Letter from America
'Besides that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?'
OUR sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot to death on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, by a radical secessionist named John Wilkes Booth whilst watching the play Our American Cousin with his wife, Mary, from the presidential box of Ford's Theatre. Since then we Americans have tried to find at least some humor or light side in the worst of circumstances by sarcastically repeating the question above. It simply isn't possible, however, to find a humorous or light side to 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, or for the future of traditionalists in the American church.
The family gathering
All the prognostications concerning the outcomes of the General Convention, which met in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 30 July to 8 August, came to pass. As has come to be expected from General Convention over the last three decades, there were a ridiculous number of resolutions. One considered accepting the Venezuelan church into the American jurisdiction. Most were matters of irrelevant minutiae and bickering over the placement of semicolons in peace and justice pontifications which no-one will read.
Despite the smiling assurances of the Presiding Bishop and the apparatchiks of episcopaldom that this convention would be a `gathering of the family', a `time of reconciliation', and a safe place for `holy listening' the elephants in the living room were always the consent of Canon Vicki (yes, his first name is Vicki) Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two daughters living in an open homosexual relationship, to be bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and the resolution to authorize the Standing Liturgical Commission to develop rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.
This convention was destined to be about power and politics and not prayer or piety. The lobbying that occurred, the money that was spent, and the deals brokered in smokefilled back rooms would have made the most liberal Labour MP drop his jaw in awe.
A foregone conclusion
As I indicated in last month's piece, the consent of the election of Gene Robinson in the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, which had by Canon Law to occur before a consecration could proceed, was a foregone conclusion. An unexpected situation occurred before the matter came before the bishops for a vote. It was revealed to the press that Robinson had a website for teens and preteens `questioning their sexuality' with links to a pornographic site, and further, a man came forward to say Robinson had inappropriately
`touched' him in the context of a pastoral situation in the past. Both matters, after only a cursory investigation, were determined to be irrelevant to the Canon's election.
The irony here, of course, is that according to sacred Scripture, Robinson, as a man living in a sexual relationship with another man, is continuously inappropriately `touching' his `lover', and it could be argued that his entire lifestyle is pornographic.
All the prognostications
came to pass
Despite dire warnings from Asian and African Primates, faithful American clergy and laity, Anglicans worldwide, and Rowan Cantuar of the consequences of Robinson's consent to the unity of the Communion, ecumenical relations, and the long-term health and growth of the American church, it was granted with ease. It seems the numerous telegrams warning of icebergs never made it to the bridge of the Titanic, or were ignored by the watch officers if they did.
As expected, Robinson's election was greeted with hand-wringing and tears by traditionalists, and with wild applause and smiles by revisionists. General Convention had arrogantly and unilaterally rejected 4,000 years of Judaeo-Christian moral teaching, thumbed its nose at Holy Scripture and tradition, closed its eyes to the sociological evidence against homosexuality, and judged itself wiser than its Lord. Having done enough damage canonically, the issue of creating rites for blessing same-sex unions was watered down and left to individual dioceses to decide. (In fact, the issue has been one of so-called local option for at least a decade anyway)
For clarity, Frank Griswold voted for Robinson's consent. In a press conference following the vote a reporter asked the Presiding Bishop if the Canon would've received consent had he been living in a sexual relationship outside of marriage with a woman instead of with a man. Frank was clearly not expecting the question. After some obfuscating and a painfully awkward pregnant pause he mumbled "no" into the microphone.
Following Robinson's consent in the HOB, around 20 diocesan bishops, led by Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh, read a statement repudiating the election, and called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Primates to intervene in this crisis in
the American church. Surprisingly (at least to me), every one of these bishops made clear that he was not leaving the Episcopal Church. I was left wondering whether there is anything General Convention could enact which would cause the traditionalist bishops to leave the Church, and warn others for their souls' salvation to leave.
The traditionalists' rhetoric about threatening to stay and not threatening to leave, and living in impaired communion, are meaningless. The orthodox threat to stay or to live in impaired communion never translated into any action for God's kingdom, and only provided pathetic excuses for priests and bishops to fatten their pension fund accounts.
Many of the laity seem to be rising up in protest. The Sunday following the election many traditionalists boycotted their local parish church and worshipped elsewhere or stayed home to read the paper. Others wore black arm bands signifying the death of ECUSA. Some churches - possibly including mine - are taking the word `Episcopal' off the sign and church letterhead, the name now having become a millstone and a barrier to evangelism.
The Episcopal Church is institutionally dead and has been for some time. The 74th triennial General Convention simply took the body off life support. The only way forward, it seems to me, is for the churches of the Continuum to band together, and for the foreign Primates to organize them and the faithful yet in ECUSA into another, orthodox jurisdiction. This is the last and only hope.
This is a frenetic and confusing time. The metaphor that is helping me make sense of all this is that of a plane circling the field until the pilot receives landing instructions. As for me, I am running low on petrol. The Primates must act decisively and quickly.
`Besides that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play? 'I don't know. I wasn't watching. I was planning the funeral.'
The Rev. Quintin Morrow is Rector of St Andrew's Church, Fort Worth, Texas.
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