Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nuanced Bishops’ statement speaks to several audiences

When the House of Bishops gathered in New Orleans September 20-25 it was faced with some challenging questions. How, with integrity, could it address the concerns of a significant part of the Anglican Communion’s Primates while also maintaining a forward direction toward the Baptismal Covenant’s vision of full inclusion? And how could it do these things while also acknowledging that “bishops alone do not a Church make”?

The varied responses to the product of our bishops’ deliberations suggests that middle ground is often also a “no-mans’ land” surrounded by minefields, and some of those mines produced spectacular verbal explosions from both sides of the divide in the days immediately following their meeting.

However, understanding why the bishops said what they did requires recognizing both who their target audiences were and what parts of the Statement were addressed to which audiences.

The address was voiced for at least four audiences; 1). the Anglican Communion’s Primates, 2). Conservatives, 3). Progressives (including gays and lesbians), and 4). every baptized person in The Episcopal Church.

To the Primates – the primary audience – our bishops said: “yes, we confirm that there is a moratorium is in place on gay bishops; and, no, we won’t officially authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex unions.” But they also made it clear by their comments that Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is a bishop-in-good-standing of the Episcopal Church, that individual bishops can continue a policy of non-interference with regard to the blessing of same sex unions locally, and (most importantly) that the Primates should not be fooled into thinking that there is some sort of theological retreat from full inclusion in the Episcopal Church. Our bishops made it crystal clear directly to the Primates that gays and lesbians are full and equal members of the Episcopal Church. Our bishops also reiterated their rejection of the “pastoral scheme” for alternative oversight proposed by the Primates at their February 2007 Dar es Salaam meeting, offering an all but unanimous alternative.

To Conservatives our bishops said: “yes, we value our membership in the Anglican Communion and we hear your concerns that making our Anglican theological continuity clear and acting with caution and consultation are important values”.

To Progressives, including Gays and Lesbians our Bishops said: “Remember this is a response to the Primates – see what we said to them about ‘full and equal.’” It is very important to understand that the words regarding full inclusion were targeted at the Primates of our Communion and not gays and lesbians – if this were otherwise then the statement would indeed be contradictory. Our bishops were clear that they are not backing down on the journey to full inclusion.

To The Baptized: Our bishops said “we are very conscious that we are only a part of the Baptized, and that only General Convention represents the fullness of the Body of Christ as our Church understands it”. Consequently our bishops rested heavily on General Convention resolution B033 as the official G.C. standard in place between Conventions. It will be up to the 2009 General Convention, gathered in Anaheim, to go beyond B033.

If there is to be a split in the Anglican Communion the blame can no longer be laid at the feet of our province.

The statement from this House of Bishop’s meeting was not as clear-cut as that from the March meeting. In its expansiveness and near-unanimity, however, it is a remarkable document. Whether we like all of it or not we should still thank our episocopal brothers and sisters for their hard and diligent work on our behalf, not the least because they continue to emphasize the importance of our common journey toward the full inclusion of all people into Christ’s body.

© 2007 Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton