Bishop-elect Mary Glasspool receives consent
Word has arrived that the Rev’d Canon Mary Glasspool has received the necessary consents from both Standing Committees and diocesan bishops. This means that her election has a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles is confirmed, and her ordination will go forth as scheduled on May 15.
Just yesterday — correctly foreseeing that consent would be achieved — Mark Harris wrote, “There will be all sorts of muttering about how the consents for Canon Glasspool or her actual ordination will spell the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it. It will not.” Harris is right. For years, anxious people on the right have been predicting imminent doom and claiming status as martyrs. And yet, the Anglican Communion has continued and will continue.
Within moments of the news our of Los Angeles, conservatives and their groups began issuing statements. (For the record, so did progressive groups.) The American Anglican Council’s statement had this to say:
Despite pleas to the contrary, they have given their consent for a partnered lesbian to become a bishop, not just for Los Angeles, but for the whole church. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise because The Episcopal Church, at its General Convention this summer, voted in favor of allowing dioceses to determine whether they will conduct same sex blessings using whatever rites they deem appropriate. Even if The Episcopal Church should eventually decide to sign an Anglican Covenant, it has shown time and time again that it will not abide by traditional Christian and Anglican Communion teaching on marriage and sexuality.
This repeats the right-wing party line, so I’d like to answer a couple of points.
Now, one could argue that by waiting for several years to consent to the election of a GLBT bishop, the Episcopal Church had in fact shown tremendous restraint. Meanwhile, of course, conservative groups have been riding roughshod over the Windsor Report’s moratoria. Ironically, at this moment, the Episcopal Church is probably the most “Windsor compliant” province in the Anglican Communion. Our “compliance” has not placated anyone, so I expect the Episcopal Church will proceed in its prophetic witness to the church and to the world.
It’s also worth noting the irony of citing “traditional Christian and Anglican Communion teaching” in this debate. Take something like, say, divorce. Jesus is clear on this one, and yet the AAC is able to adopt a nuanced (read, if one is snarky: unbiblical and nontraditional) position. I remind you that slavery was seen as perfectly Christian for centuries, and that one changed. But there continues to be no recognition of the possibility that Christian tradition can and does change.
If one is going to object to the ordination of GLBT persons, the basis must be on grounds other than a (fictitious) fixed tradition. Any casual reading of church history reveals a slow-moving stream in which the waters of tradition are constantly refreshed. The essentials of the faith that we teach (e.g. Christ’s resurrection or the power of the Holy Spirit) ought not to change, but the church has constantly and slowly revised its teaching on any number of second-order matters. Surely the AAC could admit this, as they seem to on the issue of divorce.
Now, to be fair, Bishop Pierre Whalon recently got himself in a heap of trouble for pointing out that the Episcopal Church had not done its theological homeword. He’s right, of couse. Plenty of individual Episcopalians and Episcopal groups have done theological work, but we’ve yet to do this work as a church.
A good start would be to move the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee out of the smoky back room and into the light of day. General Convention might adopt some position papers, or our bishops could issue pastoral letters. At the next General Convention, it is likely that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will present rites for same-sex blessing for approval. My hope is that those rites come with some theological rationale, which would go a long ways toward answering Bishop Whalon’s sensible request.
Meanwhile, we have a situation in which many Episcopalians believe (as I do) that the Holy Spirit is calling people to all orders of ministry without regard to sexual orientation. It does not seem right to hold back the call and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. However, we must proceed with caution and sensitivity.
Two or three years ago, my sense was that the Episcopal Church was not doing this well. We tended, in our public discourse, to focus on individual rights (an American view of the world) and not on biblical theology and church tradition. I think we’ve gotten a bit better about speaking of the ways in which we believe God is calling us to move forward. We’re also gotten much better at listening, thanks to the Lambeth Conference and other gatherings of Anglicans.
Harris is right, the Anglican Communion need not shatter. But it will take work. As I’ve been saying, it is essential that Americans get on airplanes and meet Anglicans from across the Communion (make sure to pay your carbon offsets). We must bring others to this country from around the world. We must focus on shared mission and our deep love of the Gospel. This is not a time to circle the wagons, but to open our arms and our hearts in love.
For now, I rejoice with my friends in Los Angeles. I also pray for my friends around the world for whom this news is difficult.