Sunday, September 21, 2014

Three Polarities to be Eschewed

The truth is not always in the middle, and I say this even though, as an Anglican Christian, I hold a preferential option for the via media.  Sometimes truth, light, and life are found only at one end of a spectrum. It happens.

But, by my lights, it doesn't happen very often. The more imminent threat to our social and political discourse, whether in the secular or the ecclesiastical arena, or in the territory where the two overlap, is the tendency of too many to set up camp on one end of a contentious polarity and then go about demonizing those who inhabit the other end. The truth may only rarely, and by accident, be precisely in the middle. But it is almost never completely at either end.

Particularly in recent years, this tendency seems to be on overdrive. We tear our hair out over legislative gridlock at national and state levels, but we need look no further than district lines to see where the problem lies. Whichever party controls a state legislature in a year when the tens column turns is able to draw the map to preserve its own hegemony. Both parties do it; there are no clean hands here. The result is that districts tilt heavily in one direction or the other. You have to be an extremist--that is, inhabit one end of the various political polarities--to get elected in most places. So we end up with legislatures, and a Congress, full of hyper-partisan ideologues who are constantly looking for ways to shore up their position in the next election, controlled by fear of what would happen if they lost power. In the meantime, nothing gets done.

The church I serve, the Episcopal Church, has been rent asunder by polarization and the concomitant spirit of fear over the last decade and longer. Most on the conservative end have decamped to other ecclesiastical domains, most of them to the newly-formed Anglican Church in North America. A great many of them still love to trash-talk TEC, however, instead of really moving on. Self-proclaimed progressives control the enterprise now, and there are scarcely enough in the "loyal opposition" (and that, indeed, we are) to make a noise loud enough to get anyone's attention. (There is some solace in powerlessness, but that's another blog post.) Interestingly, though, even while securely in the driver's seat, my "progressive" friends often seem to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to ferret out crypto-traditionalists and others who might seek to undermine their hard-won gains. There's a lot of fear ... though I'm not sure exactly what of. The polarization is abetted on both ends.

Polarization is no doubt effective in rallying the troops, but it obscures the truth. There are three polarization narratives out there (among many more, I'm sure) that strike me as particularly problematic:

This polarity pits those who look for a Muslim behind anybody who looks vaguely Arab or South Asian and a jihadists terrorist behind every Muslim, against those whose only hermeneutic of Islam is of a peace-loving "Abrahamic" faith. (It is from the latter group that the label "Islamophobia" comes from, directed toward the former group.) At the first end, the scaremongering is frightfully inaccurate and unhelpful, and leads to such things as the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, which the shooter mistakenly identified with Islam. There is overwhelming incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of Muslims living in American have no sympathy whatever with acts of politically or religiously-motivated violence against anyone anywhere.

That said, it is naive and dishonest to deny that groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL, depending on how you like to translate Arabic) locate their identity and mission squarely and solely in the teaching and practice of Islam. One can argue that they distort and misconstrue Islam, as many Muslims indeed so argue. But they are not generic terrorists, they are Islamic terrorists. In a society where freedom of thought and expression are valued, it should not be off limits to criticize not only violent acts, but also the avowed motivation of those who commit violent acts--in this case, Islam. Fear mongering and ethnically-based prejudice are reprehensible. I have a small list of Facebook friends who are very close to being blocked for such behavior. But calling into question this or that aspect of Islam is not, necessarily in and of itself, either "hate speech" or bigotry. One need not be either a despiser of Islam or a champion of Islam. Those are not the only options.

This polarity pits those who advocate for inclusion of homosexual behavior and homosexual relationships within the range of "normal" against those who understand sexuality and marriage as innately configured to procreation and the raising of children by their biological parents in a stable family. The activities of Westboro (so-called) Baptist (so-called) Church are only too well-known, and their now-deceased leader, Fred Phelps, was larger than life. To suggest that God "hates" anyone, particularly a whole category of people who share a certain sort of sexual inclination, is absurd and disgusting on its face. Such attitudes need to be condemned loudly and unambiguously. Phelps and all who think and act like him are an embarrassment to all who profess and call themselves Christians.

Equally disturbing, however, is the attempt by some on the "progressive" side to, by rhetorical fiat, eliminate all the territory between their position and that of Westboro Baptist. It's an elegant strategy, really. Stake out the moral high ground by casting (quite successfully, it appears) a narrative that it's all a justice issue on a par with the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and, voila!, anyone who opposes you in any way is automatically a bigot on a par with Bull Connor at the controls of a firehose. Anyone not full-throatedly in support of "marriage equality" is consigned to outer darkness next to those who made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus. It's a deft polemical maneuver, and the extent of its success is, frankly, chilling.

It is also complete foolishness. There are any number of rational and defensible positions short of the pole of fully re-defining marriage to include same-sex relationships and still light years away from anything Fred Phelps would have recognized. To not see this is to be willfully obtuse. The ease with which the labels "bigot" and "homophobe" get thrown around and seem to stick should alarm anyone with a sense of decency, let along charity.

"Christian Persecution"
In an attempt to put an edge on the disintegration of Christendom, I have been won't to allude to the statement of the now-retiring Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Francis George, to the effect that he expects that he will die peacefully in bed, his successor (now known!) will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square ... all before there is another societal seismic shift, and the Church is restored to a position of leavening influence.

One does not need to scan social media for very long before finding evidence that allegedly points to the "persecution" of Christians--not in the ISIS-controlled parts of the Levant, but right in the heartland of the United States. Valedictorians are forbidden from mentioning Jesus in their speeches, college football teams are prohibited from emblazoning their helmets with crosses in memory of a teammate who died, the evangelical campus ministry Inter-Varsity is "de-recognized" at both public and private universities because they require student leaders of their chapters to actually profess Christian faith, atheist groups sue to have "In God we trust" removed from our national currency ... and the list could go on. Others, usually Christians themselves, off a rejoinder, saying, in effect, "This is not persecution, you wimps! You're just whining because Christianity is no longer privileged like it once was, and now you have to compete in the marketplace of ideas along with everyone else."

Both of these voices are missing something, I fear, in their enthusiasm to make their points. Compared to their brothers and sisters in China and Sudan, to say nothing of Iraq and Syria, American Christians have yet to suffer even a whiff of true persecution. Inconvenience? Yes. About a third of the time, I'm in a hotel room on a Saturday night. In virtually every place, at the breakfast buffet the next morning, I see parents with their children in athletic uniforms, on their way to competitions scheduled for Sunday morning. My heart breaks a little every time I see this. But my achy-breaky heart is nowhere near a persecuted heart. To say otherwise would be to dishonor the Christian children beheaded by Islamic terrorists.

But ... which way is the arc of history presently bending? If I were a betting man, my money would be on Cardinal George. I'm only two years younger than his successor, so that gives me a bit of pause.  From time to time, still, I lay my hands on teenagers in the sacramental rite of Confirmation. In good traditional fashion, I then give them a token symbolic slap on the face, and remind them, when I can, that this is a sign that the vows to which they have just committed themselves are increasingly likely to get them into trouble before they're my age. I don't think I'm wrong, and I pray for them in advance  of that moment, that they will be strong.

If we can resist the allure of these three polarities, at least, we stand a better chance, I think, both as a society and as a church, of knowing the truth, and finding it liberating.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why I'm Not Going to Taiwan

Every March and every September, the bishops of the Episcopal Church (virtually all the active ones, and a few of the retired ones, at any rate) gather for a regular meeting of the House of Bishops. (The September meeting is dispensed with in General Convention years.) Later this month, the House will convene ... in Taiwan. I will not be there. It seems appropriate to offer an explanation. Indeed, my colleague bishops and the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Springfield deserve an explanation.

The Episcopal Church has, since 1835, been coterminous with an entity called the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS). Indeed, all Episcopalians are presumed to be members of the DFMS, which is conceptually a very good thing, I would say; the community of the baptized is intrinsically a missionary community. As members of the DFMS, Episcopalians participated in the burgeoning missionary activity from North America and Europe to Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There were giants and heroes in those days, and some of them now populate our calendar of saints.

As part of this general missionary effort, Episcopalians were among those who introduced Anglican Christianity in China. After the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, many Chinese Anglicans escaped to Taiwan, and, in 1954, the Diocese of Taiwan was organized, and admitted into union with General Convention the following year, which felt like a logical move, since they already had so many close ties with Americans. So, even though it is almost completely on the other side of the world, the Diocese of Taiwan remains to this day part of the Episcopal Church. We also have dioceses in Central and South America and in the Caribbean, but these are virtually in the shadow of the Mother Ship. There is also a small convocation of Episcopal churches in Europe, which exist for a variety of historical reasons. But Taiwan is by far a geographic outlier.

The Bishop of Taiwan, the Rt Revd David Lai, invited the House to meet in his diocese, and the Presiding Bishop, presumably in consultation with her Council of Advice, accepted the invitation on behalf of the House. We have known about it for at least the last year and a half. I have attended every meeting of the House since March 2011, the very month of my consecration. I have blogged every day of every meeting, right here at this site. (Indeed, I am acutely aware that this post is the first since the spring meeting six months ago; I hope to remedy that pattern!) I enjoy the camaraderie with other bishops. Valuable things happen at those occasions. Nonetheless, after extended thought and prayer, I made a decision not to attend this Fall 2014 meeting. Here's why:

It would not be good stewardship of the financial resources of the Diocese of Springfield. I have no doubt that the Treasurer and the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council would have accepted the news of my intention to attend this meeting with no detectable degree of pushback. It's not like we're just too poor for me to go. But it would be considerably more expensive than last year's Fall meeting, which was in a hotel near the airport in Nashville, and the one three years ago (2012 was a General Convention year), which was in Quito, Ecuador. While we are not presently an impoverished diocese, neither are we a wealthy one. It would feel inappropriately extravagant for me to requisition checks to cover airfare and lodging for me to spend a week in Taiwan at this point in the life of the diocese.

The optics are bad. The Episcopal Church is flourishing in a handful of demographic/geographic pockets. In most places, we are slowly dying, like California nut trees in the midst of the extended drought. Dioceses are downsizing their staffing. At least three dioceses have part-time bishops. The median age of our communicants continues to creep upward. There is real doubt as to whether we will be able to sustain ministry in rural areas very much longer. Our infrastructure at a churchwide level is likely to be significantly smaller following the next General Convention. And now, against such a backdrop, nearly a hundred bishops (some with spouses, but, in any case, considerably fewer than would normally attend a regular meeting) are jetting off to Asia for a meeting that could have been held much, much less expensively in any number of locations, both domestic and foreign. It just doesn't look good.

It would abet a polemical narrative about the character of the Episcopal Church. "The Episcopal Church," is, in fact, an alias, a shorthand for the more unwieldy Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The dioceses that originally confederated to form PECUSA were all in areas that were part of the USA. Only a few decades ago, what is now styled the Executive Council was known as the National Council. Despite regular admonitions from certain quarters not to do so, at a local level, Episcopalians still routinely refer to the "national church" in casual parlance. In many of our liturgical forms, we pray regularly for "the President of the United States." Anglicans in other lands are wont to speak of "the American church" when they actually mean TEC. Of course, because Americans once tended to congregate in expatriate enclaves while living in Europe for business or personal reasons, chapels were established in various countries there. Many of those congregations perdure, and are no longer merely serving expatriates, but include many natives of the countries where they are located. Because of our DFMS efforts, we planted churches in Latin America, Haiti, and the Caribbean. The result is that the Episcopal Church is present in some 26 countries (one of which is Taiwan).

This is not the fruit of some grand missionary strategy; it just happened that way. But lately there has been an effort to make political hay out of happenstance. From at least 2006 (I can't remember whether it goes back further), the dais in the House of Deputies at General Convention has been decorated with the flags of all 26 countries where TEC has a presence. In conversation at official levels, the use of the expression "national church" is vociferously discouraged. In the same time frame, the conflict level among (and within) the 39 member provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion has risen markedly. TEC has found itself increasingly at odds with provinces representing an overwhelming majority of the world's Anglicans. I have no direct knowledge of any conspiracy toward this end, but one cannot help but make speculative inferences from the available information, to the effect that there are those who wish to foster a narrative that TEC is indeed, intrinsically and inherently, an "international" church, with the not-quite-implied but deftly suggested corollary that we are somehow thereby less in need of our relationship with the Anglican Communion, that we have the capacity, if circumstances warrant, to become a rival thereto.

As I have said, I have no idea whether there's someone masterminding the construction of this narrative, but I do know that, whether it's accidental or intentional, I cannot in good conscience assist in propping it up. One of the ways the Taiwan meeting was "sold" to the House of Bishops was that, by gathering there, we would be shining a light on the international character of our church. I nearly made my decision on the matter in that moment. We are an American church. That we have foreign dioceses in our own hemisphere is testimony to the missionary zeal of our forebears, but the final stage of a responsible missionary strategy is always to spin off such churches as they mature into self-sustainability. We have already done so with Mexico and Brazil, for example. Rather than exploiting our Latin American dioceses for purposes of TEC branding, we should be focusing on helping them reach the point where they can form a new autonomous (but interdependent, of course) Anglican province. The number of flags on the dais should not be a point of boasting, but a source a mild embarrassment that we haven't done a better job in bringing the missionary cycle to an organic conclusion.

My feelings about missing the meeting are not unalloyed. While I do not relish trans-Pacific air travel in economy class (having once done Chicago to Tokyo to Bangkok and back all in a middle seat), I'm sure it would be interesting to see the land, the people, and the church in Taiwan. I will very much miss the interaction with my colleagues, especially my Class of 2011 friends. And I'm facing in the direction of paranoia that, just because I'm not there, something crucial to my interests, or the interests of my diocese, will come up, and my voice will not be heard. There are no doubt those who will judge me pejoratively for not being there, or for the reasons here articulated why I am not there. So there are risks in my decision, and my eyes are open about those risks. Perhaps I err. But, as they say nowadays, it is what it is. I do hope those who attend have a good meeting. I will be holding them in my prayers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 5

Same morning pattern as that to which we have become accustomed. The retreat meditation was delivered by John Howard, Bishop of Florida. (The Diocese of Florida is one of five dioceses with territory in that state, and is based in Jacksonville.) Bishop Howard, a former lawyer and prosecutor, spoke movingly of singing the Lord's song in the particular alien land known as the criminal justice system, encouraging us to pray and work for a system that is more humane and flexible, more able to temper justice with mercy. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has a disproportionately high percentage of its citizens living behind bars.

With careful attention to the use of available time, I was able to walk down the main road through Camp Allen all the way to the two-mile marker today, further than I've gone before. This means my walk was four miles, which is my old customary standard. I've been grateful for the amount of exercise I've been able to get while here.

The best and most valuable part of House of Bishops meetings is without any doubt the informal interaction that takes place at meals, evening "hospitality" time, and assorted other moments. We have no peer colleagues in the normal course of our work, so we all treasure the opportunity to be with one another, to build relationships that transcend the variations in theology, ideology, churchmanship, and regional peculiarity that otherwise distinguish and divide us.

The afternoon session began with a set piece called a Town Meeting. Anybody who wants to get on the agenda for a brief announcement (3-5 minutes) can do so. So we heard about the process for electing the next Presiding Bishop, a coming conference sponsored by Bishops Against Gun Violence, a work-in-progress by the Ecclesiology Committee, and sundry other items. None will probably soon forget the remarks of John Tarrant, Bishop of South Dakota, who continually and compellingly challenges the House over issues of economic disparity between dioceses, clergy, and bishops.

After a break, we reconvened in formal session, with the officers of the House on the dais and the Presiding Bishop in the chair, for a business meeting. There were no items of actual substance. We passed a resolution marking the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Barbara Harris, the first female member of the House. We passed resolutions authored by the Bishops of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic regarding issues in their respective countries that we explicated at our Fireside Chat last Friday evening. Then we adjourned and made our way upstairs to All Saints Chapel for our closing Eucharist, at which Jeff Fisher, one of the bishops suffragan of the Diocese of Texas (our host diocese, one of six with territory in the state), presided, and Canon Stephanie Spellers, one of our chaplains, preached. We celebrated the feast of the Annunciation. Personally, I could have used some more liturgical comfort food on such a significant occasion as this, but what would make me feel like I've been to "real church" is simply not the way of these gatherings.

Dinner was in the usual place, but with white table cloths, wine, and an upscale menu, banquet-style. I didn't get the memo about wearing a navy blue blazer, but I did anyway, and was therefore in good company. After dinner, most of us headed back into the chapel for a musical presentation (guitar and vocal) of original songs by John Smylie, Bishop of Wyoming. It was a nice conclusion to our time together.

So we're almost out of here. Those who have early flights out of Houston left tonight for a hotel near the airport. My ride is at 8am and my flight at 11:20. The usual poker games are in full swing a few feet away from me as I sit with my MacBook Pro in the entry area lounge furniture. On the positive side, I really needed the enforced down time from the usual tasks I deal with (although I certainly did continue to engage many of them via email), and, as I've said, have benefited from the extra exercise. The time with colleagues was invaluable, and all the retreat meditations were very much worth hearing. What we did during the plenary sessions was, I have to say, disappointing. Some have called it a waste of time, and while I am not inordinately annoyed by what we've experienced, I don't know that I could muster a case to challenge that assessment. The outside world thinks we talk deeply about important things, but the fact is, we don't talk deeply about anything. We hear reports and talk superficially and briefly about lots of things, but, even then, not about the most important things we should be talking about. Over my three years in the House, we have sometimes skirted the edges of engaging the wrenching divisions this church has suffered over the last decade, but always in a technical and juridical context, and always with much more "reporting" than free-flowing discussion. We talk around and past the really important things, and distract ourselves with a host of secondary and tertiary concerns. We desperately need to find a new model for difficult conversations. There is a reluctance (perhaps a vestige of very difficult experiences of twenty or so years ago) to spend a lot of time in plenary debate, but short and tightly-managed table discussions are not doing the job. There has got to be an intermediate modality that will enable us to safely say very challenging and honest things to one another. We haven't found it yet. I don't know whether enough of us even want to.

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 4

Usual morning "retreat" routine. Following Morning Prayer, today's meditation was delivered by my good friend Bill Love, Bishop of Albany. His account of missionary activity in the diocese was invigorating--singing the Lord's song in the alien land of urban Albany/Troy.

Between the meditation and lunch, I got in another hard walk--about three miles this time, I would say. One of the blessings of this time away has been that I've been able to get significant exercise every day. Good for my health.

The afternoon session was devoted to ecumenical and religious engagement. The national church officer for such things, the Rev. Margaret Rose, called on a succession of bishops in turn to report on the bilateral ecumenical dialogues that they superintend: Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Swedish Lutherans, Old Catholics, Roman Catholics, and probably one or two that I'm forgetting. (Though I don't think I'm forgetting the Orthodox; I think they weren't mentioned.) This was all report; no discussion. We then turned our attention to "inter-religious" activities. A seminary middler from General Theological Seminary in New York offered a reflection on the critical importance of inter-religious discourse. I have to say, I was not persuaded. But maybe that's just me. This time we did have about 20 minutes for table discussions, wherein we were to share what's going in our own dioceses with respect to this topic. I didn't have much to report, save that I had recently met three self-proclaimed Druids at a New Years Eve party, but since it was a party, didn't press them very hard to share with me what drew them (all raised Irish-American Catholics) to Druidism. While I am passionate about ecumenism, interfaith engagement is, in my mind, one of those "nice" things that will always lose any triage assessment of where to put energy and resources. And speaking of energy and resources, there were certainly more pertinent things we could have done with our plenary time this afternoon. This was a disappointment.

The session ended at 3:30, so I went back to my room to read, but first needed to grab a nap. By the time I emerged from my grogginess, I was just missing the beginning of the Eucharist, so I finally did get around to doing some reading.

After dinner, the item on the plenary agenda was a briefing on the next meeting of the House, which will take place this September ... in Taiwan. Why Taiwan, you ask? Because the Episcopal Church, in fact, has a diocese there, whose bishop faithfully attends every meeting of the House. However, I had already made the decision that I will let them have this meeting without me. I'm certain the Diocese of Springfield would come up with the funds to send me, pretty much without blinking. But I just don't think it's good stewardship of the not-unlimited money we are blessed with. Moreover, I do not wish to be complicit in furthering the narrative that "the Episcopal Church is an international church; we're in 16 countries on four continents." While technically true, that is an incidental and circumstantial reality, not the virtuous fruit of a grand missionary strategy. If anything, it is a vestige of colonialism, and we ought to find it an embarrassment and be taking more aggressive steps to spin off our overseas dioceses into self-sustaining Anglican provinces. As it happens, though, it is politically useful for TEC to have recourse to the "international church" meme. In any case, I don't need to be an accomplice. So ... I didn't go to the meeting, and spent the time in the conference center lobby (alas, no usable wifi in my room) cleaning out about a page and a half of emails. A huge weight is lifted.

I'm ready to go home, but there's one more day.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 3

Not a lot to report today. We observed the principle of sabbath rest, so the only plenary gathering scheduled was the 10am Eucharist. I got a hard walk in between breakfast and then. The weather is noticeably cooler today, but for most of us, it's still warmer than home. After the liturgy, we sat for a retreat meditation from the Bishop of Nebraska, Scott Barker. The theme for all the meditations is from Psalm 137, "singing the Lord's song in an alien land." I could identify with much of what Bishop Barker had to say, as Nebraska, like central and southern Illinois, suffers from a slowly-unfolding demographic crisis, with the demise of the family farm and the depopulation of small towns. But in order to "make room," I suppose, for the retreat meditation, there was no homily at the Eucharist. I felt a little deprived by this. The gospel readings for Lent in Year A are of such uncommon power and compelling clarity. It was by means of these narratives that the ancient church took the hands of catechumens and walked them through the mysteries of baptism and eucharist. My heart wanted to hear the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well be broken open once again.

I took part in two voluntary but substantial meetings during the afternoon. One was among those bishops present who are also trustees of Nashotah House. While the campus community seems healthy and well-behaved, there have lately been some atmospherics among some off-campus stakeholders, so it was good for those of us who are here to take counsel together. The other was with the Communion Partner bishops who are present. We discussed possibilities for a meeting with our Canadian counterparts, and the potential for sponsoring a major conference on mission in a post-Christian environment.

After dinner, I floated between two other impromptu (more or less) meetings: one to further discuss the work of the Task Force on Marriage, and the other comprised of bishops who are seminary trustees. Tomorrow we're back to a rather fuller schedule.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 2

Three years ago, at my first meeting of the House of Bishops, the schedule was relentless, most of the activity consisting of lectures and seminars under the rubric of continuing education. The one following, in Quito, was nearly as grueling. But the powers-that-be must have heard a chorus of complaints, because, beginning with the spring meeting two years ago, with the necessary exception of General Convention the following summer, the pace has been much more humane. Today we gathered for Morning Prayer as we did yesterday, with the retreat meditation this time being delivered by Mary Glasspool, one of the suffragans of Los Angeles. I got a good hard hike in between the conclusion of her talk and regathering at 11:30 for Eucharist (of a sort--the Liturgy of the Word somehow went missing; we began with a hymn and continued with the gospel and Prayers of the People). I had lunch with my Province V compatriots, but we had nothing particularly substantive to discuss. The afternoon was free. I visited for a while with a free-lance journalist who lives in the area and whom I have known heretofore only cybernetically. Then I was able to grab a nap, catch up on some email, and enjoy a nice impromptu conversation with a recently retired colleague before getting changed and heading out to dinner with my Class of 2011 friends. We drove to College Station and had a tasty and economical meal at Chuy's, a regional Tex-Mex chain. On the whole, the day was recreative, which I rather desperately needed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 1

  • Breakfast at 8:00.
  • Morning Prayer at 9:00, with a retreat meditation delivered by Bishop Lloyd Allen (Honduras).
  • Free time in silence (with a designation talking area for extroverts). I took the opportunity to take a long walk through the piney woods and sandy soil beauty of Camp Allen.
  • Lunch at 11:30.
  • 1:00--"check in" at our assigned tables. (We have the same table mates for three years, re-shuffling after each General Convention).
  • Presentation from the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, a group mandated by General Convention 2012 and populated by the presiding officers of each house. I cannot see how anyone can deny that it is heavily stacked. It includes prominent LGBT activists, and not one member who approaches marriage from a traditionalist perspective. Not one. Despite discussions and feedback such as we participated in today, I don't think there's any doubt that the eventual outcome will be proposed legislation that will redefine marriage in the Episcopal Church to remove the "one man / one woman" norm. How precisely they will get to that objective remains to be seen. There was some mention from the task force of changing language in the Prayer Book. In my table group, I tried to make the point that this is a slippery slope on many levels. Since the Episcopal Church was founded in 1789, we have had four versions of the Book of Common Prayer, including the present 1979 edition. Each one has been a thorough revision, markedly different from its predecessor. We have never simply tweaked and tinkered with the Prayer Book in a piecemeal fashion. This tradition was slightly altered a dozen years ago when we (temporarily, supposedly) suspended language in the Ordinal in order to proceed with our full communion agreement with the Lutherans. Then, over the last two General Conventions, we actually did follow the process of Prayer Book revision in order to bring the lectionary for Holy Week in line with the Revised Common Lectionary. Yet, I've heard no one begin to speak of the new "2012 Prayer Book." But the camel's nose is under the tent, and I suspect (fear?) that, if we amend the language of the marriage rite to accommodate same-sex weddings, we will continue down that same path for other purposes, and the de facto liturgical anarchy we currently enjoy across the church will only be compounded. Of course, this is to say nothing of the inherent enormity of changing the marriage liturgy for the intended purpose, which would be a theological, sacramental, ecumenical, and pastoral train wreck.
  • After a break, we heard from TREC, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. This, too, is a creation of the last General Convention. They are only 24 people, the scope of their task is impossible to comprehend, and their work is seriously underfunded. Yet, they are striving valiantly. The two most salient items on the discussion agenda today were, What does the national church have to do that cannot be done at a more local level? and How should the office of Presiding Bishop relate to the governance structure of the church? Re the latter, my personal opinion, for a number of reasons, is that the Presiding Bishop should retain his or her diocese upon election to the primacy, with responsibility for day to day operations at any centralized church office falling to a General Secretary. My sense is that opinion on this was very divided, with some table groups favoring it in the plenary reports, and others opposing it. As the to larger question about subsidiarity, I have some hope for a future that would be less juridical and more informal, less centralized and more networked. But there a lot of oxen lined up to be gored in such a move, and the inertia of the status quo should not be underestimated. The trick will be how to reduce the ability of various stakeholders to propose resolutions to General Convention. My own idea is that standing committees, commissions, agencies, and boards should be forbidden from creating their own work--that is, proposing resolutions that ask General Convention to ask them to do something. We'll see how that one flies.
  • At 4:30 we gathered upstairs in All Saints Chapel for Eucharist, commemorating the lesser feast of Thomas Cranmer. (This is according to the trial use Holy Women, Holy Men calendar; in the still official calendar of the church, today commemorates Thomas Ken). The Presiding Bishop celebrated and preached.
  • After dinner we gathered back in our plenary meeting room for the customary event styled "Fireside Chat." We heard from the Bishop of Venezuela about the recently tense and dangerous political and social situation in his country, from the Bishop of the Dominican Republic on the emerging issue of multi-generation Dominicans of Haitian descent being deprived of their citizenship, from the Bishop of Indianapolis on the disintegration of the social fabric in South Sudan, and handful of other items.