Day Three of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops. From the standpoint of subject matter considered, the day can be understood in three sections: morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon.
The morning was devoted to a report from the House of Bishops Theology Committee, which includes mostly bishops, but also some professional theologians, both lay and ordained. The report focused on white supremacy–its historical roots, its enduring effects, and what some name as a recent resurgence. We were given via email yesterday an executive summary of a much longer document that have produced, and then, today, we were sent the document itself. The report calls out any notion of white supremacy as a sin–a collective sin of which not only the larger society is guilty, but the Episcopal Church is guilty as well.
I don’t think there’s anyone in the church who would disagree that the notion of white supremacy is a pernicious evil. It contradicts and undermines the very core of the gospel, and it is not inappropriate that the church examine its complicity with it in the past, and, when called for, take remedial action. It appears that the theology committee is wanting us to digest their work, and invite us to come back to it in the future, It’s an ongoing project. If I have any cautionary flags to wave, it would be a hope that we don’t allow the strong emotions that the subject can evoke to drive us into making pronouncements about public policy that rely on the a presumption of expertise that does not actually exist within our ranks, that overlook the complexity of the phenomenon, and needlessly provoke division in the church.
The early afternoon was devoted to “self-organizing groups” covering a variety of different concerns. I attended a meeting of the Communion Partners. We covered a variety of subjects, mostly mundane and practical, but the “900 pound gorilla” was the news received just yesterday that our friend a colleague Bishop Bill Love of Albany will be brought to what is in effect a trial over his stated intention of upholding the canons of his own diocese and declining to make provision in any way for the celebration of same-sex marriage in Albany. (None of the Communion Partner bishops will flat-out allow same-sex marriage, but the rest of us have agreed to various schemas whereby we cede our spiritual oversight of a parish to another bishop.) We are united in our support of Bishop Love and will stand with him through this process.
What I, at least, wish the “powers that be” might come to understand is that there are no winners in the scenario which they have set in motion. I wish they could “see the whole board” the way a master chess player does, and think several moves ahead, rather than just stumbling from one move to the next. The entire Anglican Communion is watching. If sanctions taken against Bishop Love amount to anything more severe than a written reprimand, he will become an instant martyr. The Diocese of Albany will re radicalized. There will be unrest in other dioceses. There will likely be several more years of property litigation in the secular courts. The Anglican provinces that are already suspicious of TEC will be pushed over the line into breaking communion. Companion diocese relationships will be terminated. In an era of precipitous decline, the rate of the decline will be accelerated exponentially. There is no way this ends well for anybody. Although the train has begun to leave the station, there is still time to halt it before it becomes a wreck. But not much.
The late afternoon invited us to turn our attention once again to next year’s Lambeth Conference. Several of my colleagues are in agony over whether to accept their invitation, believing that by doing so they are aiding an abetting the fundamentally unjust basis on which they were sent–that is, excluding the same-sex spouses of LGBT bishops (on the basis that, since there is actually no such thing as same-sex marriage, the partners involved are not, in fact, spouses; hence there is no invidious discrimination). It was a closed session, so I’m limited in the specifics that I can share, but I certainly can say that there was a great deal of metaphorical hand-wringing and lots of genuine angst. Again, what I wish my friends and colleagues could see more clearly is that, while they experience the Archbishop’s decision as unjust and harsh, the majority of the Anglican Communion sees it as way too lenient, an essentially meaningless gesture, and hundreds of bishops are staying away from Lambeth as a result. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the feelings of anyone who came to the microphone today, I cannot help but see the drama I witnessed as one more manifestation of western privilege, where wealth is presumed to buy entitlement and power; indeed, a manifestation of the very sort of white supremacy we spent the first half of the afternoon decrying. So, let those who need to stay home do so. If I had been writing the script, none of the TEC bishops who have authorized same-sex marriage would have been invited. TEC has been consistently warned for the last sixteen years what the consequences would be for the actions we have taken. Nonetheless, we took the actions anyway, for the perceived sake of justice. Now we are shocked that we are indeed seeing the consequences we were told about years ago. We shouldn’t be.