COLUMBUS, OH: Committee on Gay divide divided
By Hans Zeiger
COLUMBUS, OHIO (6/17/2006)-The Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion has "unhappy divisions," as one committee member expressed it in a prayer Saturday. Meeting at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Special Committee is charged to respond to the Windsor Report of the international Anglican Communion. The Report calls on the Episcopal Church to repent of its hasty actions at the last convention in 2003 when the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a homosexual man, was consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire.
Some on the committee want the Episcopal Church to repent, while others want simply to express regret, and others see no need for regret at all.
Committee Chairman Rev. Frank Wade of the Diocese of Washington, handing off his duties at a Friday evening meeting, expressed his position. "I do not regret the decision we made. It is the manner in which it was communicated." Wade explained that he would prefer to see the Anglican Communion commit to the listening processes begun at Lambeth Conferences in 1978 and 1988 while accepting a moratorium on the Episcopal Church's rush toward homosexuality.
The strongest conservative on the committee, Dr. Michael Howell, a layman from the Diocese of Southwest Florida, has insisted throughout the Committee's deliberations that the church's response must be made in the context of the 1998 Lambeth Conference which declared homosexuality incompatible with the Word of God and does not "advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions."
Howell has suggested that the actions of the 2003 General Convention were in violation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and he stated on Friday "that if we do not address the issue of expressing regret for what we have done, that there are many in the communion who will strongly resent what we have done...We would be guilty of dictating the terms, and that is not what we have been asked to do."
But other committee members believe that it is the role of the Special Committee to define its own terms. "The General Convention I think needs to impose some interpretation," Becky Snow, a layman of the Diocese of Alaska said on Saturday.
Snow has made clear her belief that moral standards of policy may change, and that it is the role of the Committee to be open the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it moves in the process. "The Holy Spirit can work through this General Convention...In order for it to have an opportunity, we have to be willing to let go of the exact words of the Windsor Report."
Snow said that the Windsor Report was crafted properly for its time, two years ago. Yet times change as the Spirit moves, she suggested, and "We need to be able to respond genuinely from a perspective to try to capture the mind of this church. To use the words of the Windsor Report," she said, would be like making a forced apology for which the heart of the church is not agreed.
Other committee members argue that it is necessary to temporarily appease the international Anglican Communion in order to regain fellowship, while "Listening Processes" and dialogue take place and the larger Anglican Communion comes to a better understanding of why the Episcopal Church decided as it did in 2003.
"I'm just interested in buying some time to keep this experiment going," said Christopher Wells, a layman from the Diocese of Northern Indiana and the secretary for the Special Committee.
Bishop Robert O'Neill of the Diocese of Colorado agreed that the church's response to the Windsor Report will be an ongoing process rather than a one-shot decision about the morality of homosexual policies. "I think one of the tricks in having conversation around the Windsor Report is to remember that the Windsor Report is not a referendum around issues of human sexuality...But there's always that temptation to get into the debate over homosexuality," said O'Neill. "It's really about the emerging identity of the Anglican Communion in a global society."
"I understand that there are critical decisions to be made before us," O'Neill continued, but "I think it's just a great mistake to think that this is deal or no deal...It's a time of great transformation...There's the need to give it the space and the thought and the care that we need to address these issues." The capacity of the committee to do the proper dialoging work for the Communion, he indicated, is "profoundly limited and perhaps even the barrier to the real work that needs to take place."
Vagueness seems to be the only route for some on the Special Committee who seek a compromise between homosexuals and the Anglican Communion. "I think at this time in the life of our communion which is becoming more plural and more diverse...I would prefer more openness and space to let the Holy Spirit work," said one member. "I think nailing it down is deadly for one side or the other because it means winners and losers."
Others call for greater clarity in the debate. "The clarity that's been called for by speakers on both sides of the question was for this convention to be given the opportunity to respond clearly to the clear requests of the Windsor Report," said the Very Rev. Daniel H. Martins of the Diocese of San Joaquin.
Bishop Peter Lee of the Diocese of Virginia added, "I am deeply committed to finding an irenic middle way, but the risk of expressing that concern is that we would in effect be so fuzzy that we would not be seen to respond to what we've been asked to do."
One committee member stated, "I know we're trying to make a space for everyone in this conversation, I don't want to make it so ambiguous that almost everyone is excluded."
The committee agreed to form a subcommittee to re-draft Resolution A160, which concerns expressions of regret, for the morning. When morning came, subcommittee member Russ Palmore, a layman from Virginia, reported, "In varying degrees of enthusiasm, there was a view that it was important to look to what Windsor is asking, and to attempt to track the specific requests in terms of our response." The subcommittee had arrived at "a consensus responding to what we have heard throughout the last week, and what we see Windsor asking us."
But, Palmore added, "Now mind you that was at 9:30 last night."
Chimed another, "It might not look that way this morning." Rev. Martens said, "I admit that my brain was a little anesthetized last night."
And the re-hashing began.
Becky Snow declared, "There are many of us who do not regret the actions and therefore we could not support this wording."
Bishop Dorsey Henderson of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina proposed replacing the subcommittee's words "by our actions at the General Convention in 2003" with "offer its sincerest apology to those in our Anglican Communion who are offended."
Furthering aversion to repentance for actions, Special Committee Vice Chair Katherine Scott said, "I think clarity is what we're apologizing for...my suggestion is that we add the phrase 'after GC 2003 and the failure to consult adequately.'"
But Christopher Wells countered: "It's actually important to say something like 'by our actions.'"
Special Committee Chair Wade commissioned Bishop O'Neill and Snow to draft a new resolution A160. O'Neil and Snow's proposed resolution calls on the Episcopal Church to "express its regret for breaching the proper restraints of the bonds of affections for the events surrounding the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of 2003, offer its sincerest apology to those in our Anglican Communion who are offended by our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our church and other parts of the communion, and by not having adequately explained to the rest of the communion the evolving theological basis in Scripture, tradition, and reason informing our actions; and ask their forgiveness."
Dr. Howell spoke up against O'Neil and Snow's resolution, particularly the passage about "the evolving theological basis."
"To me that really implies that what we are doing is clearly progressive in a very positive sense, and to the rest of you we just didn't take the time to explain to you what a wonderful thing we 'get' that you guys just don't 'get.'"
Added EDS Missions Professor Ian Douglas about the "evolving" passage, "This is in the fish-market department as far as red herrings. They'll say, 'There go those Americans telling us what is right.'"
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