Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Running Out of Time

As I write this article, General Convention has just completed its work. For the first time since 1991, a back injury has forced me to view the events from the sidelines through reports in the media, e-mail lists and my Montana delegation. General Convention often sees the Church at its best in worship and sharing of ministry and sometimes at its worst in the political maneuvering of the legislative process.

I regret not being able to see the exciting ministries on display in the Exhibit Hall, and miss sharing the passion of the participants. One cannot attend a General Convention without being impressed by the complexity of this event and how well it is orchestrated. It is amazing that a group of over 1,000 deputies and bishops can debate, perfect and separately vote on over 400 resolutions in 10 days. Can anyone imagine this being accomplished by our Congress? I commend those attending for their dedication to the Church and thank them for their service. Obviously, General Convention has taken many actions that have yet to be fully reported, and my following comments are directed toward the issues that have been most visible in reports I have seen.

I expected to be a deputy in Columbus and participated fully in the discussions leading up the General Convention. I proposed what I called the “common ground” resolution defining possible answers to the theological and pastoral questions related to the blessing of same-sex relationships that were left unresolved in 2003. Responses to my effort before General Convention indicated that supporters of same-sex relationships were not ready to define answers to those questions in a resolution, and those opposed were not ready to consider compromise. More support was directed toward responses to the Windsor Report drafted by the Special Committee. The actions taken in Columbus on those resolutions will satisfy some while leaving others confused or frustrated.

There was an expression of regret for any harm caused by the consecration of Gene Robinson and a call for restraint in the election of bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider Church." In the area of rites for blessing of same-sex relationships, it appears no action was taken that would modify the previous position of the Episcopal Church.

In response to calls for a theological explanation for the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, some are characterizing our Church as a community united in ministry with members that have diverse interpretations of scripture and theological beliefs. They say there is no single theological explanation for that action and none should be expected. In contrast to this, the debates at General Convention show that we are not united in our political beliefs and yet we support an office in Washington advocating one position on issues where we obviously disagree. Priorities seem to be confused when a religious community claims singularity in its political advocacy while in its scriptural interpretation and theology, diversity is accepted and even embraced. Whatever happened to scripture, tradition and reason?

It is also a contradiction to proclaim the diversity of our theological beliefs, when those opposed to the ordination of women are subjected to ridicule. I have not been against the ordination of women and would not have opposed the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop because of her gender. I pray that she is able to build bridges with those who would have opposed her election, and hope she has the administrative ability to effectively oversee ministry at the Church Center.

At this time, General Convention appears to have taken many of the steps needed to continue full participation in the Anglican Communion. The question for many is whether that participation will be used as an opportunity to reconsider policy in response to concerns, or simply used to promote the acceptance of homosexual activity. Because of the inability to get answers to theological and pastoral questions as well as the contradictions discussed above, I tend to believe that embracing diversity is simply a way to generate support while the Church moves away from its traditional teachings and purpose.

While I believe that one of the purposes of the Church is to show the world how Christ’s love and example can unite people and build community, it seems obvious from our struggles that we have gotten something wrong. Based on the frustration many in Columbus have expressed and the desire members have to be part of a religious community where policies reflect their beliefs, it seems the Episcopal Church is running out of time to get it right.