6/03/2009

Theology Committee says "no names for now."

In a turn of events taking less than a week, careful readers of the reports in the weighty Blue Book of General Convention have raised a concern asking for the names of the members of a sub-committee appointed by the House of Bishops Theology Committee to look at same-sex relationships, got it heard by the Chair and got a response by way of a statement given to Episcopal News Service.

The answer is NO for now.

Diocese of Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley, chair of the House of Bishops Theology Committee said, "It has always been the committee's intention to publish the names of the panel when the work ha s reached the appropriate stage." But for now he feels the work should be done without revealing the names of the members of the sub- committee.


Parsley said in his statement that he wanted to "assure those concerned that the panel very intentionally represents a robust range of views on the subject and includes gay and lesbian persons."

So the answer is NO for now. No names.

But the answer, in terms of the concern raised as to whether or not this sub-committee would be yet another group talking about GLBT persons or a committee which had gay and lesbian persons on it, is YES.

The critics have therefore gotten at least part of the answer: The sub-committee includes gay and lesbian persons.

The NO is supposedly about "confidence," "academic freedom," "space for deep dialogue." Bishop Parsley says, "We believe that for a season the work can best be accomplished by allowing the panel to work in confidence. This supports the full collegiality and academic freedom of the theologians and provides the space they need for the deep dialogue and reflection that is taking place among them."

I am distrusting of any statement by anyone that talks about "for a season." Time and season are different sorts of measuring beasts. "For a season," roughly translates, "until we wish otherwise." As for confidence, academic freedom and space for deep dialogue, all of those can be had. No one is saying that the meetings must be open to outside visitors. And particularly the invoking of the phrase "academic freedom" is spurious. The panel or sub-committee is not vested with "academic freedoms." Academics are invited to join this work, but the work is not academic work.

The House of Bishops can, in terms of its own committee structures, do as it wishes. But this is not a committee by and of the House of Bishops. It is a committee mandated by General Convention and paid from the funds budgeted for the House of Bishops, itself part of the General Convention. The enabling resolution for this committee was passed in 1964. The Theology Committee has produced several reports over the years on matters related to human sexuality. The report card on its work has been mixed.

I suppose purely internal committees of the House of Bishops - those having no mandate from General Convention, no relation back to General Convention by way of reports, and no funding from General Convention - can be formed and be dissolved without reference to the norms of General Convention Committees, Commissions, Boards and Agencies. For example, the House of Bishops meeting outside the context of General Convention could form a committee to write a paper on its collective wisdom regarding Palestine. It could be adopted as a "mind of the house" statement by the House of Bishops. It would be what it is - a paper to be respected because of the authors, namely bishops of this church. It would not be a statement by The Episcopal Church, but by the Bishops. If they wished not to name the members of the writing committee they could do so.

But the Theology Committee is not such a committee. It has responsibilities to General Convention on a variety of levels, including the assumption of transparency. I would be interested in knowing if there are expectations of all CCAB's on matters of transparency. If so, the Theology Committee is bound by them.

All in all a mix response. No to names, yes to the inclusion of gay and lesbian participant s on the sub-committee. (At least that is how I read it.)

The full statement is here:

By the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.
Chair, Theology Committee of the House of Bishops

In response to questions that have been raised about the panel of theologians appointed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to prepare a paper on same-sex relationships in the life of the church, I wish to assure those concerned that the panel very intentionally represents a robust range of views on the subject and includes gay and lesbian persons.

This project has been designed in full communication with the House of Bishops. It has always been the committee’s intention to publish the names of the panel when the work has reached the appropriate stage. We believe that for a season the work can best be accomplished by allowing the panel to work in confidence. This supports the full collegiality and academic freedom of the theologians and provides the space they need for the deep dialogue and reflection that is taking place among them.

This project is designed to articulate theologically a full range of views on the matter of same sex relationships in the church’s life and to foster better understanding and respectful discernment among us. It will also be a contribution to the listening process of the larger Communion. It has several stages and is scheduled to be complete by early 2011. We are grateful to the distinguished theologians for their generous service to the church.

We wish to invite any member of the church who wishes to address the panel to send comments to the Theology Committee. We will see that these are communicated to the theologians to enrich their reflection and dialogue.

30 comments:

  1. As an academic theologian myself, I completely reject the notion that this has anything to do with protecting academic freedom. We academics live, struggle, and thrive in the context of open, sometimes heated, even hostile questioning, necessary to pursue and hone our ideas. That is our academic freedom, nothing less! To think we need to be protected from the push, pull, passions and challenges to our theological ideas in order to be free is utter nonsense. We can only do it to the extent that we are freely exposed to the good, bad and the ugly in the life of the church we love and serve.

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  2. Thanks, Mark. I've been trying to figure out why not naming names at this point would be unacceptable, given the volatile nature of debate in the church these days. I appreciate your explanation based on the rules and have a better understanding because of it.

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  3. Yes, Mark, that 'season' business is getting old...

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  4. Mark: Perhaps I'm not as sensitive as I could be to this, but I'm perfectly fine with the secrecy, especially since issues of sexuality have largely ceased being theological issues and become political issues. I'm perfectly fine with a subcommittee of the Theology Committee (GC mandated or not) being somewhat secret in composition. As has already happened to some extent, the minute the names were published there would be a "inclusivity check" to see if every one of the theological positions and/or interest groups was represented and a pre-judgement would have been made on that basis.

    The old saying "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" applies here. Let us see what they come up with, see if it advances the discussion at all, and both Houses can the move on from there.

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  5. They very reasonably might want "freedom" from being lobbied mercilessly (by either side of the debate)

    Maybe they want to think without being pushed one way or the other.... nothing wrong with that.

    Relax....they will come up with a GC-compliant view - nothing else is possible in TECUSA these days, is it?

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  6. "..... and includes gay and lesbian persons." Who? One of the Fabulous Furry Ould Brothers? As I remarked yesterday on another site, not often you meet with a "Screw You!" letter this politely and beautifully worded.

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  7. Putting aside all the messy excuses for the existence of a secret subcommittee, my concern is its purpose.

    Requesting another sexuality report due in 2 years seems to me as redundant as adding another rung to a hamster wheel.

    There is no need for another report.

    *Some* people have need to delay the inevitable. A bigger hamster wheel is a convenient way to waste time, energy, and continue causing harm to the GLBT members of TEC.

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  8. The 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots is just weeks away. The Gay Issue has been with the Episcopal Church for at least 35 years.
    What is there left to discuss?

    Like the Democratic Party, the Episcopal Church is happy to accept gay money and gay contributions of time and talent, but really wants the whole inconvenient issue to go away.

    I smell another attempt to "manage" the issue -- us and our friends.

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  9. Mark, they've announced the report won't be released until 2011. Perhaps exercising my hermeneutic of suspicion, I read this as a sign they will use this secret panel's work as an excuse to block any forward movement at GC09. What do you think?

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  10. Given the concern expressed by some as to the fiery and perhaps intemperate responses given to the secrecy of the panel, I am struck by this mornings psalm:

    Our God will come and will not keep silence;
    before him there is a consuming flame,
    and round about him a raging storm.

    So our God, it seems, is a bit hot under the collar at times too, praise be! And at times, as Stringfellow has noted, proclaiming the gospel means 'to be disruptive of the superficial harmony...so be it.'

    Not that anyone is suggesting there is any harmony right now, superficial or otherwise, but I will continue to hold up the harmonious, fiery, holy love of my gay brothers and sisters as God's sign that the truth will win out and indeed set us free.

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  11. So if we are waiting for "a season" why doesn't someone throw some salt and pepper on it and let's get on with it.

    How is it that transparency only works on things no one cares about? And Tom, why would anyone be okay with secrecy? Ever? What issue, pray tell, is so all-fired important that the laity, actually probably just us common folk, cannot watch the progress. Cannot comment on the issue. Are these folks so weak and insecure that a few "pot shots" will cause them to fold up their suitcase and go home? This is insulting to the church.

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  12. If I hear the term 'for a season' used one more time - especially when it asks me to to fast or 'stand in a crucified place' - I may have to slap someone - most likely the person who asked me to wait 'for a season'.

    The only thing that will build 'confidence' is honesty and transparency.

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  13. So we're having yet enough "study." This sounds familiar. The HOB began to study the diaconate about 1980 (I think), and thereafter various dioceses produced their own studies. It soon became obvious that studying was another way of doing nothing, and the order only became alive and vigorous when bishops started ordaining its members.

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  14. I suppose it depends on whether we hear this as "NO for now" or "no FOR NOW."

    And my secret word here is "sussf." Is someone trying to shush us? Or give us a Bronx Cheer? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

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  15. So we've got gay and lesbian folks. What about bisexuals? What about trans folks?

    Just wonderin'. You know what would stop a lot of the wondering? Naming names.

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  16. I still wonder: if there is a committee studying racism, does one intentionally include a racist in order to have balance? I hope not.

    I would hope, therefore, that on this secret panel, there would not be someone who thinks that gays can be 'cured' of their 'illness' or 'disorder' or who holds thoughts of the similar nature.

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  17. It's one thing to decide for yourself to wait "for a season." It's completely different when you ask someone else to wait "for a season" while resting in your own comfortable place. Didn't Jesus say something about those who lay burdens on others while doing nothing to help them?

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  18. If I hear the term 'for a season' used one more time - especially when it asks me to to fast or 'stand in a crucified place' - I may have to slap someone - most likely the person who asked me to wait 'for a season'.¨ Elizabeth Keaton

    I´m so happy you said/wrote that...I´ve been stewing about standing and facing my ¨crucified¨ corner and involuntary ¨fasting¨ (most of my life) and the patient/sweet delivery, reasonably suggested, ¨prudent¨ behavior (like sensible shoes) for a long while! Are all these sensible, prudent, fasted, cruified, ill-plotted excuses meant to SEEM REASONABLE and intelligent (and believable)?

    Wouldn´t discussing TRUTH, out in the light, not in a secret place, not with secret people who are covering SECRET VITAL SPIRITUAL ISSUES about people like me, be more honorable and less condecending visiable?

    Is this a SECRET, sort of SPIRITUALLY flavored, BEHIND THE SCENES, EPISCOPALIAN, CONTINUING COMMITTEE intended to railroad LGBT Episcopalians?

    Who connived this? Name names.

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  19. Lisa: you got it.

    "We have to wait... another season until the report is finished in 2011, at which time we will launch yet another report to be completed in 2030..."

    Will this be used to sway any movement on B033, it's replacement?

    Well, that should meet with a groundswell of DUH!

    I don't think I have been this mad in a while. And the more I think about it, the madder I get.



    I call bullshit.

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  20. It's about PUBLICITY, p e r i o d !!!

    And not seeking any, ..afterall, us fags are temperamental.
    (Stereotype Central)

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  21. If I was working the floor, I'd be pushing for more information about what will be new about the content of this study. Arguing that a rehash is no reason to block forward progress, or avoid making decisions. Start thinking like a House Minority Whip - and work the entire package of secrecy out of the realm of complacency.

    Actually, it's probably the right time to make a bold move, while the ACNA crowd is still squabbling about the definition of the historic episcopate.

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  22. Caminante Said: "I would hope, therefore, that on this secret panel, there would not be someone who thinks that gays can be 'cured' of their 'illness' or 'disorder' or who holds thoughts of the similar nature."

    I fear that all to many good, well meaning straight people feel this way deep in their heart of hearts.

    Orgelman

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  23. The fact that even in TECUSA, your own bishops feel the need to protect a theological group from "lobbying" (or maybe it is the emotional blackmail and the threat of being labelled a bigot) should make groups think about the manner in which they are pursuing their agenda even in TECUSA......it is not good when your friends are scared of you!!!

    This group being kept secret shows that bishops see a real risk of the debate being hijacked or of members being bullied to come out with the "right" answer....all in the name of "diversity" and "ubuntu" of couse! It is sad that this secrect is felt to be needed by TECUSA bishops! The lobby groups should examine themselves.

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  24. Caminante,

    In other words, you hope there's nobody on the panel that thinks homosexual behavior is wrong?

    Forget knowing who's on the committee: scrap the whole thing and save the money, if there's only one answer it's allowed to produce.

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  25. Apparently Gene Robinson in his inestimable wisdom already knows the outcome of this theological study and is authorizing his clergy to not only bless same sex unions but to also perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples, despite the entreaties of the ABC and the Primates to exercise gracious restraint, and despite the canons of the church and the language of the prayer book specifically referring to marriage as being between a man and a woman. So why pursue this expensive and time consuming study when by the time it reports, there will be so many facts already established on the ground that its conclusions will be irrelevant if by some remote chance it comes to a different conclusion to the one Robinson is expecting. Maybe it's time to cut the "season" short and end the charade. What's the chance of Robinson being charged with abandoning the communion of the church over this one?

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  26. Lynn wrote: Start thinking like a House Minority Whip - and work the entire package of secrecy out of the realm of complacency.

    Which makes my point precisely--we have moved beyond any sort of theological debate and landed squarely in a political conflict where lobbyists, contributions, politicking, and "whipping" are the order of the day. Can you imagine the avalanche of emails, telephone calls, and perhaps even threats that the members of this committee would have to endure from various constituencies if their names were known? Who wants to sign up for a discernment and reflection process in the middle of a war?

    I highly doubt any of this will have the effect of halting work on GLBT issues at GC 2009. There is too much momentum, too many "facts on the ground," and too much pent up energy for us not to move things along.

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  27. wait....wait....wait....

    Let us remember the words of the great DR King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

    I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is ... the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."

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  28. ¿What's the chance of Robinson being charged with abandoning the communion of the church over this one?

    None Brian F., nill, nada, charges will not be brought, because it is another lie. It is not true. Do not serve as judge & jury or tar & feather, or for that matter, believe every rumor that you can google! From the Diocese of New Hampshire website;
    A recent report in The Eagle-Tribune of No. Andover, MA has quoted a priest as saying that the Bishop of New Hampshire has given permission for clergy of this diocese to act as agents of the State in marrying same-gender couples. That is categorically untrue. The current policy as stated on our website is that any civil union is to be presided over by a secular magistrate of the State and not, by our clergy. When pastorally appropriate and only if the clergyperson is so inclined, may the church’s blessing of that union may be offered. Civil marriage of same-gender couples does not become law until January 1, 2010.

    As to another study, how many does it take?

    1994: Continuing the Dialogue: a Pastoral Study Document of the House of Bishops to the Church as the Church Considers Issues of Human Sexuality

    1997: The Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships report of the Standing Liturgical Commission with the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to the 72nd General Convention

    2000: the liturgical commission's report to the 2000 General Convention titled Theological Aspects of Committed Relationships of Same-Sex Couples

    2003: House of Bishops Theology Committee's report The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective

    I copied all of these links to previous reports from An Inch at a Time, the personal blog of the Revd. Susan Russell. Mother Russell is the current President of Integrity.

    Word verification: bledn ¡Dios Todopoderoso, Lord help us, we are bledn here!

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  29. "In other words, you hope there's nobody on the panel that thinks homosexual behavior is wrong?"

    Exactly.

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  30. Tom,

    Please don't think I lack compassion* for the members of this new study group/subcommittee/whatever. But if they are well-known in the field, one little rash of attention from Episcopalians isn't going to be an unusual occurrance. Yes, it will be an annoying one - but perhaps they'll get some new information, too.

    Take it from a native Washingtonian - you can't take the politics out of passion in this country. If both "sides" of a theological question think their passion comes from living the life of the Gospel, there will be politics in religion (and of course, that has always been so).

    It's a messy business, this thing called living - at least if you do it properly. The quote from Dr. King that IT provided is worth reading several times, because it speaks to the sins of omission.

    Do note that my questions were about why we are doing the study, and if it will contain new information. I'd like to hear about that more before I see who is on the study panel, but that's just my way. David's post tells you why I'm a little curious.

    BTW our system doesn't allow much power to the minority party, and gentle persuasion of those that "cross the aisle" is part of how things get done. I didn't say work it like the Majority whip :-)

    (*Most native Washingtonians have been caught in direct press fires, faced police in riot gear even when they try to hard to avoid trouble spots, and have their lives disrupted by passionate people - both violent and peaceful. Is it annoying, and even sometimes frightening? Yes. Is it worth it to have a system like ours? Absolutely, yes. Innocents can live with inconvenience to help those that truly suffer.)

    Off soapbox, and out to do normal things like buying soap!

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