Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sneaky Bishops

Episcopal Bishops Want to Leave Gays in a "Crucifed Place" through 2011

Several other bloggers have posted this news. The House of Bishops Theology Committee has appointed a super-secret panel to study same-sex relationships, and they have refused to release the names of the members of that panel.

Never mind that we in the Episcopal Church have been studying same-sex relationships for thirty years. All of a sudden, the House of Bishops feels a need to appoint a secret panel to consider the topic.

Episcopal Café has the story here, with a follow-up here.

Mark Harris writes thoughtfully here.

From across the pond, Thinking Anglicans gathers the news.

Those who follow our church’s goings-on will remember that many resolutions have been submitted for consideration at the GC09 convention. Many dioceses have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of B033. Many have passed resolutions calling for us to move on to develop liturgies for blessings of same-sex unions and/or marriages. You can find a summary of those resolutions here. After Katharine Jefferts Schori steam-rolled the House of Deputies into the invidious B033 at the 2006 General Convention, many dioceses have said “Enough!” and called for action at GC09. Even my conservative/moderate diocese called for movement forward.

Now, it appears to me, the Bishops have found a slimy, unilateral way to slow or kill the whole process. They have appointed a secret group – apparently only accountable to the Bishops – to “study the issue,” asking that their report be released in 2011. Get it? The Bishops have systematically [sneakily?] put the episcopal focus on a report that will not be released until long after this summer’s General Convention.

I think this is sneaky and manipulative. It makes me livid. They did this unilaterally. Did they consult with any clergy or laypeople? Not that I can see. Did they run this past our Executive Council? Not that I can see. It looks like they donned their purple shirts and mitres and found a way to disenfranchise every other person in the Episcopal Church. They have it in their power. The way our church is structured, the House of Bishops can veto anything proposed or passed by the clergy and laypeople in the House of Deputies.

We have something over 150 bishops. They can block any legislative action that the other million-plus clergy and laypeople in the Episcopal Church might want to take. They have it in their power, according to our constitution and canons.

I fear this signals that the Bishops will stonewall any progress that the clergy and laypeople in the House of Deputies might want to take in our General Convention this summer. It cannot be an accident that they asked their super-secret panel to report back in 2011. They want the power to block this issue in 2009. Why? Because they have bowed down to the idol of the Windsor Report? I don't know.

The bishops did this for a long time in the 1970s. They blocked and blocked and blocked the House of Deputies’ will that women be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. It looks to me like they are conspiring to do exactly the same thing to gay and lesbian people at GC2009. And they have the power to do it. Either house can block the actions of the other house’s action.

Much has been written in the blogosphere in the past couple of days. Many bloggers share my anger and frustration.

Finally, Bishop Parsley, Chair of Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, has made a comment to defend the Bishops’ action. In my view, his statement is weak, dismissive, and disgustingly paternalistic. [You may recall he voted against consent to Bishop Robinson and enthusiastically supported B033. We all know where he is coming from.]

Here is the comment I posted at the Episcopal Café:

Exercising all the restraint I can, the best I can say about Bishop Parsley’s response is that it is paternalistic in the extreme. What I read is “Hush, now. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about this. We were just kidding in the 1979 BCP when we said that the first order of ministry is that of all the baptized. There are some things you just cannot understand.”

I also recall the statement on our church’s website that claims the Episcopal Church exercises “transparent governance.” So much for that.

But to my main points. I have two.

About 3 years ago, when I was newly elected to the vestry, our priest of 34 years announced his resignation, and it fell to us to appoint a search committee. We knew that emotions might run high, as most of our parishioners would feel a stake in the outcome and would have very strong opinions about what they did and did not want to see in our next rector. By the logic of Bishop Parsley’s statement, the vestry should have kept the names of the search committee members secret so that they could deliberate appropriately. Have any of you kept secret the names of your search committees? Of course, that’s bull-hockey. As is Bishop Parsley's rationale.

And my second point: The Bishops have unilaterally chosen to delay this report until 2011. After three decades of serious study and discussion, the Bishops have carefully put this report off until the 2012 General Convention. Personally, this infuriates me. Much work has been done. Tobias Haller’s recent book is a major contribution to the theological discussion. My hermeneutic of suspicion has kicked in. I fear the Bishops have been lulled into Rowan’s miasma. As I see it, this is a “shot across the bow” to the House of Deputies. I read here that the Bishops will stonewall any forward movement at GC09; they will claim that they just cannot act until they hear from their super-secret panel. I see this as a very deliberate and unfortunate (if not nefarious) move.

As to the composition of the committee. I really wouldn’t care who was on the committee as long as I knew that someone of the status of Bishop Gene Robinson or Brother Tobias Haller were on that super-secret panel. No matter what conservatives were on the panel, I would rest easier if I knew either of these were present.

Secondary points:

I believe the Bishop's choice of panel members will tell us a great deal.

As Bill Carroll put it, this is at best a huge “tactical mistake” by the House of Bishops. Only time will tell whether or what kind of other mistake(s) it may be.

Like so many others, I find it hilarious that this super-secret panel is going to deliberate in the closet. That is just too funny for words!


If you are angry and moved to action, you can find the names and e-mail addresses of the the Bishops Theology Committe here.

Postscript: Read the timeline here of the Bishops' supposed studies. The bishops have pulled this delaying stunt time and time and time again.

Another postscript: To my vast, amazed astonishment, ENS has actually posted a news story about this. News from ENS? -- that doesn't sound like Pravda? Alert the media. But, seriously, ENS has a good summary story here.

Yet another postscript: Be sure to check Susan Russell's blog for historical perspective and a sense of deja vu all over again.

20 Comments:

Blogger Laura Toepfer said...

Yes, this is absolutely crazy behavior. What more do they think they are going to learn/discuss/exegete that hasn't already been done?

But the other thing that seems crazy about this is that they are willing to piss off all of the clergy and all of the laypeople in the Episcopal church, both liberal and conservative, in order to please whom, exactly?

What on earth is this supposed to accomplish? To delay rescinding B033? Why? Is the rest of the Anglican Communion going to be pleased with us? Because that's worked so well before, you know, when we tried to make the rest of the AC happy.

The only thing I can think is that there is a closeted bishop or two on the committee that they don't want exposed. Which doesn't make sense either, but that's what comes to my mind. Not that any of this makes sense.

Crazy.

6/03/2009 11:13 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Good questions, Laura. And exactly the sorts of questions I have been pondering.

Why in the world would they do this? Who are they shielding? What are they trying to accomplish?

Their fierce insistence on secrecy forces one to ask these questions. If they had been open and honest, we probably wouldn't be asking.

6/03/2009 11:36 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

I wonder how long this "season" would last if we figured up the percentage of gay people in TEC and deducted that figure from the bishops' salaries, living expenses and travel expenses - especially to go pacify a bunch of godless homophobes?

Maybe someone could find out where this secret committee is meeting and seal them in with armed guards around them and only bread and water until they come to some "findings?" Wonder how long the "season" would last then.

The reason this "season" is lasting so long is that our leaders lose nothing and gain everything by crucifying us.

6/03/2009 11:58 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I can't support the withholding of money, Mark.

But I am (wickedly) fond of your notion of sealing them in with break and water. I bet they could finsh their work well before 2011!

[snark]Better yet, would be to "out" those supposedly straight bishops who, in fact, engage in homosexual relationships. Some of them have earned Rolls Royces for their discretion. Ain't that sweet? Godly models indeed. [/snark off]

6/04/2009 12:08 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I tried to post this comment at Episcopal Cafe, but I can seldom jump through their software hurdles.

I wanted to comment here: Bishop Parsley has made a name for himself -- almost as good a name as +Akinola. He has no queers in his diocese. He sees no place for us in Christianity. What a warm glow of comfort I get, knowing that he is the Chair of the Bishop's Theology Committee, he is the one who has appointed the "balanced" panel to study what TEC will do with its current pariahs.

Friends, I speak often and positively of TEC around my place. But junk like this makes it harder and harder for me to admit to being an Episcopalian.

6/04/2009 1:58 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I agree - this is an unwelcome development. But it brings the reality of existing in an episcopalian (lower case intentional) polity into sharp relief.

I live in Australia, and there's no gloss on it here: bishops rule the roost. How each individual bishop chooses to exercise his or her power is up to them, but they hold the reins.

Even in the US, even when you have a veneer of democracy, you don't have the real thing. Your bishops are the ones who are invested with the authority and power. It is simply reality. That is what episcopalian polity means. No matter how it is dressed up ('servant of the servants of God'), they are the ones who can call the shots.

As I grow older and pray more, I begin to doubt, more and more, the 'shape' of our churches. I live in the Anglican Church of Australia, in a diocese which might be considered to be 'broad'. But even here, even with an enlightened bishop (which we have), we are bound to a structure that I think is not really intrinsic to the notion of church as body of Christ. I don't think we need bishops. I don't think we need priests. I don't think we need deacons. I think we need people who perform those ministries, but once you start to institutionalise it you get into trouble.

So much for dreaming. I just wanted to say that I agree, it is awful, but it just demonstrates the reality of the situation.

By the way - in Australia there is precious little listening, and no real theological consideration even in secret. We're expected to be quiet and grateful we're allowed in (though I have to say my bishop, and the primate are exceptions to that, and are very welcoming). We're dissected and discussed without any attempt at including us in the forensic analysis of who we are.

Surely none of this is of God.

6/04/2009 2:29 AM  
Blogger SCG said...

I am furious, and I am hurt. This is like the scene in the Wizard of Oz when our heroes have melted the witch, and are expecting the Wizard to keep the promise of sending them home. The Wizard responds... "Not so fast, not so fast. I have to give the matter a little thought. Go away and come back tomorrow!"
I have come back. And tomorrow is now today. Quit treating me like I'm a specimen in a petri dish.

6/04/2009 6:38 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Bishop White's original vision for the church he helped found was a unicameral legislature. He was right, the HOB is a mistake.

FWIW
jimB

6/04/2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger IT said...

Am I the only one who feels like we're on "double secret probation"?

6/04/2009 9:52 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Dear friends, I am sorry I have not been able to respond to your comments today. I have a "day job," and I cannot -- dare not -- be on the blog from my workplace. Then I went to dinner this evening with a dear friend. Now I'm back on the blog.

6/05/2009 12:37 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Colin, about your comments at 2:29 a.m. --

I am not ready to give up on the office of the bishop. I am blessed with a good bishop. But you are right: When they exercise their power unilaterally or "from above," that is infuriating.

This action by Parsley makes me realize you are correct: We only have a veneer of democracy. We do not have true parity. The 100-something can veto the will of the 2 million Episcopalians in our church. I'm working on a thought about what we can do to "fight back." Stay tuned.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, Colin. But I'm not ready to dismiss the ordained ministries. I have been blessed to know very fine, godly bishops, priests, and deacons.

6/05/2009 12:42 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

SCG, I am with you all the way. Everything you said -- especially the fact that I am NOT a specimen in a petri dish.

But I think that's exactly how Bishop Parsley views us. May God have mercy on him ... 'cause I'm not inclined to have much.

6/05/2009 12:44 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I hadn't heard that, Jim. How would a unicameral legislature/synod work?

6/05/2009 12:45 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

No, IT. You are not. Not by a long shot.

6/05/2009 12:46 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

Hi Lisa

Thanks for your reply. I am distrustful of institutions, and I think we need to draw a sharp distinction between the institution (in my case the Anglican Church of Australia) and the church. They overlap, but are not the same. I don't think ascribing institutional roles to people is healthy or in accord with Jesus' pattern for the church. I agree with your sentiment about godly bishops, priests and deacons - there are surely many of them, but do we need this structure, this rigidity?

The projection of 2nd, 3rd and 4th century roles onto bishops, priests and deacons is in my view most unhelpful, as is the way we organise 'church' which comes mostly from the middle ages.

I think we need a complete rethink, need to listen to the Holy Spirit, and be prepared to do some radical and perhaps counter cultural things.

For myself, being part of an institution that causes such hurt and pain (the catastrophe in the Republic of Ireland is an example) is fast becoming a non-option.

Colin

6/05/2009 12:49 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Colin, I am not a theologian, nor am I ordained. I'm just an ordinary layperson.

I am not willing to give up the ordination and consecration of clery.

But your remarks remind me of a comment I have often heard: "Jesus did not come to earth to establish a religion." I will agree with you that much of what the church does is evil, cowardly, small-spirited. He came to declare that the Kingdom of God is not just at hand, but is here with us. I am guilty of not living that reality each day. I can't blame the bishops for that.

6/06/2009 10:47 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

"I wanted to comment here: Bishop Parsley has made a name for himself -- almost as good a name as +Akinola. He has no queers in his diocese. He sees no place for us in Christianity. What a warm glow of comfort I get, knowing that he is the Chair of the Bishop's Theology Committee, he is the one who has appointed the "balanced" panel to study what TEC will do with its current pariahs."

Hi. I only occasionally wander across your blog among all the Anglican/Episcopal ones out there, so before I comment I wanted to say I know I might be missing subtext and history that a constant reader of your blog would catch. So if I misread you, forgive me.

But I think you are being unfair about Bishop Parsley. Not about the issue at hand, I agree that the secrecy and all that was probably a bad idea (though I don't think there was nefarious intent,) but about him as a person. I've been spittin' mad at him for certain decisions. But I've also known him to be a caring man, dedicated to trying to lead as best as he can. I think to compare him to Akinola is a long stretch and to say he sees no place for GLBTs in Christianity is just plain wrong. Depending on how exactly you mean "He has no queers in his diocese," this could be wrong as well. There are GLBT folks active in parish and diocesan ministry- and I'm not saying it's perfect in inclusion and welcoming and the like and that we don’t have plenty more work to do here, and I'm not saying bishops shouldn't be criticized and engaged for their actions and words that we disagree with- but I just wanted to say it isn't quite as black and white down here in DioAla and Bishop Parsley isn’t as simplistic as throwing around comparisons to Akinola suggest you might think. In my opinion, anyways.

Thanks for listening,

Peace,

Jonathan Chesney

7/05/2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for dropping in, Jonathan. I appreciate your perspetive.

We are agreed that Bishop Parsley handled the super-duper-secret Theology Committee badly. You say it was not nefarious on his part. I say this was the first "secret" committee in a very, very, very long history of the Episcopal Church. How could a Bishop of our Church not have realized that?? And why would he have violated a long-standing tradition of "openness and transparency" in our church? What the heck was he thinking? If it wasn't nefarious, was it just bone-headed? Or what?

I'll take to heart you remarks if I have criticized Bishop Parsley as a person. I hope I have only criticized his actions.

Alas, Jonathan, I have known all to many men who come across as "caring" and "dedicated," who still deal death to those in their cure. "By their fruits you shall know them." I hope he has been a good pastor to you. But the fruits he has given to the Episcopal Church are rotten ones -- at least in his secret attempt to do theology.

You wrote: "I think to compare him to Akinola is a long stretch ..."
I think you're right, and my rhetoric got the best of me.

You wrote: ... and to say he sees no place for GLBTs in Christianity is just plain wrong. Depending on how exactly you mean "He has no queers in his diocese," this could be wrong as well. There are GLBT folks active in parish and diocesan ministry- and I'm not saying it's perfect in inclusion and welcoming and the like and that we don’t have plenty more work to do here, and I'm not saying bishops shouldn't be criticized and engaged for their actions and words that we disagree with- but I just wanted to say it isn't quite as black and white down here in DioAla and Bishop Parsley isn’t as simplistic as throwing around comparisons to Akinola suggest you might think. In my opinion, anyways.

Jonathan, that's a very long apologia. I have a simple question: Does he overtly acknowledge and treasure openly LGBT people serving in ministry there? My bishop does, thank God! Or does he just turn a blind eye and do the episcopal "wink-and-nod" thing -- using your gifts and ministry, while not supporting who you are?

I'm glad you dropped in, Jonathan, and hope you will do so again.

7/05/2009 10:27 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks for your response and questions, Lisa. I'll be thinking about them and think they'll be helpful in trying to wrap my mind around it all.

7/05/2009 10:48 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Jonathan, your remarks were honest, and so were my questions. You are welcome here.

7/05/2009 11:01 PM  

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