Thursday, December 10, 2009

Here We Go Again, Again.

So here we go again, again. The liberal Episcopal Church is about to split the Anglican Communion. Again. We are sacrificing Unity for a bastardization of the Truth. Again. We are failing to acknowledge the Authority of Scripture and the Importance of Marriage. Again.

The Los Angeles Diocese’s election of Mary Glasspool has sent all the pundits rushing to their various soapboxes. But the question now before the Episcopal Church is not who is right and who is wrong, but whether this election is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s election, as the election of Diane Jardine Bruce and Morris Thompson, all elected the same day, will have to be confirmed by the other dioceses before she is ordained bishop. 

Standing committees and diocesan bishops now have to discern whether Mary is called by God to this position. The last General Convention did not set aside Resolution BO39 from 2006, which requested them to exercise constraint in confirming candidates whose manner of life might be a challenge to the wider church. Instead it affirmed that God may and does call partnered gay people to all orders of the church and that in such situations we would use the normal discernment process. 

It is unusual for confirmation to be denied to someone who has been properly elected within their own diocese. When Jack Iker was elected in Fort Worth in 1993, conservatives were sure that he would not be confirmed as he opposed the ordination of women, but he was, because dioceses tend to uphold the autonomy of other dioceses provided they are acting in good faith and in line with canon law. More recently there have been contentious elections in South Carolina and Northern Michigan where the elected candidate was not confirmed by a majority of other dioceses.  Father Lawrence was eventually confirmed in South Carolina despite fears that he might lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church. 

In both instances there were canonical irregularities as well as questions of orthodoxy. The Los Angeles diocese played by the rules, so no canonical issues have been raised. Even so, Mary’s confirmation is by no means a done deal, but it seems likely that she will receive the majority that she needs.  

Why is a lesbian bishop such a huge (negative) deal for some people?

Since the third century, bishops have been seen to be the guardians of the faith. For centuries, bishops have been appointed by other bishops, thus ensuring that the ‘true faith’  is passed safely from one generation to the next.  (The election of bishops is a new innovation.) For those who continue to believe that Christianity is predicated on heterosexuality (because they see the whole sweep of the Bible from Genesis on describing a God who created man and woman to be together as a symbol of the relationship within the Godhead) it is as ontologically impossible for a real bishop to be gay as for a turnip to be ordained. 

For them, ordaining a lesbian to the episcopacy is placing a symbol of not-Truth into the position in the Church responsible for guarding the Truth. This is, they say, equivalent to turning our backs on God, on scripture and on truth, not to mention threatening heterosexual marriage which is the very basis of Western-Civilization-As-We-Know-It. 

But Western-Civilization-As-We-Know-It hasn’t been doing such a great job looking after the planet, creating peace and goodwill among humankind let alone feeding orphans and widows and welcoming aliens. If it takes splitting the Anglican Communion (whose unity has always been more in the eye of the beholder than in the lived experience) to help us get real about living the Gospel and working for social justice, then so be it. We are needed to challenge Western Civilization to get on with the real work of bringing all beings into reconciliation with God.


The Rev. Caroline Hall (‘Caro’) is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). She grew up in the Church of England and had a varied career in social work, education and business in England, Scotland and the US before ordination. She is currently pursuing postgraduate work through the University of Leeds, UK.

Caro maintains a blog of her sermons here.