Of holy orders and the Holy Spirit
At the last General Convention in 2006, a famous (or infamous) resolution was adopted in the final hours of the Convention. We now refer to it by its legislative ID, “B033.” This resolution called for restraint in the consent to elections of persons whose “manner of life” posed a challenge to the Anglican Communion.
Where to begin?! The House of Deputies concurred with this resolution at the pleading of the Presiding Bishop, hoping to keep the Episcopal Church at the proverbial table in the Anglican Communion. It was a heart-wrenching vote, with many tears. No one really liked it. I found it objectionable on many fronts, not the least of which was the fact that it prevented GLBT people from ordination to the episcopate without actually naming them. If you are going to demand sacrifice, you should at least name those who are being sacrificed.
The resolution may have had some value. Our bishops (most of them, anyway) attended the Lambeth Conference, and they offered witness of a vital Episcopal Church to others. I have heard personal testimony of changed hearts from bishops in other provinces. That said, the resolution was — on balance — not one I favored.
My principal objection to B033 was that it circumscribed whom the Holy Spirit might call into holy orders, especially to the office of bishop. It seems unwise to pretend that we can limit God in this way. Our church — through its Constitutions & Canons — has a clear discernment process for all persons who may be called into holy orders. I prefer to leave things to discernment and to trust God to guide us into all wisdom.
We could also note that the Episcopal Church is perhaps the only province in the Anglican Communion that has been “Windsor compliant” — that we’ve adhered to the moratoria called for by the Windsor Report. Other provinces, especially the most conservative bits of the Anglican Communion, have ignored the moratoria, especially in crossing jurisdictional lines to set up parallel churches.
Today the House of Deputies concurred with the bishops in adopting resolution D025. This resolution is an outstanding statement of where our church is today. In particular, it suggests that God may call people — including GLBT people — into all three orders of ministry. Suppose someone is nominated by a diocese to be its bishop. That diocese will prayerfully conduct an election. In turn, other bishops and Standing Committees will be asked to consent to the election. There are plenty of opportunities for discernment by many people. Only those who are called will be ordained as bishops.
Have we repealed B033? In a way, yes. On the other hand, the resolution does not explicitly say this. In Anglican fashion, there’s a bit of wiggle room here. But in all this, we should not overlook the first three “resolved” paragraphs in the resolution, which call for sustained engagement with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion.
I am grateful we passed this resolution today, making room for the Holy Spirit to act as she will in calling people as bishops. But we must not rest complacent. Make no mistake, this will strain relationships with others in the Anglican Communion, and those relationships are worth preserving. We must now dedouble our mission connections with others, especially in developing countries. We must get on planes and meet people face-to-face. Through personal friendships, we will rediscover that what unites us in Christ’s body is much stronger than any divisions we may perceive.
Let us give thanks, and then let us quickly get to work. As brightly colored t-shirts said here at General Convention, let us all say, “Here am I, send me.”