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POLITICS AS USUAL?

As I write today General Convention is preparing to go into a joint session of both Houses – Bishops and Deputies – seeking to rescue the church from refusing to do that which has been asked of it by the rest of the Communion. The issue is straightforward. We have been asked not to authorize same-sex blessings for the time being and not to nominate or ordain to the episcopate persons living in a same-sex relationship outside of marriage.

Most of those who defeated the motion placed before the House of Deputies yesterday did so on the grounds that the Episcopal Church would be sacrificing its gay and lesbian parishioners for the sake of temporary unity. Others thought the resolution’s language to be such fudge that it did not represent the views of “orthodox” Episcopalians.

Talk of sacrifice and even crucifixion sound highly dramatic and dreadfully sentimental. Therein lies one of our problems. It seems impossible nowadays to indulge in reasonable discourse without resorting to the sort of hyperbole and rhetoric common to politicians.

A creaky, antiquated form of church government, founded in the Age of Reason for cerebral people has been taken over by practitioners of contemporary political activism.
Thus being asked for a period of three years to observe our own Canons and policies has been blown up to sound as if gay and lesbian people were being told to leave the church.

Let’s be clear here. The Episcopal Church hasn’t introduced same-sex blessings or marriages or adopted liturgical rites to effect such unions. Thus to promise not to do for three years something that the church has not enabled anyone to do would seem to be a non-issue.

To ask nominating committees, standing committees, diocesan conventions and bishops not to ordain and consecrate persons living in a same-sex relationship during the next three years surely would affect very few people indeed. To describe such a self-denying ordinance as a betrayal or even crucifixion seems to stretch the bounds of reason to an extraordinary extent.

One can only pray that the two Houses of General Convention will come to their senses this morning. Far from enabling the new Presiding Bishop to do her job, failure to respond adequately to the rest of the Anglican Communion would make her job far more difficult. Although the rather odd way deputies are elected produces a legislative body weighted towards more “liberal” Episcopalians, the vast majority of parishioners are middle of the road people, and half of them worshipping in small congregations.

If our relationship with the Anglican Communion is ruptured through parliamentary devices – at a time when politics are in bad odor – the confidence of the ordinary man and woman in the pew in our governing bodies will decline even further.

I found it very odd that on the eve of the four hundredth anniversary of the first Anglican settlement in the new world little was made of it at General Convention. Rather than rejoicing in our heritage as heirs to those Church of England folk who staggered ashore near Jamestown, set up an awning, made a table, so that their chaplain, Robert Hunt, might celebrate the Eucharist, and thus blessing their work, many would rather indulge in a plainly xenophobic interpretation of the events which caused the emergence of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. There would have been no Episcopal Church without Jamestown. Perhaps there will be no real Episcopal Church without Canterbury.

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