Count me as one of the persons puzzled by the response of the Executive Council to the 2/19/07 Communique from the Primates and subsequent comments on this list. Our discussion would be improved, I think, if folks took the time to read once again just exactly what the Primates actually said and the rationale they provide.
The main issue for the Primates seems to have been a perception of ambiguity about the meaning of GC Resolution B033: "(23) Further, some of us believe that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report." In other words, GC spoke (ie, Bishops and Deputies acted separately but concurrently) but just what does B033 mean? As we all know, the Primates are not alone in wondering about the meaning of B033.
The Primates reaffirmed their commitment to "the establishment of a Covenant" (29), indicated that "an interim response is required in the period until the Covenant is secured," (30) and stated "such is the imperative laid on us to seek reconciliation in the Church of Christ that we have been emboldened to offer a number of recommendations." (35) Note the word "recommendations."
So, the Primates ask the House of Bishops, speaking only on behalf of the HoB, to clarify its understanding of B033 (in which the HoB participated) and the meaning of the absence of any resolution from GC on the blessings of same gender relationships. So, to quote the Primates:
"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 authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention;
[Note: in effect the Primates are asking whether the March 2005 pledge by the HoB not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions, and not to bless any such unions at least until the 2006 GC, is still in effect.]
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidaate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent ... .
"If the reassurances requested of the HoB cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and thus has consequences for the full participation of this Church in the life of the Communion."
The Executive Council of TEC responded as follows:
"Still, the requests of the Primates are of a nature that can only properly be dealt with by our General Convention. Neither the Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop, nor the House of Bishops can give binding interpretations of General Convention resolutions nor make an 'unequivocal common commitment' to denying future decisions by dioceses or General Convention."
So, here is the nub of the issue. The Primates have for all intents and purposes have asked the HoB of TEC to pass a "mind of the House" resolution not unlike the Port St. Lucie statement on conscience and women's ordination in 1977 or the March 2005 pledge not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. Such a resolution would speak only for the HoB; it is not binding on anyone else (at least as I understand the polity of TEC). EC has interpreted this as a "binding interpretation of General Convention resolutions" (or in the case of same-sex blessings, the meaning of the absence of any GC resolution). If I understand EC's position correctly, such a mind of the House resolution from our Bishops acting alone somehow would be construed as binding on everydody in TEC. It feels like two ships passing in the night. And, as an aside, please tell me again who does not understand the polity of the Episcopal Church?
A more honest and forthright response from EC might have said something like this: "we support those Bishops who choose to authorize same-sex blessings, we promise not to make any attempt to force any Bishop to authorize such Rites in his/her Diocese (in sharp contrast to our recent actions on the issue of women's ordination), and we applaud the ambiguity of B033 which will permit us to do whatever the hell we want to."
Alas, such candor seems to be in short supply these days.
--The Rev. Nathaniel Pierce lives in Trappe, Maryland
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