skip to main |
skip to sidebar
Today was less dramatic at
Gen Con than the last few days have been. But it was still good work. My day
began in the Stewardship & Development Committee. Our main work was a
resolution calling on the Church to refrain from investing in for-profit
prisons. We tweaked it minimally and sent it on to the floor with a
recommendation to approve.
There was a joint session of
the Bishops and Deputies to talk about the Five Marks Of Mission in our
congregations. It was an excellent conversation in the Nevada deputation. I
like this stuff considerably better than the legislative process. The Deputies
seem less than thrilled with much of the restructuring proposal. It was a
fairly star studded joint session. The governor of Utah welcomed us and said to
us, “You are punching above your weight.” I liked that a lot. Ray Suarez of NPR
was there as MC, giving a good account of his congregation, St. Columba’s in
Washington, D.C. The former PB, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold was also on stage
along with Bishop Katharine and Bishop Michael.
The Bishops then addressed a
number of resolutions, most of which I cannot remember after all the amendments
and parliamentary rigmarole. There were two main pieces that stood out: one was
a major initiative for new church plants; the other was an initiative to create
a network of regional coaches for revitalizing congregations that want to make
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.