’t want their diocese to take out a membership in the Network.

Clarification One:

Integrity is not an "alternate structure" nor is it a "marginal group." Integrity is an advocacy organization whose membership includes LGBT Episcopalians and their straight allies and which has been working for over thirty years within the doctrine, discipline and polity of the Episcopal Church for the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ.

I haven't the faintest idea what "Integrity compliant" means – unless it refers to compliance with the canons on ordination that have since 1994 specified sexual orientation in their non-discrimination criteria. If that's the case then are dioceses in compliance with the canons regarding the ordination of women deemed "Episcopal Women's Caucus compliant"?

There is a huge difference between advocating for compliance with existing national canons of the Episcopal Church (which Integrity most certainly does) and advocating alternative structures of governance in order to circumvent them (which is a Network modus operandi.) To compare the two is not only "apples and oranges" – it perpetuates a false dichotomy that is particularly unhelpful as we work to move beyond this current climate of polarization.

Point Two:

I do not hear or read anyone from Integrity or the Episcopal Majority acknowledging this problem for real full inclusion and arguing for a safe space for remaining conservatives.

Clarification Two:

I can't speak for "Episcopal Majority" but with all due respect, the good bishop appears to be neither listening to nor reading what Integrity is and has been saying in this regard for lo these many years now.

Last September I wrote the following in a piece entitled "The Fiction of the Fringe": It is so very clear to me ... that we must redouble our efforts in these perilous-to-the-church-we-love-times to expose the false construct that seems to be dominating the discourse du jour: that somehow the mission and ministry of the church is being held hostage by a Battle Royal between (for lack of better stereotypical language) its liberal and conservative fringes. That both "sides" are insisting on their way-or-the-highway and there is no hope or interest in compromise, cooperation or reconciliation.

It makes a great story but like many great stories it falls into the fiction category: the fiction of the fringe. The truth is we -- those of us committed to the full inclusion of all the baptized into the Body of Christ -- remain committed to unity and to justice, to doctrine and discipline, to faith and order, to word and sacrament.

And we remain committed to finding a way forward. Toward that end, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest "Finding A Way Forward" -- the words of our brother, Michael Hopkins (circa 2002). Remember them, recall them and recount them the next time the "fiction of the fringe" rears its ugly head. And pray for the union of this church -- this communion: that it might find its way back to this Lambeth 1920 commitment to a unity that preserves integrity: "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one anothers consciences." (Resolution 9:VIII)

Read Michael's "Finding A Way Forward" in its entirety here …but here's the "take away":
Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.

First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to threaten these outcomes.

Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each others efforts on that level.

Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion. You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.

This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Churchs moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church.

We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.


Anonymous said...

I may be misreading TEC as I live so very far away from you, but from your blog I understand that the canons of TEC forbid discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation ( as well as race and gender etc). At some stage in the future TEC might be expected to formally adopt SSBs or remove the gender reference from its canon on holy matrimony. In the second case that would place gay marriage as distinct from blessings in your BCP would it not?
In his original paper Michael Hopkins was addressing the question of adding a service to what I believe is your "Alternative serice Book" which simply makes a service available for a local church to adopt. But ISTM that the change is likely to be made to your BCP. That changes the balance of Michael's argument somewhat.
As the momentum in TEC towards Integrity's point of view has increased the likelihood of the generous amount of space that Hopkin's proposal would have left for dissidents has lessened it seems to me.
When/if a change to the BCP occurs, ISTM that a Episcopalian minister who wishes to follow the canons of TEC as his or her ordination vows suggest they should would find it difficult not to marry or bless gay couple in the absense of any factor which might otherwise disqualify them.
That is unless there is a consience clause that allows the minister not to marry or bless a gay couple on the basis of conscience.
I am not sure that Integrity would propose such a consience clause, perhaps you could clarify that.
There might be a "don't ask don't tell option" where a minister doesnt make clear the grounds for not marrying/blessing someone, but I am not sure you would be in favour of that either, if it served to hide discrimination against gays. But I don't wish to put words into your mouth, or Integrity's.
I am certain that Michael Hopkins was absolutely sincere when he wrote "We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible."
The difficulty is that I am not sure anyone has found that way yet. - or that "as much as" means less than we might have hoped.

Anonymous said...

I think this is what I call the pharmacist model. Obadiah may not run into this in the civilized nation of Australia, but here in the US, fundy pharmacists who are uncomfortable with dispensing birth control to single women (one wonders how they know) or "morning after" pills etc have some limited ability not to do so.

This isnot a problem in urban areas, where another pharmacist is not far away., but is an issue in rural places where alternatives may be 200 miles apart.

yet, it seems to me that if the "big tent" model of Episcopalianism is to endure, it needs the pharmacist strategy. At the least, however, this will requiresay, Fr Matthew to tell a gay couple that he can't help them but Fr Albin's parish up the road might.

As in the pharmacist conundrum, of course, if Fr Matt feels that by simply TELLING said gay couple that there is an option is a sin, it won't work.

But isn't that the challenge of a pastoral role? It seems so many of these arguments are about people in the abstract, and not boots-on-the ground.


David@Montreal said...

Thank-you Susan+ for your clear thinking and articulate response to Michael, and for reiterating our 'larger picture' understanding of what's going on in the Communion right now.
One day even the conservatives will realized just what a wndrous though difficult gift this period of Church history is towards us all living larger, more Christ-dynamic lives of faith together.
And that day can't come soon enough!

Rory said...

Thanks for noting that the author attribution of the piece on Anglican Mainstream is debateable. Otherwise i may have thought i was going wacko!

It is definitely an excerpt of an ongoing discussion thread from the Diocese of the Rio Grande elist. The thread started on 3/22, since at that point we in the DRG had not received any response from +Jeffrey about the HoB meeting.

Someone has lifted out a portion of the discussion and for some reason the Anglican Majority has posted it under +Jeffrey's name. It's a patchwork of paragraphs authored by different people. i've gone back through the thread to verify this.

Authorship issues aside, i'm glad to read your commentary! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Well, it doesn't matter, because I have swum the Tiber, and am being confirmed in the RCC this very Easter.

You won. I'm gone, and won't be bothering you anymore.

Marshall Scott said...


Canon 1.18.4: "It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize any marriage." Since there are no qualifications of that, even a change in the Prayer Book by itself would not impose participation in the marriage or blessing of a GLBT couple.

Moreover, the canons at this point specify "Holy Matrimony" as a "union between husband and wife" (1.18.3.e), and require compliance with the laws of the State (as in province, as this is not addressed in federal law). Now, changes are happening in some states; but a person who does not want to bless a GLBT couple has plenty of ground now to decline to participate. And although many of us would like to have means to bless such couples (including me), I don't know how quickly the language of canons might be changed in practice.