Bishop Ed Little: General Convention 2009 took definitive action, a New conscience clause is Needed

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We have made our decision. The restraint called for in B033 of the 75th General Convention has been set aside. Bishops may authorize blessings (that’s the clear implication of the “generous pastoral response”), and liturgies are on their way. Our course has been inexorably determined. The conversation about human sexuality is effectively over....

Lord Carey of Clifton, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, asked a difficult question in April at a conference sponsored by the Anglican Communion Institute: “Can conservative believers be assured that they have a future place in TEC without censure or opposition?” This question is both apt and pressing. We need a conscience clause with canonical and constitutional authority, a conscience clause that contains no sunset provision, that cannot be revoked. If the Episcopal Church is to be truly diverse — if conservative Christians are to find a place in our life in the next decade or the one following—then the 77th General Convention must turn its attention to the inclusion of theological minorities. Without that assurance, the unraveling of our church, already a tragic reality, will continue apace. The inevitable pattern will re-emerge, as conservatives move from honored minority to tolerated dissidents to canonical outlaws. I (and others like me) will not be among those who leave; but we may well be among the last conservatives left. And so we must, I believe, bend heart, mind, and will to the protection and permanent place of traditional voices in our church.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)General Convention TEC BishopsTEC ConflictsSexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)Same-sex blessings

Posted September 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Carolina Anglican wrote:

It is difficult for this conservative not to view such suggestions as Bishop Little’s as futile, wishful thinking.  The “new conscience” of the Episcopal Church seems to be the morality of the most liberal views of our culture.  The TEC conscience is becoming less and less tolerant of conservatives, and they probably believe (and what I expect) that it is a short matter of time before they have rid TEC of conservatives.  Eventually, new bishop elections will give the liberals the venue they need to transform moderate and conservative dioceses to conform to the larger denominiational morals and theology. 

With the latest ruling in SC, I have the same difficulty not expecting it to fracture soon if it does not leave as a whole.  Then the most unified voice of conservatism in TEC, and what may be its most powerful conscience, will dissipate.

I would love to hear a more optimistic view that could persuade me otherwise.

September 26, 2:40 pm | [comment link]
2. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

As effective and binding as conscience clauses regarding Women’s Ordination which resulted in Bonnie Anderson hit squads going into Dioceses to check on compliance?  We already have the definitive statement that no General Convention can bind a subsequent one, so exactly who and how would such be done?  By that logic, any act of GC to do anything to the canons or constitution would be worth the tissue it was written upon.  Assuming the reigning oligarchy would allow it to consideration since it does not accord with the NEW THANG GOZPELL(r) ascendent at this juncture nor the lack of respect for either canon or constitution likewise regnant at this time.

September 26, 3:18 pm | [comment link]
3. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

While I agree in theory with Bishop Little’s sentiments, I am disturbed by these comments on a couple of levels. First is the issue that he thinks we actually need safeguards of this type. Anglican theology has always made room for individual conscience, which was what justified the break with Rome during the days of the Reformation.

Now, I am not naive enough to believe that this background means little to people who conflate political views on “social justice” with the gospel.  I also harbor no delusions that such extremes, which seem to now have control of the Episcopal Church will stop at nothing to either wait out or purge those who disagree. I am still disturbed that the need to reinforce the right to individual conscience, necessary though it may be.

I am also disturbed by what comment No. 2 largely hit on. Exactly how “permanent” a conscience clause would be in the long term is suspect in itself. That’s what they said with Prayer book revision, Women’s ordination, etc., but that didn’t last more than a few decades, and in some places even less than that. What assurance could 815 or General Convention possibly give to assure those dubious that such a clause or canon law provision wouldn’t simply be changed or erased after a decade or two. This seems to be the operative pattern for revisionists over a period of time.

September 26, 3:33 pm | [comment link]
4. Creighton+ wrote:

The Bishop addresses the question that has been ignored by the remaining reasserters….is there any place for us in the EC….

GC09 could have issued a resolution saying that ours was a respected and valid theological one…but they did not…nor could they if their mantra of God doing a new thing…

September 26, 3:38 pm | [comment link]
5. Grandmother wrote:

Oh my.  He won’t have to leave, prior to GC 12, most of the orthodox bishops will hunker down(ignoring the Great Commition), and refrain from doing anything to irritate 815, retire, drink the kool-aid, or be heaved out.

Pending Divine Intervention (and I pray it happens), there is no stopping 815.


September 26, 3:49 pm | [comment link]
6. Philip Bowers wrote:

For the life of me, why would any orthodox Christian want a future place in a heterodox organization of any sort?  This is like asking whether there will be a place for an orthodox Christian believer in the Mormon Church.  And why should TEC create a place for the orthodox anyway?

September 26, 4:13 pm | [comment link]
7. Chris Taylor wrote:

Let’s have another “conscience clause” by all means.  The last one worked so well that I’m sure the next one will be an equally resounding success!  Good grief, Bishop Little, let’s get real!

September 26, 4:18 pm | [comment link]
8. Jim the Puritan wrote:

A “church” where Christians are reduced to a “theological minority.”

September 26, 4:21 pm | [comment link]
9. Jon wrote:

Just want to add my voice to what a number of said so far on the thread:

(1)  The bishop correctly senses that the only way a conscience clause could have any value would be one that “cannot be revoked” by a later GC.

(2)  Currently no simple resolution of GC can ensure that.

(3)  Therefore he must be asking GC 2012 to radically alter the Constitution of TEC.  The alteration would embed the clause in the constitution itself, and specify an extremely high bar for ever repealing an existing consitutional article in the future (e.g. 90% in both houses).

Presumably his clause would at minimum defend traditionalist convictions on homosexuality and women’s ordination (along with belief in the creeds, which became optional a while back).

How probable does he thing #3 is going to be at any of the next few GCs?  I would estimate its probability at less than one in a million.  I think that’s conservative—it might be more like 1 in a billion.  I’d suggest that it’s immoral for Christian leaders to invest time and money agitating for proposals that have virtually no chance of coming to pass—just as it is immoral for a father to invest the family’s savings in buying lottery tickets.

September 26, 4:22 pm | [comment link]
10. Laura R. wrote:

If the Episcopal Church is to be truly diverse — if conservative Christians are to find a place in our life in the next decade or the one following—then the 77th General Convention must turn its attention to the inclusion of theological minorities.

“Inclusiveness” has been shown over and over again to be an impossible goal, actually a delusion.  Where essential principles are in conflict, there can’t be any real “staying engaged” or “continuing the conversation.”  The acceptance and approval of the LGBT agenda has become a matter of social justice in TEC, and those of us who oppose it will ultimately not be tolerated any more than members of the KKK would be.

September 26, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
11. LumenChristie wrote:

JVJ I totally agree.

A “Conscience Clause” is a way of remaining within and compliant with an institution that has set itself against the Gospel.  There is no place for mere isolated personal conscience within an entity that considers itself—however erroneously—to be part of the Body of Christ.  You can’t just say, “Well I want the freedom to refuse to kill anyone myself.” while watching other people murder with impunity.  The same principle applies here.

This reflects a highly individualistic, or perhaps at best congregationalist, approach to what it means to be a Christian.  It won’t work.

And if the “orthodox” bishops who wish to remain in TEC indefinitely (while hinting cleverly that they may, in fact, leave “someday”) think they can continue to string their clergy along indefinitely, they better think again.  JVJ is completely right when he says that “it will fracture soon.”

If these dioceses continue to refuse to make concrete plans to leave with target dates within the next year they are going to see clergy and parishes leave on their own  Don’t doubt it.  It is happening already.

If the price for really taking a hard stand for the Gospel is censure, inhibition and deposition, then these bishops should pray for courage and play the man.  Ridley went to the stake, and they are weeping over polity and real estate. 

I fear we are going to see so-called “orthodox” bishops coming after genuinely orthodox parishes with their lawyers to take their churches—doing TEC’s bidding as obediently as any other TEC bishop.  Rationalizing away that they are just protecting their dioceses doesn’t hold water.

The diocese goes together or the fragmenting is inevitable.  Sorry, but this is reality and those are the choices.

September 26, 4:33 pm | [comment link]
12. A Senior Priest wrote:

There were explicit guarantees given when women were first officially ordained in PECUSA which were then withdrawn definitively in 1996, I think. I predict that ‘access’ to the marriage/blessing process in every congregation will become mandatory at the 2018 General Convention. Bishop Little is delusional if he thinks that any consciously clauses won’t be void ab initio.

September 26, 4:33 pm | [comment link]
13. LumenChristie wrote:

Is there any place in TEC for the orthodox.


Just as much room as there was for all the passengers on the Titanic.

The water is now over the gunwales.  WHY are people still having a hard time seeing this???

September 26, 4:44 pm | [comment link]
14. Dee in Iowa wrote:

# 5 Grandmother - thank you….I was composing a like statement without reading other entries…..then thought better of it, so ran across yours.  Bottom line - dribble to stay in the pew…...

September 26, 5:41 pm | [comment link]
15. Dan Crawford wrote:

With all due reverence to the Bishop, it was clear to most inside and outside the Episcopal Church that the consecration of Mr. Robinson in 2003 moved TEC far beyond conscience clauses. The trend since then has been toward coercion of the conservative conscientious objectors. Bishop Little is acting a little bit like Rip Van Winkle.

September 26, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
16. FrKimel wrote:

I am reminded of the incisive article by Fr Richard Neuhas, “Optional Orthodoxy.”  In this article Fr Neuhaus enunciates his famous law:  “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”  The entire article deserves careful reading.

I find it difficult to believe that there are still Episcopalians out there who believe a conscience clause would be a good thing or that it would even be sustainable over any period longer than, say, 42 hours.  Why beg and plead for sufferance from the heretics?  Is this too blunt a thing to ask?

September 26, 6:36 pm | [comment link]
17. Jeffersonian wrote:

And the incentive for TGC’s Bolsheviks to grant a place of their own to the orthodox is….what, exactly?  What do you offer in return for your shabby little ghetto?  Prostration?  Silence?  Explicit surrender to the Dennis Canon?  All three?  Or do you expect this to be granted out of the goodness of TGC’s soul?

September 26, 6:39 pm | [comment link]
18. LumenChristie wrote:


“Explicit surrender to the Dennis Canon”

Even though it has been cancelled in South Carolina, people are pointing out that it may still stand in other states.

In order to “save” their dioceses from attack and themselves from threat of losing their orders, “orthodox” bishops will be throwing their clergy who try to unhook from TEC under TEC’s bus.

September 26, 7:25 pm | [comment link]
19. wvparson wrote:

Anglicanism has never managed to create a “pure” or ideal church.  Only a romantic reading of our history brings comfort to those who seek such a body before the Coming.  And yet the “ideal” of the Church and its anticipation is discovered not in the people who call themselves Anglican Christians but in the beliefs of the church, for us expressed in the Scriptural nature of our Liturgy and Catechism, in Creeds and Councils.

It has come admittedly to a strange pass when we seek “protection” within a portion of the Church Universal which still affirms that which, for instance, the draft Covenant states in its first three sections, but whose policies are in sharp contrast with that which we affirm at Baptism.

Nevertheless the Church in its parts has encountered the fallibility of its “members” on many more than one occasion. If we were not so ignorant of our past, of the Tradition, we would not marvel that we are in such a pass now. 

We seek protection not for ourselves but in order that we may retain the ability to affirm and tell that which the church asserts in those things which do not change and to live in this church as faithful to its doctrine rather than in the vagaries of its form of local government.  People do not cease to be American because a party is in power which offends their sensibilities (or might I say that powers exist which control whatever government is in power.)  Nor do we cease to be Anglican merely because of the views of a majority of Convention deputies.

September 26, 8:43 pm | [comment link]
20. Sarah1 wrote:

I completely agree that this is a hopelessly naive idea by Bishop Little.

Nor would I want a conscience clause even were one possible.

First, a “conscience clause” would be a fraud and a lie—as we all know—much like DEPO was a sham and served as a cover for TEC revisionist bishops’ actual abuse and heresy.  It softened their image and attempted to give the illusion of action and progress, rather like another one of Stalin’s five year plans.

Second, the acceptance of such a conscience clause for the Christian faith implies that it is the revisionists to give.  The revisionists have the political power, but not the authority or the moral weight necessary to provide a “conscience clause.”

Third, it’s the duty of traditional Episcopalians to resist—not seek peace or detente.

And finally, it is a moral good for traditional Episcopalians to be kicked out or deposed or whatever, if need be, so that the Anglican world may continue to see Who The Revisionists Are.

Obviously long term there is not “a place” for the orthodox, nor should that question even be asked as it is irrelevant.  The question is—is there “a mission” or “an action” for the orthodox in TEC - -not is there “a place.”  And there is *a goal and a mission* for the orthodox in TEC, should they choose to use it.  I say that as one perfectly happy to remain within TEC.

September 26, 9:08 pm | [comment link]
21. Intercessor wrote:


September 26, 9:16 pm | [comment link]
22. Jeffersonian wrote:

I don’t doubt, Lumen Christie, that “orthodox” bishops would do so, nor that the Dennis Canon will survive in other states.  I was asking, half rhetorically, what non-revisionists were willing to give up in exchange for not being immediately compelled to bend their knee to 815’s “new thing.”  I say “immediately” because everyone knows there is, ultimately, no escape from the steamroller.

September 26, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
23. LumenChristie wrote:

Jeffersonian,  I am assuming that your handle indicates that you are a “constitutionalist.”  Your more-or-less rhetorical question is exactly the point.  In order to co-exist within TEC structures the “re-asserters”  must indeed surrender something.  Is the something-surrendered worth the pay-off?  Why they still consider it to be so crucial to remain within TEC when even the ABC tells us, “There are many ways of being Anglican.”  I cannot seem to fathom.  Is being an Episcopalian necessary to salvation?

But I cannot escape the conclusion that the only way to stay in TEC is to surrender a piece of your soul and then claim that you are “keeping your vows” or some other rationalization.  It is self-deception.

We make our vows to God in fidelity to Him and to His Gospel of salvation.  To co-operate with apostasy is to betray those vows in a more essential way.

We all seem to agree that the “conscience clause” won’t do the job.  However, your question points out the real issue.  What are our personal consciences worth if we collaborate with those whose canonize sin?

September 26, 11:17 pm | [comment link]
24. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “What are our personal consciences worth if we collaborate with those whose canonize sin?”

Thankfully for our consciences, staying in TEC does not have to mean collaboration.

September 26, 11:40 pm | [comment link]
25. Bill Matz wrote:

Bp Little needs to re-read a little of that great 20th Century American philosopher, Charles Schulz. Think Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football. TEC is definitely Lucy.

September 26, 11:58 pm | [comment link]
26. Dee in Iowa wrote:

17 - Jeffersonian - you wrote what I had wrote until I was what grandma wrote, so just complimented her - so will compliment you….but I really think that if they are to be politically correct and believe their human rights bit, the minimum they MUST offer;  All new age members must greet any orthodox member at the church door when within 5 feet;  The vestry will have a 10% membership of an avowed orthodox member;  orthodox members no longer have to clean up after the church picnic ;  alto section of the choir must have orthodox representation; and the list can go on…....and the orthodox can go home after church, where they have not heard the Word of God as in the Gospel once delivered, but can be so very grateful that they were allowed to set in the pew…...

September 27, 3:14 pm | [comment link]
27. Jim the Puritan wrote:

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? 

(Amos 3:3)

September 27, 4:44 pm | [comment link]
28. Albany+ wrote:

While all here seem certain about the intention of TEC, Bp. Little is asking TEC to be certain about its intent.

I think the difference matters—to the Orthodox, to the Communion, to TEC.

September 27, 5:43 pm | [comment link]
29. TreadingGrain wrote:

Step away from the Cathedral, put down the mitre and no one gets hurt.  I cannot believe that this is a serious request.  Maybe 15 years too late?  Then again, it’s episcopal leadership like this that has led the conservative/orthodox/reasserters into the dead end alley we’re in.

September 27, 11:18 pm | [comment link]
30. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

There will be no “giving in”.  If there is some contention, and the Holy Spirit directs us to lay down our particular struggle with it as both obedience to the Lord and in humility, then we will.  We would not, however, consider laying some struggle down when in testing and discernment what we heard as God’s word to us was discovered to be clearly in direct negation or conflict with God’s spoken Word and further confirming revelation through words of prophecy, knowledge and wisdom.

Now, if one is directed by the Holy Spirit to continue on in TECUSA despite the signs of creeping unholy ground, then one will be seeking and establishing holy ground by the same Spirit.  The establishment of a “conscience clause” would be an ecclesiastical/political version of the same.  Bp Little sees the benefits as stalling, at the least slowing down, an inevitable process.  An obvious benefit would be both breathing room while establishing safe places, as well as the actual creation of a righteous and divinely powerful space for conversion.
Certainly, Bp Little is not naive enough to think that a carved out conscience clause will demand only a relegated passivity among those taking advantage of it.  Passivity in this regard does not require a conscience clause.  Rather, a conscience clause can be seen as an opportunity to be a holy moment.
And there can be no doubt that the actual establishment of a conscience clause as such, even though drafted into resolution at the hands of skillful humans, would have to be considered as accomplished in a convention by the work and mercy and grace of God; God’s handiwork.
The burning bush comes to mind as an illustration.  The burning bush was brought into being solely for the purpose of grabbing Moses’ attention, which it did.  In doing so, God created a momentary safe place, holy ground, for Moses to hear God’s true intentions for His People and his judgment that their condition was unacceptable.  Then, from that safe place, God took the moment to speak and direct Moses to go bring God’s People to the safety of their given and promised homeland.
Despite the probability of the impermanence of an unassailable, permanent conscience clause, a statement with such language made public would be seen as a breath of fire, even a burning indictment.
But then where is the Burning Bush now?
It served God’s even temporary purpose of firing up Moses, and as an unforgettable memory landmark.
Again, we are in a season of forerunners.  The leadership of a Moses is not yet obvious.  The conscience clause concept becomes a “forerunner” kind of action, and we should not be surprised to see such leaders emerge if and when it can be put into place.

September 28, 4:02 am | [comment link]
31. Albany+ wrote:

This is a very thoughtful comment by Rob Eaton+. For all the reasons he mentions, there is yet even one more. It ends the reading of tea leafs. It confronts denial and evasion. It is a straight statement of intention. Again, it give clarity to the Communion, the Orthodox, and TEC. All three need it.

September 28, 9:49 am | [comment link]
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