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.

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5 Responses

  1. Bryan Owen says:

    As I’ve noted on my blog (citing the work of Richard B. Hays), there is no single New Testament rule on the matter of divorce (http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/2007/08/divorce-and-remarriage.html). So it simply won’t do to say that “Jesus is clear on this one.” On the contrary, Jesus is not clear at all.

    Unless, of course, someone has access to the Jesus “behind” or “apart from” the gospel writers (and the apostle Paul). Such privileged access would necessarily entail a confident willingness to move beyond the substantive differences between the ways in which the different synoptic gospel writers portray Jesus’ teaching on divorce to the mind of the “true” Jesus on the grounds that one has access to a special, perhaps even private, revelation of what Jesus “really” thinks about divorce.

    In the context of our current debates over human sexuality, I think we should be willing to acknowledge that the divorce card is a red herring. The relevant issue is whether or not the Biblical canon (and tradition) allows for a similar diversity of responses to the matter of homosexual practice as it does when it comes to divorce. Is there a comparable diversity of perspectives within scripture and tradition?

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Bryan, thanks for your comment. You are right, of course: divorce is somewhat complicated in the New Testament. I banged this post out too quickly; I’d have been better off to discuss two points separately.

    First, some conservative folks (again, as I sometimes note, I’m no fan of these labels, but it’s too cumbersome to write a paragraph every time you invoke folks in the present struggles) are able to be nuanced about divorce, after a period in which the church was not nuanced at all. One might successfully argue that the AAC position is indeed biblical, as you suggest.

    Second, I should have used my favorite example: money. We are told that to follow Jesus, we must sell all our possession and give the money to the poor. It’s the plain meaning of the texts. And, yet, this clear biblical teaching is recast to allow us to hang on to our stuff.

    So my real point, which I wrote too hastily, is this: on SOME issues, nearly every Anglican is willing to be nuanced with biblical theology or church tradition. And yet on this issue there is no flexibility. There is an unwillingness to admit that flexibility might even be possible.

    You end by raising the sensible question as to whether the biblical view on homosexual activity has some diversity in the texts. I’m sure you are aware of many arguments — all way above my pay grade — suggesting that it’s possible to see just such a view. Or, there’s the more easily taken position, that the bible doesn’t deal with orientation, but only certain categories of property crime, etc. The “shellfish argument” is another red herring (or red lobster, ahem), I’ll concede. But surely one will admit that it’s difficult to insist on enforcement of this one biblical standard (prohibition of homosexual activity) while ignoring others. Then we get back to nuance.

    Lastly, if one wishes to say that the bible is silent on positive examples of same-sex activity, I’ll concede there’s a persuasive case to be made. However, there are any number of other things held to be true by the Church on which the bible is silent (or only implicit). Seven sacraments, Nicene Christology, etc.

    Pax, Scott

  3. Bryan Owen says:

    Scott, thanks for this thoughtful response.

    While I’m unwilling to concede that the Bible is silent without regard to the outcome of the Council of Nicaea on Christology, I do agree with you that the Church (Anglicanism in particular?) has been willing to entertain nuance on certain issues that other Christian groups have not. And on my blog I’ve also approvingly cited Fr. Tim Chesteron’s question (when it comes to the issue of homosexuality) “Why this particular line in the sand?” (http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-this-particular-line-in-sand.html).

    Of course, this alone settles nothing. Sadly.

  4. Bill Ghrist says:

    One of the ironies of the present situation is that the opponents of this election, who generally insist upon a strict reading of scripture, ignore the fact that there is no unambiguous prohibition of female-female sexual activity anywhere in scripture. Romans 1:26 is often cited as such, but that is an interpretation that is dubious at best and certainly not required by the original language and context. There is nothing else in either the Old or New Testaments that comes close to proscribing female-female sexual activity. I grant you that Paul and others would probably not have approved, but that is an assumption, not something that is explicit in scripture. Those who base their religion on a strict reading of scripture should be careful about what they think scripture strictly says.

  5. Jay says:

    Hi, new to this blog. I think you are absolutely right that proper theological work has not been done that needs to be done. Fleming Rutledge has expressed similar sentiments on her website. I think you are absolutely right about proceeding with caution and sensitivity. That is exactly what our Protestant and Catholic faith demands! but for some reason it seems so lacking in the responses to this whole thing. I just posted something at my own blog which I would encourage everybody to take a look at:
    http://johnthreesixteensblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/well-i-havent-written-anything-for-very.html
    As rector of a New England parish, I think you would particularly appreciate it!