Monday, September 24, 2007

HOB: Back to Back Conversations

September 23, 2007

by John Gibson

If you want a double dose of the good, the bad and the uncertain, schedule back-to-back interviews with Tom Shaw Bishop of Massachusetts and Barry Morgan Archbishop of Wales on the Sunday evening before the real debates start at the House of Bishops on Monday.

Rowan’s gone home. Actually, he’s off to Armenia in a matter of days. Now the bishops have eaten their fill of spicy seafood and reality is setting in, like indigestion.

But first, Tom Shaw, in blue cashmere mufti, says he has no idea how things are going to turn out. He allows that the experience so far has been “sobering,” that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been “more optimistic in his remarks to the press than when he spoke with us.” What I want to know is whether LGBT folks are going to be happy or not with where the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church lands in its ‘mind of house’ responses to the Primates’ ultimatums. (Call them ‘requests’ if that makes you feel less threatened.)

“That’s a good question. It’s really hard to say.” Shaw takes a long pause. Reminds me of the even longer pause when the Archbishop had to search, at Friday’s press conference, for words of hope for the lesbian and gay baptized. Shaw finally says, “There is a real majority in the house who want to stay in the Anglican Communion.” Translation: “The house is pretty much where we were following General Convention [June ’06]. There will likely be some affirmation of B033, a recognition that that’s where we are as a church.” I’d say that means, the LGBT baptized will be disappointed.

Shaw is sharing candidly what he expects, not necessarily what he believes. This is the one bishop in the Episcopal Church who really has marriage on his sacramental plate. In Massachusetts, marriage equality is the law, and Tom Shaw helped make it that way. As a key supporter of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, he carried a banner to the steps of the statehouse in the fight to secure marriage for all.

I asked him where that journey to the steps of the statehouse began. As for most, Tom Shaw’s activism started in personal exposure to discrimination. “I don’t think I realized how difficult it is for a gay couple in this culture.” In a convoluted pastoral story of a gay couple whose adopted son was refused baptism by a “conservative” parish—apparently believing baptism needed conserving—Bishop Shaw was called in to sort out the mess that sacramental apartheid makes of real lives. It wasn’t his sympathy for the couple in question, though he became friendly with them, but his desire to see that “that child had everything that he deserved” that changed Tom Shaw’s heart. That he says, “much more than standing there with a banner” is what makes the difference for him.

In the end, that’s what it comes down to Tom Shaw—stories about people working with people. One can’t help but wonder whether such stories of collaboration are being lived upstairs at New Orleans’ Intercontinental Hotel tonight.

His grace the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan showed up for our appointment, smiling, in ‘manpri’s,’ sandals and a plaid campshirt. His first words were anything but casual: “There are some people who are out to wreck the Communion and I think it’s come to that. I’m ready to say publicly what I’ve been saying privately.”

He goes on to reaffirm what he said as part of his appraisal of the Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report: the Episcopalians get a B+ for effort and an A for sincerity. “The U.S. has apologized, asked for forgiveness [and] they’ve gone a heck of a long way and their attitude toward one another and to us has been very respectful…and I don’t see that being reciprocated by the primates.”

Morgan says there are people who are “hellbent on destruction of the Communion” and that “it can’t be about scripture. Jesus has some pretty strong things to say about marriage and divorces and there are provinces who allow divorced people to remarry in the church. It’s not about scripture. It’s about power and money.”

Like Shaw, Archbishop Morgan has known the Archbishop of Canterbury for a long time and succeeded him in Wales in 2003. “[Rowan] ends up bending over backwards to be fair and gracious long after most of us would have given up. His heart is where it’s always been. His job is to hold the communion together.” Morgan says Rowan has made his heart’s desire clear, but that “it’s subtle.” Some would say it’s imperceptible.

Morgan is the man who just a few days ago advised the Synod of the Church of Wales that the Anglican Covenant, as proposed, is “a contract, not a covenant,” something designed to entrap. And the Synod followed his lead, became the first province of the Anglican Communion to formally reject the covenant as it stands.

But before you start high-fiving with your civil partner, this is the same man who says, “I suppose I’m revealing both my age and my prejudices when I say I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. My children don’t understand at all. They don’t see the issue.”

Ultimately, when asked to predict where the American House of Bishops will land, His Grace Barry Morgan says he’s hopeful it will lead people to see “the other half of Lambeth 1:10, about listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people.” Ah, the Listening Process. The favored chestnut comes up again, this time as a hoped-for outcome of the House of Bishops meeting. When I listen to those words, even with the charm of Morgan’s Welsh accent, what I hear is Tom Shaw’s “It’s the best we can do.”

So that’s the good and the uncertain—there’s not really any bad coming from these two—on the eve of getting down to the nitty gritty of this House of Bishops meeting.

Barry Morgan has to go to a confab he’s already half an hour late for, but before he does, he says, “I just hope that the Anglican Communion can be the kind of communion I always thought it was.” I’m thinking, if only it could be the kind of communion Tom Shaw and Barry Morgan claim it wants to be.

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