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On Representing the Episcopal Church [plus Peter Toon's comments]
The Anglican Communion Institute ^ | 5/25/2005 | Ephraim Radner

Posted on 05/28/2005 7:36:13 AM PDT by sionnsar

In February of this year, the Primates of the Anglican Communion suggested that the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) ask “representatives” of ECUSA to “set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Province”, “in accordance with paragraph 141 of the Windsor Report”.   This paragraph, in turn, had asked that ECUSA “demonstrate to the rest of the Communion why [proposed rites for same-sex blessings] meet the criteria of scripture, tradition and reason” and “how public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions would constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition as it has been received”.  Kenneth Kearon, whose office oversees the ACC, has described the invitation more broadly:  "to explain the thinking behind the position they've taken on sexuality."

In June, when the ACC convenes in Nottingham (England), this explanation will apparently be offered by a group of delegates authorized by the Executive Council to provide it on ECUSA’s behalf.  What is it that this group of ECUSA “representatives” can logically say to the ACC, given the invitation and given the understandings and orderings of life that were already legitimately and publicly in place on the matter of sexuality before the 2003 General Convention?

To answer this question, we must first outline what actually “took place” at the General Convention and after, that constitutes the “problem” to be “explained”:

a.    A consent was given to the election of a gay bishop living in a same-sex partnership;  this consent was subsequently acted upon by formal episcopal consecration, in which the Presiding Bishop himself participated. 

b.  Convention adopted Resolution C-051, which affirmed that “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore andexperience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions”.  Now, the Windsor Report took this to indicate that the Convention “commended the development of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions” (par. 140).  But this is not at all what some of those who voted in favor of the resolution thought they were doing, including several bishops.  And there are those, including bishops, who still believe that C-051 merely “acknowledged” a current practice, without “commending” in any way. 

Secondly, we must outline what were the legitimate and public understandings of ECUSA on the matter of sexuality going into the General Convention,  that might have provided the ground for “thinking” about what was being done.  Among them were the following:

a.  The 1979 General Convention clearly “reaffirmed”  “the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, marital fidelity, and sexual chastity as the standards of Christian sexual mortality” and stated that “candidates for ordination are expected to conform to this standard” and “therefore, we believe it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage."   The Convention also reaffirmed “that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church”.

This basic teaching was confirmed on several subsequent occasions, including the House of Bishop’s 1994 “Teaching on Human Sexuality”.

b.  The 1991 General Convention Resolution B020 committed ECUSA to a “broad” process of “pan-Anglican” and “ecumenical” consultation so that, with regard to changing teaching and discipline around sexuality, “these potentially divisive issues should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own”.

c.  The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, in March 2003, concluded that “because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the Church regarding the blessing of homosexual relations, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings.  For these reasons, we urge the greatest caution as the Church continues to seek the mind of Christ in these matters”.    While the report carried no authority, its observation regarding the church’s lack of consensus was part of what the House of Bishops formally “received with thanks”. 

In this light, how shall the ECUSA “representation” speak to the “thinking behind” General Convention’s actions and their subsequent follow-through? 

a.  Can they say that Robinson was consented to and consecrated, or that same-sex blessings are publicly carried out because the teaching of the Church had been formally changed?   The answer is clearly “no”.  There is no record of a formal process and final judgment by which the teaching of this Church regarding sexuality has been changed.  There was no indication that any one “thought” that it had.

b.  Can they say that full “pan-Anglican” and “ecumenical” consultation had taken place around its actions, so that it could not be said that ECUSA had “resolved” the pertinent matters “on its own”?  Again, the answer is clearly “no”; indeed the Windsor Report’s very existence and the peculiar invitation to the ACC is concrete evidence that such consultation did not take place and that ECUSA did in fact attempt to decide matters unilaterally.   No one can claim that ECUSA “thought” it had fulfilled its commitments to Anglican and ecumenical consultation. 

c.  Can they say that the “mind” of ECUSA had reached a “consensus” around the matter, such that moving ahead as General Convention did represented the common thinking of the church?  No one had ever suggested this was the case beforehand, and subsequent events and all commentators make clear that the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee was correct in its description of dangerous division around this topic.  No one “thought” they were enacting the “mind of the church”, understood in terms of a (limited) consensus fidelium.

What, then, can the ECUSA representatives to the ACC  truthfully say regarding “the thinking behind” the actions of General Convention? 

On the matter of the Robinson consent, the most they can say is that “due canonical process” was followed in the election in New Hampshire and that bishops and delegates felt canonically obliged to give consent.  This, certainly, was a prominent argument made by several influential bishops at the time (e.g. Bishop Lee of Virginia) and since, including the Presiding Bishop.  In making this argument, however, they will have to explain how such a process and consent cohere with the evident teaching of ECUSA which made clear that the canons of the church were to be interpreted in a certain way, in accord with the “norms and standards” of teaching on sexuality given in the Christian tradition, and how they maintained faithfulness to previous resolutions and commitments by the Convention.  In this case, they will have to plead confusion and ignorance regarding these teachings and commitments on the part of some deputies and bishops, negligence on the part of others, and defiance of them on the part of still others.  They will also have to explain how many deputies and bishops stood against the votes that were taken. They cannot claim a common “thinking”, a consensual mind and intent as in any sense lying “behind” these decesions. 

Regarding C-051, the best they can say about the “thinking behind” the passing of this resolution is that it was diverse and equally confused, with some deputies and bishops believing the resolution meant one thing and others thinking something quite different.  Subsequent and contradictory implementations of this resolution confirm this confusion.  Again, they will also have to explain how many deputies and bishops rejected the resolution, in all of its confusing content, outright.

This is all that the representatives can truthfully say about the “thinking behind” actions that have been taken.  And to this degree, they will not be able to fulfill the full request of the Windsor Report that ECUSA provide a demonstration for their actions that “meets the criteria of scripture, tradition and reason” and that can show why they “constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition as it has been received”.   They cannot do so because the actions of General Convention manifestly took place within a context that made no attempt to do so, and that was carried out according to intentions that differed wildly in their self-understanding and conscious relationship to these criteria and traditions.  At best they can plead the incoherence of a highly charged and divided political process.

Is this, however, what the ECUSA representatives will say?  Apparently not.  We have already heard from the Presiding Bishop that they will instead address issues “scriptural and theological; the reality of homosexuality in the life and experience of faithful persons and families; and a witness to the fact that divergent points of view on issues of sexuality need not be church dividing, and that those who stand in different places can make common cause together in the service of Christ’s mission.”  The question is, does any of this represent “the thinking behind” the actions that General Convention took?  Certainly not.  It can only articulate the thinking of one small party that took a part in General Convention;  and powerful though this party may be, this “thinking” does not constitute some kind of “majority” perspective, since the actual dynamics of General Convention’s actions were manifestly motivated by a host of conflicting understandings. 

Given the make-up of the “team” going to the ACC on behalf of ECUSA, we can only fear that such a partisan presentation is what is planned.  It is, after all (and notwithstanding the personal grace and intelligence of its members) a group made up of some of the most outspoken, politically importunate, and unbending advocates of affirmed gay sexual partnerships in the church, along with others who have given these attitudes a clear nihil obstat.  But if this is the case, those going to the ACC on behalf of ECUSA will be misrepresenting both General Convention and the church it purports to govern.  To call them “representative” of this church would be a clear distortion of the truth, in a purely historical and sociological sense.

And this sense has some clear theological implications.  Whatever intellectual “explanations” such a mis-representing group might give – claims to hermeneutic diversity, movements of the Holy Spirit, the progress of science and “reason”, an underlying “gospel” of inclusivity, incarnational discernment, and so on – these explanations will, by the nature of what has happened, be only “private opinions”, curiously held and unconfirmed, however vigorously pressed.  While there were “forums” and debates at General Convention, there were no studies, no commissions, no carefully crafted or examined arguments, submitted to the prudent, detailed, and rigorous eye of either theological faculty or lay scrutiny.  Indeed, the only formal “theological commission” that actually pronounced upon all these matters (before the event) said “don’t go forward;  we are not near to an agreed understanding”!  The “church” has not “thought” or “discerned” this matter theologically in any ecclesially substantive way.  All we have heard are opinions;  and any group sharing such opinions, however reflective, with the ACC can legitimately claim for their explanations no more than, in a technical sense, the theological status of personal prejudice unformed by the councils of the church.  Let us hope that the ECUSA group going to talk to the ACC will be honest enough to say that.

Members of the ACC obviously know that the group that will address them does not “represent” the many people and clergy of ECUSA who stand either confused by or opposed to or even aghast at the actions of General Convention and what it seems to constitute (not to mention the many who have left ECUSA in the wake of General Convention). And the point in raising this issue is not to state some desire that “all voices” be “at the table” when the Presiding Bishop and his “team” go to the ACC.  I have long given up on such a possibility being fulfilled in any meaningful or useful sense.  The point, rather, is to make clear that any attempt to present a coherent, theological, and ecclesially and canonically rooted explanation for the “thinking behind” General Convention’s actions will be a misrepresentation of the facts.  There was no such thinking. 

And the resulting question to our Presiding Bishop is one we must pose openly and publicly:  will you therefore choose, whatever your personal prejudices, to represent this church truthfully or not? 

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: ecusa; fallout; generalconvention; homosexualagenda; homosexualbishop; schism; windsorreport
Comments on a piece written by Dr Ephraim Radner

Dear Father Kim,

Thank you for circulating the clearly written piece by Dr Ephraim Radner on the theme that those going off to the Ang Con. Council in England from the ECUSA are most unlikely to represent the true position of the ECUSA, as stated in the official reports of her Conventions, Theological Commissions and the like.

To use the expression of Dr Radner’s friend, Philip Turner, it is the “practical theology” (or “the tradition of the [progressive] elders of the ECUSA ) rampant within the ECUSA, rather than its official agreements at Convention and elsewhere, which the group will represent. This “progressive, practical theology” justifies, blesses and commends “faithful” homosexual partnerships as the dynamic equivalent of holy matrimony -- and also justifies & teaches other immoral or erroneous things as well!.

I would invite Dr Radner and his readers to reflect further on what it means for the leaders and official representatives of a Church (ECUSA) to be so confident in and committed to their “practical theology, ” that they are not careful to explain what the actual official statements declare. It suggests, I think, that they are spiritually blinded by their agenda (and by the “god of this world”) and that for them in important ways the Zeitgeist is the Holy Ghost!

As Dr Radner probably knows, I hold the view that this habit within ECUSA of telling lies or half truths or covering up the truth in the name of innovation and progress (all of which is part of its ”practical theology”) received a very major platform and boost in the late 1970s when the ECUSA decided (against protests from devout and learned persons) to call its new “Book of Varied Services” by the name of “The Book of Common Prayer” and at the same time, and, most significantly, set aside the received Formularies of the Anglican Way that were printed in the previous official BCP, that of 1928. Had the ECUSA Gen. Conv. been humble of mind and in “fear and love of the LORD,” it would have done what the C of E and other provinces did -- retain its classic Formularies (BCP, Articles and Ordinal) and add a Book of Alternative Services under the doctrinal authority of the Formularies. As it was, by this act of piracy, the ECUSA since the 1970s has been living a lie, and good souls within the membership have been weeping and protesting, staying or leaving. Those who desire and seek to be godly and orthodox become a smaller remnant week by week, even as the progressives remain, get more power an use the financial resources of this old-line Church for their purposes.

I do not know whether the Lord Jesus Christ will visit this Church by the Holy Ghost to purify and revive it. Like Dr Radner I hope he will and if he does – watch out – we will all as Episcopalians and Anglicans get burned, even those of us who claim to be “orthodox.” We all have the cancerous disease and we all need to be cleansed and revived and set on a right course.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

1 posted on 05/28/2005 7:36:13 AM PDT by sionnsar
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2 posted on 05/28/2005 7:36:48 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || Iran Azadi || Fraud in WA: More votes than voters!)
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