And let the litigation begin again.

It seems that the Episcopal Church is in a constant state of litigation. Over the last decade and a half, we’ve seen repeated conflict across the church in response to the moves toward full inclusion of LGBT persons in our life and ministry. Now, millions of dollars later in legal fees, with courts consistently affirming the Episcopal Church’s position that dioceses are not independent of General Convention, another round of such litigation is likely. First, we’ll have to see how things play out within the Church.

This past summer, General Convention passed resolution B012 which mandated that bishops opposed to same-sex marriage make pastoral provisions for couples, congregations, and clergy who sought to solemnize such marriages in their dioceses. Several of the bishops opposed to same-sex marriage have offered such provision, some are still discerning. One, Bishop William H. Love of the Diocese of Albany, announced in November that he would not offer such pastoral provisions.

As was to be expected, an disciplinary proceeding was begun against Bishop Love. Such proceedings, or complaints, can be made by anyone within the Church, so the likelihood that someone or some group would initiate the proceeding was highly likely. Less certain was whether the Presiding Bishop would take any additional action while the disciplinary proceeding was moving forward. Yesterday, Presiding Bishop Curry published his response: to restrict partially and temporarily Bishop Love’s exercise of ministry. Specifically, Bishop Love may not participate in any diocesan disciplinary proceeding against a priest who performs same-sex marriage, “nor may he penalize any member of the clergy or laity or worshipping congregation of his Diocese for their participation in the arrangements for or participation in a same-sex marriage in his Diocese or elsewhere.”

Now, Bishop Love has issued his response to the response. Unsurprisingly, and unfortunately, he will appeal the Presiding Bishop’s restriction on his ministry and vigorous challenge the disciplinary proceeding. He bases his appeal on the definition of marriage in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

The official teaching of this Church as outlined in the rubrics of the Marriage Service in the Book of Common Prayer is that: “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and woman in the presence of God.” (BCP 422). Canon 16 of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Albany upholds this teaching and remains in effect until it is either changed by the Diocesan Convention, or it is legally proven to be over-ridden by the legitimate actions of General Convention; none of which has yet taken place.

Now, I’m no canon lawyer, but it would seem to me that because the Book of Common Prayer is itself authoritative because of an act of General Convention, General Convention has the power to rescind or modify anything stated within the BCP. Likely, there’s some fancy canon lawyer parsing of later General Convention actions, that will be the hinge on which any ecclesiastical disciplinary proceeding will depend.

The other key element in Bishop Love’s defense is his appeal to the definition of marriage in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Albany, which he says will remain in effect until changed by Diocesan Convention or legally proven to be over-ridden by the legitimate actions of General Convention. Here Bishop Love is appealing to the familiar, but often proved wrong, argument that dioceses are independent of General Convention. It’s wrong, because General Convention has the power to create and dissolve dioceses.

What’s so unfortunate about all this is that it is avoidable just as all of the earlier litigation and attempts by bishops, other clergy, and congregations to leave the Church. When Bishop Love was ordained deacon, then priest, and consecrated bishop,, he vowed to ” I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.’

If he is no longer able to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, he should step down as bishop. It’s really quite simple.

Instead, the Church will expend energy and resources on this internal battle. Should Bishop Love be unhappy with the final result of his appeal and of the disciplinary proceeding’s ultimate outcome, he may choose to pursue his cause in the civil court system as many other bishops and dioceses have done. If he does, it’s likely that more millions of dollars will be expended in the effort.

 

Pentecost and the power of love: A Sermon for Pentecost, 2018

“Come, Holy Spirit, descend upon this place and upon us, and fill us with the fire of your love.” Amen.

Today we celebrate Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, and the spread of the Spirit’s power and love throughout the world. We are also marking the end of our program year, and our young people are participating in the service, reading lessons and prayers, among other things. And then there are two baptisms as well. Such a celebratory feeling seems like a respite from our world. To rejoice, to come together as the body of Christ across all of the generations takes away from the distress and despair in the world around us. Continue reading

Presiding Bishop Curry (and all the bishops) speak out

There’s an interview in the New York Times with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church:

Q. Do you, as a church leader, as an African-American, feel compelled to say anything about the presidential primaries in which the Republican front-runner hesitated to disavow the support of the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke?

A. It’s not appropriate, and I’m not sure it’s even legal, to make a partisan pronouncement on any candidates. But to articulate the values on which we stand. Love, at least as Jesus articulated it, has to do with seeking the good and the welfare of others before one’s own enlightened self-interest. Our politics must reflect that.

Also, the House of Bishops released a joint statement this week on the political climate in our nation:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

Living with our differences: Update on the Primates’ Meeting

We’ve learned more about the Primates’ Meeting today, from news reports, a news conference, and the official communique. A more nuanced picture of the entire meeting emerges from these additional reports. Participants at the news conference emphasized that the meeting took place surrounded by prayer, that they shared the Eucharist and foot-washing and that overall the tone and tenor was quite different from previous meetings, though difficult.

Today, the official communique from the Primates’ Meeting was released. The full text is available here. It addresses issues like climate change, religiously motivated violence, and evangelism (in an Addendum B):

We, as Anglican Primates, affirm together that the Church of Jesus Christ lives to bear witness to the transforming love of God in the power of the Spirit throughout the world.

It is clear God’s world has never been in greater need of this resurrection love and we long to make it known.

We commit ourselves through evangelism to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel.

We rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us speech, brings new birth, leads us into the truth revealed in Christ Jesus thus building the church.

All disciples of Jesus Christ, by virtue of our baptism, are witnesses to and of Jesus in faith, hope and love.

We pledge ourselves together to pray, listen, love, suffer and sacrifice that the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the press conference today, Archbishop of Canterbury Welby sought to parse the precise implications of the communique for the status of the Episcopal Church. He argued that that document refers to consequences, not sanctions, stating that provinces being autonomous, have the right to go their own way, but that if they do so, they can expect such consequences. It’s not even clear that other Anglican or ecumenical bodies would honor the Primates’ decision. Another tidbit, the Primates called for a Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops for 2020 (interesting that it lies beyond the 3-year hiatus for Episcopal Church participation in Anglican bodies).

This wordsmithihng deserves careful attention. First, it’s not at all clear that the Primates’ Meeting has the authority to make such a demand of the Episcopal Church. Second, Welby’s efforts to distinguish between “sanction” and “consequence” seem rather lame.

There’s been a great deal of discussion on social media about how the Episcopal Church ought to respond.

“We enjoy a fellowship and communion in Christ that is bigger than any of our difference.” Bishop Curry’s message to the church:

“it means that we have more work of love to do, and that work of love is helping our story and the story of many faithful Christians … to be told and heard, and it really may be part of our vocation in the world to bear witness to that, and it’s a loving witness.”

The link to Presiding Bishop Curry’s video response to the communique:

Can we finally bury the Anglican Communion?

I’ve not paid attention to matters related to the world-wide Anglican Communion for some years. After the relative disaster of the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and  the apparent collapse of efforts to create a more binding relationship among the provinces by means of the Anglican Covenants, I suspected the Anglican Communion would continue to exist more as an idea than as reality. When Archbishop of Canterbury Welby announced he wasn’t going to convene a Lambeth Conference in 2018, the reality seemed quite dead.

Not so fast. When he made that announcement the ABC also said he was going to convene a Primates’ Meeting–for those unfamiliar with odd and obscure Anglican vocabulary, “Primates” are Archbishops and other heads of provinces; provinces being national, or multi-national branches of the church.

That group is meeting this week in Canterbury, England. There was much speculation in the run-up to its gathering about what might emerge. Tensions over matters related to full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians continue to cause friction. Would Archbishops from the Global South show up? Would they force action against the Episcopal Church over our decision to permit same-sex marriage?

The Primates have spoken. They have asked the Episcopal Church to temporarily withdraw (for three years) from Anglican and ecumenical bodies:

It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is representing the Episcopal Church at this meeting. Episcopal News Service offers these words from him in response to the Archbishops’ Communique:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.

“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

Pain indeed. Whenever relationships are broken, whenever there is division in the church, there is pain. Archbishop Welby himself reportedly said in an address to the Primates:

We so easily take our divisions as normal, but they are in fact an obscenity, a denial of Christ’s call and equipping of the church. If we exist to point people to Christ, as was done for me, our pointing is deeply damaged by division. Every Lambeth Conference of the 20th century spoke of the wounds in the body of Christ. Yet some say, it does not matter, God sees the truth of spiritual unity and the church globally still grows. Well, it does for the moment, but the world does not see the spiritual church but a divided and wounded body. Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father sent me so send I you”. That sending is in perfect unity, which is why even at Corinth and at the Council of Jerusalem, we find that truth must be found together rather than show a divided Christ to the world.

Powerful words, but they ring rather hollowly this evening.

The Anglican Communion may not seem like a big deal to many Episcopalians. It may not even seem real. And it may be that the Archbishops’ decision will have little impact. After all, the Episcopal Church is not going to revisit its decision concerning same-sex marriage. Other provinces already recognize and perform same-sex marriages and its likely that others will join that group. I’ve long expected that ultimately the communion would divide internally along such lines, even as the church in the US has with a parallel entity the Anglican Church of North America existing alongside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the powerful forces at work in our society that are changing how people relate to institutional churches. As denominations decline and denominational loyalty disappears, what might any of this matter in thirty or fifty years?

Still, there’s an important role for international relationships with Christians in other countries. Through such relationships we are reminded of the universal nature of the church and through such relationships we can cooperate with Christians in other countries in all sorts of ways. Grace’s membership includes people from England, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Barbados, and Jamaica. Just this past Sunday an African family recently relocated to Madison from another city in Wisconsin visited Grace. How will our congregation be affected by the Primates’ decision today?