The Episcopal News Service ran this headline, "Presiding Bishop expresses concern about Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality bill." That is certainly true as far as it goes. She did make a statement. Read it HERE. The statement is prefaced by the following, "Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a statement expressing concern about the pending Ugandan legislation that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate portions of that country's anti-homosexuality laws."
The statement itself makes it clear that it is The Episcopal Church that has the concern, not just or only the Presiding Bishop. It begins, "The Episcopal Church joins many other Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that "efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005)." Throughout the language of the statement the Presiding Bishop uses the language "we" not in reference to herself or her office, but to The Episcopal Church. The message contends that it is The Episcopal Church that is concerned about the pending Ugandan legislation.
The Presiding Bishop's statement is a classic example of the PB exercising the role given in the canons (I 2.4a 1-2), namely, "speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention; (and) (2) Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity."
As is often the case such statements grow from a variety of concerns and interactions. In this case including strong concerns from Executive Council members that a position paper clarifying The Episcopal Church's concerns was necessary. In my previous post, Moving from corporate governance to incorporated governance I indicated that this wider networking of concerns was part of a possible shift in governance in part a product of communications options.
The fact that the Presiding Bishop's statement is cast as a statement about how The Episcopal Church understands the issues at hand is important, for it acknowledges both that the Presiding Bishop can and does speak for the Church and that such statements gather in a variety of concerns and actions taken in the process of policy development - actions of General Convention, Anglican Communion deliberations, and statements by this Church and ecumenically supporting human rights and opposing discriminatory legislation against gay and lesbian persons.
Most interestingly, the Presiding Bishop has taken the opportunity to address the issue of fear mongering and extending of anti-gay prejudice by persons and organizations in the US. She writes, "Finally, we note that much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism toward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own Church. We note further that attempts to export the culture wars of North America to another context represent the very worst of colonial behavior. We deeply lament this reality, and repent of any way in which we have participated in this sin."
The whole of this statement is carefully crafted and it includes the concerns of many. It is more than individual opinion but rather the position of The Episcopal Church and it calls for a variety of actions by church and state. It calls on Christian conscience and at the same time acknowledges that the road to social justice is a challenge to us all.
I believe this statement is an excellent summation of The Episcopal Church's stance. The role of particular Executive Council members in the call for and development of this statement has been noted by ENS in an earlier article. The President of the House of Deputies has spoken forcefully on the issue. Now we have this statement.
Some have been critical about how long it has taken for TEC to respond. My sense is that, given the changing and developing role of governance by a larger group who understanding themselves "incorporated" into a more horizontal authority pattern, and given the corporate structures in place, there will be occasions when unanimity of response will require some time.
The issue first came to the fore on September 25th when the bill was published in Uganda. It was put on the docket October 14th. I believe Changing Attitude first wrote on the issue October 30th, although members of CA wrote the ABC, etc, prior to that posting. Essentially six weeks have transpired since the issue was clearly put before the churches.
That is a very short time for the gathering in of all the information needed to make an adequate response. The fact that the bill is clearly onerous and contrary to what we believe is just and right as a Christian community is easy to determine. Six weeks is a long time for that determination. Less easy to know is what sort of statement is helpful to the social, political and religious processes and communities "on the ground" in Uganda. Six weeks is fairly short for this.
Thanks to the Presiding Officers, the Executive Council members who called for further immediate work on the issue, and the community of concern, both in the blogsphere and elsewhere, for working through all this.