A Never-Ending, Circular Dialogue


[A dialogue. Two Episcopalians, Quincy and Alex, are exchanging views over their cups of coffee.]


The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) has explained to us the constitutional framework within which the election and confirmation of a new bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) takes place. As Primates, it is not for us to pass judgement on the constitutional processes of another province. We recognise the sensitive balance between provincial autonomy and the expression of critical opinion by others on the internal actions of a province. Nevertheless, many Primates have pointed to the grave difficulties that this election has raised and will continue to raise. In most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop.
If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).
Q But all the Primates in the Communion have no authority over our Church. They cannot tell us what to do.
A They didn’t try to tell us, as that excerpt just quoted says. They asked us not to go ahead with +Robinson’s consecration.

Q All right, and we turned them down. If they can’t compel us to do anything, what’s wrong with that?
A But who is this “we” who turned them down?
Q The bishops who consecrated +Robinson — and the ones who just consecrated +Glasspool.
A And are those bishops the whole Episcopal Church?

Q No, of course not.
A So what gave those particular bishops the right to turn down the unanimous request of all of the assembled Primates of the Anglican Communion?

Q They did it to demonstrate their solidarity with gays and lesbians. As our baptismal vow says, we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
A But I never took that vow. I was baptized long before 1979, and so were a number of the bishops who consecrated +Robinson and +Glasspool. And anyway, the vow is far too general to claim that it mandates one to “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level.” So I repeat my question: who authorized those bishops to turn down, in the name of the whole Episcopal Church, the unanimous request of the assembled Primates of the Anglican Communion — a request signed, I might add, by our own Presiding Bishop at the time?

Q Well, as Presiding Bishop Griswold said, when he responded to the objections made at the ordination ceremony for Bishop Robinson by those who did not want the consecration to proceed, “We’re learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level.” I guess he meant the level at which the Primates said the Communion would tear.
A You just dodged my question — and there’s that “we” again. Just whom did +Griswold mean by “we”, in your opinion?

Q The Episcopal Church.
A The whole Episcopal Church?

Q Yes.
A But not everyone in the Episcopal Church agreed with his decision to go ahead despite the objections of all of the other primates. In fact, don’t you agree that the majority of Episcopalians probably would not have agreed to go forward if they had been told of the consequences that would ensue — the depositions, the lawsuits, the millions of dollars wasted?

Q What makes you say that? How do you know it would have been a majority? Did you ever take a vote?
A That’s my point. The bishops who consecrated +Robinson, and the ones who just consecrated +Glasspool, never asked anyone whether the consequences which have flowed from those actions would be acceptable, did they?

Q They didn’t have to. The canons authorized the Presiding Bishop to perform the ordinations; if there were consequences from following the canons, then the ones who enacted the canons should have thought of that at the time. No doubt that is what the Presiding Bishop meant when he said that as a result of the consecration of +Robinson, the Episcopal Church would be “learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level” — he accepted that there would be consequences.
A And who gave the Presiding Bishop the authority to decide that all Episcopalians should learn “to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level”, and should accept whatever consequences should happen to flow from his act?

Q He was elected Presiding Bishop in accordance with our canons.
A Yes, I know that, but I cannot find in the descriptions or duties of his position the power to perform an act that results in most of the rest of the churches in the Communion declaring us “out of communion” with them.

Q He did it because, as he said, he was bound by his conscience.
A Granted — but how does that give him the right to act out his conscience in the name of all the rest of us?

Q What do you mean?
A Consider the case of Martin Luther King, who also acted out of his conscience. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if he had said, “Out of my conscience, I am going to disobey what the City of Birmingham wants us to do under ‘their’ law. But I will let you also suffer the consequences of my act, because I am going to tell them that I am doing it in your name, with your authority. Then you can go to jail, too.” The point is that civil disobedience is an individual, and not a collective, act. Individuals have to suffer and accept the consequences of their individual actions, otherwise there is no purpose to them. No one commits civil disobedience so that others may be punished for something they did not authorize, or ratify.

Q Well, under our canons, the Presiding Bishop is the one authorized to “take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly elected”. So once their dioceses elected +Robinson and +Glasspool, and once a majority of diocesan bishops and the standing committees or Convention deputies approved their elections, they had to be consecrated.
A Are you saying that if our canons made horses eligible to be bishops, that a horse which was duly elected and confirmed would have to be ordained as a bishop in the Church — regardless of what the rest of the Communion thought?

Q No, of course not. Now you’re being ridiculous. A majority of the Church would never authorize a canon that allowed a horse to become a bishop.
A What makes you so sure? Is there any passage in Scripture which forbids making a horse a bishop? The supporters of +Robinson and +Glasspool argue, you see, that properly understood, there is no passage in Scripture which prevents the ordination of a same-sex partnered individual as a bishop. So why not a horse?

Q Our canons currently prohibit the denial to any person, on the grounds of sexual orientation or otherwise, of access to ordination to any of the orders in this Church. The operative word is “person,” not “creature.” So don’t be ridiculous.
A But General Convention amended that canon in 1994 to add the words “sexual orientation”. So what’s to stop General Convention from adding other categories in the future?

Q Nothing, really. I agree that the powers of General Convention are unlimited. But we aren’t there yet, and so I don’t have to deal with it. It’s enough that our canons say what they say, and that we followed them in electing both +Robinson and +Glasspool. If the rest of the Communion doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not ours.
A Why is it just “their” problem? Isn’t it a fact that neither +Robinson nor +Glasspool can be recognized as bishops in those provinces which disagreed with our action?

Q True, but that does not make them anything less than bishops. We (ECUSA) are a member church of the Anglican Communion, and so the bishops we elect and ordain are all Anglican bishops in the apostolic succession, regardless of what anyone else says.
A Is that really the case? We just saw an instance of where our Presiding Bishop was not allowed to function as a bishop in the Church of England, because it does not yet have authorization from Parliament to ordain women as bishops. So it is not correct to say that whoever ECUSA chooses to ordain as a bishop may function as a bishop throughout the Anglican Communion, is it?

Q No, but that does not mean we are not Anglican. Nobody has the power to tell me that I am not an Anglican, if I belong to the Episcopal Church.

A Well, if the supporters of +Robinson and +Glasspool want to be sure that whoever they ordain as a bishop will be recognized as a bishop, then why did they not split off and form their own church? What gave them the right to impose their vision on the majority of Episcopalians?

Q But any church that split off would not automatically be a member of the Anglican Communion — look at ACNA. And you just said that the majority of provinces disagreed with us, so they obviously would not vote to admit the new church to the Communion.

A So as a member of ECUSA, you want to be a member of the Anglican Communion?

Q Absolutely, yes.

A But you don’t want to accede to the request of all the other provinces not to ordain same-sex partnered individuals to be bishops, whom they cannot then recognize as bishops in the Communion?

Q What is wrong with ordaining same-sex-partnered persons as bishops of the Episcopal Church?
[Return to the beginning, and start again. Continue ad infinitem.]

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