Nathaniel Pierce Chimes In

Posted by Kendall Harmon

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.]

and

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

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican PrimatesPrimates Mtg Dar es Salaam, Feb 2007Episcopal Church (TEC)TEC Conflicts

20 Comments
Posted June 18, 2007 at 5:04 am

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1. D. C. Toedt wrote:

In asking that the House of Bishops:

... 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 ....

the Primates expressly contemplated that all TEC bishops would consider themselves bound by this “common covenant” of the HoB, regardless of their individual views or consciences.

That would amount to the HoB unilaterally appropriating to itself, as a body, a power of government in the Episcopal Church not granted to it by TEC’s constitution and canons; which is to say, a power not derived from the consent of the governed.

Some folks seem entirely comfortable with such unilateral appropriations of power, as long as the “correct” people are doing the appropriating. Others might call it lawlessness.

Small wonder the House of Bishops rejected the Primates’ request so resoundingly.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 6:49 am | [comment link]
2. Philip Snyder wrote:

D.C. (#1) - Are you saying that the HOB lacks the authority to do what the primates ask?  Can you cite a canon for me?  They did not seem to have any problem saying that they would not consent to the election of any bishop earlier.  They certainly have the authority to tell their priests that the priests may not bless same sex unions, since no such blessing is part of the Book of Common Prayer or any other service book authorized by General Convention.  They certainly have the authority to say that they will not consent to the election of any individual as a bishop.

This claim of “polity” rings hollow and false and sounds like a teenagers excuse for why a particular chore wasn’t done.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

“I do not believe because I understand.  I believe in order that I might understand” - Anselm
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

June 18, 7:45 am | [comment link]
3. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Some commenters on some of the other threads have said, “They just don’t get it!”

I fear that statement may be overly charitable. I fear that they do get it, and that they just don’t care. I fear that they know that their response is less than honest, and that they have not intention of ever being honest.

Am I wrong?

The Rabbit.

June 18, 7:46 am | [comment link]
4. William#2 wrote:

D.C., you’re a lot smarter than the post you made at #1 above from what I’ve read on this blog.  First, there is no dichotomy between agreeing to the covenant versus adhering to conscience.  If you can’t or won’t agree, fine; don’t.  Second, if the TEC Bishops agree to this position, are you now saying that the other decision making organs of your church can somehow “overrule” the Bishops?  At the next opportunity to approve a Bishop would your Bishops be powerless to withold consent?  At the next GC would they be powerless to vote against any legislation in opposition to the covenant?  When the U.S. Senate fails to pass a certain piece of legislation that the House passed, is that a “lawless unilateral appropriation of power?”
I think you all know exactly what you are doing.  I think your decision making organs could have very clearly responded without ambiguity to the Primates requests and deliberately chose not to do so.  Are you saying the vaunted intellects that run TEC are incapable of making a clear response?
Finally, your entire premise is deliberately bogus.  Your church took unilateral action to consecreate Robinson and recognize same sex blessings knowing it would render the communion and knowing it violated previous Lambeth teaching.  The issue is not power, although I am not surprised that you think that so; the issue is relationship.  The Primates have been clear about what they need from you to remain in communion relationship.  Please clearly answer them instead of dodging the question with your disingenous claims.

June 18, 8:16 am | [comment link]
5. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Phil Snyder [#2] and William#2 [#4], this may be a poTAYto-poTAHto issue. My point, perhaps badly expressed, is that the HoB cannot, by unilateral action as a body:

   • change church law (in effect) by dictating to a bishop how he (or she) must govern his diocese in respect of same-sex blessings; that’d be like the National Governors Association approving a resolution that no governor is permitted to sign a state budget that provides funding for services for illegal immigrants (let’s say); nor

   • dictate to a bishop how he (or she) must vote on consents to episcopal ordinations; that’d be like the U.S. Senate approving a resolution saying that no senator is permitted to vote to confirm a pro-choice judge.

Yet in each case that seems to be precisely what the Primates were requesting.

(Concerning the episcopal-consent issue: Sure, if a majority of bishops were to declare they would not consent to ordaining an active gay as bishop, then as a practical matter that’d be the ball game — but only so long as this episcopal cartel held together.)

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 9:29 am | [comment link]
6. Philip Snyder wrote:

D.C. (#5) - The primates are not requesting legislation.  They are requesting that we continue in a relationship.  If a bishop does not want to continue in a relationship, then no amount of legislation will keep him or her in that relationship.

The problem is that when you define “moral” as “legal,” then you get both bad laws and bad morals.  The reappraisers are thinking legalistically - “there is no law against…” or “I have a right to…” or “not doing ... will restrict someone’s rights”.  The reasserters are thinking relationally - we are members one of another and, thus, must move together - regardless of our “rights” or “priveledges.”

From a legal standpoint, you are correct.  The HoB cannot compel its members to refrain from same sex union or consenting to the ordination of practicing homosexuals.  Legally, the ECUSA is an autonomous body.  However we are supposed to be part of the Anglican Communion (so says our constitution) and these actions say we desire autonomy over communion. 

We may get our wish.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

“I do not believe because I understand.  I believe in order that I might understand” - Anselm
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

June 18, 10:29 am | [comment link]
7. D. C. Toedt wrote:

William#2 [#4] writes: “The Primates have been clear about what they need from you to remain in communion relationship.  Please clearly answer them instead of dodging the question with your disingenous claims.”

Why should we? Ambiguity and uncertainty aren’t always bad things. Sometimes they allow opposing sides to continue muddling along. Muddling along often lets us continue working together in God’s service, instead of drawing lines in the sand and fighting over supposedly-sacred principles.

Just because a subset of the Primates thinks it’s time for TEC to either submit or leave, that doesn’t obligate us to give in to their misconceived demands for “clarity.”

And if some people want to scream that our position is sheer arrogance: Tough; we’ve got more-important things with which to concern ourselves — like, oh, bringing people to God.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 10:38 am | [comment link]
8. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Phil Snyder [#6] writes: “However we are supposed to be part of the Anglican Communion (so says our constitution) ....”

This argument needs to be refuted every time someone raises it, lest it gain even more unwarranted circulation than it already has. See “The preamble to the Episcopal Church’s constitution does NOT mandate Anglican Communion membership.”

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 10:48 am | [comment link]
9. William#2 wrote:

D.C., your sentence, “And if some people want to scream that our position is sheer arrogance: Tough…” pretty much says it all.  And again, you will not stop marginalizing the orthodox position that disobedience of God’s commands regarding sexuality is far more than “supposedly sacred principles.” If you are wrong and I am right, God will NOT enable you to carry on with your supposed business of “bringing people to God” because D.C., you can’t do that without His blessing while you go about blessing same sex relationships in defiance of Him.
Finally, given the membership declines in your church, perhaps you should redouble your efforts to “bring people to God,” since many seem to be coming to Him only after they leave you.

June 18, 11:26 am | [comment link]
10. Philip Snyder wrote:

D.C. - I see you haven’t answered the question of relationship v legalism.  It seems that you prefer a legalist outlook, but I submit that legalism is a bad way to run a church or to be a Christian.

As the Body of Christ, we are to be in communion with one another and are members of one another.  You cannot, at the same time, request autonomy and be in communion and communion cannot depend on legal instruments.  TECUSA has as much as stated that it values its autonomy over communion.  Will we continue in this way?  The way of autonomy is the way of the Devil - after all, he wanted his autonomy too.  Will you relinquish your autonomy for the sake of communion?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

“I do not believe because I understand.  I believe in order that I might understand” - Anselm
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

June 18, 11:52 am | [comment link]
11. jamesw wrote:

D.C. - Methinks your grandiose claim about the preamble you refer to in post #8 is not quite as secure as you think.  You see, if the preamble gets litigated, it isn’t going to be in the context of one side asking the court to declare the TEC General Convention not really the TEC General Convention.  Rather it will be a dispute between two bodies, each claiming to be the legitimate TEC General Convention.  One will be in communion with Canterbury and the Anglican Communion, the other one won’t be.  Most likely both GC’s will have bishops and dioceses that can trace their lineage back to the “old” TEC.  If the court is forced to choose between two rival claimants, then I think that many of the factors you dismiss in your analysis will become critical.

But I agree with Phil, here.  Communion isn’t about myriad legalities.  All of TEC’s obsession with legalities and lawsuits and litigation seems to me exceedingly small minded.  It reminds me of a bunch of little boys gathered together where one of them is asked to do something and they reply “who’s gonna make me?” and then “yeah, well you and who’s army?”  The infantile quality of TEC’s responses is breathtaking from an organization that prides itself on being the intellectual elite of the nation.

June 18, 12:47 pm | [comment link]
12. D. C. Toedt wrote:

William#2 [#9] writes: “If you are wrong and I am right, God will NOT enable you to carry on with your supposed business of “bringing people to God” because D.C., you can’t do that without His blessing while you go about blessing same sex relationships in defiance of Him.”

I guess that all depends on which of us is right, assuming either of us is. It’s hard to tell, at least this side of eternity: None of us knows it all, and much of what we think we know often turns out to be incomplete or flat-out wrong. Even so, each of us still has to make our bets in this life as best we can (ideally, learning to do a better job of playing the hands we’re dealt as we go along).

Which brings us back to a significant difference in our outlooks: For reasons I don’t fully understand, scripturalists are eager to make some really big bets on the reliability of the various writings known as “The Bible.”  As we’ve discussed in this forum on numerous occasions, many of us think it’s a really bad idea to put down so many chips on that particular hand.

————————

Philip Snyder [#10] writes: “I see you haven’t answered the question of relationship v legalism.  It seems that you prefer a legalist outlook, but I submit that legalism is a bad way to run a church or to be a Christian.”

It’s not an either/or thing, Phil. We need both tools in the toolbox. People being people, sometimes relationships get contentious. When that happens, legalism is usually preferable to some decidedly less-Christian alternatives. For example, when we’re talking about property rights, legalism is better than, let’s say, having one side or another occupy a church building and refuse to leave; that path eventually leads to what we saw in the clashes in Gaza last week between Hamas and Fatah.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 1:17 pm | [comment link]
13. Reactionary wrote:

For example, when we’re talking about property rights, legalism is better than, let’s say, having one side or another occupy a church building and refuse to leave; that path eventually leads to what we saw in the clashes in Gaza last week between Hamas and Fatah.

Court judgments are enforced by groups of heavily armed people.  There’s really no difference other than in the process used to arrive at that eventuality.

June 18, 4:19 pm | [comment link]
14. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Reactionary [#13], if you’ve got a better idea than legalism, “enforced by groups of heavily armed people,” for resolving disputes where the gap between the parties’ positions seems unbridgeable, the entire world would love to hear it.

(Please don’t respond that everyone should just obey the orthodox interpretation of Scripture; that’s just a thinly-disguised version of “we’re right, so do as we say.”)

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
15. William#2 wrote:

D.C., I appreciate your “we’re right, so do as we say” comment to Reactionary above, since that is precisely what your church has told the orthodox in TEC, and the Anglican Communion in this matter.  Before your church consecrated Mr. Robinson and recognized that same sex blessings were “part of our common life,” these were things that we agreed to disagree about.  You and I could both join at the altar rail for Communion with our own understandings of what God says about homosexual conduct.  After, my choice was to remain, or depart from a church which had said at its highest councils and by its important actions that monogamous gay sex was now, holy.
I point out also that for many of us—oh, at least 1 billion Christians or more give, or take, Scripture is far more than “various writings known as the Bible” as you put it, the book is the “Holy Bible.”  As you know, the word “holy” means “set apart.”  Its far more than “various writings,” my friend, if you accept the historical witness of billions of the faithful over many centuries.  Instead it seems you accept the discernment of a few hundred thousand Episcopalians, if that.
D.C., your chips seem to be dwindling and ours are growing.  Perhaps you consider that as you place your next wager.

June 18, 6:08 pm | [comment link]
16. dpeirce wrote:

You know? It isn’t rocket science. The primates very straightforwardly asked TEC’s bishops to deny any future homosexual blessings in their dioceses and to not vote for those blessings in future, and to not give their votes in future to bishop candidates who are living in homosexual relationships. Failure by the bishops to agree is to result in diminution of TEC’s status in the Communion.

Period.

The primates apparently don’t buy it that TEC’s bishops don’t have that authority, probably because they are bishops themselves. TEC’s bishops absolutely do have the authority to run their own dioceses and to decide their own personal votes at meetings; no legislation is needed for that and nothing more is needed to satisfy the Communique.

What we see isn’t “polity”, it’s disobedience both to the Communion and to God’s Word. The bishops can agree or disagree; so far they have not agreed. Sometime shortly after Sept 30 we will know whether Mr DC is right or wrong.

He will either be smart or silly.

In faith, Dave
Viva Texas

June 18, 6:16 pm | [comment link]
17. D. C. Toedt wrote:

William#2 [#15] writes: “Before your church consecrated Mr. Robinson and recognized that same sex blessings were “part of our common life,” these were things that we agreed to disagree about.”

William#2, I gather you’re no longer an Episcopalian. You’re as entitled to express your opinion on this blog as I am, but honestly, you sound about as silly as I would if I were to frequent a Mormon blog and yammer at them that they can’t claim to be “Christian” because of their doctrines and practices.

(From what I can tell, the Mormons have a practical, level-headed response to those who insist they’re not “Christian”: they ignore those folks and go about their business, doing God’s work as best they can. When scripturalists insist that TEC is no longer “Anglican,” our response should be pretty much the same.)

You also have an odd notion of what it means to agree to disagree, William#2. Not consecrating Gene Robinson because others outside TEC objected is not agreeing to disagree, it’s surrender. To you the phrase evidently means (once again) “we’re right, do it our way.”

————————-

William#2 writes: “Its far more than “various writings,” my friend, if you accept the historical witness of billions of the faithful over many centuries.  Instead it seems you accept the discernment of a few hundred thousand Episcopalians, if that.”

It’s not a numbers game, William#2. If you want to talk about absolute numbers, the non-Christians in the world have always outnumbered the Christians. If you want to talk about rates of growth, I’ve read that the Muslims and the Mormons have got Christianity beat by a good bit. And as history has often proved, even an overwhelming majority can be dead wrong.

————————-

DPeirce [#16] writes: “What we see isn’t “polity”, it’s disobedience both to the Communion and to God’s Word. The bishops can agree or disagree; so far they have not agreed. Sometime shortly after Sept 30 we will know whether Mr DC is right or wrong.

Nah; it’ll take a lot longer than that — at least decades, and maybe even centuries. I’m happy to live with the uncertainty, and to make whatever mid-course corrections might seem appropriate as we go along.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 6:45 pm | [comment link]
18. William#2 wrote:

D.C., as a lawyer you might consider that if all you can do to refute my points is take refuge in the fact I am no longer in the Episcopal Church to label my points as “silly” then I simply wish you well in your legal practice and leave it at that.  My humble opinion is that all followers of Jesus Christ should be interested in watching your church’s rebellion against God and guarding against it. 

If you find my interest “silly”  and “yammering”
D.C., to quote you, “tough.”

The notion that only “persons outside TEC” objected to the Robinson consecration D.C., is, again, unworthy of you. Reminds me of Al Sharpton’s priceless “white interlopers” phrase.  The notion that you should not care if much of the Anglican Communion also objects, or the “numbers game” of the whole of Christendom objects, is also unworthy of you. 
Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps God does not speak to a billion Roman Catholics who find same sex relationships sinful.  Or the millions of Southern Baptists alone who outnumber you ten to one.  And of course God only speaks to us in the Holy Bible through those passages and texts accepted by Episcopalians. 
Since we’re free to ignore the will of the majority, D.C., in terms of both the historic witness of Christianity throughout the ages AND the present witness; and, we are also free to ignore the Biblical text, praytell what authority is there in this matter?  As an attorney, you must submit to the law, whether you agree with it or not.  The law is what stops the whim of one, or the power of many. 

I am truly curious though, if you don’t mind answering this sir.  Do you submit to any authority?  If you are unwilling to recognize either the Holy Bible or the witness of the majority of Christendom and its leadership, is it all just up to the individual then?

June 18, 8:57 pm | [comment link]
19. D. C. Toedt wrote:

William#2 [#18] writes: ”... praytell what authority is there in this matter?  As an attorney, you must submit to the law, whether you agree with it or not. ... I am truly curious though, if you don’t mind answering this sir.  Do you submit to any authority?”

I confess to not understanding the craving for authority that seems to prevail among some scripturalists. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, I wonder whether some of these folks are convinced in their bones of their own wretched unworthiness, so much so that they shy away from making any major decision on their own unless they can cling to the soothing comfort of (what they deem) “authority.”  Along with this primal insecurity, perhaps there’s also an element of fear at work; fear of provoking God’s wrath by making an honest mistake. I suspect there’s a large dollop of weak faith involved, too: a lack of trust that, in the very long term, things are going to turn out unimaginably well.

Still, William#2, it’s a thought-provoking question: Do I submit to any authority? (You mean apart from my wife, right? <g> ) My answer would have to be yes, of course I do — but subject to my duty (to God? to conscience?) to make the best judgments I can whether, in a given situation, such submission is warranted. For example:

• If the authority were a state statute that says drivers have to stop at red lights, submission is a no-brainer.

• If the authority were a doctor telling me I needed both my legs amputated, I’d want a second opinion, then I’d make up my own mind.

• If the authority were a harbor chart whose use was mandated by Coast Guard regulations, but I knew it was outdated because of recent storms, I’d consult the chart, but I’d make my own navigational decisions using all the information I can gather. As a ship’s master, my duty is not to slavishly follow the authority of the charts, but to bring the ship safely into port. 

• If the authority were the Gestapo in the Germany of, say, 1940, ordering me to reveal where Jews were hiding, I hope I’d have the courage to tell them where to stick their authority. But if I were to obey their orders, the war-crimes trial would not be interested in my claim that “I was only following authority!”

Perhaps it’s the military subculture in which I was raised and came to adulthood, but I happen to believe that each of us is ultimately responsible for our own actions, for doing the “best” we can with what we’ve got. “Authority” is useful for guidance; indeed, in a given situation, following authority may well be the best move you can make. But the responsibility is yours, and yours alone.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

June 18, 11:11 pm | [comment link]
20. William#2 wrote:

D.C., you’re a smart guy, but your understanding of the Christian faith seems, well, limited.  When you talk of “scripturalists” who “crave authority” because they are convinced of their own “wretched unworthiness,” well, D.C., there’s a word for that belief:  Christianity.  What do you believe?
Its central to Christian faith that because we are inherently sinful (Adam) and doomed to sin (disobedience to God, i.e., the “authority” figure you reject), that via the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are saved from our sin and able to join God in heaven after death. 
D.C., your denigration of what you call authority saddens me greatly.  I don’t think I have “primal insecurity,” or fear, because Christ has freed me from fear; I do think I lack the “large dollop” of ego that you seem to have.  The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.  Nor do I lack trust; I do believe “all shall be well” if I remain in relationship with Jesus Christ for He will take care of me and save me despite myself.
Is that weakness in your eyes, D.C.?  Insecurity?  Fear?  Lack of trust?  If its weakness, its that of Jesus when he kneels to wash His disciples feet, or bow humbly in prayer before God.
So, in your examples, you submit to man, his red light laws, the Gestapo of Germany, a doctor contemplating amputation of your legs.
D.C., I submit to God first, man second and only if that is consonant with God’s will as I discern it.
Now tell me again, who is weak, and afraid?

June 19, 5:44 pm | [comment link]


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