Tuesday afternoon, late, the House of Bishops’ chamber in the grand ballroom on the third floor of the Intercontinental Hotel: after at least two hours of closed door discussion, the Bishops go into open session.
Approximately thirty minutes later, since the text of the bishops’, “A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners” had yet to be sufficiently copied for distribution, the Presiding bishop begins to read the text from the chair.
About a minute into her reading, a woman walks into the chamber with completed copies for the press. I stop my live blog. Securing a copy, a colleague and I rush to the concierge on the second floor, fax the text to a second colleague standing by, who then begins to scan the document in order to email it back to me.
Meanwhile, I return to the chamber before the Presiding Bishop has finished reading.
She finishes. As I wait for the statement to be scanned, I listen to the beginnings of what I assume will be a long and drawn out debate. The statement is not yet in my email in-box, but arrives within one or two minutes. I put it directly on the net raw, without adjusting the scanned format.
The Response is moved and seconded.
I am surprised to hear the Presiding Bishop ask whether the House is ready to vote by “consensus” (or acclamation). I am even more surprised to hear a loud affirmative response.
A bishop stands to offer a minor amendment to the wording. His amendment is rejected.
Another minor amendment is accepted.
Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island stands to object. A vote by acclamation would not allow dissenting voices to be heard.
Bishop Bill Love makes the same objection, but, for some reason his present objection is voiced through another bishop (it could be that this is because he is a first year bishop and it is not customary for first year bishops to speak?)
Bishops Love and Wolf want a voice vote, not a vote by consensus.
The Presiding Bishop, for a second time, asks the House whether there is enough agreement to avoid a vote.
There is a mixed response. She recognizes that a vote is necessary.
The vote is called. The “ayes” echo through the chamber.
There is only one “no” vote.
So ends the Windsor Bishops.
It is true that at least six Windsor Bishops: Duncan, Steenson, Iker, Stanton, Ackerman, and Schofield were not present.
It is also true, that around ten were there.
The answer to that question is fairly clear. Monday it was widely rumored and reported that the drafting committee had been working in consultation with members of the Joint Standing Committee and that some of those members were also in consultation with the Anglican Communion Office and, perhaps, no, probably, Lambeth.
The bishops on the floor knew this. They knew the Response had been vetted and given a pass at the highest levels.
The Windsor coalition collapsed because it was compromised from the beginning. It was grounded on the foundation of continued Communion participation. The non-Network, and even some of the Network bishops in the Windsor coalition, were concerned not so much with preserving the Faith as preserving communion with Canterbury.
Once it became clear that the Response was acceptable at Lambeth, opposition to it evaporated. The Dar Es Salaam plan died.
This was bound to happen from the very beginning.
Having already rejected the Primatial Vicar plan articulated in the DES Communique, two outstanding Communion requests remained:
“make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and…”
As has been noted elsewhere, most recently by Bishop Mouneer Anis, the intention of the DES request, as articulated in paragraphs 21 and 22, was to bring the blessings themselves to an end.
“21. we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
22. The standard of teaching stated in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 asserted that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions”. The primates stated in their pastoral letter of May 2003…”
But rather than complying with the standard teaching of the Communion, the Response by the House of Bishops maintains the duplicitous distinction, recently and laughably defended by Bishop Bruno, between the authorization official liturgies and the authorization of the blessings themselves. The Response makes it possible, for example, for Bishop Bruno to continue to permit same sex blessings to occur in his diocese, indeed to participate in them, so long as the liturgy used does not bear his episcopal imprimatur. Here is the relevant portion of the Response:
From the Summary:
“We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.”
And here is the explanation:
We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty “to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations.” They further stated, “…[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.”
Not only does this statement recognize that a “minority” of bishops authorize same sex blessings, but as a matter of pastoral care they can and will continue to do so within the common life of the Episcopal Church.
Second the Primates requested that the House of Bishops:
“confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);”
Resolution B033 reads:
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further;
Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
Because non-celibate homosexual candidates are not specifically mentioned, the resolution leaves open the (very good) possibility that the Episcopal Church might find some rationale to give consent.
The House of Bishops responded by reaffirming B033 specifically noting that the language applies to non-celibate homosexual candidates among others.
Here is the Response summary:
“We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election Of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
Here is the explanation:
“The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.”
The clincher is the last sentence. There was a behind the scenes battle over the wording of this section. It was originally intended to remain in force only until the next general convention. Reportedly, someone from Lambeth managed to have the time constraints removed. It does make the statement much more specific.
The question is whether it might be argued (and I do not doubt that it will) that the explanation is just that, an explanation, whereas the actual commitment of the House is found in the summary section. The language of the two sections is rather telling. The final sentence of the explanation is wholly passive and indicative. It recognizes a present state of affairs. It does not call the bishops to do anything. The sections that call the bishops to action are simply repetitive of the precise wording of B033.
There is space here that can and will be exploited.
The Response by the House of Bishops, joined with their earlier responses and those of the Executive Council, represents an utter rejection of the Primate’s request. There is a bold commitment to permit same sex blessings. There is an avenue ripe for exploitation with regard to episcopal consents. And, as was evident in past statement and in this Response, there will be no attempt to provide adequate oversight for dissenting people, parishes, and/or dioceses.
The very sad thing is that the Windsor Bishops did not lose the fight.
They did not fight.
They embraced the duplicity, participated in the lie of this Response, despite the real souls and real lives at stake; because, apparently, they believe that it will win them access to Lambeth and peace for the duration of their careers.
And, of course, they are right.
And now, good bishops, think of all those people caught up in sexual sin, who are Sunday by Sunday, being led away in chains toward the darkness and away from Christ. What have you done for them?
You gave their false shepherds your consent. You stood aside. You let go the responsibilities of your office. You won a seat with Canterbury.
It is a sad, sad day.