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?