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more on the special commission's report

I started leaving a lengthy comment on David Simmons' blog Ask the Priest, in response to his thoughtful post on "One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call," the report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, on which I served (and on which I offered a personal reflection for The Witness), and then I decided that: a) it was far too long to read in tiny comment-fonts; and b) other people might be interested in it, so I decided to comment here instead.

Here goes:


Many thanks for this thoughtful commentary.  I have to disagree with you on your reading of the resolution on the selection and consecration of bishops, though.  You say, "We all know what we are talking about here, despite the circumlocutory language," and then then bring up the WR's request for a moratorium on the consecration of bishops in a same-sex relationship.  The resolution certainly is a response to that request, but the explanation to the resolution makes clear, in my opinion, that the reference a "manner of life" that "presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion" is NOT a circumlocution meaning "living openly in a same-sex union." The explanation attached to the resolution says this:

"The resolution does not specify what constitutes a'manner of life' that 'presents a challenge to the wider church;' we leave this to the prayerful discernment of those involved in nominating, electing, and consecrating bishops. Concerns we discussed were by no means limited to the nature of the family life; for example, the potential of bishops to serve effectively as pastors for all within their diocese, and their level of commitment to respect the dignity of and strive for justice for all people are also relevant."

In other words, in my opinion the resolution affirms the principle that bishops are for the whole church, but acknowledges that those discerning who is called as bishop in a given diocese must consider a whole constellation of factors. A potential bishop whose prejudice against LGBT people is so strong that s/he cannot effectively serve as pastor to them, respecting their dignity and advocating for just treatment of them, for example, might be judged by those discerning not to be called for that reason. A potential bishop's being found guilty of domestic violence would, in my opinion, call for "very considerable caution" before s/he goes forward in the discernment process. I imagine that some dioceses will view a potential bishop's being in a same-sex partnership as an important factor to consider, but I believe the report makes clear that it is by no means the only or even the most important factor to consider in episcopal elections or the consent process.

Indeed, I believe that the report's recommendations as a whole suggest something that my experience serving on the special commission certainly underscored:

The best and most fruitful way forward for all of us will involve deep listening and a commitment to stay in relationship with one another as sisters and brothers of one Father and members of one Body of Christ. It will also involve all parties using the "golden rule" as a standard in church politics as well as in other areas.

It's understandable in many ways if, when engaging in church politics, we've asked ourselves "how can we get the policy we want passed?" and then stopped asking more questions (in part, I'd guess, because doing politics when everyone engages in them that way is exhausting!).  But I think that Jesus' way calls us to do more. The most fruitful way forward will involve all parties in every decision in church politics making questions like "where are there opportunities for us to be gracious toward those with whom we disagree?" and "what can I give to those on the other side of this question that will help us both to feel that the course of action we're pursuing violates neither my integrity nor theirs?" central. When everyone involved is concerned with this latter set of questions before, during, and following the process, I think we'll find church politics far less exhausting and far more inspiring.

That's a way of engaging in church politics along the lines of Ephesians' instruction to "submit to one another, then, out of reverence for Christ." It's church politics that takes seriously Philippians 2's admonition to "have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus," namely all that good stuff in the verses following that scholars call the "kenosis hymn." And when we can do that together, I think the world will take us far more seriously when we say we are following someone whose mission is no less than reconciliation of the whole world with one another and with God.

So broadening our reponse to some of the Windsor Report's more narrow requests in, in my opinion, not "circumlocution," but reframing the question in a way that I hope will be helpful. The core questions before us, after all, aren't really about sex, but about communion, which boils down to love. In that sense, the most important questions in discernment around the process of selecting and consecrating a bishop aren't so much about the configuration of the potential bishops' families, but about how we can best live into our vocation as Christ's family. I hope that helps. Blessings to you in your ministry -- blogging and otherwise!


April 27, 2006 in Churchiness, Current Affairs | Permalink


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» more Special Commission followup from Thinking Anglicans
Earlier reaction from within ECUSA and in the press to the Special Commission report (issued on 7 April) was recorded here and also here. Some further items have appeared. This is not a complete list, so please propose additions that... [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 10:03:05 AM

» All your responses are belong to us! from AskThePriest.org
Note: This is a response to Sarah Dylan Breuer's response to my response to One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call. Got that? ;-) Like Sarah, I think the discussion might be better at this level than tucked down [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2006 11:52:32 AM

» more Special Commission followup from Thinking Anglicans
Earlier reaction from within ECUSA and in the press to the Special Commission report (issued on 7 April) was recorded here and also here. Some further items have appeared. This is not a complete list, so please propose additions that... [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2006 11:05:46 AM


Dear Dylan,

Thank-you for this inspiring word about our call to unity, as a mutually tendered submission of ourselves to one another out of love. It's the only way! And it's the only reason to be a Christian: because we really do have a revolutionary hope that will not disappoint. Short of this we should hang it up and... rejoin the erstwhile search for existential meaning, or making-art-as-salvation, or lamenting the state of humanity, or... some other religion....

Let us think on this, even in Easter: that the cross is the meaning of history.

Yours in Christ,


Posted by: Christopher Wells | Apr 27, 2006 11:34:37 PM

The miracle and the challenge of our individual or communal call to love will hardly cease or stop bubbling up among us, no matter what resolutions are presented or passed at the near future impending GC. Or, for that matter, regardless of what the local or worldwide conservative believer responses to any actions might be.

We are trying to discern three things, in my view, that are quite worth our attention. We have to discern and in a sense re-institutionalize the historic Anglican leeway to inquire, discuss, and agree to disagree - that is currently under fire from many sides. Maybe we can help Archbishop Williams take a firmer stand - with less waffling and hemming and hawing - for inquiry and diversity as historic Anglican centers of value, if we take a firm stand for ECUSA leeway, together at GC.

We have to discern how to lovingly stand against violence aimed at the poor, or against women, or - and of course this really heats up - against Queer Folks. The dilemma of how to noviolently stand against various forms of violence involves difficult discernments of status-institutional violence - a violence of the so-called free market, say - or a violence legislated in public law or canon law - and immediate interpersonal violence. The twists and turns that interweave one sort with the other sort are not always plain as the nose on your face.

In taking a stand against patterns of violence, we must seek above all to do no violence ourselves. This is tricky. Some conservative believers define any alternative Anglican thinking that is not conformed to their own as innately violent to them. Tricky.

Some conservative believers invite us to violence, self-inflicted, insofar as we presume their mistaken characterizations of us as unbelieving wolves in sheep's clothing are true. We then do violence to ourselves by failing to fully claim in faith and hope and love, our fallible yet unavoidable call to hear what God could be saying to us, now, that we have never understood before in western Chrisianity. Tricky.

The business of recoveirng some sense of church privacy can cut both ways. There is the innately violent privacy of the old fashioned closet - build mainly on confusion, force, and fear. There is the emergent privacy of agreeing to disagree, or living to let live. The pressure is precisely that we are supposed to use the emergent privacies to turn back the clocks on the closet ones. Tricky.

There is the business of listening, when you simply do not wish to listen. Exercising considerable restraint in electing openly gay bishops, say, or in bothering to pray with two mommies or two daddies about their children, without asking them to repent of their sexual orientations and of their joint parenting together - so that a worldwide listening process can go forward that has not, really, gone forward even after twenty years of urging - well this may be tricky, too.

Finally, we can do little about the Queer Cat being out of the bag. Societies are moving at different paces in offering their Queer Citizens equal access to resources or opportunities, previously understood to only belong to straight citizens. Science and inquiry are moving at different paces in different areas or specialties. A lot of surprising new data is sitting around, from the past five or six decades of research; but it still fails to trickle down to the local pews. Tricky.

Surely the delegates to GC this time around will need to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Lord have mercy.

Posted by: drdanfee | May 1, 2006 12:19:51 PM


I have posted my follow-up here in order to keep the discussion at the top of the page. Thanks for the comments!


Posted by: David Simmons | May 3, 2006 12:11:46 PM

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