Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Bowl of Appeasement

Written for RUACH, the journal of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus.

One of the things I love most about the Episcopal Church is the Baptismal Covenant. At the Easter Vigil and each time we have a baptism in my parish, I savor the words as we all reaffirm our baptismal vows.
These sentences and responses are the living trellis on which the vine of my days can grow up toward the light. Rooted deep in the Gospel and fed by the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures, these several sentences are among the supports on which I lean as I struggle to discern the best path through life’s challenges, large and small.
They are among the strongest calls to prophetic, even revolutionary actions I have ever read. I believe it is this Baptismal Covenant that has impelled the Episcopal Church ever forward on its slow and painful journey to include all the baptized fully in the life of the church as it continues the struggle to overcome the sins of racisms and sexism, and most recently, heterosexism.
A button from 1976 acknowledged this: “Either ordain women or stop baptizing them.”
Short, powerful and to the point. Either we are marked as Christ’s own forever, or we’re not. Either we are brought fully into the life of the Church, or we’re not.
Today that button might read, “Either ordain LGBT people or stop baptizing them.” Or perhaps, “Either bless committed unions of LGBT people or stop baptizing them.”
There are no asterisks in the Baptismal liturgy, no place where the priest announces, “I baptize this person in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .unless, of course, he or she turns out to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.”
This reality is acknowledged in One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call, the report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. But in the end, the recommendations of the report betray that reality. I believe that is because the premises upon which the Special Commission was charged to base its work are flawed.
One cannot read the report without realizing the huge amount of hard work that went into it and acknowledging that the intentions of those who did that hard work were the best.
Indeed, the report is exactly what it was designed to be – a response to the Windsor Report. But the Windsor Report itself is a seriously flawed document. Andrew Linzey, a Senior Research Fellow, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University, has pointed out that the Windsor Report “failed Anglicanism. Instead of embracing comprehensiveness and diversity, it pursued fictions of ‘unity’ (interpreted as uniformity), ‘interdependence’ (meaning ‘not giving offence’), and championed ‘instruments of unity’ (fostering centralized control), and proposed a future ‘covenant’ (to implement canon law worldwide).”
The Windsor Report offers a ridiculously inaccurate history of the ordination of women, and it fails to acknowledge that the Episcopal Church has been “doing the theology” of human sexuality for more than 40 years. Worst of all, in no place does it even suggest the Holy Spirit might have had a role in these 40-year-long discussions.
That is because it is a document devoted to institutional preservation, and as such, it buys into the worldview of those who are most loudly threatening the institution. Most significantly, it buys into the idea that the worldwide Anglican Communion is in need of being doctrinally purified, something it says can only be accomplished by establishing a centralized curia with powers to punish and exclude those who do not conform.
These ideas are most decidedly un-Anglican. Indeed, they threaten to destroy the genius of Anglicanism, a communion based on relationships, not law, on common worship, not doctrinal purity.
The Windsor Report sells the Anglican birthright for a bowl of appeasement, and anyone who has ever dealt with bullies can tell you appeasement never works. It only goads them on to more demands as they sense weakness.
This same appeasement resides in the several resolutions offered by the Special Commission to give General Convention a place to start its discussion of how to respond to the Windsor Report. Worse, One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call undermines its own integrity by not acknowledging the faithfulness of LGBT people in the face of blatant abuse in the Anglican Communion since Lambeth ‘98 and the 2003 General Convention. In some parts of the Communion LGBT people are being arrested and killed.
Resolutions A160 (Expression of Regret), A161 (Election of Bishops), and A162 (Public Rites) are especially offensive. Resolution A160 not only introduces language of repentance that implies the actions of 2003 were wrong and sinful, but it also says outright that the Episcopal Church is guilty of not consulting with others in the Communion. That is simply inaccurate.
Listening to and hearing the arguments of those who disagreed with the actions on GC 2003 is not the same thing as agreeing with those arguments. Consultation does not mean capitulation. And to express repentance for the actions of 2003 insults the painstaking prayerful work of that Convention in its decision-making, and worse, implies a turning back from a prophetic work of inclusion and justice.
Resolution A161 is offensive in that it seeks to interfere directly in diocesan episcopal elections. It offers a criteria of winnowing out those candidates “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church” that could eliminate all female candidates as well as those who drink alcohol. The Episcopal Church’s process for electing bishops works. Don’t mess with it.
Resolution A162 is the worse of all. It essentially tells our LGBT brothers and sisters to move to the back of the church – indeed it practically opens the closet door. We will welcome you in our churches, and we’ll even be nice to you in private but we won’t publicly pray for you. Can someone explain to me how this honors our vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
And then there is Resolution A166 (Anglican Covenant), which supports our participation in a process to develop an Anglican Covenant. I agree we want to be at the table at any such discussions.
But our role should be to steadfastly make sure any such Anglican Covenant is based in historic Anglicanism, not in a desire for a centralized doctrinally pure church so narrow it has no room for the Holy Spirit. Appeasing bullies never works.