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Episcopal Bishops Repudiate Anglican Communion Moratorium on Gay Bishops

Episcopal Bishops Repudiate Anglican Communion Moratorium on Gay Bishops

By the Rev. J. Philip Ashey
July 14, 2009

After several hours of small group discussions and debate, and by an overwhelming vote, the Bishops of The Episcopal Church (TEC) approved a resolution which repudiates the Anglican Communion moratorium on any further consecration of homosexual or lesbian candidates as bishops.

The vote was not even close: 99 in favor, 45 against, and 2 abstentions. Only a simple majority was required to approve the resolution. This vote effectively overturns the moratorium that had been requested by the Windsor Report, the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2008, and the Windsor Continuation Group Recommendations to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica just over a month ago.

The resolution which was approved, D025, also overturns resolution B033, which backed the moratorium on gay ordinations and which was passed at the General Convention in 2006 after the Primates of the Anglican Communion requested three moratoria in line with the Windsor Report. Resolution D025 includes the crucial acknowledgement 'that God has called and may call such individuals (gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships) to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church...'

The Archbishop of Canterbury himself pleaded with the House of Bishops not to approve Resolution D025. Speaking to reporters yesterday at the close of the Church of England General Synod, Dr. Rowan Williams said that he regretted the decision by the Episcopal House of Deputies to overturn the moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops. He went on to say in comments that seemed to be addressed specifically to the House of Bishops, "If the House of Bishops chooses to block then the moratorium remains. I regret the fact that there is not the will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the Church in North America."

The House of Bishops ignored the Archbishop's plea, just as they have ignored the pleas of virtually every instrument of the Anglican Communion to observe the Communion teaching on human sexuality and holy orders spelled out in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998). This resolution affirmed the biblical and traditional teaching on sex within marriage between a man and a woman, celibacy in all other contexts, and no holy orders for those who cannot observe these standards. Lambeth 1.10 has been continuously reaffirmed as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on sexuality by the "Instruments of unity" and the Archbishop of Canterbury up to and including the present.

This point was made repeatedly by conservative bishops who opposed D025.

Already, spokespersons for the Episcopal House of Bishops are trying to explain away this vote as merely "descriptive" of the mind of the Episcopal Church and its polity, and that it does not in fact repudiate resolution B033 or the Communion Moratorium on gay bishops. They claim that until a gay bishop is actually consecrated in compliance with D025, the moratorium remains. They claim that the Canons of TEC have not changed and would have permitted the consecration of a gay bishop before, during and after Resolution B033-claiming in effect that nothing has changed.

Of course, if nothing has changed, then why did they feel the need to change the status quo with D025? If nothing has changed, then why did the leadership of the Episcopal Church-Deputies and Bishops alike-pour such extraordinary efforts into drafting, discussing, debating and passing Resolution D025?

To date, the Archbishop of Canterbury has defended the Episcopal Church with what many Primates regard as an overly generous assessment of TEC's compliance with Anglican Communion moratoria-especially in the subcommittee report he helped draft for the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam. His statements yesterday are a marked departure from such generous assessments. If the moratorium on gay Bishops is still in effect, then why did he publicly recognize the passage of resolution D025 by the Episcopal House of Deputies as already a repudiation of the moratorium? Why did he signal to the Episcopal Bishops that if they blocked D025 "then the moratorium remains?"

In fact, the vote today by TEC Bishops is an unambiguous, defiant repudiation of the requests of the Anglican Communion, including the last minute pleas by the Archbishop of Canterbury not to lift the moratorium on gay bishops, for the following reasons:

1. The House of Bishops ignored the public warnings by the ABC

As noted above, the House of Bishops ignored the last minute plea by the ABC to block D025.

Bishop Love of Albany said, "We have been asked time and time and time again not to do what I fear we are about to do and I was amongst almost every bishop in this house that was able to attend Lambeth. It was expressed over and over again by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the Anglican Communion their concern about us taking the next step. That it would not only stress or tear the fabric of our relationship...if we do this it will totally shred it..."

During the debate, Bishop Howe of Central Florida read a letter from two senior bishops on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Council on Christian Unity to the Church of Sweden in response to Sweden's consecration of a lesbian Bishop. In that letter, the CofE Bishops cited Lambeth 1.10 as the teaching of the Anglican Communion "that it is not right either to bless same-sex sexual relationships or to ordain those who are involved in them."

Bishop Howe went on to quote the following warning from that letter: "Changes in the understanding of human sexuality and marriage in one member church [of the Porvoo Agreement]would lead to an impairment of the relationships between the churches, with particular implications for the limitation of the inter-changeability of ordained ministry." Bishop Howe emphasized the fact that D025 would take the Episcopal Church down the same path as the Church of Sweden.

Those warnings about tearing the fabric of the communion, with further impaired relationships and disastrous consequences for the interchangeability of holy orders were ignored by the vote today.

2. The House of Bishops ignored appeals to Scripture, tradition and reason not to lift the moratorium on gay bishops

Bishop Benfield of Arkansas made an impassioned appeal for D025 on the grounds of the "mystery of trinitarian reciprocity" as the theological grounds for generous same-sex love in human relationships. Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina responded by exposing the superficiality of such a theological misreading of the trinity. "Who can deny that the Trinity is a mystery?" he said, "But not a total mystery. It was discerned based on the Holy Scripture. And from that revelation we discerned the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

It is the Scriptures, he argued, that give us clear teaching on human sexuality. The Holy Scriptures are neither confusing nor muddled about the topic. And even apart from scripture, Bishop Lawrence noted, natural law shows us that God made us sexual beings for procreation and complimentarity between male and female.

But the House of Bishops ignored this appeal to Scripture, reason, and the additional appeals to Lambeth 1.10

3. The House of Bishops bypassed the opportunity to "fudge" the language of D025

Early in the debate Bishop Henderson of Upper South Carolina offered an amendment to the language of resolution D025 beginning at line 36. The amendment read, that the 76th General Convention affirm that God's call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment process in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church."

This was a very significant amendment. It would have replaced the language in D025 that specifically called for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people to holy orders in the Episcopal Church. The removal of this language in favor of "a mystery which the church attempts to discern for all people" provoked lively discussion as to its meaning. Some Bishops felt the term "mystery" would allow the discernment processes to call forth lesbian and gay candidates as bishops. Others did not. Others insisted that the church needed to clarify its commitment to full inclusion before the "mystery language" could be approved. Finally, Bishop Little of Northern Indiana simply observed that the language was so ambiguous that it would lead to "exegetical chaos."

So the House of Bishops moved on to "an amendment to the amendment' that stepped back from the "fudge" and clarified the intent of D025.

4. The House of Bishops insisted on language that would clarify the "full inclusion" of lesbian and gay persons in committed relationships in the discernment process for any ordained ministry without exception

It was Bishop Hollingsworth of Ohio that offered this "Both/And" amendment to +Henderson's amendment. +Hollingsworth proposed restoring the original "full inclusion" language of D025 at line 36: "Affirm that God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church..." and then simply adding the language in the +Henderson amendement: "and that God's call to ministry in the Church is a mystery, etc.."

Almost immediately Bishop Scarfe of Iowa rose to support +Hollingsworth's amendment with effusive thanks, declaring, and I quote, "You removed any attempt at evasion; it puts it all out on the table." After that, bishop after bishop rose to speak in favor of the +Hollingsworth amendment. When the Presiding Bishop called for a voice vote on the amendment to the amendment, she ruled that the "ayes" had it. She was immediately challenged, and then asked the bishops for a show of hands.

The +Hollingsworth amendment, restoring the specific "full inclusion" language of D025, passed by a vote of 78 to 60. The Presiding Bishop then called for another vote to affirm all of the language in lines 36-40, and it passed unanimously on a voice vote.

After this, the 99 to 45 vote in favor of the whole of resolution D025 was virtually inevitable. The Bishops had multiple opportunities to weaken the language or obscure the intent of D025 to move beyond B033 and repudiate the moratorium on gay bishops. At every opportunity, they chose to clarify their intent to permit lesbian and gay candidates in committed relationships to become bishops, and thereby to repudiate the Anglican Communion moratorium on gay bishops.

5. The House of Bishops ignored the opportunity to move towards others in the Anglican Communion during the suspension of the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant

I was present at ACC-14 and observed in person the confusion, parliamentary missteps, and interventions by the Archbishop of Canterbury that led to the referral of the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant to a sub-committee by a very narrow vote over the meaning of language in section 4. The full text of the proposed Anglican covenant is currently hostage to that subcommittee and the theological minority in the Anglican Communion that are disproportionately represented on that committee.

Many believe that this postponement of the Anglican Covenant was a gift to the Episcopal Church to buy time for TEC to come to terms with Archbishop William's call for "Communion with autonomy and accountability"-to buy time for TEC to move closer to other provinces in the Communion, rather than farther away.

And this is exactly what Bishop co-adjutor Johnston of Virginia lamented in his remarks to the House:

"Personally I agree with every word in this resolution.... But we do need to face the fact...the plain fact... that this is a repudiation of B033 - it's just in other guise. It is the repudiation of B033 and therefore breaks the faith with what the Communion has continued to ask us to walk with them on. I am particularly pained by that in light of the fact that the Anglican Consultative Council gave us a great gift and a great recognition and affirmation in not forwarding the covenant because of their concerns with section

4... and they sent it back and now we are shooting the gap and are going to move right through it. We can affirm all of the affection that we want and say that we want to be in the communion but then we go right away and do the very thing that will sever what we say we like and now at this time with the ACC I find that very strange. I am against this resolution very sadly but the Communion for me is too much to lose.. There is too much at stake with mission and our ability to apprehend wider truths that go way beyond our own small church and setting in the Western world." (emphasis added)

Bishop Johnston recognized the reality of what this vote represents: a repudiation of B033 and the Communion moratorium on gay bishops, unilaterally changing communion teaching on sexuality and holy orders during the suspension of the Covenant, and declaring membership in the Anglican Communion on TEC's terms-in utter disregard of the rest of the Communion and its processes.

If there is any good news for the orthodox in the Episcopal Church it is this: today's vote on D025 is prima facie evidence that the Episcopal Church has no intention of abiding by the moratoria recommended by the Windsor Continuation Group, especially the moratorium on gay bishops.

It is only a matter of time before another gay bishop will be elected and consecrated. Today's vote on D025 is prima facie evidence that the language of section 4 of the Ridley Cambridge Draft must not be changed.

The language that would permit "churches" to sign the Covenant-including orthodox dioceses in TEC that voted against D025 today-must stand. Such language is in fact the only mature response to the irresponsible actions of the Episcopal House of Bishops today. Orthodox dioceses and bishops in TEC must be permitted to find refuge, relationships and accountability within the Anglican Covenant, over and against the agenda of General Convention.

We urge the Archbishop of Canterbury and the sub-committee to act with dispatch to approve section 4 of the Ridley Cambridge Draft, for the Joint Standing Committee to approve sections 1-4, and to send it out to every province of the Anglican Communion for approval as soon as possible.

----The Rev. J. Philip Ashey is C.O.O. & Chaplain of the American Anglican Council

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