Partnered Gay Bishops: Thinking the Thinkable.

For a few brief weeks there was considerable discussion in Anglican / Episcopal Land about just what General Convention Resolution D025 had to do with the demi /simi/ quasi moratorium in B033 of the 2006 General Convention. Now there are partnered gay and lesbian persons who are nominated candidates in Minnesota and Los Angles and the abstract has become the concrete.

The demi /simi/ quasi is now replaced by the experience of the Church, the sense of ordination as a mystery and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. As the resolution says, "God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church."

What this means in practice is that where B033 urged bishops and standing committees to withhold consent to partnered gay persons elected bishop, D025 acknowledges that we have the experience of being part of the Anglican Communion, the experience of gay and lesbian persons in all ordained and lay ministries of the church, the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and the sense of the sacramental mystery that under girds all that we believe pertains to the ordained ministry. We have enough for every bishop and standing committee to individually make decisions in morally and theologically appropriate ways. There is no need for an blanket urging that bishops and standing committees say no (or yes for that matter.) There is no need, in other words, to tell those who must give consent how to respond.

D025 opens the possibility that Bishops and Standing Committees are responsible moral and theological actors who do not need to be told what to do.

My sense is that D025 passed by such wide margins in both houses (over 70%) because a large majority of deputies and bishops believe that the Bishops of jurisdiction and Standing Committees do not need to be told what to do, but rather need to be reminded of the whole context in which they make their moral and theological choice.

So now begins a time of learning just what all this means. The partnered gay candidates in both Minnesota and Los Angles are wonderfully qualified for the episcopate, just as are all the candidates. I am particularly struck in Minnesota, where I know all three, each with superb qualifications. There may indeed be more, since Minnesota has a method for further nominations.

The first thing all this means is that electors in these two dioceses may indeed vote for the person they feel best qualified rather than for any candidate because they either are or are not gay, partnered gay, or straight or partnered straight. The electors may, as we hope they always do, vote their prayerful ecclesial conscience. It would be foolish to think that being partnered gay would not have any bearing, but there is every hope that voting might happen on the basis of perceived call, talent, abilities, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the deliberations of the electing convention - all the stuff that makes for the election being an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual process in which the choice turns out to be Godly and God directed.

Supposing that in one of these, or some future election in the next while, a partnered gay person is indeed elected, it then goes to the people B033 addressed directly and D025 includes in its less direct address - the Bishops and Standing Committees.

Some thirty-four bishops have indicated by signing the Anaheim Statement that they will not give consent to a partnered gay bishop elect and will continue the moratoria called for by the Windsor Report. Not all of these are diocesan, but a considerable number are. (I get 26 of 34). I would suppose that a reasonably large number of the remaining bishops of jurisdiction are informed by the recommendations of various Anglican Communion bodies and persons and will not vote to confirm either. It is not at all clear how large the sum of these two groups is, but I think it would be unwise to assume that a partnered gay bishop elect would either get or not get sufficient consents.

There were enough for Bishop Robinson, but that was six years ago. But then was then and now is now. Not too many years ago Bishop Schofield got sufficient consents even though he was clear that he would not ordain women as priests. His election, it was argued, was legally valid and that was enough. But things have changed. There is a growing body of bishops and standing committees that believe they ought to consent or not on other grounds than that the election was valid and the candidate legitimate. It took Bishop Lawarence two trys before he gathered the consents. Bishop-elect Forrester did not get the required consents. Bishops Robinson and Beisner faced considerable grilling at General Convention prior to consent. Those giving consent are looking closely. What will they find in the upcoming elections?

Hopefully whoever the elected persons are they will face informed bishops and standing committees who will give or withhold consent as they are called by God, their conscience and their faith to do. That is all we can ask. The rest is just history.

If that is not good enough for the Anglican Communion as a whole, perhaps we need a deeper conversation about what constitutes a community of good faith.

For now, however, it is possible to think the thinkable. Perhaps the voices of doom in the Anglican Communion can just breath out a bit. Let it go for a while. The good think about thinking the thinkable is that it exercises the little mental grey cells and perhaps the little moral cells as well (somehow I think of them as rose or red). To distrust The Episcopal Church's processes so much that even the thinkable must be denounced is to reduce the Bishops and Standing Committees to children who must be told what to do. We need have none of it.


  1. All these proposed anti-gay preconditions setting arbitrary limits on bishops' elections are starting to look very quaint in a world where a gay man can win 42% of the vote for mayor of Dallas, Texas in 2007.


  2. "If that is not good enough for the Anglican Communion as a whole, perhaps we need a deeper conversation about what constitutes a community of good faith."

    And what it means that TEC does not go meddling in other church's selection/election/discernment processes for the episcopate.

  3. Your description of the consent process as it is now leads me to reflect on the recent hearings of Sonja Sotomayor. It used to be that candidates for the SCOTUS actually stated their judicial philosophy. After all, they have to have strong opinions to get to that point. But because of the bitter nature of the process these days, they have to be cautious and politically minded and daren't admit to anything. It sounds like for the church, just as for the congress, factions "write" upon the tablet of each candidate what they choose to see. And that is surely not what the purpose is.

  4. I love the even keeled way in which you approach things. Thank you for this post!

  5. I agree, Mark, that we need not attempt to harness or control the movement of the Holy Spirit acting in and through the bishops and standing committees.
    Rather than moratoria, I think that the entire Communion should reflect on Gamaliel's wise advice regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles and imitate the Jerusalem council's measured response.
    If there is to be any restraint let it be on making rash judgments about the integrity and faith of fellow believers.
    Ted Olson

  6. You have to admit it’s amazing logic. The apparachiks in the Episcopal Church posit TEC has not violated the moritoria imposed by the Windsor Report and codified in B033 by enacting C056 and D025 because the moritoria are in still in place until an openly gay candidate not only is elected but is actually consecrated. Otherwise TEC is being castigated for something it hasn’t really done yet—its kind of like deposing Bishop Duncan for the abandonment of communion before the Diocese of Pittsburgh actually voted to realign.

  7. My guess is that Fr. Kirkley has buried himself with the recent sermon making the rounds (which he has now reposted on his blog, probably after recognizing it was circulating anyway) and would not pass muster in gaining consent, even if LA chooses him.

    That leaves 2 partnered candidates with a good chance. It will be interesting to see what happens. And we won't know for many months, so other than the Kirkley sermon- and anything that comes out of the woodwork on the other 8 candidates between the 2 searches- it may be pretty quiet for a while after this initial flareup dies back.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.