6/02/2009

The House of Bishops Theology Committee

Monday June 1 has brought a new wrinkle in matters having to do with the conversations concerning GLBT members of the Church being undertaken by a sub-committee of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops. But before we go there, I want to commend the HoB Theology Committee for taking on a look at the matter of Just War. It deserves considerable attention. Now, on to the matter at hand:

Assuming that resolutions of General Convention require passage by both houses, the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops is NOT a creature of the House of Bishops, but rather of General Convention. The Theological Committee is listed as one of the CCAB's (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) of General Convention. Here is the resolution covering the appointment of that Committee

"GENERAL CONVENTION 1964 RESOLUTION

Resolved, That the Presiding Bishop appoint a Theological Committee, composed of members of this House, the purpose of which Committee shall be to engage in continuing dialogue with contemporary theologians; and that this Committee report from time to time to the House of Bishops, in order that this House may be better informed as to the nature of the crisis in the relationship between the language of Theology and that of modern culture.
"

The resolution is poorly written, since it proposes "members of this House," meaning the House of Bishops, but the resolution, if it is indeed a resolution of General Convention, would have begun "Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that ...." By leaving out the beginning clause, it might appear that the "this house" means it was a resolution of the House of Bishops alone. But it is not.

All of which is extremely picky, of course, but the point is the Theological Committee is a committee appointed by the Presiding Bishop at the command of General Convention. As a result its work and the work of any of its of sub-committees seems to need to conform to the general CCAB's transparency rules.

The problem is that the Theological Committee seems to understand its work as entirely internal to the House of Bishops. Indeed, its mandate concerns conversation between the bishop members of the committee and theologians. Further the budget is in the general fund for the work of the House of Bishops. Accountability to the whole of General Convention is thus not at all clear.


The mandate concerned work "in order that this House may be better informed as to the nature of the crisis in the relationship between the language of Theology and that of modern culture." This it is entirely appropriate for the House of Bishops to ask this Committee to be involved in deep conversation with theologians on matters concerning "same-sex relationships in the life of the church," assuming of course that the House of Bishops believes the matter of same-sex relations to be part of the "crisis in the relationship between the language of Theology and that of modern culture." But actually, doesn't this sound a bit archaic?

The problem is that membership of this sub-committee has not been published and there is rising demand that General Convention deputies and bishops be told just who is on that committee.

The Chicago Consultation has today published a paper calling on the Theological Committee to release the names of scholars and bishops serving on the sub-committee. It is a well though out request. The paper, "Chicago Consultation Calls on House of Bishops Theology Committee to Release Names" says in part,

"we are saddened that the House of Bishops Theology Committee has chosen to begin this important scholarly work without making public the names of the bishops, theologians and scholars who are serving on this panel. The theological study of human sexuality is essential to our common life, to our mission and evangelism, and to our ability to live out our baptismal promises. Such important work deserves to be no less than a model of the transparent governance that the Episcopal Church has upheld for centuries."

The problem with providing the names is that endless arguments can ensue concerning the bill of particulars. No list of particular people satisfies everyone and critique on that level is asking for trouble. The matter is not about who IS on the sub-committee, the matter is about who is NOT on the sub-committee.

As has been noted on the House of Bishops/ House of Deputies listserve, the issue is that if this sub-committee does not include any GLBT people it becomes yet another conversation ABOUT people in the church, rather than a conversation in which they are present and integral to the discussions. Unless there are GLBT people on this committee (and surely there are bishops and / or theologians who would qualify) then the committee is less than it could be.

So the hope is that the Theological Committee will release the names of those on this sub-committee and that we follow the advice of the Chicago Consultation and "commit to praying for them by name and to providing our assistance as they continue their work."

If for some reason there are no GLBT persons on the sub-committee, this is an opportune time to correct the matter.

I believe the concern being raised concerns both the matter of inclusion on the sub- committee of GLBT people and about the matter of transparency. The first is a matter of justice, the second a matter of record.

As always there are unfinished questions:

1. The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops came into being as a result of a resolution of General Convention. Why, we might ask, is there a theology committee of the House of Bishops and not a Standing Commission on Theology, with members of both houses, and additional theological experts?

2. The Chicago Consultation paper "commends the House of Bishops on its desire to continue the decade-and-a-half long study of human sexuality in the life of the church, especially in light of four recent official Episcopal Church studies—released in 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003. Three of these previous studies have, in fact, involved the House of Bishops Theology Committee." That being so, why is there need for a sub-committee to continue the work at this point? There is considerable suspicion that the long-range plan for this sub-committee makes this work a project related to the "listening process" and the Anglican Covenant. That being so, perhaps the Theological Committee should propose a resolution requesting a Church mandated study of same-sex relationships in the Church with recommendations to the General Convention. The matter is too big for the sub-committee, indeed it is too big for the Theological Committee.

3. The Chicago Consultation paper also recognizes the strange situation of a study being undertaken of same-sex relationships at a time when the official policy of the Church is to provide no prophetic or pastoral guidance in the form for the blessing of unions. The Chicago Consultation thus calls "upon General Convention to enrich this new theological work by establishing a common rite for the blessing of unions across the Episcopal Church." So the question is, "What are we waiting for?" It is time to do this.

4. The matter of just who is considered a theologian in the context of The Episcopal Church is increasingly vague. We certainly cannot go by the roster of the Seminaries of The Episcopal Church (including those who have identified with the emerging ACNA). There are a number of theologians from those schools who are being released because of the financial status of our seminaries. We might use a list screened by the Anglican Theological Review, or use a list of people who have PhD's or equivalent. We might include people who belong to particular organizations of the theologically inclined (for example the Anglican Communion Institute or the Covenant group). All of this unsatisfactory. So the question is, just how will the Theological Committee determine what breadth of candidates it will draw its theological contributors?

12 comments:

  1. Fr. Mark,
    What is it that they are doing? Trying to determine who is a person and who is a grape? Or, better yet, who is entitled to Christ's salvation and who is not? Oh, I know, who is in need of God's love and who is not?

    I had an undergraduate professor that was fond of saying, "It is intuitively obvious to the most casual of observers."

    Thanks, just what we need.

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  2. If ECUSA is truly all inclusive, then everyone needs to be on the subcommittee examining the theology of human sexuality. So you are right then, it is not a matter of who is on the subcommittee but who is excluded from the subcommittee.

    But seriously now - is this a sociological study, in which case it ought to be left to well qualified and recognised sociologists, or a theological study, in which case it ought to be left to theologians who are well recognised in Old Testament and New Testament studies, and Systematic Theology, have issued papers in peer reviewed journals and cut across a spectrum of Christian and Jewish traditions, if indeed you are serious about arriving at conclusions that will be well received by other churches in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why should otherwise only a tiny part of North American culture dictate the outcome of this study, or is that the goal of this subcommittee?

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  3. A committee charged with "studying" LGBT issues that's in the closet? Oh, the irony.

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  4. Mark - do members of the Bishop's Theology Committee have to be Episcopalians?
    The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Chair, hparsley@dioala.org
    The Rt. Rev. David A. Alvarez, obispoalvarez@spiderlink.net
    The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt, jcbbishop@episcopaldiocese-tn.org
    The Rt. Rev. Joe G. Burnett, jburnett@episcopal-ne.org
    Dr. Ellen T. Charry, ellen.charry@ptsem.edu
    The Rev. Dr. Sathianathan Clarke, sclarke@wesleyseminary.edu
    Dr. Stephen E. Fowl, sfowl@loyola.edu
    The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb, kgrieb@vts.edu
    The Rt. Rev Robert W. Ihloff, rihloff@verizon.net
    Dr. Charles T. Mathewes, ctm9d@Virginia.EDU
    Dr. Joy A. McDougall, jamcdou@emory.edu
    The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller, bishop11@diomil.org
    Dr. Kathryn Tanner, ketanner@midway.uchicago.edu

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  5. ...and why is anyone surprised at this?

    No, really. Why?

    Hoarding information, no matter what its significance or importance, is a major preoccupation of certain structures within the Church. As it is said: "Your system is perfectly designed to achieve the result you are getting."

    There will be no transparency on any issue, ideologies and doctrinal positions notwithstanding, until there is a commitment at the highest levels to it.

    And the highest level is? General Convention.

    It's in your hands, folks.

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  6. I hope I'm wrong, but this looks like yet another discussion about what to do with LGBTs that doesn't include us.

    We're just so damn inconvenient.

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  7. Mark, I am so glad you concluded your post, which is indeed disturbing, with the question of what qualifies one to be a theologian. My very favorite Episcopal theologian is William Stringfellow. For those who do not know his work, he was a gay lawyer, unordained, who worked in the slums of Harlem defending the 'dregs' of society. He had absolutely not a lick of theological 'training' in any formal sense, thought God more likely to be found at the circus than in church, and yet both Karl Barth and Rowan Williams have pointed to him as one of our country's greatest theological voices.
    And as for what is theology is, Stringfellow, in a remarkable little essay, suggested, in all seriousness, that we consider West Side Story as one of the sixties great works of theology. Personally, I'd be so bold as to think that WSS ought to be on the bibliography of any serious study of same sex relationships worth the price of the paper.
    Anyway, I know a few of the members on the theology committee from my time at U of Chicago, where it seems a significant number of them come from professionally. Maybe we can get some info to come our way with a little not so gentle nudging!

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  8. I was immediately left wondering if there were Bishops appointed to the committee who were not entirely "out" in their Diocese, but who have come out to some small few in the HoB. And then, if the hue and cry went up (rightly so) that there were no LGBT on the committee, they would then, by some indescretion be indentified....

    or, perhaps, I am being sill?....

    --it's margaret

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  9. Bp Parsley has responded - http://episcopalcafe.com/lead

    The issue has been studied to death - secret or not - we don't need another study. It is just a delaying tactic.

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  10. While I think this current situation stinks, in Australia we don't even get to have theological considerations of the life of LGBT people in the church, and the listening process is just a joke. The policy here seems to be (1) don't ask, don't tell and (2) shut up and accept what you have, as any tolerance is given as a privilege (that is essentially the message I got from my former bishop). Keeping the illusion of unity here is more important than peoples' lives.

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  11. I cannot get exercised over who is on the committee. However, I can get exercised over the secrecy and the fact that such a "study" is being done at all. Ann is correct; it's over -- Stick a fork in it! I'm embarrassed for all of us.

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  12. Could it be as silly as not having anyone willing to serve? Occam's razor.

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