Bishops’ Theology Committee offers Primates’ communiqué study document

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Readers are encouraged to read through much related material to the House of Bishops study document at this (relatively new) website--KSH.


Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Theology Committee of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops on June 1 released a study document aimed at helping the bishops respond to the requests made to them by the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

The 15-page "Communion Matters: A Study Document for the Episcopal Church" is available online. A color PDF version of the document is available here. A black-and-white PDF version is here.

Theology Committee chair and Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley told Episcopal News Service that the report is meant for bishops to use in conversation with the people of their dioceses in the three and a half months between now and the mid-September meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans. Rather than call for responses from individual Episcopalians, Parsley said the committee will in late August and early September gather input from bishops on the result of their conversations in their dioceses.

He said the committee hopes that Episcopalians will "read, mark, inwardly digest and then come talk" about the document with their bishop.

"Every diocese will have to do that in their own way," he said. "We didn't want it to be an individual thing. We wanted it to be a diocesan, corporate process overseen by the bishop."

Parsley said the corporate nature of the conversations is important, given the nature of the requests made by the Primates at the end of their February gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania via a communiqué.

"The Anglican tradition is always that bishops are in the midst of the people of God and, when thinking about important matters, need to take counsel with the deacons, priests and laypersons in order to be well-informed and to listen to the Church," he said. "We felt that since the communiqué addresses the request to the House of Bishops in response to resolutions of General Convention, we couldn't just act unilaterally. We needed to take counsel with the people of the Church in responding to the communiqué."

He added that bishops need to exercise their "unique role as chief pastors and teachers ... but we exercise it best when we are in conversation with -- in counsel with -- the Church in our dioceses."

"Communion Matters" begins with a preface in which the committee writes that it offers the document "as a contribution to the discernment of this church as we seek the mind of Christ and endeavor to be faithful to our calling as members of the Anglican family in the world."

It includes three chapters of information, a set of questions for reflection and resources for more background.

The preface says that the guide aims to be a summary, not an exhaustive history.

"Constraints of space and concerns about maintaining easy readability prevent us from recounting all the important details of the conversation taking place in our church and Communion," the committee writes. "We hope that we have faithfully described the essentials."

Parsley reiterated the preface's hope. "We wanted this to be readable, brief and accessible to all of our people," he said. "In that way, it's a little simpler than some people might want, but we want it to be read and stimulate conversation."

The chapter on "Relationships within the Anglican Communion" says that the Communion matters because "in this fellowship all give and receive many gifts," "it enables us to be disciples in a global context," "we have sought it for many years," and "the maintenance of mutuality and trust with the Communion effects future mission opportunities."

The next chapter, titled "Our Special Charism as Anglican Christians," says that Anglicans have always valued the via media -- "the middle way between polarities" -- as a "faithful theological method."

The chapter describes the via media as an approach that "acknowledges paradox and believes even apparent opposites may be reconciled or transcended."

"Moreover, many within our church believe this is a good thing and a major charism (gift)," the chapter says. "In our own day, we especially need to preserve this special Anglican charism, not only for our own Communion but for all Christians."

The third chapter sets the Dar es Salaam communiqué in the context of the Communion's on-going debate about human sexuality, noting that "because the Communion has no central constitution and no form of synod or council beyond that of each province, issues of authority and conciliarity can present acute challenges for the maintenance of communion."

The chapter references the 1998 Lambeth Conference debate and the previous objections by the Primates Meeting, traces the Windsor Report process, outlines the Episcopal Church's response to the Report, summarizes how the Primates Meeting came to be and summarizes the pertinent parts of the communiqué and the House of Bishops' statements about it to date.

The House of Bishops has already responded to a portion of the communiqué. In three "Mind of the House" resolutions passed during their March meeting, the bishops said, in part, that the Primates' proposed "pastoral scheme" for dealing with disaffected Episcopal Church dioceses "would be injurious to The Episcopal Church." The bishops urged that the Executive Council "decline to participate in it."

The communiqué gave the bishops of the Episcopal Church until September 30 to "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" and "confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent; unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."

The third chapter states that these two requests "raise significant issues about the role of the primates in the Anglican Communion, Anglican ecclesiology, and the role of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church," including:

"Are such requests appropriately addressed by the bishops as chief pastors and teachers, or more representatively by the General Convention?"
"How best may theological and mission development take place in churches which are ‘autonomous in communion'?" and
"How can the Communion appropriately consult about important matters such as these without a centralization of authority that is unknown to Anglicanism?"
The three chapters are followed by a series of eight questions for reflection with some background on each question, and then a page of online resources for more background. When viewed on a computer in its PDF form, the clickable links on the resources page send readers to electronic versions of the documents.

"As bishops we are charged in ordination to guard the faith and unity of the Church. Being charged with this task does not mean it falls to us alone," the document concludes. "This study document is written to allow us to hear and receive the response of the whole of this province so that together we might respond faithfully as a constituent member of this great Communion."

In addition to Parsley, the members of the Theology Committee are David Alvarez of Puerto Rico; Joe Burnett of Nebraska; Robert W. Ihloff, recently retired of Maryland; Carolyn T. Irish of Utah; Paul V. Marshall of Bethlehem; Steven A. Miller of Milwaukee and Jeffrey Steenson of Rio Grande.

The Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, an Executive Council member and professor at Episcopal Divinity School, is the committee's consulting theologian. Douglas also worked as a liaison between the Theology Committee and a subcommittee of the Executive Council's International Concerns Committee (INC), which released a six-page study guide to the draft version of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

The covenant guide calls for congregations and individuals to submit responses by June 4. Responses will be used in the creation of a response by the Executive Council at its October meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

Prior to that, at the Council's June meeting in Parsippany, New Jersey, INC will propose that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson appoint a Covenant Review Group to follow the covenant-development process, enable comments from the wider Episcopal Church and provide comments on behalf of the church to the Communion's Covenant Design Group.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: Primary Source-- Statements & Letters: BishopsAnglican IdentityAnglican PrimatesPrimates Mtg Dar es Salaam, Feb 2007Episcopal Church (TEC)TEC Bishops* Resources & LinksResources: blogs / websites* Theology

Posted June 2, 2007 at 11:06 am

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1. Pb wrote:

I can not believe that they have not heard what is being said. What part of no do they not understand?

June 2, 12:29 pm | [comment link]
2. Chris Taylor wrote:

Hopeless.  How many times are they going to restate all the issues and not address them?  This is a classic example in this report:

“In 1998 the Lambeth Conference commended to the primates a further responsibility of “intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.” However, this innovation has not found universal acceptance around the Communion, especially within the governing bodies of the Episcopal Church, who believe that its established polity does not allow for such intervention from outside.”

So, what we have here is an acknowledgment of what the Communion has decided followed by a description of what we (TEC) don’t like about what they (the Communion) has done as an “innovation” and the observation that this “innovation has not found universal acceptance around the Communion”.  In other words, the VAST majority of the Communion has spoken and a tiny minority of the Communion doesn’t like it and identifies what they don’t like as an “innovation” (totally ignoring, of course, that this offensive “innovation” by the larger Communion was prompted by their own unilateral innovation, acted upon in direct opposition to the express and repeated requests of the Communion not to proceed!).  Come on folks, this is getting REALLY stale!

June 2, 12:36 pm | [comment link]
3. Rev. J wrote:

One would think that with the length and persistence of this controversy, that someone would actually undertake to study the scriptures to justify (or try) the liberal position.  I guess the problem is, that they cannot do it.  There is some justification for the ordination of women, scriptually, there is NO justification for condoning, let alone ordination of the sexually immoral, only condemnation and association with pagans.  CAN A MAJORITY OF THE BISHOPS IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH NOT KNOW THAT, NOT WANT TO KNOW THAT, NOT CARE TO KNOW THAT?  It is AWESOME !

June 2, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
4. Ross wrote:

#3 Rev. J:

The Scriptural argument has been made, several times.  It involves words like “context” and “trajectory,” and most reasserters reject it because it uses a Biblical hermeneutic that they consider invalid.  But we do make the argument.

Who am I?  Visit my web page or my blog  to find out.

June 2, 2:26 pm | [comment link]
5. carl wrote:

It involves words like “context” and “trajectory,” and most reasserters reject it because it uses a Biblical hermeneutic that they consider invalid.

If you wish to convince your opponents, you must use their hermeneutic.  Show me that my conclusion about the sinfulness of homosexuality is not a necessary conclusion of sound exegesis, and I will change my mind.  It is a simple task.  Instead you demand that I either 1) approach Scripture with the prior assumption that homosexuality is a positive good, or 2) norm Scripture according to some external standard.  That you must do so speaks with telling force about the credibility of your Scriptural argument.


June 2, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
6. Ross wrote:

#5 carl says:

If you wish to convince your opponents, you must use their hermeneutic.

But that can be turned around the other way—can you convince me that homosexuality is sinful by using my hermeneutic?  And if you can’t, does that also “speak with telling force about the credibility” of your Scriptural argument?

Who am I?  Visit my web page or my blog  to find out.

June 2, 4:04 pm | [comment link]
7. Marcia wrote:

#4 Ross, the use of the words “context” and “trajectory” seems to aim at proving that Scriptures are irrelevant and/or wrong and/or outdated, and therefore should be ignored as useless.  We assert that Scriptures are relevant, right, have current application, and that Christian thought and behavior, with the help of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), needs to conform thereto.

A Scriptural response that we can consider involves honorably discussing the content as valid and useful.

External standards of judgment do not judge Scripture, but are to be judged by Scripture.

June 2, 4:08 pm | [comment link]
8. john scholasticus wrote:


#4 Ross, the use of the words “context” and “trajectory” seems to aim at proving that Scriptures are irrelevant and/or wrong and/or outdated, and therefore should be ignored as useless.

That is precisely what is not being asserted.

June 2, 4:31 pm | [comment link]
9. carl wrote:

When liberals are asked to make the Scriptural argument for homosexuality, they are being asked to make that argument on the assumption that Scripture is the norming norm.  Where is this argument?  I maintain it does not exist, because it cannot be done. 

But that can be turned around the other way—can you convince me that homosexuality is sinful by using my hermeneutic?

Admittedly, I was guilty of sloppy writing.  To adopt a hermeneutic is often to determine the outcome.  My original statement as written was much too broad.  What I meant was this.  Show me that I have incorrectly applied my hermeneutic and I will change my mind.  I can do this to you as well - but only if you have made an error in application. 

Now in terms of this debate, I think both sides have arrived at necessary conclusions driven by their respective first principles.  There is no error of reasoning to expose - on either side.  That makes the debate intractible.  As you said we have dueling hermaneutics.  So simply making an argument losely based on Scripture (ala To Set Our Hope on Christ) does not bridge the divide.  Liberals have never made the argument that has been requested of them.

June 2, 4:35 pm | [comment link]
10. Marcia wrote:

‘we have dueling hermaneutics.’

That is a word I never saw until the past year, and still have never heard anyone say it.  Yet, this word now is central to Christian Salvation.

It is used to define Gospel, Church, mission, life, duty, morals, love, and lots else, in ways that so conflict with each other they cause anger, fear, and court battles.

Where can we go from here?

June 2, 5:24 pm | [comment link]
11. MJD_NV wrote:

But that can be turned around the other way—can you convince me that homosexuality is sinful by using my hermeneutic?

Ross, a theory that any set of facts can be changed if one does not like where they logically conclude is NOT a hermeneutic.  It’s chaos.

If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here? The faith remaining will be a very different faith from the Christian faith once delivered to the saints - and I, for one, am not going there!  ~ Bp. Miller, Church of Ireland

June 2, 6:05 pm | [comment link]
12. MargaretG wrote:

’we have dueling hermaneutics.’

as many, many folk have said, and I truly believe, this is not a debate about homosexuality at all. That is just the presenting issue. The REAL debate is on the authority of scripture and how scripture is to be read.

And we do have two competing hermeneutics - one that follows the principles of the last 2000 years of Christian teaching; and the other which relies on “context” and “trajectory” and “whatever the world tells me I should read into developing MY view of what the thing that I develop that I chose to call God.

June 2, 6:55 pm | [comment link]
13. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

I have ten page anwer to the Executive Committee Study Guide to the Draft Covenant that will have as much effect as this item on the HOB.  That opinion is based on the effects of the HOB Theology Commission report on the GC and HOB in the Matter of Vickie Gene Robinson - prior to and after his election.  In short, none.

June 2, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
14. Ian Montgomery wrote:

What a futile document.

June 2, 8:54 pm | [comment link]
15. Bill Matz wrote:

The HoB Theology Committee was effectively rendered useless after its March ‘03 report was ignored at GC ‘03.

Ross has it completely backwards with respect to trajectory. See the fine essay by Dean Peter Moore on the subject. In short he points out that in every Jesus made sexual morality more rigorous, not less. Reappraisers mistake the mercy in remission of punishment for a change in the standard.

June 3, 12:46 am | [comment link]
16. robroy wrote:

I am wonder whether all this hue and cry is really a sham. Do they not know that the early invitations from the ABC are a big, fat gift? If he had waited till after Sept 30 and after the HoB collectively drop their drawers and moon the rest of the communion (that is not very pleasant imagery!), then the ABC wouldn’t have enough political chips invite the arrogant over the objections of the rest of the communion and none of the non-Windsor American bishops would be sipping tea.

And I fully expect VGR to be invited as a guest, which in some ways suits his personal agenda better, the agenda of self-aggrandizement. He can come and cry about how he is being victimized to be only a guest. “Oh, the sham, the sham!” The media will love it.

Non serviri, sed servire.

June 3, 2:15 am | [comment link]
17. robroy wrote:

Sorry, that last posting was meant for a different thread (but you gotta love the mooning imagery!).

Non serviri, sed servire.

June 3, 2:17 am | [comment link]
18. MargaretG wrote:

I have now read it cover to cover—and to me is says nothing.

Can someone help me out by providing a short summary of whatever conclusion you think it comes to?

June 3, 4:49 am | [comment link]
19. rschllnbrg wrote:

There’s a continuing “big lie” out there at the moment. We hear it over and over in a lot of different forms. We need someone with a good paper trail to pick up on the many different uses of the words, “The anglican tradition has always ...” It’s been used recently to tell us that there’s always been a big tent, always been ambiguity in our doctrines, always been consultation of bishops with laypeople, always been ... Well, who says? As a student of history it’s hard for me to see how an entity like the Anglican church can be said to have an “always”. Unless you’re using the big lie, repeated often enough, to cover your footsteps.

It would be nice if there was a voice in every room that does not let this big lie just sit there in plain view but asks the question, “Excuse me, but how do you know that? What’s the evidence that our Anglican tradition has always ...?”

June 3, 7:45 am | [comment link]
20. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

I have read it and read it and read it, literally.  It is a singuarly good good argument that would render the Anglican tradition as apparently understood and expressed by these folks as stupid.  It is clearly in the tradition of IDIOTES (the self-contained).  This is an extremely sad commentary on the state of knowledge and capability of leadership within the HOB.  Sola Cultura has triumphed over all, it would seem.  Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.  Kyrie eleison.

June 4, 11:59 am | [comment link]
21. Bob from Boone wrote:

Anyone who has been following the controversy, as I have, will find this report of little value, as it does no more than survey the history. It really offers no guidance.  As for the Theology Committee’s 2003 Report on Human Sexuality, I found it to be little more than mush. I think the HOB either needs to get a new committee or rethink its purpose altogether, if bishops are to spend so much time to little result.

June 4, 11:31 pm | [comment link]

© 2017 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.

For original material from Titusonenine (such as articles and commentary by Dr. Harmon) permission to copy and distribute free of charge is granted, provided this notice, the logo, and the web site address are visible on all copies. For permission for use in for-profit publications, please email KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com

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