To the Clergy of the Diocese of Dallas:
A WORD ABOUT THE HOUSE OF BISHOPS’ RESOLUTIONS
The response of the House of Bishops to the Communiqué from the Primates saddens me. But it was not a surprise.
The Bishops’ work is grounded on the fundamental principle of the independence and autonomy of the Episcopal Church. In the run up to this meeting, and during the meeting itself, many bishops appealed to “the polity of our Church” as the basis for rejecting what was asked of the House.
Let us consider this representation.
In 1991, the General Convention adopted the following resolution, B020:
“Resolved, the house of Deputies concurring, That this Church receive the report of the Standing Committee on Human Affairs as clear evidence of no strong consensus in the Church on the human sexuality issues considered or the resolutions proposed; and be it further
“Resolved, That the Office of the Presiding Bishop now be directed to propose to all the provinces of the Anglican Communion and all churches with whom we are in ecumenical dialogue that a broad process of consultation be initiated on an official pan-Anglican and ecumenical level as a bold step forward in the consideration of these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.” (Journal of the General Convention, 1991: pp. 210-211, 807-808.)
The resolution was presented first in the House of Bishops by the Committee on World Mission, and moved to be adopted “without amendment.” A few days later, it was adopted by the Deputies.
This resolution was a mandate of the General Convention directed to the Presiding Bishop. Such mandates are relatively infrequent in the resolutions of General Convention. Nevertheless, this one was never acted on. It remained in effect up to the Convention of 2003, as was pointed out by many at that time. It was effectively violated by the action of giving consent to the consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire, but was never rescinded.
Arguably, had this mandate of the whole of the General Convention been acted on, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion would have been spared the wrenching divisions that we now see. That is speculation, of course.
What is not speculation is that the General Convention itself understood the weight of the matters involved in human sexuality in such a way that it was prepared to act, and in fact acted, to surrender some part of its own autonomy for the sake of the larger good. “These potentially divisive issues . . . should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.”
Appeals to “our polity” would be more convincing if we actually took our polity seriously.
Concerning the Pastoral Scheme, the first claim in the House of Bishops’ response was this: “First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.”
The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, went over the matter of “primatial authority” on Sunday evening. She was quite candid. She said that such primatial authority as she had was “pretty limited.” When it came to the matter of delegating certain acts of the Primate of this Church, she offered examples of how delegation was, in fact, possible and was already a reality. She offered her opinion that the Pastoral Scheme could be carried out “under our Constitution and Canons.”
As for a “compromise of our autonomy,” the action of the General Convention in 1991 belies the claim that this is “not possible under our Constitution.” Of course it is possible, if the larger good of the unity of the Communion and our place within the ecumenical body of Christians is important enough.
The truth is, we have lived for a generation in the Episcopal Church with bishops who, when they could not support or follow actions of the General Convention, rose to make a “statement of conscience” to the effect that they would not be bound by such decisions. Twenty-two did so in 1979, following adoption of A53 by the House of Bishops, and were followed by some lay and clergy when it was also adopted in the House of Deputies. The bishops said, “we cannot accept these recommendations or implement them in our Dioceses.” It is now a staple of our common life that actions of the General Convention, unless they take the form of canonical changes or liturgical revision, are merely “recommendatory.” How, I ask, is that taking “our polity” seriously?
The claim that the Bishops cannot clarify what they intended by their own action in adopting B033 (2006), on the matter of giving consents to consecrations, because of “our polity” rings hollow. And so does the claim that the Bishops cannot respond to assurances that same-sex blessing rites will not be authorized. (See Canon III.9.5.a(1).) Both of these are well within the purview of the Bishops under “our polity.”
The “most important” concern expressed in the House of Bishops’ response is purportedly this: “The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation.”
As to the substance of this concern: The Presiding Bishop’s stated view was that the intention behind the Scheme was to provide a “container” and a “space” for “dealing with our own stuff,” and so find a way to hold together. One might have thought that the way to do the “hard work” of repair would have been to retrace our steps and make some course corrections. In spite of this, the House of Bishops’ resolution tries to promote a different principle at stake.
Fidelity to vows is the principle that should have been lifted up at this point. Bishops are ordained to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline” of the Church. If discipline serves unity, and unity serves the cause of faith, then a failure to live by “our polity,” our discipline, marks the unraveling of unity and the obscuring of faith. The 1991 resolution faithfully expressed what our Constitution says: we are “constituent members of the Anglican Communion.” It was on that basis that we bound ourselves not to act unilaterally, but in a conciliar way. We should not, we said, resolve these issues on our own.
But we do not remember what we have said. We do not live by our vows.
Much more could be said about this House of Bishops’ response. I will put off doing so for now.
WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
The House of Bishops’ document we have received says nothing we have not known before now. I said after the 2006 Convention, “There can be no question, given the facts as they have emerged since the Convention that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is set on a course that will not change.” This document underscores that assessment. Many will take great joy and comfort in this prospect. Many have already drawn this conclusion and departed our Church.
On the other hand, the document changes nothing about where this Diocese stands. We have a long record of supporting the Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, of supporting the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process. The Standing Committee and Executive Council have supported the Communiqué. We have overwhelmingly affirmed our desire to remain connected to the Anglican Communion.
The majority of our people in the Diocese of Dallas have exercised great patience over the past many months and years. I believe that the great value we place in being connected to the Anglican Communion has strengthened that patience. I trust it will continue to do so as the weeks ahead unfold.
I cannot tell you when or how the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates will respond, but I surely think we must wait until then. The Communiqué set out certain actions which the Primates together would do: e.g., the creation of a Pastoral Council. Whether and how this comes to be and what options such a move would offer remains to be seen. However, we reaffirm our commitment to the Windsor process and our participation in it and what emerges from the Primates’ Communiqué. I remain committed to the Camp Allen principles articulated by the Windsor Bishops and commended by the Primates.
In the meantime, the first promise called for under the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer is to “continue in the Apostles’ teaching.” It is from fidelity to that teaching that our communion and fellowship, our worship, our ministries and witness, our outreach and service is shaped and empowered. The Apostles’ teaching is what, in fact, informs what justice and dignity mean in the Church. So we will continue to uphold the Apostles’ teaching.
And more than that, we will work to do what our Lord has called us to do. We are continuing to work to plant new congregations, to evangelize in our communities, to grow our congregations, to carry on mission abroad, to minister to the young, the weak, the poor and the sick. We will continue to measure our work together against the standard of the Apostles’ teaching. And, accordingly, we will continue to welcome into our communities all who seek to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacraments rightly and duly administered. We will continue loyally to observe in the letter and the spirit the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Thus we will live by our vows. On that score, nothing has changed. And the more we hold together, the greater these works will be for God’s glory.
So long as God grants us the privilege of serving Christ together in this place and at this time, we will do so.
The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton
Bishop of Dallas