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Conservative bishops have impossible job at General Convention

Conservative bishops have impossible job at General Convention
Trying to stem the tide takes its toll

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 5, 2018

The Episcopal General Convention is in full swing for the 79th time since 1785. This time the Convention is in Austin, Texas. This is the second time Convention has come to the Diocese of Texas. In 1970, the 63rd Convention met in Houston.

What the conservative bishops are facing is another tsunami of liberalism, feminism, the radical LGBT agenda and unbridled social justice in lieu of uncompromising Gospel truths. Now their ranks are thinning. Currently, there are only seven sitting domestic and three sitting foreign Communion Partner bishops, who are trying to stem the tide in their respective Episcopal dioceses. These courageous bishops are: John Bauerschmidt (IX Tennessee); Gregory Brewer (IV Central Florida); Samuel Johnson Howard (VIII Florida); William Love (IX Albany); Daniel Martins (XI Springfield); Michael Smith (XI North Dakota); George Sumner (VII Dallas); Moises Mota (IV Dominican Republic); Lloyd Allen (V Honduras); and Francisco Gómez (VI Colombia).

These men are faced with an impossible task: to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints" in the face of overwhelming odds. The dilemma is how to maintain the ideal in the face of reality. Or rather, the question is can they maintain the ideal -- the biblical understanding of marriage -- in the face of current reality? The reality is that same-sex marriage or "marriage equality" is now the law of the land and their church -- The Episcopal Church -- officially embraces it.

Through the grace of episcopal consecration, bishops are the spiritual descendants of the Apostles. Therefore, it falls on their rochet-draped shoulders to protect the Church from the culture and to have the Church voice much-needed moral values to society. However, many times it is the bishops, themselves, who lead the charge against the faith and undermine the Church and her mission to proclaim the Good News to the world and to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ..."

During the 1960s, an early spear was lobbed by Bishop James Pike (V California.) He was a once a stalwart defender of the faith. He authored one of the Church Teaching Series' volumes: "The Faith of the Church." During the early 1950s, Bishop Pike's theology was solid. Then, within a decade, he started to question the basics of the faith once delivered unto the Saints. He came to question the Virgin Birth, he questioned the Incarnation, he questioned Original Sin, he questioned the Resurrection, He questioned the Trinity and he questioned the existence of hell. He also helped to usher in the beginnings of women's ordination by ordaining a transitional women deacon. He advocated women's ordination and he began to incorporate the LGBT into the full life of the church.

Before his death, Bishop Pike was becoming increasingly radical in his theology to a point of facing heresy charges with Bishop Henry I. Louttit, Sr. (III South Florida) leading the charge. However, the House of Bishops failed to proceed, fearing that trying Bishop Pike for heresy would reflect badly upon The Episcopal Church. The bishops were more interested in public image than in protecting the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints.

Bishop Pike is not the only Episcopal bishop with radical theological views. Bishop John Spong (VIII Newark) also made a name for himself with his radical theological views. Like Bishop Pike before him, Bishop Spong questions and rejects basic Christian tenets including: the Virgin Birth, the Divinity of Jesus, the Ascension and Eternal Life. He also jettisons Biblical miracles and Christian prayer.

Little by little, with each successive General Convention, the faith once delivered unto to the Saints is being whittled away chip by chip, flake by flake, splinter by splinter, stone by stone by The Episcopal Church. And it is the bishops who lead the charge. They hold the trump card. Unless the House of Bishops, agrees no General Convention resolution can pass.

In 1974, eleven women were irregularly ordained as Episcopal priests, They were called the Philadelphia 11. Then the next year, another four women were ordained priests in Washington, DC. Both actions were done outside the collective wisdom of the wider Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church acted unilaterally without consideration for the other parts of the Communion.

When the 1976 General Convention met in Minneapolis, it approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate and voted to regularize the first 15 women priests.

The HOB did not stand in the way of women's ordination, which should have been stopped on the floor of the House of Bishops and it wasn't. Instead the House of Bishops chose to be pastoral rather than corrective.

In a Mind of the House of Bishops Resolution on the new dilemma of women's ordination, the bishops stated: "Conditional ordination would also respect the integrity of Christians holding divergent views of the Philadelphia/Washington actions; refrain from passing judgment on diverse convictions honestly and strongly held; and allow the Lord to determine matters beyond our capacity or desire to judge."

It wasn't until the 1977 fall meeting of the House of Bishops, that the issue of churchwide acceptance of women's ordination was more firmly addressed initially protecting the consciences of those who could not accept women's ordination. At that time, the bishops issued a statement which said: "In the light of all this and in keeping with our intention at Minneapolis, we affirm that no Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the 65th General Convention's action with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate."

"Since the clause was adopted by the House of Bishops only, and not also by the House of Deputies, it had no canonical authority," The Episcopal Church's website is quick to point out. "The clause insured that no bishop could be punished for opposing the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church."

The 1997 General Convention voted to allow the ordination of women -- deacon, priest and bishop -- to spread to every diocese in the church by mandating the ordination, licensing, and deployment of women throughout the church stating: "With the passage of this legislation, clergy and laity who do not accept the ordination for women, no longer hold a position that is tolerated by the General Convention of the Church."
Then, three years later, the 2000 General Convention mandated that enforcement procedures be put into place to ensure women's ordination be practiced in all dioceses. At the time, the dioceses of Quincy, San Joaquin, Fort Worth, and Eau Claire were still hold outs. The assurances that the House of Bishops put into place in 1977 to protect conscience were wiped away.

At the same 2003 General Convention which affirmed Vicky Gene Robinson as the IX Bishop of New Hampshire, the House of Bishops voted against affirming the teachings of the Articles of Religion and the Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral is the quintessential Anglican document of stated belief which encapsulates the minimum essential deposits of the faith and the basic fundamentals of the Anglican doctrine about which there can be neither compromise nor surrender. The HOB voted 84 no to 66 yes with eight abstentions in a roll call vote to strike down Resolution B001 calling for The Episcopal Church to Endorse Certain Historic Anglican Doctrines and Policies.

Not only is the faith being whittled away by the Episcopal General Convention, so is the orthodox voice in the House of Bishops. One by one, sitting or retired traditional bishops have left the House of Bishops, meaning their conservative voices have been silenced.

Following the 1976 acceptance of the ordination of women to the priesthood, Episcopal bishops started leaving the church for the Anglican Continuum. First came Bishop Albert Chamber (VII Springfield) in 1976. Then, in 1991, bishops Donald Davies (I Fort Worth) and Charles Boynton (New York-suffragan) left, followed by Bishop Clarence Pope (II Fort Worth) in 1994.

According to Article I.2 of the Preamble to the 2018 Episcopal Church Constitutions and Canons, retired bishops have not only a voice, but also a vote in the Episcopal House of Bishops. However, their membership cannot be used to call a quorum of the House of Bishops to transact business.

Now there are more missing conservative voices and votes from the still-living former Episcopal bishops who have also been hounded from The Episcopal Church. The bishops who left in 2007, following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop, are: Jeffery Steenson (VIII Rio Grande); William Wantland (IV Eau Claire); John Lipscomb (IV Southwest Florida); Andrew Fairfield (X North Dakota); Jack Iker (III Forth Worth); David Bena (Albany-suffragan); and William Cox (Maryland-suffragan). They were followed by bishops Robert Duncan (VII Pittsburgh) in 2008 and Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy) and Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy) in 2009. Bishops Mark Lawrence (XIV South Carolina); Alden Hathaway (VI Pittsburgh); and Alex Dickson (I West Tennessee) followed in 2012 with Peter Beckwith (X Springfield) leaving in 2014.

However, there remain a small handful of retired Communion Partner bishops who would still have a voice and a vote at General Convention should they chose to go to Austin. They include: James Adams, (IV Western Kansas); William Frey (VIII Colorado); John Howe (III Central Florida); Russell Jacobus (VII Fond du Lac); James Stanton (XI Dallas); Don Wimberly (VIII Texas); Julio Holguín (III Dominican Republic); William Skilton (SC-suffragan); Paul Lambert (Dallas-suffragan).

The Communion Partners are those like-minded bishops, clergy and laity who are willing to support the ecclesiology and observe the moratoria of the 2004 Windsor Report, endorse and uphold the traditional teaching of the Book of Common Prayer and adhere to the principles of The Anglican Communion Covenant.

They have constantly fought back each time General Convention has edged TEC closer to the rubicon of no return of broken communion with other parts of the Anglican Communion. But their words have fallen on deaf ears within The Episcopal Church as it trudges on towards fully embracing the world and ignoring spiritual truths. With each General Convention, their voice is getting weaker.

The Communion Partners bishops first formed as the Windsor Bishops following the 2006 General Convention, which catapulted Katharine Jefferts Schori to the Presiding Bishop's throne a short three years after Vicky Gene Robinson was approved to become the sitting gay bishop in New Hampshire.

In 2008, the Windsor Bishops became the Communion Partners, who were committed to abiding by the moratoria of The Windsor Report and to remaining in the Episcopal Church.

The 2004, the Windsor Report called for a "moratorium on further consecrations of actively homosexual bishops and public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions," in response to the unprecedented consecration of Bishop Vicky Gene Robinson (IX New Hampshire).

The Episcopal Church quickly ignored the moratorium and consecrated Mary Glasspool (Los Angeles-suffragan) in 2010. She is a partnered lesbian.

In 2009, General Convention authorized the development of liturgies to bless committed relationships of same-sex couples and allowed for ordination of any person to any ordained ministry regardless of sexual orientation or practice. General Convention also promised to allow bishops to decide whether or not to bless same-sex marriage in their individual diocese.

The Communion Partner bishops responded with their Anaheim Statement. It was signed by 36 bishops.

"It is apparent that a substantial majority of this Convention believes that The Episcopal Church should move forward on matters of human sexuality. We recognize this reality and understand the clarity with which the majority has expressed itself," the Anaheim Statement says. "We are grateful for those who have reached out to the minority, affirming our place in the Church."

In 2010, Gracious Restraint, an association of Canadian bishops was formed, following the that year's General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. It has a similar conservative mission to the Canadian church as the Communion Partners bishops which is: "to encourage episcopal colleagues who were in dioceses deeply conflicted on matters dividing the Church."

Then came the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis, which added gender expression and identity to church canons to prevent transgendered discrimination, allowing that the ordination discernment process is open to all transgendered persons and guaranteeing the transgendered an equal place in the life, worship and governance of The Episcopal Church. Convention also declined to take a position on the Anglican Covenant, preferring to enter into Continuing Indaba -- an ongoing and unending discussion which leads to no resolution. It also approved the trial use of "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, an official liturgy to bless same-sex couples and their committed unions and authorized the study of marriage to determine the needs for pastoral responses by clergy for same-sex couples in states where civil marriage is legal, as well as issues "raised by changing societal and cultural norms and legal structures."

As a result, South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence walked out of the House of Bishops and the South Carolina delegation walked off the Convention floor following the passage of transgendered legislation.

The Communion Partner bishops pushed back on the liturgy for blessing same-sex unions with the Indianapolis Statement signed by 14 bishops.

"We find ourselves between the proverbial 'rock and a hard place.' We struggle to hold together the evangelical faith of the Church, from which we see this Convention as departing, and the catholic order of the Church, which causes us, for the sake of the unity for which Jesus prayed, to resist the temptation to leave this fellowship, the 2015 statement prefaced.

"The 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, in passing Resolution A049, has authorized the provisional use of a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. The purpose of this statement is to record our dissent from this action," the statement continues outlining seven specific points. "We invite all bishops who share these commitments to join us in this Statement, as we seek to affirm our loyalty to our beloved Church even as we dissent from this action."

In 2018, Communion Partners and Gracious Restraint joined forces to provide a unified conservative Episcopal-Anglican voice, just in time for General Connection.

Now the major issue facing the Communion Partner bishops is that General Convention is bent on eventually removing all protections put into place to protect conservative bishops from violating their consciences through allowing same-sex wedding to occur within their diocese.

This year's Resolutions A085 and B012 are dealing with Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies and Marriage Rites for the Whole Church. B012 is a compromise measure to allow same-sex nuptials to occur in all domestic Episcopal dioceses with a liberal use of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO).

"The Episcopal Church includes 10 dioceses in civil legal jurisdictions that do not allow marriage for same-sex couples. Since church canons require compliance with both civil and canonical requirements for marriage, General Convention did not authorize the trial liturgies for use in those dioceses," the Task Force on the Study of Marriage reported to the 2018 General Convention.

In the run up to the 2018 General Convention, the marriage study task force reported on the compliance of domestic Episcopal bishops in making "provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies. Trial use is only to be available under the direction and with the permission of the Diocesan Bishop" as dictated by Resolution A054 of the 2015 General Convention authorizing the Trial Use of Marriage and Blessing Rites.

Ninety-three dioceses immediately fell into lockstep with the 2015 General Convention in allowing the trial use of same sex liturgies of which 73 dioceses authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage without conditions, another 20 dioceses authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage with varying conditions.

The varying conditions include: concurrent approval of rector and vestry (Colorado, Eau Claire, Europe, Fond du Lac, Michigan, Milwaukee, Northern Indiana, South Dakota, Southern Virginia, West Texas and West Virginia); the approval of the vestry and permission of the diocesan bishop (Alabama, East Tennessee and Oklahoma); the completion of a parish study/discernment process (Texas and Upper South Carolina); the approval of the diocesan bishop (Southwest Florida); and the use of only one of the three available trial liturgical rites (Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia).

The bishops in eight dioceses: Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Springfield, Tennessee and the Virgin Islands have not authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage; the bishops of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Springfield and Tennessee have also prohibited the use of trial liturgies by clergy canonically resident in their dioceses either within or outside of their home diocese.

"The bishops in Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida and Tennessee have told same-sex couples who wish to be married to go to a neighboring diocese," the Episcopal News Service explains

This means that a lesbian couple in Springfield can travel to Chicago to be married in a same-sex wedding, but not with their priest, or a gay couple from Dallas can drive over to Fort Worth and be married, but their priest can't join them to do the honors.

However, it was noted that Bishop Michael Smith (XI North Dakota) was the first bishop to offer DEPO for a parish that asked to use the new liturgies. Now four other domestic Communion Partner bishops -- John Bauerschmidt (IX Tennessee); Gregory Brewer (IV Central Florida); Daniel Martins (XI Springfield); and George Sumner (VII Dallas) -- are willing to allow DEPO to flow into their respective dioceses to accommodate the needs of disenfranchised same-sex couples who feel their right to marriage rites are being infringed upon, making them "second class" Episcopalians. Bishop William Love (IX Albany) put his foot down with an emphatic "No!" and Samuel Johnson Howard (VIII Florida) did not sign the new DEPO agreement. Nor did Bishop Ambrose Gumbs (V Virgin Islands). The Virgin Islands bishop is not a member of the Communion Partners.

Both the American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are US territories, so American law is in force on the islands, including civil same-sax marriage. The Diocese of the Virgin Island has nixed same-sex marriage.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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