Confession of Errors: a Broom Which Sweeps Away the Dirt

“Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.” (Mohandas Gandhi)

Concerning my Confession: A broom which sweeps away the dirt

I wrote in a recent blog that “Justice has no friends.” I said that in the context of a wider remark,

“Patience is no friend of Justice, but then again Justice has no friends. It will roll down like waters and sweep us all away.(Amos 5:24) We will be surprised, I believe, to know on the great getting up morning just what justice is and just who sits up higher.”

I’ve been thinking about justice and the matter of B033, the legislative stumbling block for the realignment folk and folly for the progressives. No one liked it. It neither addressed the call for justice nor the desire by the realignment folk for due consideration of Windsor Report requests for an unending moratorium, and yet it passed. Elizabeth Kaeton has written a passionate and telling commentary on B033 titled, “After Columbus.” It is worth the read.

The realignment folk felt fine that B033 and the other resolutions concerning the Anglican Communion fell short of their demands. They had already determined that General Convention was mostly show, and that it would not change their minds in any way. Following the Convention the Moderator of the Network wrote, “It is with sadness, but also with anticipation, that I write to you now that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has provided the clarity for which we have long prayed. By almost every assessment the General Convention has embraced the course of ‘walking apart.’” (See Fr. Jake's take on the slogan “walking apart.”)

The realignment crowd was not interested in justice as a result of careful and long termed deliberation, (a moratorium in order to give time for further consideration of the matters at hand). They wanted justice buried – a moratorium forever. The resolutions passed did not do that for them. So they were delighted to proclaim that The Episcopal Church simply failed to be the “real” church. They will have their reward.

The problem for some of us is that the passage in particular of B033 fragmented the progressives into the pure in heart and the less than pure in heart, and for the progressives a period of highly judgmental internal bleeding has taken place. Much of it is deserved, of course, because progressives, just as the center and right, included people who voted yes and who voted no on B033. But unlike the realignment folk who had already determined before Convention that failure was just fine, whatever form it took, some in the center and in the progressive movement wanted to find a way to compromise for time without falling into the great trap of time compromises, namely that delay means denial.

I confess that I voted for B033, knowing that it mattered not to the right how I voted on this, knowing that this was almost as bad a resolution as A161 which we had all shot down in flames the day before, knowing that “manner of life” would be applied by the judgmental to matters that were not about manner of life at all.

I voted yes because I believed that the great value of B033’s passage would be that no single group in the Episcopal Church could then be blamed for the so-called ‘failure’ of The Episcopal Church to take seriously the Windsor Report / Primates request for response. Had B033 not passed I am persuaded some in the realignment crowd, and in the larger Anglican community, would have leapt with great glee at the opportunity to blame the failure of any response at all on Gay and Lesbian Episcopalians. I might have been wrong about this or I might have done it for reasons deeper and more unplesant. Still, the realignment crowd doesn’t credit a small group within the Episcopal Church for having failed. Rather it blames all of us. In the critic’s eyes, left or right, it is The Episcopal Church that failed.

It hurts me to know that a number of Gay and Lesbian members of the church, people I respect and love, consider my vote a compromise with justice and a betrayal of them or my friendship. But in some sense important sense they are right.

The 73 lay and 75 clerical deputations who voted positively did so for a wide variety of reasons, but they mostly involved compromise. Compromise is a tricky thing. At its best it is the stuff of genuine democratic progress. At its worse it is the ugly spirit of every sort of prejudice dignified by appeal to so called democratic process. We all know that, even when we sometimes don’t know where we individually really are on the progress-process spectrum.

It was not my desire to work a compromise, as if this would buy us time. I didn’t believe it would do so then, on that fateful day, and any hope that it would was quickly dashed as groups of bishops and then various primates opined that B033 was a mess and they would have nothing to do with it, or with the Episcopal Church. But I was sure, listening to the unfolding of the day, that this “last gasp” resolution presented on the last day of Convention was going to pass. Assuming it was, I believed it needed to pass by a sizeable majority so that it was clearly a resolution of The Episcopal Church. So I voted for it.

In the strange workings of God’s love, it turned out I was surrounded by a wonderful clergy deputation that did not allow my vote to finally matter. Ours was a divided vote, and so it counted as ‘no.’ And yet, by voting yes, I contributed to this false compromise and this occasion of justice perhaps delayed and denied, but certainly confused.

My residual anger at the Special Committee and its delay in presenting the most difficult of its resolutions and casting them in impossible form persists, and while I confess that anger, I don’t yet deny its validity. My residual anger also rests with the bishops who having sent B033 to us in the House of Deputies, without any clue as to how they had voted except to say it passed. They then had the gall to start makings statements of disassociation and dissent even before the end of the last days’ afternoon session.

But that confession will have to work its way out another day.

Concerning Justice: The surface brighter and clearer.

It is indeed true that, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” (William E. Gladstone) But it is also true that Justice hurried is a lynch mob or a good way to bury the truth. That is of course the problem.

Justice, it turns out, does not clock in or clock out. We can demand justice now, we can caution patience while we work out how justice is to be done, we can rail at one another about who is and who isn’t a supporter of justice for all, or for a group. But Justice stands over against us all and strangely for us all, for Justice is of God.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke more to justice made tangible. He spoke to the matter of right. He said, “A right delayed is a right denied.”

That of course is where the matter really lies: Justice concerns the ways in which we work on the application of rights. We have already determined that in the Episcopal Church “No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.” (The Episcopal Church, Title III, Canon 2, Section 2) That was a matter of justice.

Justice requires that no one be denied access to discernment except as we might specify in specific Canon, but the right to be licensed, ordained or elected is another matter. That is why there is the last sentence in this section of the Canon.

Since no action of General Convention was taken to modify the Canons, the reality is that gay persons in relationship are not now excluded from the sorts of persons who can be ordained or elected. But what are the rights involved?

No right to be ordained has been “established”, that is clear. But what does it mean that no right to be elected is established? This is quite odd. There are in place canons specifying who can be elected bishop (the only one of the three “holy” orders requiring election). Do we want to suggest that Canon III.2.2 is proposing that having been elected according to canon, the bishop elect cannot assume that she or he will be ordained, barring new revelation or fraudulent behavior from one quarter or another? No, I think what the Canon is obliquely suggesting is that the right to be elected (as a qualified person for election) is absolute. It is the assent to the election that is no established as a right (although the canon does not say this). That is, bishops of jurisdiction and standing committees can indeed receive the election results and then vote that actual ordination to the episcopate be withheld.

So the right of a person to be elected who is not otherwise by canon denied as a candidate is real. It is what is done with the exercise of that right (an exercise of the electors and the candidate both) that is at stake in the consent process. Justice lets the candidate through the door, and justice will greet the candidate at the end. The question is, will those giving consent be on the side of justice or not.

What B033 does is pass on to the bishops of jurisdiction and Standing Committes the matter of whether or not The Episcopal Church exercises justice when a person has been elected bishop and now seeks to have the orders for consecration fulfilled. That is appropriate, for that is where it lies anyway. But IF bishops and Standing Committees do as B033 calls for, “...to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion” they will, by their restraint, deny at the exit what they could not bring themselves to deny at the beginning.

Justice requires that we be clear about the process of elections, including the qualifications for candidates. The right to stand for election must also include the understanding that judgement on consent will concern matters of the canons and the prayer book pledges required of the person to be ordained, and not foreign and extraneous matters from whatever source.

If there is doubt that the bishop elect was actually elected with due concern for his or her behavior, moral and mental condition, or was elected fraudulently, well and good. Raise a challenge. There was such a challenge of Bishop Robinson, there was this time of the Bishop elect of Northern California. If the sense is that the bishop would be lying by stating what he is called to affirm on the occasion of his ordination, well and good. But otherwise, consent should be expected if the right to be elected means anything at all.

Sweeping clean, the surface is brighter and clearer. I believe that bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees are required by justice to consent to ordination of the bishop-elect except in cases of the sort already mentioned.

Any suggestion that the bishops or Standing Committees base their decision on something as vague and extra-canonical as a “manner of life (that) presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion” is clearly unjust and unwarranted. The Convention did call for this sort of “restraint,” but I would hope such restraint would not take the place of justice affirming the rights of those elected to actually serve.

I hope, in other words, that this resolution is vacated by the actual practice of justice regarding the rights of those elected to serve. A badly written resolution is no resolution at all.

I feel stronger for confession

So, Gandhi was right, it is like sweeping house. Now feeling the stronger, let me also remind the reader that the matter of “manner of life” becomes moot in what ought to be the decisions by the Bishops and Standing Committees.

“Manner of life” is something examined at great length in the ordination of deacons and priests. The phrase occurs in the ordinal for both priests and deacons. “Manner of life” is not mentioned at all in the ordination of a bishop.

Rather, for bishops, formal testimonials are taken from the electing convention and from the Standing Committees indicating that the persons is judged to be worthy of the office and that no impediments exist to ordination. There are testimonials as to the psychological and physical condition of the bishop elect. Other Bishops of jurisdiction have simply assented or not. The bishop elect will sign a declaration at the beginning of the ordination service regarding the Holy Scriptures and the conformity to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. The testimonials to “manner of life” are fully covered in this process.

The phrase, “Manner of life” has had one other use in the Prayer Book, namely in the Celebration and Blessing of A Marriage (p.424) in the reference to marriage as a “Manner of Life” adorned by our Lord Jesus Christ. The nature of His adornment was not to bless the marriage, but to be present and to provide the miracle of drink, the first of several feeding miracles.

I believe that “manner of life” was introduced into B033 as a catch all slogan – as a vague reference to suitability for ordination and marriage as the “manner of life” that has been blessed in the church. This in spite of the fact that Jesus did not bless marriages, as far as we know, and did set apart persons for ministry whose manner of life was most peculiar.

Bishops of jurisdiction and Standing Committees will I hope be persuaded to declare the call of B033 quite out of line as it calls them to contradict the intent of the canons and prayer book. If that is not enough, surely the inappropriate introduction of the issue of “manner of life” ought to be understood for what it is: an indirect way to permit the denial of justice.


  1. You know what? I'm a lesbian and an Episcopalian, and I find Elizabeth Kaeton's post to be totally disgusting.

    Comparing General Convention 2006 with natural disasters, wars, bombings, and acts of terrorism that have maimed, killed, and displaced millions of human beings - well, I really can't find the right words to describe it.

    Amazing and frightening and completely out of touch with reality. I can't believe you're linking to it. And I'd really like to know what makes it any different from any of the tripe that "reasserters" write.

    Ugh. I have to go take a shower or something. Or maybe it would be better to just leave the Church entirely, since there seems to be nobody left but the nutcases.

  2. Patrick C.3/8/06 11:01 PM

    I admire your passion, although I also have some sympathy for those like Ephraim Radner who argue that it takes more time for a catholic consensus to emerge (with pastoral discretion in the meantime). Have you seen the new book by Radner and Turner? I would very much like to read your take on it.

  3. df in massachusetts4/8/06 9:15 AM

    A step backwards is a step backwards, no matter how hard you try to spin it.

    And that was a lot of spin!

  4. df...if your comment was meant for me, yes, a step backwards is just that, and that is why I thought it important to confess. There is no way to make B033 right, for every reason for voting for it, including mine, was a compromise.

    The reason for the long article was to get beyond the fact of its passage to the reality that it was indeed bad legislation, and ought be vacated by justice due the person elected.

    If trying to provide a reason for not heeding the call to refrain etc is spin, well, OK. That's your opinion. But there was no spin in my both 'fessing up to having voted for B033 knowing it was bad legeslation and why, and trying to point beyond it to something that doesn't continue to fracture the progressive camp.

    As to bls's comment re Elizabeth's piece. I linked it because it has become an important passionate statement about how bad some folk believe B033 to be. Is it over the top...certainly. Passionate statements are like that. But at its core it stung and I had to listen to it. I often have to listen to Elizabeth, who I count as a good friend. Not a good lesbian friend, but a good friend period. Sometimes she listens to me, that being what good friends do.

    Having taken a shower, I hope you have thought better than "just to leave the Church entirely..." I confess I regularly believe that is the only course, and then the next time we get to saying all together, "Holy, Holy, Holy..." I remember I took the bath so I could go to Church.

  5. DF in Massachusetts5/8/06 7:59 PM


    Yes, it was meant for you ;-)

    I was just very taken aback and surprised at your confession, given my impressions from your previous posts regarding B033 the past month and a half. Perhaps I missed something that indicated you actually voted in favor of B033. Reading your confession I felt misled by your previous posts.

    Your comments in your blog are one of many sources I use for figuring out my own take on this B033 thing. Your insights were helpful in preparing for a conversation I had with my bishop regarding his vote in favor of B033. I think his reasoning for voting in favor (which I don't buy any more than I buy your reasoning), however, was, well, more honest... or at least provides a realistic way for GLBT Episcopalians to move forward (despite the step backwards). At least I have the opportunity to help GLBT Episcopalians be actively engaged in moving forward on this and seeing where we can go... that's certainly a less stressful way to deal with the reality of B033 compared to hoping others do the right thing (which is the impression I'm getting you want us to do).

    Anyway... I do like what you write. And your blog is for you to write whatever you want. I just think I'll have a more critical eye in digesting your thoughts in your blog.

  6. Mark,

    Thanks. It took some considerable courage to admit the vote on B033 is wrong. I found it horribly wrong from the word go, but then I was not in Columbus -- easy for me.

    What I wonder, given the way this really bad ressolution was passed, and then dismissed by so many bishops, is what its effects will be on those responsible? Will for instance our presiding bishop elect recognize her error? Will the trust destroyed between the two houses be recovered?

    I do not wonder about its impact on the communion. I think the die was cast and the tragedy is that the betrayal was a waste.



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