As long as I’ve been an Episcopalian (two decades–Lord, I’m old!), the triennial General Convention has been a source of glee to the mainstream media, who can usually be counted upon to misunderstand its actions and proclaim The Episcopal Church mortally wounded upon its conclusion. This year’s gathering in Anaheim, ended on Friday, was no exception:
The New York Times: “The church’s convention voted not to stand in the way if another gay bishop were elected and to allow for the blessing of same-sex couples.”
The Washington Post: “Anglicans in Northern Virginia were divided yesterday over a decision by the U.S. wing of the church to allow for the ordination of gay bishops.”
Reuters: “The 2 million-member Episcopal Church earlier this week approved a resolution opening the doors to ordain gay men and women as clergy.”
And reliably, the Reverend Pat Robertson (okay, not technically a member of the MSM, but this is too delicious to resist) said: “There will be no tears in my life if the Episcopal Church of America just quietly goes out of business.”
Well, if the press (and the Religious Right) largely got it wrong, what did happen in Anaheim? And what does it mean for The Episcopal Church?
The General Convention adopted dozens of resolutions, including calling for:
- every Episcopalian to “pray, especially in Advent and during the Christmas season, for the wall around Bethlehem and all other barriers to come down.” (A037)
- support for Honduras (B031);
- an end to the blockade with Cuba (A034);
- support for Haiti (A036);
- support for the Church and People of Pakistan (D084);
- reconciliation in Southern Sudan (A033);
- protection of all victims of human trafficking (A167); and
- support for climate change action (D031).
So it wasn’t just all sexuality all the time.
But D025 does not call for the ordination of gay and lesbian people as bishops. It only acknowledges that TEC is not of one mind on the matter—and that many gay and lesbian people are serving in ordained ministry and may enter the process of discernment towards Holy Orders. It states that the call to ministry is a “mystery”–a theological term denoting the inability of humans to completely explain the inexplicable works of the divine nature.
The second controversial action of General Convention was Resolution C056 which called TEC “to acknowledge changing circumstances” that call forth a renewed pastoral response from the church for considering same-gender blessings. Those changing circumstances include the growing number of states that are recognizing some sort of legal status for same-sex unions, up to and including civil marriages.
The resolution authorizes TEC to create a process for the creation of appropriate liturgical resources to be used pastorally for same-sex couples desiring to live faithfully and openly in the church. Nothing can be adopted before the next General Convention in 2012.
I don’t expect that the MSM can get the fine points of theological debate down—I would bet that the average reporter would define the doctrine of the Trinity in terms that are either tri-theistic or modalistic, neither of which reflect orthodox Christian doctrine. But, truth be told, most Christians understand the Trinity that way too. It’s because it’s a mystery, and not even close to being able to be discerned by humans.
But before they went rushing out to report on something they didn’t understand, one would have expected a little more questioning, a little more nuance, a little more explanation of how TEC got where it is, and why it’s necessary to take further action.
The right-wing of the Anglican Communion is all a-Twitter with dire warnings about the victory of the Devil at Anaheim, along with calls to conservatives to leave TEC and join up with the new Anglican Church in America. 100,000 of the 2.3 million American Episcopalians have already done so.
But I have feeling, that this too, shall pass, and The Episcopal Church can go on with its 220 year-old mission to be an authentic expression of the middle way between Catholic and Protestant Christianity in the United States of America.