Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back problems and Lambeth Kool-Aid - A reflection on bishops and their houses.

Some have heard me characterize the ordination of a bishop thusly: Once all of the episcopal hands laid on the head of the new bishop are raised and withdrawn, the spine of the new bishop is also drawn out as if being removed with the upward action of the episcopal hands. The result? A spineless Episcopal bishop.

This doesn’t happen to all bishops. But it seems to happen to the great majority. And it seems to be contextual. In their own little dioceses, they are the rulers, the deciders, the ultimate interpreters of the canons and constitutions, and the judges of obedience of all clergy vows. Outside of their realms, though, they seem to bow to the will of the bullies, they decide out of a foundation of fear, and they maintain a fantasy of church unity and the brotherhood of all bishops in the Anglican Communion (cf Lambeth 2008 and Indaba).

There is much rumbling among the blogs and the laity about the tenor in the House of Bishops during this General Convention. The coconut wireless says that they take seriously the Archbishop of Canterbury’s not-so-subtle directive that the Episcopal Church not do anything to further rend the Communion. This is the old (read three to six years) tactic of blaming the break-up of the Communion on the consecration of Gene Robinson and subsequent efforts at including honest, open, and/or partnered lgbt Episcopalians in all of the sacraments of the church (read matrimony and ordination). I’m not going to cover yet once more the issues of the Windsor report and subsequent reports, covenants, statements, and actions around the Communion since 2006. But the Episcopal Church as an institution has studied, listened, delayed for a season, locked the doors, and done everything it possibly could concerning lgbt Christians and marriage and ordination. Nothing has been good enough or sufficient for our detractors. Nothing has changed and, in fact, we are seen no more positively by our detractors than we were in 2006 and 2007.

So what do we do as a General Convention? The House of Deputies heard from 30 deputies this past week, 24 of whom urged us to end the deliberate marginalization and exclusion of lgbt Episcopalians. Six used the same arguments that have been used for centuries to keep gay folks on the margins or forced to lie about their humanity in order to participate in the sacraments of the church. They say we should stop focusing on sex and getting on with mission. Well, contrary to that kind of comment, we are not focusing on sex but rather on justice. And mission without justice is not possible. Mission without justice is hypocritical. And mission without justice is not Christian mission at all. The HoD is ready to move beyond B033 and to do justice – both for all Episcopalians and for all who are on the receiving end of our mission efforts.

But where is the House of Bishops? Still trying to figure out how they can keep the rest of the Communion, and especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, happy. They still haven’t figured out that they need to move out of sheep mode, watching for the nasty old wolves, and that they really are (or at least can be) lions who protect their cubs first and teach them how to be strong in their own faith and lives. And our bishops fail to see that the ABC and some of the Global South primates do not represent the Global South. As we heard from five highly respected individuals (along with a communication from Desmond Tutu) in the HoD yesterday, they represent the Global South as much, if not more, than those few bishops who are intent on bullying the Communion into submission. (Those individuals are named in other reports on the internet.) Paraphrasing Jenny Te Paa, “We are the true Global South, and we look to the Episcopal Church for leadership toward justice for all of God’s people.”

So to the House of Bishops, I offer some strong encouragement to:
• Stop denying the sacraments of marriage and ordination to those who have been excluded because of their sexual orientation. (No, it really isn’t a chosen lifestyle as we heard yet once again from one of the six detracting deputies.)
• Stop waiting until the time is “right.” (It never will be, as women finally figured out in the 1974 “irregular” ordinations in Philadelphia.)
• Stop “studying” same-sex relationships before deciding – what? (What else is there to learn about same-sex relationships and their theology that hasn’t already been studied and “discovered”?)
• Stop claiming that maintaining this exclusionary effort is Christ-like and in the best interests of all God’s people in our dioceses. (Are your warm, fuzzy, Indaba relationships with your brother anti-gay bishops more important than the people of God under your care?)

More positively, I strongly encourage them to start acting like leaders. To wit:
• Stand up for what is right for the all the people of your dioceses. (You’ll discover that you’re standing up for what is right for all of the people of God’s creation.)
• Truly live out our baptismal covenant and the full baptisms and chrisms that you have conferred on so many. (Unless those were conditional baptisms until sexual orientation was determined.)
• Stand up to the bullies of the Communion who intimidate you into believing the Communion will collapse unless you continue to marginalize lgbt Christians. (TEC really doesn’t have that much power.)
• Take the risk to act Christ-like and share the Good News, welcoming all into the full sacramental life of the church. (Really – what are you afraid of?)
• Insist on transparency and openness in your deliberations, without making excuses for secrecy and so-called executive sessions. (Again – what are you afraid of? Do you understand the perception this creates? Even more – do you care?)
• Show courage in troubling the waters of the status quo. That’s what Christ was about – turning the world on its ear. (Isn’t that what it is to be a Christian? Or maybe I’m thinking of some other religious tradition…)

I pray that there are at least a small handful of bishops in the HoB – those who seem to be unafraid to be radically Christ-like – who will help the others to see that all manner of thing really will be well in the long run if they have the courage to open the sacraments to all Episcopalians in the short run. Act out of conviction, not fear. Do not give in to the schoolyard bullies, whether they live in Lambeth or Nigeria. Stand up for justice and the full humanity of all, as did Jonathan Edwards, Desmond Tutu, Barbara Harris, and so many others. Please re-appropriate your spines and be strong and compassionate and Gospel-living Christian leaders.

And don’t be afraid, dear bishops. God really is with us and it will be okay.

[Postscript: As I write this, an announcement has been made that the House of Bishops will go into executive session (secret session) to discuss matters around same-sex relationships. Is there no courage to speak openly? Fear seems to trump so much.]


  1. Stay strong...I am shocked that so many deputies have chosen to be so "un-Christ-ly" in their stance and arguments around the same-sex issue...they obviously don't know anyone who is gay...what a loss for them...

  2. I am grateful for the voice of Liz Zivanov+ and that all shall be well in the long run. I am one of the GLBT Christians in communion and community in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion and I thank God for the Christ-like examples that compassionately confront the arrogance of those who want the church to cease in is historic and prophetic mission of doing justice and loving mercy. This is a good day for our church, a good year, and it's going to be a decade of change. Thanks be to God.

  3. Well, I may be simple-minded, but I say LET THEM GO! Let those bishops and diocese, who mistake justice as a question of "life style" and who purport to speak for Jesus and wallow in angst over same sex relationships, GO. Adieu. Go with God and allow yourselves to be cracked open to justice and mercy and love. Leave us to feeding the poor, clothing the forgotten, healing the sick, loving all who comes to us in need. Leave the Communion. Call yourselves something else but do not call yourselves Christian or, for that matter, Episcopalians. As for your secret sessions? Come out, come out wherever you are! Olly olly in Free.