Self-Made Schism

Recently, delegates to the Episcopal church's triennial general conference voted to allow the ordination of gay bishops, a vote that overturned a de facto moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that was approved three years ago.

I agree almost entirely with the analysis offered by my fellow Chicago Free Press columnist Jennifer Vanasco. But there are a couple of additional points worth adding.

The vote was "overwhelming" (according to The New York Times)-more than two-thirds of both houses of the convention voting in favor of the new policy. Since most of those votes were probably not new converts to the gay side, that means that those votes have always been there but just not cast on our side.

Instead, they were temporarily persuaded by the appeals of Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, not to do anything that would rupture the Anglican Communion, many parts of which, particularly in Africa, are fiercely anti-gay

Williams made the same appeal this time too, telling the convention, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart."

But the appeal did not work this time. Instead the convention voted to stand up for its principles of inclusion and acceptance of gays and, implicitly, for the acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate mode of sexual expression. As one church leader put it, "real relationships are built on authenticity."

It is amazing how frequently calls for "unity"-religious, political, organizational-amount to one side urging the other side to abandon its principles and support a policy or view it does not believe in.

No doubt there will be angry denunciations from anti-gay provinces of the Anglican Communion and threats to withdraw or else expel the Episcopal Church. They have already sought to form alliances with anti-gay dioceses in the U.S., although with limited success.

But the Episcopalians have more or less brought this on themselves. For decades, wealthy American churches have sent millions of dollars to Africa to support proselytizing and missionary work to convert Africans to Christianity.

The result was to provide a homophobic rule book-as both the Old and New Testaments certainly seem to be-without any decent training in the historical and critical analysis of the bible that is commonplace in American seminaries. As one Episcopalian cleric told a startled friend of mine, "Some African bishops have little more than an eighth-grade education." So the message the Africans and others learned was a Bible-based homophobia.

Those Episcopal churches might be well-advised to start sending their millions of dollars to support gay rights and gay equality efforts both within and outside of the African churches to try to undo some of the damage they have done.

The main reason Williams' appeal did not work this time was that it seemed clear that another delay would have had no effect and that the appeal would be repeated again in another three years. It had been hoped that a few years' breathing room on the issue would allow some progress by the Africans (and other homophobic dioceses) in learning more about homosexuality and the historical and critical analysis of the Bible.

But the Africans showed no movement in that direction and instead dug in their heels on the issue. That means that the same urging would be given every time the issue came up, ad infinitum, and Episcopalians would never be able to institute their gay-supportive beliefs. This they were finally unwilling to do.

As if to indicate "Now we're serious about this," the convention also voted to develop formal rites for gay and lesbian unions. But that is a separate issue and deserves separate treatment another time.

7 Comments for “Self-Made Schism”

  1. posted by bls on

    Recently, delegates to the Episcopal church’s triennial general conference voted to allow the ordination of gay bishops, a vote that overturned a de facto moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that was approved three years ago.

    No, they didn’t. Read (carefully) the Resolution and you’ll see that nothing like that was said at all.

  2. posted by bls on

    As if to indicate “Now we’re serious about this,” the convention also voted to develop formal rites for gay and lesbian unions.

    And that didn’t happen either. That’s this Resolution.

    Nothing concrete actually happened in either of these Resolutions; the first is simply a statement of the glaringly obvious, and the second says that maybe we’ll do something sometime in the future, after we all talk about, and study, it for a number of years.

    The only thing that happened that’s of even slight importance is in the last paragraph: “That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”

    But note the wording: may provide – it’s not mandated. Also note that there’s no legal force behind the statement: “….particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal….

    Really? Does this mean that other bishops may not “provide generous pastoral response”? I don’t really think so. And what, exactly, is “generous pastoral response,” anyway? Well, it’s what the bishops say it is – no more, no less.

    You guys obviously don’t speak Episcopal Churchese; it’s a skill you have to acquire over years, though, so completely understandable….

  3. posted by bls on

    (Still, even the idea “generous pastoral response” is a step forward, in the homophobic Christian church. So I’m happy about that part of it.

    But really: you have to be able to understand what’s known colloquially as “Anglican fudge” to understand that nothing actually happened. Every time one of these things is issued, at first everybody just says, “Huh? What does that say?” Then, then think they understand it. Then, they think that it says the opposite of what they first thought.

    Then they realize that it doesn’t say anything. That’s always the funny part….

  4. posted by js on

    bls, thanks for the clarification! i’d like to add one more comment on Paul’s article.

    I don’t think evangelizing Africa or the lack of theological education is the biggest issue. Probably, the theological training they received was at the hands of evangelical theologians, not moderates or liberals. The fact is that there are plenty of well-educated western Christians who are also staunchly anti-gay, and so being anti-gay isn’t just about lack of education. It’s about bad evangelical theology.

  5. posted by bls on

    I shouldn’t actually have said that “it doesn’t say anything.” It does say something – that there exist in the church gay partnerships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,” for instance.

    But that is not new; that language – which is, in fact, strong and helpful – has been around for 10 years and is found in other, previous Resolutions.

    I’m just saying that these Resolutions don’t actually accomplish anything in re: gay Bishops and/or same-sex blessings. Which is fine with me, because it’s pretty obvious that we have other, harder work to do before those very high-level “issues” get addressed. We need to challenge the homophobia in the church at a much deeper level, and I hope this means we’ll do it.

  6. posted by Tim on

    Paul, to say that the Episcopalians brought schism on themselves through missionary work in Africa is unfair. You can’t lay African homophobia entirely on Episcopalians, or on American Christians in general. Anglican colonization in Africa and Asia began long before there was much missionary outreach from the U.S., and I am sure that indigenous tradition has something to do with the persistent homophobia of the African prelates. And it’s not just the gay issue that has African Anglicans broiling — their discontent is fed by anticolonialism as well, not to mention simmering resentment over the ordination of women in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

    bls, I disagree that “nothing actually happened” at General Convention or that the Resolutions discussed here will have no impact. In addition to the Resolutions on ordination and marriage, the Convention passed measures in support of transgender civil rights. But as far as ordination and marriage are concerned, you are right that decision-making authority resides with the bishops, where it always has. But you and I both know that a lot of bishops lack backbone. Removing the language of “restraint” around the election of gay bishops and giving some authorization to same-sex liturgies at least creates an opening for bishops to lead their dioceses through. And, as you know, the Church moves in three-year cycles, so what little took place in Anaheim in ’09 was necessary if anything more is to happen in ’12.

  7. posted by bls on

    Tim, I was referring to these two Resolutions only, when I said “nothing actually happened” – and was only really addressing the things that Paul thinks happened, but didn’t.

    Nothing happened, in terms of “ordination and marriage.” There is nothing on the books that wasn’t there before; Bishops were always permitted to provide “generous pastoral response” (which doesn’t really mean anything, either). That’s what they should have been doing all along, but unfortunately haven’t been.

    I do agree, though, that if a Bishop had been hesitating to provide an “unofficial” blessing of a civil union, s/he may not feel the need hesitate any longer. May not, that is….

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