Monday, June 29, 2015

LIVE FROM SALT LAKE CITY IV: PB, GUN VIOLENCE, & MARRIAGE


I apologize for not checking in for a while. The pace has been heavy from early until late. I have not blogged because so much has happened. The reason I should have blogged is that so much has happened.

PB Election

Of course you know by now we elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry (North Carolina) as our 27th Presiding Bishop. Such elections are done in a private session so I cannot say much to describe the event itself. In fact, another bishop was publicly admonished today for leaking the election results prematurely.  But I will dare to say this much: the gathering was holy, prayerful, and Spirit-filled. There was no politicking. -- just praying and singing. We voted and waited for the result. The vote for Bishop Michael was overwhelming on the first ballot. He received 121 of the 174 votes cast and the other votes were pretty evenly divided. So it was an incredible mandate, a tremendous show of unity.

I had done a straw poll of the Nevada deputation to advise and guide me in my discernment of how to vote. The Nevadans were unanimous and emphatic in supporting Bishop Michael. His election was confirmed in the House of Deputies by a vote of 800 to 12.

I believe the Church, after years of division, has experienced a moment of unity. But it is not a unity achieved by middling in – by compromising between opposing positions but rather by transcending them in Christ. If you are not already familiar with Bishop Michael, you can get a taste of his spirituality from his brief remarks yesterday at the end of our march against gun violence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsfpLdMlaio&feature=share

One thing is bound to be on people’s minds when we elect our first Black Presiding Bishop: Did we elect him because he is Black. I would say that his race is a factor.  Many of us felt that having a Black Presiding Bishop proclaims a gospel truth of inclusion.  But the bottom line is that we did not elect Bishop Michael because of his race. We elected him because of his passion for the faith and his skills as a leader. We like the way he talks about Jesus. We want his message to be our message in the coming decade.

March Against Gun Violence.

60 Bishops organized and led a march against gun violence Sunday morning. We did it in response to the wave of mass shootings as well as the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in our nation. The basic reason for our action is this story by a Salt Lake City gunshot victim. If your time is limited, skip the rest of my blog and watch this. Never read anything I write again. Just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgeu5I-Hiw0&feature=share

We did not march for a specific legislative response but for doing whatever it takes to stop the carnage. Most of the so-called controversy is bogus. There is not as much controversy as we might think. 92% of Americans favor universal background checks for gun purchases. 82% of gun owners favor universal background checks. 74% of NRA members favor universal background checks. The overwhelming majority of people are pretty rational about this. Most of us are capable of being fairly rational about this and much of rationality is clear. When Connecticut enacted strong handgun licensing, handgun homicides declined by 25%; when Missouri repealed such licensing, handgun violence increased by 40%. http://www.taleoftwostates.com But ultimately it isn’t about numbers. As Carolyn said of handgun deaths, “One more is too many.”

This is not a denial of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights. The 2nd Amendment begins “A well regulated militia being necessary . . .” and goes on to preserve the right to bear arms for the sake of the militia. It is quite arguable that only members of a militia should be able to own guns. But no one wants to go that far. Just start with the words “well regulated.” This is not about seizing our guns but regulating use and ownership. We have the right to vote but we have to register. We have the right to marry but we have to get a license. The reasonable regulation of firearms for the public safety has been upheld as Constitutional over and over.

So what is really going on here? Why is it that in the aftermath of Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Amish school shooting, and Charleston, do we do not recoil in horror and throw our guns away but instead rush out to gun up? Why is it that the stronger the evidence is that gun violence is out of control and can be curtailed, the more we fight the action that would have saved Carolyn’s daughter?

The answer is simple and obvious. It comes in two parts. The first part is our motivation. It is simply fear – fear for our own safety and fear for the safety of those we love. Our passion for guns is obviously and simply an expression of fear. Irrational mass violence makes us even more afraid. It show us we are at risk and the people we love are at risk. Some of us are afraid of the government. Some are afraid of criminals. This is unscientific. I can’t prove this. But my empathy tells me that people are far more afraid today than they were 30 years ago. We are in the grip of fear.

The second part is where we place our faith. When we are afraid, what do we count on to make us safe? Our culture of violence has taught us, indoctrinated us, and programed us to trust in violence. Kill or be killed. So because we want to be safe, we maximize our capacity to kill. That makes others more afraid so they increase their capacity to kill and it snowballs. But there is another way.

In the time of the psalmist the equivalent of a semi-automatic handgun was a chariot drawn by a warhorse. It was the ultimate weapon of the time. So the psalmist wrote:
           
            Some trust in chariots and some in horses;
            But we trust in the Lord.
                                                                        Psalm 27: 7

The psalmist and the prophets said there is another place to put our trust.

            Surely it is God who saves me.
            I will trust in him and not be afraid
            For he is my stronghold and my sure defense
            And he will be my savior.
                                                                        Isaiah 12: 2

God is not pleased by our preferring weapons to Him for our protection. That is why God longs for us to shift our faith from weapons to Him:

            They will beat their swords into ploughshares
            And their speaks into pruning hooks.
                                                                        Isaiah 2: 4

Our attachment to weapons is ultimately a matter of faith, which is the opposite of fear. The commandment Jesus gave his disciples far more often than any other was this: Do not be afraid. The Bible tells us 365 times, once for each day of the year: Do not be afraid. We can push rational regulation of guns till the cows come home, but we won’t make real inroads into our penchant for violence until we deliver our people from our Egyptian bondage, our Babylonian captivity to fear. That comes in one way and one way only – faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Same Gender Marriage

For the LGBTQ Community this was a banner day. Today the House of Bishops authorized several liturgies for trial use in solemnizing marriage between same gender couples. We prayerfully hope for concurrence by the House of Deputies to make this Church law.

There were a lot of complexities to work through, and we worked through them with painstaking care, but the gist of it was simple: the liturgies were authorized for trial use subject to the consent of the bishop in each diocese; and any bishop who does not consent is required to make provision to insure that people in that diocese have access to the rites. Contrary to what has been said, how the bishop goes about that is not specified. But he or she has to do it. The legislation specifies that no one is to be penalized for dissenting from this action.

But what I want to describe is the spirit in which we took this action. The Task Force on Marriage showed “a generosity of spirit” (a term we are hearing a lot a this convention around all sorts of dicey subjects like sex and money) in leaving room for dissent. The conservative bishops who announced they would be voting against the resolutions as a matter of conscience expressed heartfelt appreciation to the Task Force for its consideration. Conservative bishops who had reservations about canonical processes voted for the legislation because they valued Jesus’ love of the LGBTQ people above any idolatry of rigid legalism. I literally wept more than once at the humility and wisdom of my fellow bishops in addressing this moral moment in our history.

The same gender marriage legislation, after being thoroughly revised, refined, debated, and perfected passed by an overwhelmingly strong majority. Those who knew they would be in the minority called for a roll call vote. I usually resent those a bit because they are slow and tedious. But I wound up being grateful for this one. Several bishops that I thought of as fairly progressive voted no; but more bishops who I thought of as rock-ribbed conservatives, some from the Deep South, voted yes. One explained that he intended to vote no, but God had moved him in the course of worship to vote yes.

I have no doubt whatsoever that some ultra-conservatives will say we have abandoned the faith. (The protesters outside say as much.) I have no doubt that some ultra-liberals will accuse us of selling out to the conservatives. But I am 100% on board with the strong majority vote today – not because it was such a unified consensus but because it was Christian. Our wise niece recently observed that these days “The Middle Way is the road less travelled.” But it is our way, the Anglican Way. Today I am deeply pleased with our Church.

PS They took up a collection Sunday and put it on the altar. We have a resolution out of Stewardship and Development to make sure this continues in the future. Also we are scrambling to restore funding for The Episcopal Network or Stewardship.


Friday, June 26, 2015

LIVE FROM SALT LAKE CITY III: REINHOLD NIEBUHR & CHRISTIAN TOLERANCE



The news of the day here in SLC is pretty tentative and calm. We had a joint session – Deputies and Bishops – discussing structure – not the proposals for structural change that will be on the agenda, but just generally. I was part of a group made up of half the Nevadans talking with half the Deputies from Lexington. We had a really good conversation and learned a lot about church life in our very different worlds.

The Stewardship Committee then went through a laborious boring beyond belief process of perfecting a resolution recognizing that the Development office raised a lot of money last triennium and encouraging them to continue doing their job. But then we got to talking about how the Convention Eucharists STILL (despite three years of our urging) do not present the alms at the altar or designate their purpose. (At this point, there was originally a rant about how utterly and outrageously wrong this is. I have been persuaded by calmer heads to spare you my less attractive sentiments). So we are in a bit of an uprising mode. We shall see if a more vigorous statement and persistence will make some headway.  A positive note on today’s worship: we had good music by The Theodicy Jazz Ensemble and an engaging sermon by House of Deputies President, Gay Jennings.

The Bishops legislative meeting was pretty straightforward. We had various and sundry legislative matters and passed them all. Nothing dramatic or controversial. The hard issues are down the road.

The real event today happened in D.C., the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same gender marriage in all states – not to be confused with all dioceses, as we are a church in 17 nations. This does, however, constitute a landmark shift in the way our society recognizes family relationships; so the Church will be called upon to express a spiritual understanding of these relationships. We already bless same gender unions. Where those unions are legally recognized as marriages, we acknowledge that legal status as part of the blessing. We have on the agenda a proposal to recognize the spiritual significance of same gender bonds on a higher level. I think it is quite likely we will do that. Exactly how the new approach will be framed is still being worked out, but I think we are likely to do something along this line.  In the next few days I’ll be reporting on that.

But first I want to consider an underlying question of how we think about all our decisions and actions.

Of course, some Episcopalians, like many Christians of other denominations, believe same gender relationships are morally wrong and should not be blessed at all. I disagree. See Live From Anatolia: Part 1. http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/live-from-anatolia-part-1-paul-law-and.html and Nicaea, Constantinople, and Salt Lake City. http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/nicaea-constantinople-salt-lake-city.html But as I said in the Nicaea blog, there are dissenters at this meeting and there will be dissenters after this meeting whatever we do.  So, simply stated, there are dissenters. That may seem obvious, but some of my social media friends think there is actually unanimous and universal acceptance of the 5-4 decision of the Court. It ain’t so.

Now, here’s where we come to the issue. Dissenters have two complaints against the LGBTQ inclusion advocates. We may, on the one hand, leave faith out of it and just go for the political value of inclusion. We are doing what we do because we politically want to do it, regardless of God. That sometimes happens and I share the conservative’s objection to a godless politics.

On the other hand, we may claim that LGBTQ inclusion is the will of God. I decidedly want to make a case for that, as I did partially in Live From Anatolia I post. But the conservatives object that this invocation of God stigmatizes them, shuts down dissent, and cuts off conversation. True, these liberals are speaking in the language of Amos and Hosea, but Amos and Hosea were not the kind of guys you could have a beer with and talk things over.

I believe that it is incumbent upon us as Christians to seek God’s will and act upon it in all things, most especially relationship matters like marriage. We have to make a theological case for same gender marriage if we are going to do it. The fact that it’s legal doesn’t mean we have to honor it religiously. We choose to honor and bless same gender marriages not because the state says so but because we believe God calls us to do so.

However, it is irreverent to claim too much certainty about God’s will. God is an infinite mystery so we may have a sense of God’s will but we cannot have certainty. The danger is doing what we want and drafting God to support our position. I am often tempted to do just that and I suspect that others may face the same temptation.

So the challenge of Christian tolerance, according to Reinhold Niebuhr, is to boldly proclaim God’s truth as best we know it, but at the same time hold the humility to remember we could be wrong. That keeps the door open for conversation with people who disagree with us. In conversation, we are quite likely to learn things, to build relationships, to grow in grace. That is not possible if we do not say what we believe with a “Thus sayeth the Lord” boldness. A know-nothing shrug of the shoulders does not evoke conversational response. But on the other hand, we need the humility to listen to someone else and try to understand their perspective.


“Winning” a Supreme Court case and “winning” a General Convention proposal for same gender marriage is not the end of the conversation. It should be the beginning in which we continue to respect those who disagree and listen with open hearts to their concerns. I am deeply convinced that life will be richer for all concerned if we continue our dialogue grounded in a Christ-based mutuality of care and respect. The thing we really need to win is each other for Christ.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

LIVE FROM SALT LAKE CITY II: BEGINNING



I prefer relating to people over legislating rules and regulations, so the best parts of my day were in the halls – not in official convention doings. I met a priest from Houston who introduced me to All Our Children: A National Network of Church-School Partnerships. http://www.allourchildren.org This is the kind of ministry quite a few of our congregations are already doing, most notably St. Catherine of Sienna, Reno. We tried to get this going a few years back working with Communities in Schools. St. Matthew’s and St. Paul’s (Elko) had some success with that route. But Communities In Schools only operated in a few parts of the state, rarely where we have churches. The All Our Children program looks much more promising. And now we have greater openness at the top levels of public school administration to let us in as mentors, tutors, etc. So today was a gracious serendipity. I am so glad to have learned about this ministry opportunity that I know will be close to the hearts of many Nevadans.

Then I finally met face to face the extremely impressive Evangelism Officer for the Diocese of Dallas, the Rev. Carrie Boren Headington. https://www.facebook.com/carrie.boren.3?fref=ts I have been in touch with her on social media for a few months but this was our first chance to really talk. Carrie is not just bright and personable. She is a committed voice for the gospel and loves helping churches embrace The Great Commission, especially small churches. She has been helping the Diocese of North Dakota recently. And she wants to help us. :-) !!!

As the day went on, I encountered Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson, our friends from Canticle Communications, who led last year’s Priests’ Conference, then Christopher Wells of Forward Movement. Not to mention all my clergy friends around the country, lay friends from Georgia, etc.

The official work was mostly in my legislative committee. We had a batch of resolutions and canons but we rolled them into just three. One was a Donor’s Bill of Rights, on which I was the lone dissenting voice. I have a list of objections, but my main problem is that I believe the wider church should educate the local congregations, not issue mandates to them. I did my seagull squawking yesterday, and will take another run at it when it gets to floor of the House. For a political moderate, I am pretty libertarian or at least federalist when it comes to Church governance.

More importantly we took up the proposal to reduce the apportionment each diocese pays to the wider church from 19% to 15% but make it mandatory for all dioceses. At present about 54% of dioceses do not pay the full amount. We need everyone to ante up so we can lower the percentage.  A 15% diocesan apportionment would enable Nevada to lower its exorbitant assessment on parishes. As you might imagine, the part about making it mandatory was the hard part. We worked to do this in a gentle way that winds up trusting in the good will and integrity of dioceses in honest conversation with the wider church as opposed to power tactics. It’s an exercise in faith not only in God but also in each other.  It looks likely that we will phase in the reduction in the apportionment over the next six years, so nothing dramatic will happen right away. That’s good news for some dioceses, not so good for us. But we can be patient if there is hope.

I am not hearing any murmurings about the same gender marriage proposal in the hallways of Gen Con yet. There may be more consensus on this than we have had on LGBTQ inclusion in years past.

The murmurings I am hearing have more to do with the restructuring of Church governance.  And, as expected, it is lining up to be contentious -- not the Church at its best. We really don’t get too bad around money. It’s power – and usually power over small things – that brings out the worst in us. We will have a joint session on restructuring tomorrow. It will probably be pretty bland but things are apt to get difficult before this is over. I experience it as an ominous cloud on the horizon.


The other high profile event at this Gen Con will be the election of the next Presiding Bishop. If restructuring does not eviscerate that position (as some hope to do), this decision will be important as well as high profile.  As I said in yesterday’s blog, the Nevada deputies who came over to our room last night were unanimous as to which candidate they want for PB. An e-mail poll of the rest of our deputies continues the unanimous preference. I do not feel bound by their straw vote, but it would take a real fool to not recognize that enthusiastic unanimity is a pretty powerful recommendation.