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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Response of the Episcopal bishops to primates' demands.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has been meeting in New Orleans for the past several days, in part trying to respond to a series of demands (or, if you're charitably inclined, requests for clarification) from the primates or leaders of the various national churches that make up the Anglican Communion. Those of you following the story will be interested to read the bishops' response, adopted this afternoon. The Associated Press reports:

Episcopal leaders, pressured to roll back their support for gays to keep the world Anglican family from crumbling, affirmed Tuesday that they will "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop and will not approve prayers to bless same-sex couples.

The statement mostly reiterated previous pledges made by church leaders, and it will not be known for weeks or even months whether the bishops went far enough to help prevent a schism in the Anglican Communion. Theological conservatives in the Episcopal Church immediately rejected the document as too weak.

("House of Bishops response 'to questions and concerns raised by our Anglican Communion partners,'" House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, Episcopal News Service 9.25.07; "Episcopal leaders promise restraint on electing gay bishops in fact of Anglican demands," Rachel Zoll [AP], 9.25.07)

Update 9.26.07: Michael Paulson reports in today's Boston Globe:

The statement is expected to have little practical impact in the United States. Priests in many dioceses around the country, including Massachusetts, are already blessing same-sex unions without a nationally authorized rite, and that practice will not stop. And even before yesterday's statement, several bishops had said the Episcopal Church was unlikely to approve another gay bishop anytime soon because of the uproar that greeted the 2003 approval of an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. . . .

Only one of the approximately 160 bishops in attendance could be heard voting against the measure, although several of the most conservative bishops had left the meeting Friday. . . .

Bishop John W. Howe of Central Florida, one of the most conservative bishops present at the meeting in New Orleans, said last night that he did not vote for the statement because it did not bar blessings of same-sex unions outright, but that he also thought that, among the Anglican primates, as leaders of provinces are called, "the majority will find it acceptable." Howe, asked if he would try to remove his diocese from the Episcopal Church, said "absolutely not." . . . .

The American bishops issued their statement under extreme pressure from within the Episcopal Church, which dozens of parishes and thousands of individuals have left because they are upset about the church's liberal direction. Pressure has also come from elsewhere in the global Anglican Communion, particularly from the developing world, where several leaders say they are reluctant to continue belonging to the same denominational family as a church that is affirming of same-sex relationships.

The New York Times, meanwhile, pays more attention to the reactions of conservatives trying to force the liberal American church out of the Communion.

("Episcopal leaders act to avert a schism," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 9.26.07; "Episcopal bishops reject Anglican Church's orders," Neela Banerjee, New York Times 9.26.07)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 25 September 2007 at 9:16 PM

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Bill Baar:

September 26, 2007 11:12 AM | Permalink for this comment

....affirming of same-sex relationships...

Talk about muddled.

I'm convinced government should get out of the business of licensing marriage.

The only reason to license marriages is to discriminate against some kinds of marriages and our culture has become far to complex for government to contribute much here anymore.

Leave it to Churches then to figure what marriage is in plain English. Yes we'll marry you; No we won't: here is why...

If people need to contracts to distribute Government benefits, then the Government should offer such benefits contingent on signing contracts explaining the relation; perhapes irrevocable contracts for life...


September 26, 2007 11:19 AM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, no part of these stories discusses civil marriage rights. Part of the debate in the Episcopal Church has to do with whether the church — not the state — recognizes and extends its blessing to same-sex couples who enter a committed (and, in some places, legally recognized) partnership. What's muddled about that?

(I disagree with you about whether the state should recognize marriage, but that's a debate for another time. Your views about civil marriage rights have little place in a discussion of someone else's religious tradition and its rites.)

Bill Baar:

September 26, 2007 03:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Except here in the US we have Marriage, State, and Church tightly linked.

My minister needs to mail the license in on the same day of the ceremony and it has to be postmarked in the County the license was issued.

Otherwise it's not a marriage in Illinois.

I don't think same-sex Marriage wouldn't be such a big issue if there were a cleaner break. The unchurched are the growth group last I looked. They could care less.

As for the theology here.... ...affirming a same-sex relationship... What the heck does that mean theologically!

I had one with my Dad. We were both guys...same sex... the relation was he was my Father... whether it was affirmed by anyone...who knows....

Language like this is a moral dodge. A dodge on sexual ethics.

Is sex between two unmarried people ethical? Two unmarried people of the same sex? The questions go on, and in my kid's OWL programs they were answered forthrightly.

Conservatives theologians at least have clarity on their side. We --in this case a liberal Anglican-- start talking about affirming same sex relationships and after a while it gets so deep I think we've really lost sight about what the heck we mean.

Bill Baar:

September 26, 2007 04:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Try it this way, then I'll quit....

We're quick to take shots at the Anglicans in their struggles with a traditional (and straightforward) ethic: People should remain chaste until married, and marriage a commitment between a man and a woman, for life.

We in UU's ramble on about things like marriage equality which isn't so equal we would take on UU Polyamory for which we can only say no comment or sort of --parse for yourselves what we were trying to say there.

Our thinkers should be doing the hard work of guidance for a culture focused on the individual and freedom. How should we cope... how should we chose... for what and whom are we responsible?

The laity, our Ministers, give our kids such guidance (and adults) in the UU Churches I've belonged too.

But as a denomination our leaders and thinkers do a dismal job as far as I've read, and mostly fall back on muddled language; failing to express sexual ethics as straigt forwardly as the conservative Chrisitan.

Much like the politicans who hide behind supporting civil unions instead of favoring the licensure of same sex marriage, we hide behind notions like "marriage equality" or start affirming relationships... instead of simply stating we will join two men, two women, in marriage.

I fear it's because obscure language creates a fog so our thinkers and leaders don't have to explain a full Sexual Ethics.

Steve Caldwell:

September 26, 2007 10:47 PM | Permalink for this comment


I personally think that our denomination and the United Church of Christ both have a well-written and straightforward sexual ethic in the Our Whole Lives program values. These values can be found online here:

These values are not shared by all UU folks, but the sexual values taught in other churches are probably not shared by all of their members.

For example, you mention the Anglican standard:

"People should remain chaste until married, and marriage a commitment between a man and a woman, for life."

Given the average of the first marriage in our country is age 27, is chastity until marriage a realistic expectation? And are Anglicans actually complying with this standard?

Or would a period of cohabitation before marriage make more sense? This would allow the partners to discover if they are compatible with each other.

Rev. Jack Ditch:

September 26, 2007 11:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

I fear it's because obscure language creates a fog so our thinkers and leaders don't have to explain a full Sexual Ethics.

I think a full Sexual Ethics in plain language might be one of the easiest ways for our thinkers and leaders to ensure they mislead us, and I think attempts to build as much have been the bane of religious institutions worldwide.

Most of the "right and wrong" surrounding sexuality is itself extremely fuzzy, a tenuous balancing act between controlling our lust and repressing it until it burns us up inside, between devoting ourselves to other people and allowing that devotion to be used to destroy us physically and mentally, between allowing ourselves to enjoy the simpler pleasures in life and the asceticism of complete devotion to God....the list of conflicting values goes on and on.

So when we try to draw hard lines around what is allowed and what is forbidden, of course we're going to fight like mad over it! Human language as a tool simply does not have an edge fine enough to draw such lines accurately, which means every rule we make will be in some way off target. I think we might be a lot better off (and by "we" I mean every denomination: Anglican, UUA, Catholic, UCC, all those not mentioned in this thread...) if we ever only spoke of sex in riddles, poetry and parables. Make it crystal clear how murky an issue it really is.

Sex: It's Complicated!

Bill Baar:

September 27, 2007 05:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, regarding the link...note we present a sexual ethics without the word ethics. We talk about healthy sexual behavior, not ethical sexual behavior.

We go theraputic to avoid the hard work of moral definition.

That's the start of a failure that I think is remedied in the program itself... at least that's been my experience when the people teaching it tell me what they presented to my kids.

Bishop Robinson's told us his drinking was a disease, and his sex an orientation.

The notion they're urges, (urges perhapes some people more given to than others) that we are charged to manage according to an ethic, and an ethic we should work hard to define because it is complicated, is so often lost by our leaders.

It's sad because in practice, I see it taught by us. Difficult to explain, but taught it is.

Sometimes I think this is all clearer to the Africans because they live without our abundance, and life there is maybe more one of struggle, power, and domination. What we see as freedom too pursue self-fufillment in a healty way, is still a struggle to order life more equitably.

Steve Caldwell:

September 28, 2007 09:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 27 September 2007, Bill wrote:
"note we present a sexual ethics without the word ethics. We talk about healthy sexual behavior, not ethical sexual behavior."


We use the word "values" here instead of "ethics." I suspect that you're overlooking the idea that what we're promoting here is both healthy and ethical (consensual, nonexploitative, mutually pleasurable, respectful, etc).

Through the OWL program, we should also be providing safe spaces where individuals are safe in having their own values and opinions about sexuality. This is because our sexual ethics demand that we respect the worth and dignity of every person.

We also are promoting a sexual ethic that respects justice and concern for others.

Just because the word "ethics" isn't used here doesn't mean we're not talking about ethics.

Then Bill wrote:
"Bishop Robinson's told us his drinking was a disease, and his sex an orientation.

The notion they're urges, (urges perhapes some people more given to than others) that we are charged to manage according to an ethic, and an ethic we should work hard to define because it is complicated, is so often lost by our leaders."

And you're 100% sure that Bishop Robinson isn't "managing his urges" in a sexual ethic grounded in his religious faith?

Just because Bishop Robinson is living his life with his current male partner and many Anglican traditionalists disagree with this doesn't mean that his sexual choices are not managed by a framework of sexual ethics.

The questions raised by Bishop Robinson's position in the Anglican Commmunion are ones of individual vs. community definition in what is ethical sexually. It also comes down to uncritical vs critical discernment of received tradition.

It's safe to say that Unitarian Universalists give more consideration to the individual than the community when it comes to sexual ethics (this is not the same as saying we're totally individually focused and anything goes for us sexually). We are concerned about harming others and ourselves.

It's safe to say that Unitarian Universalists are more critical of received tradition when it comes to sexual ethics. In part, this comes from the influences of feminist and queer theologies in modern-day Unitarian Universalism. Rev Dan Harper blogged about these influences yesterday:

Notes on our theological boundaries

In either case, the fact that the predominent UU sexual ethics are different from Archbishop Peter Akinola's ethics doesn't mean that we have no sexual ethics.

Bill Baar:

September 28, 2007 01:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just because Bishop Robinson is living his life with his current male partner and many Anglican traditionalists disagree with this doesn't mean that his sexual choices are not managed by a framework of sexual ethics.

Oh I think we have an ethics which we teach in practice. My kids confronted questions about choices they would make. That's ethics: what are your rules for making those choices.

I think UU's pubic face does a poor job of saying what we do though, and I suggested our substitution of health instead of ethics as an example of the fuzziness.

It may well be Bishop Robinson has an ethics that's more appropriate for a UU Church than an Episcopal one.

I just wish he would join a UU society instead, and join us in the hard work of doing ethics in a Free Church; with a very different notion of authority than a Bishop like.

I've been bothered by those who come to a UU Church for marriages, funerals, whatever, and by no means all gay--most not; yet would never support, or join us in the hardwork of being a UU. They come for a service from our Ministers, then leave.

Rev. Scot Giles gave a sermon I found memorable about how our Church was a temporary way-station for many; and often just for short stays.

I've learned to take pride in that. It's one of those things that makes us a Church for the few, and not the many, we take short passages.

Still, I do find myself telling UU's who grumble about what's going on with the Episcopal Church (and we're seeing the splits here in Chicago's West Burbs) wouldn't it be better to just invite the liberals to join us, and otherwise stay out of their business with judgemets about ethics, when we're often fuzzy about ethics ourselves in writing? Far less fuzzy then the Conservatives who can fall back on established --and thoughtout-- doctrine.

It's frustrating because few Episcopals would join us. There are a few shopping now (I met a family at Church) and we're just not their style. So I tell myself just being there for the one-day short stay is a good thing we do. We don't even ask them to kick in whent the plate is passed.

Kim Hampton:

September 28, 2007 05:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm just wondering.....why would liberal Episcopals join us? What spiritual sustenance do we really offer to people? (and I am differentiating between social justice and spirituality)

There is a reason we are a way station; partly because we do not force people to confront their religious pasts and partly because once people do find a spiritual life and practice far too often they are told that maybe they should find some other place to worship. In many cases we are "a mile wide and an inch deep".

Liberals and liberal theology are in every denomination. We should be supportive of the efforts of those liberals who want to show that the Holy Spirit knows no bounds.


September 28, 2007 05:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, I'm only going to jump in to this conversation to say that liberal theology has a legitimate place in the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians don't need to become UUs in order to explore or develop liberal expressions of Christian faith or liberal approaches to Christian ethics. Conservative-orthodox people do not own Christianity. You routinely confuse authoritarianism with legitimacy in every religious tradition except the UU tradition; that's intellectually sloppy of you because other traditions don't all (or uniformly) put so much weight on the supposed certainties of traditional authority.

I also mention the important place of Episcopalians in contemporary liberal theology in my review of Gary Dorrien's masterful history of liberal theology in America, where he mentions that several of the most successful recent popularizers of liberal theology are Episcopalians. Dorrien, a noted social-ethicist and theologian himself, is also an Episcopal priest.

Bill Baar:

September 29, 2007 10:00 AM | Permalink for this comment

Conservative-orthodox people do not own Christianity.

Well, the Liberals do go quit Conservative-orthodox when it comes to who owns the property.

Liberals flexible on doctrine some places, and go hardline with Church Law when the deed is involved.

That's given me a sad chuckle in this whole thing.

UU's do it better. We have a tradition that's better.

I don't want to be involved in the Anglican mess. I'd prefer to ignore it.

But when the family of Anglicans gone-a-Church-Shopping sat besides me at Church last year, I tried to make them an invite. I really think they might belong better with us.


September 30, 2007 04:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, you apparently don't know your Unitarian history very well, either. The "Unitarian controversy" (1805-1833, roughly) — in which the American Unitarian Association was founded and 250 old New England churches discovered their common cause and split from the orthodox Congregational churches — involved property disputes that pitted the more liberal "parishes" against their own more orthodox communicants. (See especially the "Dedham ruling.") The joke in New England Congregational churches is that the Unitarians kept the silver, but the Congregationalists kept the faith.

In other words, it's ironic that you should think that UUs have a "better" tradition on this particular score. We don't.

Unlike you, I can't boast about my willful ignorance about other traditions or the depth of my own incuriosity: Since I'm married to an Episcopal clergywoman, these issues end up being about her — and my family's — future.

Although you pretend not to know this, liberal theology has had a vital role in American Protestantism for close to two centuries; it's not just a Unitarian Universalist heritage. Liberal Episcopalians are not heretics when they acknowledge that doctrines and interpretations have always been historically conditioned; they're simply being honest.

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