The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins keeps a weblog at Confessions of a Carioca (and at Moving Diagonally). The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards writes at Bishop Dan. Their respective entries offer very different but equally personal glimpses into the House of Bishops’ Lent meeting for 2015, which concludes March 17.
Bishop Daniel Martins:
My first two meetings of the House of Bishops — spring and fall 2011 — were tightly packed with mostly passive plenary meetings, with little “down” time. I found it stultifying. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, because each one since then has been substantially more relaxed in its pace — aspiring to a retreat-like ambience, and I was very grateful. Now the pendulum seems to be swinging back in the direction of freneticism. It isn’t that anything we’re doing is intrinsically not worthwhile. But it does raise questions about whether we’re being asked to do too many things and whether the things we’re doing are the highest and best use of the aggregate energy, knowledge, and experience assembled in this place. I wish we could walk away from the temptation to have our meetings dominated by themes that are, as it were, “ripped from the headlines,” and which we can generally do little or nothing about, while giving short shrift to concerns that our closer to our actual lives, and over which we indeed to have some influence.
Bishop Dan Edwards:
In the afternoon we saw Traces Of The Trade, a documentary in which the wealthy and powerful De Wolf family, blue-blooded Rhode Island Episcopalians, discovered how their forebears were the largest slave traders in America. It was about how slavery funded the building of wealth in “the Deep North.” The film was informative. The basic point is that we cannot transcend our history by ignoring it. Progress depends on awareness, uncomfortable awareness.
Thereafter we were invited by a couple from the De Wolf family to acknowledge our personal complicity in the history of racism and its current perpetuation. I am of two minds about the afternoon: On the one hand, I absolutely agree that unacknowledged evils in our past are toxic, that they must be irradiated like a tumor with the light of truth, and that awareness is the essential catalyst for change. On the other hand, I felt that we fell into precisely the kind of unproductive self-flagellation that Bishop Wright had said we do in lieu of constructive action.
Back to plenary at 1:30, where we got to some of the hard stuff — the report of the Task Force for the Study of the Theology of Marriage. They have, as you may know, proposed changes to the marriage canons that render them gender-neutral, opening the way to full-on same-sex marriage in the Episcopal Church. My understanding of this issue is no secret. The proposed changes shrink back from the nature of marriage as a social institution that is, in fact, created by God, and is the effective sign of the covenant union between “Christ and the Church” (Ephesian 5:32). We’re playing with fire here.
… My contribution, both in the Indaba and the plenary, was along these lines:
Over recent years and decades, we have dealt with issues around sexuality and marriage primarily politically (legislatively) and liturgically. Now, with this task force, we are beginning to deal with it theologically. This is not in itself a bad thing, but it’s risky, because it will present us with the temptation to be too clear, too precise. As Anglicans, precision in doctrinal formulations has never been our thing. And that lack of precision is precisely what has very often enabled us to stay together through some very serious disagreements. I am able to be in and serve in this church because of that lack of clarity. Even though many of you do things I think are a little crazy, I can always point to the Prayer Book and say, “This is what my church teaches.” But if we opt for excessive clarity at this point in our history, people like me might not have a place left in which to stand. Do not those who want to move the ball down the field in terms of sexuality and marriage already have the tools with which to do that? Might we not perhaps be better served, at this moment, by simply doing nothing? By letting the issue work itself out organically rather than legislatively? Who knows? We may be able to “muddle through” once again. But if we opt for excessive clarity, we are cutting ourselves off from that opportunity.
It’s way too early to predict how any of this will turn out this summer, but I can say that I have had positive comments on my remarks from a broad cross-section of bishops.
The afternoon — I mean the whole afternoon — was devoted to discussion of the report on marriage and the proposed canon revision. We talked about it in table discussion with prescribed questions. We did a long Indaba session. Then we had a plenary session on it. It was intense and draining.
There was no attempt to reach decisions. We did not try to hammer out compromises. There were no deals struck in smoke-filled rooms. The paranoid images of what we do are utterly and completely wrong. Instead, we spoke candidly from the heart even about our own marriages and the strains placed on those relationships by our callings. We spoke of family members who are gay and married and of other family members who are straight and reject marriage as “an archaic institution.” It was all the mix and the muddle of human life, including the feelings of people in the pews.
Now, I don’t want to sound whiny, but I can’t not mention the level to which I was upset by the liturgy itself — ostensibly Rite II from the Prayer Book, but with the text generously emended to exclude masculine pronouns for God, which is the ideological hobgoblin of today’s liturgical elite. I can usually take this somewhat in stride on such occasions — ideologues gonna be ideologues — but I had my own little meltdown when we sang Thomas Ken’s Psalm paraphrase, the concluding verse of which is the ubiquitous ‘Doxology,’ and the text of that verse was altered to exclude “him” in the first three lines, and render the Holy Trinity as “Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit” in the last one. I can tolerate a little ideology, but heresy is a tougher pill to swallow, and any evocation of the Trinity that eschews “Father” and “Son” is most likely just that — heresy. I will probably absent myself from the Eucharist tomorrow and Tuesday. It’s just not a spiritually safe place for me.
Along the way, one of the Bishops I respect most, the poet, Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire, overheard us and said he knew a priest from Macon. It turns out my old friend, the late Fr. John Buchannan (originally from Texarkana, 14 miles from where I grew up), had played a pivotal role in Rob’s vocation when John was a canon at the Cathedral in Paris. No 6 degrees of separation in the Episcopal Church. We are all connected by no more than 3 or 4.
We then had our large group fireside chat, a confidential meeting about whatever is on our hearts and minds. No we do not conspire or make decisions or plot strategies. It’s about the feelings. It’s a pretty personal thing.
Afterward I talked in some depth with a Bishop who is having great success in church growth and congregational development but catching hell from the old guard who miss the days of doom and decline. That is not unusual. I hope I was of some encouragement to my friend. I don’t have his particular set of problems, but talking with him nonetheless sparked me to think of ways I could address our Nevada challenges more creatively.
Follow various bishops’ postings on Twitter at #HOBLent2015.