21 March 2007

Bishops reject Primatial Vicar scheme

The House of Bishops have issed a statement in which they reject the pastoral scheme proposed by the primates. This scheme, which would have had a Primatial Vicar possibly accountable to our primate, and certainly accountable to an outside group of primates, was intended to provide some breathing room for those inside ECUSA who reject Bishop Katharine as primate.

The reasons the bishops cite in rejecting this scheme are worth quoting in full:

With great hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates' Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.

First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.

Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.

Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.

Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.

Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.

At the same time, we understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.

I must confess I'm surprised by their conclusion and their boldness in saying it. As I've written elsewhere on this blog, I am passionately committed to an inclusive church and I hope for an inclusive communion. I pray and hope that ECUSA will remain as a full member of the Anglican Communion, so that we might witness to the world and so that the world might witness to us. That said, the cost of communion must not be borne solely by our GLBT members, and we must not support a fundamental alteration of the character of the Anglican Communion itself.

I applaud the bishops, and I am proud to be part of a church in which our episcopal leaders have stood up for Gospel values. No doubt the blogosphere will be seething with commentary and rants soon, and I will post interesting links here. I anticipate some mulling and further reflections, and I'll have more to say.

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