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"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
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Kendall Harmon–Reflections on the Significance of the Dar es Salaam Primates Communique (I): Closing the Jim Naughton-Bishop Sisk Loophole
A week ago Monday, in an interchange with USA Today, I wrote this:
…the American church has turned weaseling out of what words mean into a high art form and that may still be an issue….
Well, soon thereafter the weaseling began. It was very fast.
Here is Jim Naughton:
Note that some papers are buying the “ban” blessings line of thinking, and others understand that we are being asked to refrain from authorizing Rites of Blessings. The difference is signficant, but I am having an awfully hard time explaining it to people. In an nutshell, you don’t need an authorized rite to bless a union. Priests have been blessing unions without authorized rites for three decades. So we can continue that practice without running afoul of the communique.
Says me, anyway.
And seemingly singing from the same song sheet, Bishop Mark Sisk has this to say in the New York Times:
Some liberals yesterday were latching on to what they saw as a loophole because the wording specified that the bishops would not “authorize” rites. There are many bishops who have not formally authorized ceremonial rites for gay unions, but who nevertheless allow priests to perform them. If this is all the communiqué is requiring, they suggested, the Episcopal Church can live with that.
“Blessings happen, sure,” said Bishop Sisk of New York. “But I didn’t authorize them.”
The Episcope blog is playing the same game (in responding to a Time story):
….The communique from Dar es Salaam says nothing about “officiating at gay commitment ceremonies and ordaining gay clergy.” It asks that “the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention.”
Tragically, the Presiding Bishop herself is trying the same tack in her remarks to the church center staff.
We have seen this movie before. Many times.
Recall, for example, Resolution C051 from the General Convention of 2003:
Resolution Number: 2003-C051
Title: Consider Blessing Committed, Same-Gender Relationships
Resolved, That the 74th General Convention affirm the following:
1. That our life together as a community of faith is grounded in the saving work of Jesus Christ and expressed in the principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: Holy Scripture, the historic Creeds of the Church, the two dominical Sacraments, and the Historic Episcopate.
2. That we reaffirm Resolution A069 of the 65th General Convention (1976) that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”
3. That, in our understanding of homosexual persons, differences exist among us about how best to care pastorally for those who intend to live in monogamous, non-celibate unions; and what is, or should be, required, permitted, or prohibited by the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church concerning the blessing of the same.
4. That we reaffirm Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention (2000), that “We expect such relationships will be 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,” and that such relationships exist throughout the church.
5. That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.
6. That we commit ourselves, and call our church, in the spirit of Resolution A104 of the 70th General Convention (1991), to continued prayer, study, and discernment on the pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons, to include the compilation and development by a special commission organized and appointed by the Presiding Bishop, of resources to facilitate as wide a conversation of discernment as possible throughout the church.
7. That our baptism into Jesus Christ is inseparable from our communion with one another, and we commit ourselves to that communion despite our diversity of opinion and, among dioceses, a diversity of pastoral practice with the gay men and lesbians among us.
8. That it is a matter of faith that our Lord longs for our unity as his disciples, and for us this entails living within the boundaries of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. We believe this discipline expresses faithfulness to our polity and that it will facilitate the conversation we seek, not only in The Episcopal Church, but also in the wider Anglican Communion and beyond.
C051 passed with some difficulty in the House of Deputies in 2003, and then came to the House of Bishops, where Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia hailed it as a marvelous compromise. Of course, its meaning all comes down to the phrase in section 5 where is says “That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.” Does recognize mean in any way legitimize or authorize? Is the language descriptive or prescriptive?
The debate in the House of Bishops ended with a voice vote and much confusion as to what exactly was going on. To give some notion of the degree of confusion, a number of reasserting bishops voted FOR the resolution. I encountered one in the hall immediately after the session ended. When we met, he was beaming about how good the resolution was. When he said what he thought what he was doing, I observed to him that it was not the interpretation that was going to be given by most others. He had never thought of it in any other fashion. To him, he meant “I recognize it is occurring but it shouldn’t be.” Right at that moment a number of spokespersons for Integrity, the lobby promoting the acceptance of same sex bahvior in the Episcopal Church, were announcing a huge victory to the media.
The next morning in the news conference there was a very entertaining exchange between Bishop Mark Sisk of New York and Monica Davey, the reporter for the New York Times covering the 2003 General Convention. “Recognize does not mean authorize,” Bishop Sisk was insisting. Ah. But that didn’t satisfy Ms. Davey. Were there same sex blessings going on in the Diocese of New York, she asked. Indeed, Bishop Sisk said. Was he aware of them. Yes came the bishops response. Did he encourage those who wanted to do them, Ms. Davey wanted to know. The Bishop demurred. So what is the difference between that and authorization, she asked. The Bishop smiled a wry smile and then looked down and didn’t answer, seemingly as if a secret door in his desk had been exposed.
Now fast forward ahead to the BBC Sunday programme on February 25, 2007, in which Bishop Mark Sisk was interviewed:
BBC Well, the primates at their meeting put an end stop to this. By September 30, they said, your church has to promise not to allow clerics in same sex relationships to become bishops. Can your church agree to that?
+MS : I am not sure at all that I agree that that is the question put to us. It seems to me that what they were asking for was a clarification of actions taken at our General Conventions. It seems to me that one of the perhaps major challenges is to clarify what in fact was done and I believe that what in fact was done was a positive response to the request that we have in effect a moratorium on the consecration of bishops that are in same-sex unions.
BBC: Will you cease to authorise blessings or ensure that in the future you do not authorise blessings for same-sex couples?
+MS One of the misconceptions is that such blessings have been authorised. In fact they were not authorised. That was recognised by the committee that received the report from the actions of General Convention.
BBC : But they are taking place in your church. Clearly what most of the Anglican Primates want you to do is stop such blessings. Do you think your church will be prepared to do that?
+MS I do not believe that that is clearly what is being asked. The statements that were continually we being made were “Will you refrain from authorising?” We clearly decided at our last General Convention not to authorise such actions.
BBC: But not to stop them.
+MS: We were not asked to stop them by the Windsor Report, as it was presented to the Primates, as it was received by the ACC, none of them asked us to not allow blessings, they asked us not to authorise them and we do not.
BBC: Some people will think this is like discussing the number of angels on a pin….
Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world of “process” which so dominates the upper echelons of the leadership life of the Episcopal Church. If words COULD be interpreted in a way that does not favor the leadership’s goals, they are not, but when the wording does, they are interpeted that way, restrictively. There is some talk that this whole conflict and crisis among Anglicans is all about power, and it is not primarily about power, actually, but about truth and other things. Yet power plays a role, it is just that TEC leadership does not do much self-criticism about how they exercise their own power. Words mean what those in leadership in TEC want them to mean in too many instances. One wishes there would be some self-scrutiny on such matters because the implications would be considerable. The lack of honesty in this church in some matters has become intolerable. People are saying one thing and doing another and using words to mislead others into thinking they are not doing what in fact they are doing.
Now move from the General Convention of 2003 and resolution C051 to the Windsor Report. I quote from section D:
144. While we recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the decision to authorise rests with diocesan bishops. Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter.
145. We urge all provinces that are engaged in processes of discernment regarding the blessing of same sex unions to engage the Communion in continuing study of biblical and theological rationale for and against such unions. Such a process of study and reflection needs to include clarification regarding the distinction, if such exists, between same sex unions and same sex marriage. This call for continuing study does not imply approval of such proposals.
146. We remind all in the Communion that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 calls for an ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality. It is vital that the Communion establish processes and structures to facilitate ongoing discussion.
Here again we are dealing with that word “authorise” and what are called public rites. Jim Naughton used the same interpretation he is using now–saying that somehow pastoral practices which do not involve authorized rites are allowed which do in fact allow for the blessing of same sex unions– with the Windsor Report.
I do not believe this is a legitimate interpretation of the Windsor Report:
..it will not do to say that because the language speaks of “official liturgies” it does not apply to the Episcopal Church, whereas numerous diocesan practices, whether same sex blessings in house or private same gender partnership celebrations are not in view. The Windsor Report focused on official liturgies for two reasons: because as Anglicans we pray and live out in liturgy what we believe, and so if there is a theological change there will necessarily follow a liturgical change, and, secondly, because the specific instance the Windsor Report was addressing in New Westminster had to do with official liturgies. But the key point as addressed in Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 is the practice, in whatever worship or setting, and these blessings have not ceased, they have continued, to the shock and shame of The Episcopal Church’s sisters and brothers around the Anglican world.
However, the degree to which the Windsor Report was understood to be based on Lambeth 1998 1.10 was not sufficiently emphasized in the report, and in the extreme there was a way to try to take this point of view, even though I do not believe it was the way the majority of the Lambeth Commission members understood it, nor the way the majority of Anglicans around the world would read it.
The American member of the Lambeth Commission, Bishop Mark Dyer, did in fact take that point of view:
The same-sex blessings if public-again underlined-we talk about the public expression of same-sex blessings. Namely, in New Westminster, Canada, where the bishop is directly involved in the approval of the Book of Prayer that has same-sex blessings. We are not talking in this document about pastoral provisions that local priests make in pastoral situations within the diocese-within the parishes of that diocese. We are not talking about them.
Here we reach another place of cultural distance between the common life of the Episcopal Church and that of many other Anglican Communion member provinces which must be mentioned. In our week to week worship in this province, there is confusion which in some cases approaches chaos, and which in a few instances even borders on near anarchy, in terms of what kind of local practices actually occur as compared to what the diocesan bishop has “authorized” so as to permit their occurrence or indeed even knows that they are occurring at all.. Parishes rewrite the creeds (altering some words), they use liturgies for which they do not have permission (some of them quite bizarre indeed), and in an increasing number of cases they practice the communion of the unbaptized which is not only contrary to early Christian practice it is explicitly against the canons.
Now of course around the Anglican Communion there is a breadth of local practices as ministers seek to express the gospel appropriately so that its truth may be heard in their particular context. But it must be said that in most parts of the Anglican Communion, it is not conceivable that a significant pastoral practice could occur at the local level without a key authority’s knowledge and permission. I simply do not believe that most Anglicans could believe that something like the communion of the unbaptized would be occurring in various parishes throughout their province without a common discussion about it and perhaps a Synodical decision about it–but at least the Bishop’s permission for it or allowance of it. Most provinces could not imagine any other kind of significant pastoral event that was not authorized in that sense.
To pick but one example, consider the statement from the Bishop of New Hampshire in 1996 on the bless of same sex unions in that diocese:
A number of inquiries have been made concerning the position of the Bishop of New Hampshire on the blessing of same-sex unions. In response to those questions, the following reflections and guidelines are offered to the clergy of the diocese.
The Book of Common Prayer makes no position for the blessing of same-sex unions. The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, The Blessing of a Civil Marriage and An Order for Marriage in The Book of Common Prayer are clearly intended for heterosexual unions and are, therefore, not appropriate for use in blessing homosexual relationships, although they may serve as models for the development of such ceremonies and portions of them may be adapted for that purpose. Likewise, the Order for the Blessing of a Home in The Book of Occasional Services is not intended for the blessing of personal unions or partnerships, but it may serve that purpose with little or no adaptation.
Until such time as the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church may, with the consent of the General Convention, offer trial or permanent ceremonies for this purpose, clergy planning to provide such blessings will have to improvise appropriate ceremonies (my emphasis).
Does anyone really believe that in most Anglican provinces such improvisation would be conceivable?
Ah, but this is the Alice in Wonderland world of TEC. Stay with me and consider the slippery linguistic possibilities all of which arise around the word “authorized.” Authorized in the common life of the Episcopal Church could mean (a) authorized = established an official form of words, or (b) authorized = a bishop saying “OK, go ahead locally and do something,” or (c) a bishop knows that such practices are going on, the bishop was never asked about doing them (and never themselves asked whether they were occurring and why when they knew the answers to both questions), but nevertheless with the knowledge that they are occurring does nothing to stop them.
All of this brings us now to the Tanzania Primates Communique, where some TEC leaders are trying a similar legerdemain with the language in reference to same sex blessings. Read in context as a whole document, there is simply no way that this Communique allows for the Sisk/Naughton interpretation.
Why? First, because of the explicit language of parapgraph 21:
21. However, secondly, we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
The key phrase here is “local pastoral provision” which is mentioned twice. The concern of the primates was the practice of the Episcopal Church to say one thing and do another. Therefore, whether there was a national rite or not (which there isn’t), there are diocesan rites or suggested forms (as for example in the diocese of Vermont), and there are dioceses which do not have any “official” diocesan liturgy but where parishes do same sex blessings, whether in a home or a parish. One example of the latter would be the diocese of Los Angeles in which All Saint Pasadena does same sex blessings. Another would be the diocese of California where according to an article posted below, these blessings have been taking place for 30 years.
Second, because of the language used in the “On Clarifying the Response to Windsor” subsection of the Communique appendix:
In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144)
What is important here is the key phrase “in their dioceses OR through General Convention,” showing again that they have local pastoral provision at a diocesan level in mind. Paragraph 21 in the body of the Communique provides the context for this call for a covenant.
The third reason is because of the explicit way that the Communique underscores Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 as the standard for the teaching and practice of the Anglican Communion. Can you guess how many times Lambeth 1998 1.10 is referenced in this document? Six! It could not be more clear. That crucially important resolution reads:
Lambeth Conference 1998: Resolution 1.10 Human Sexuality
1 commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;
2 in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
3 recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
4 while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
5 cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
6 requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
7 notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
The key language in this resolution may be found here: Lambeth “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions.” Anglican practice needs to be in accord with anglican teaching. Therefore, there can be no pastoral practice in a local setting which either is or is seen to be somehow “legitimising or blessing…same sex unions.” And this means that local blessings, whether in houses or churches or wherever, and whether they have official sanctioned liturgies or not, cannot be done, if they are of non-celibate same sex couples.
Lest there be any doubt about this, the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the concluding press conference of the Tanzania primates meeting:
The teaching of the Anglican Church remains that homosexual activity is not compatible with scripture.
That is the standard, and there can be no “local provision” which is in conflict with it, since Anglican practice is to be in accord with Anglican teaching. The primates are calling the Episcopal Church to stop all local practices not in accordance with this standard. No other reading of the Communique as a whole and in context is possible. The Primate of the Southern Cone has already underscored this in response to the Presiding Bishop and even the Archbishop of Centerbury took the unusual step of issuing clarifying language yesterday in his General Synod Presidential address:
the understanding of the [Primates] Meeting was certainly that this [call for a moratorium to TEC] should be a comprehensive abstention from any public rites…
Now a number of things need to be said in conclusion. It cannot be emphasized enough that this language of Lambeth 1998 1.10 resolution also needs to be heeded, when they call “on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.”
There needs to be great pastoral provision made with the utmost compassion in this area, and the church has a long way to go. I have said many times how sad I am that people who identify themsleves as gay or lesbian do not feel welcome in churches, and it is a tragedy. We can and must do better.
Also, IF Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 is the standard for Anglicans, it leaves a whole lot of questions unresolved. I realize that. But as I have said again and again the key call to the Episcopal Church is to stop doing what we have been doing so as to create the space necessary for real reconciliation. Questions about other implications are for the future, and without the cessation the Primates call for there can be no joint future between TEC and the Anglican Communion.
I want further to make a plea specifically to Jim Naughton, since I feel I can talk to Jim and try to be heard (alas an increasing rarity in the deteriorating climate in the Episcopal Church at present).
First, I want to ask whether you realize how ethnocentric your reading of the communique is. It sounds like it comes from the country where apostolic leaders act like lawyers. Are we not called as Anglicans to ask what others would think? Do you really believe that your reading of the Communique is the way an African or Southeast Asian Primate would intend it? Is there even a way to write the communique as Greg Venables thinks it should be read and that you would read as Archbishop Venables intends that would make sense in the language of most of the other parts of the world?
Second, I want to plead with you to consider that the Anglican Communion is not something to be trifled with as if it were some kind of a game, as if it all came down to what the meaing of the word is is. Should not the thing to do in this instance be to bend over backwards to give the most globally Anglican interpretation of the document? It is not a small thing that the third largest Christian family in the world may break up. I pray it does not. And I especially pray if it does break up it will not be because we tried to find loopholes but instead that we tried as hard as we could to be honest with one another and heard what others were saying to us in their terms–KSH.
Update–Ruth Gledhill comments on the above as follows:
The sad irony of course, for all of us in England, is that this ‘blessing without authorising’ is what has been going on here for years, if not decades. It is just not ‘official’, rarely discussed outside closed doors, and certainly not adopted openly as policy! If TEC tries this and doesn’t get away with it, then CofE is definitely in trouble, I’ld say. TEC might have managed it if they had kept schtum and just gone ahead and done it like us, but I think things are looking pretty bleak now. The stable door is open, the horse has bolted. As Shaw said, we really are two countries divided by the same language. And now by the same theologies
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