(This image is of a part of the trail that circles the lake here at Kanuga. It features a magnificent stand of wild rhododendrons. Since our social media policy prohibits the posting of photos of people without first getting their permission, I turn to Mother Nature, who seems to be less picky.)
This was a lower-key day (Day 3 of the 2019 House of Bishops meeting). As per the pattern, we convened at 1015. After announcements, there was a passionate and emotional presentation from Mary Glasspool, assisting bishop in the Diocese of New York. It was a response to the recently-released news that the same-sex spouses of LGBT bishops are not invited to register and participate in the bishop spouse program at the Lambeth Conference in July 2020. (Bishop Glasspool is herself a partnered lesbian.) This prohibition currently affects one bishop and one bishop-elect in the Episcopal Church, and one bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. However, there are episcopal elections in the next few months where some of the candidates are partnered gay or lesbian, so the number could grow.
We then went into executive session, about which I cannot say anything substantive. I think I can say, however, that there was both table group discussion and plenary conversation, and you can use your imagination as to the subject.
I can understand the pain and anger evoked by Archbishop Welby’s decision about this. It’s not particularly fair that the three affected partners should bear the load of a situation that is maddeningly complex and fraught. Politics–and this is, if anything, a profoundly political issue–can be cruel. I don’t think anybody is happy that these three people are the most directly-affected, because it’s not really about them. They are, as it were, innocent bystanders.
But I can also understand the logic of the Archbishop’s decision. He is committed to all active bishops being invited. He is committed to their spouses being invited. And he is committed to resolution I.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which makes clear that the teaching of the Anglican Communion about marriage is that it is between one man and one woman. So, committed same-sex relationship, whatever category (i.e. marriage) they may fall under in civil law, are not marriage so far as church teaching is concerned, so those in such relationships are not, in fact, spouses. It may be cold, and the optics are arguably un fortunate, but it is logical.
It is also arguably the least severe action Archbishop Welby could have taken toward the Episcopal Church and other provinces that have moved ahead with an expanded definition of marriage despite the yellow flags being dropped on the field all across the communion. There was strong pressure on him to not invite any bishops from the Episcopal Church … or to not invite the bishops who are in public same-sex relationships (rather than putting the onus on the partners). He resisted these appeals, confident that the interests of the communion will be best served by having a maximum number of voices at the table. The fact is, though, that political practicalities required him to give himself some level of “cover” among those who were clamoring for harsh measures. Three innocent bystanders get to provide that cover. I hope the gambit works, and that we indeed do have a maximum number of voices at the table.
The afternoon was devoted to something tbey called “affinity groups”–four locations, each discussing one of the sub-themes of the “Way of Love.” My guess is that a fairly large percentage of bishops decided they have an “affinity” for themselves. I was among them, having a productive afternoon attacking both my swelling to-do list, and attacking the lake loop trail to see those rhododendrons and imagine what they’ll look like when they’re in bloom in a few weeks. Succumbing to a case of cabin fever, I accepted an invitation from three colleagues to ditch the dining hall and head into Hendersonville for dinner. We went to a fancy French brasserie, where I had … a hamburger.