Dallas: Bishop Stanton Writes His Diocese about General Convention
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, from July 4-12 in Indianapolis, has now concluded. I cannot report on the full range of actions taken by this Convention. Here, I will devote my comments primarily to one such action.
By now, you will know from widespread press reports that the General Convention has authorized rites for the blessing of committed same-sex relationships. For many Episcopalians, this action will come as no surprise. Some within our Diocese will celebrate this action. Some will be angry or disappointed. Some will simply walk away from our churches. This division seems to be the outcome of every General Convention in recent years.
For the record, you should know that your Bishops voted no on the relevant resolution, as did your entire Deputation.
The Convention authorized the new rite for “provisional use.” Exactly what a “provisional use” rite is is unclear: there is no provision if you will for such an authorization in either the Constitution or Canons of this Church. Manifestly, it is a temporary rite, and the resolution anticipates “further development,” study and comment on it.
The use of this rite, according to the resolution, must be “under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.”
In addition, the resolution specifically cites the Canon applying to clergy concerning marriage (I.18.4), namely “’It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to’ preside at any rite defined in the resource”. And the resolution adds the following clause:
Resolved, That this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality, and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships.
There are a number of problems with this “provisional” rite. Bishop Lambert and I both contributed to and signed what has become known as the Indianapolis Statement by 10 Bishops dissenting to this action. I commend that fuller statement to you all in the article immediately below.
But I want to single out two considerations in my own words that lead me to a conclusion I will draw momentarily.
My first consideration is theological: Is this rite true? When I or any member of the clergy bless anyone, we use the form, “I bless you in the Name of God.” This is what may be called performative language: it performs the action that the words imply. We do not say, “I pray for,” or “I wish,” or “I think that” ... God will do so and so. We are only authorized, however, to bless what God, in fact, blesses. And when we use these words, we had better have a clear warrant from Scripture or the theological tradition of the Church to back us up. No individual is competent to decide what God blesses, and no congregation or denomination is competent to do so either. Otherwise, we are merely guessing at best, and misleading people at worst.
My second consideration is closely related to the first: is it really pastoral? How may we give to people the assurance, the comfort and the strength of God’s blessing without the warrant of Scripture or the great Tradition, or even the agreement of our closest brothers and sisters in the Communion to which we maintain we belong? Indeed, how can we do so given the “theological diversity of this church” itself in “matters of human sexuality”? This seems to me to be an incoherent act. A pastoral blessing must rest on a more solid foundation than this. Furthermore, I must point to the “provisional” character of this blessing rite: I must ask our brothers and sisters in Christ who seek this rite if they are really satisfied with a “provisional” blessing? What happens if, or when, this rite is modified, or perhaps even rescinded? What General Convention gives, it can also take away! What kind of blessing is it that is subject merely to majority human vote?
Given these two considerations, my conclusion is predictable: I cannot give direction or permission for the use of the rite in this Diocese. I trust that this conclusion will not be understood to be either capricious or stubborn. The theological and pastoral stakes here are very great indeed. A bishop is ordained to “guard the faith, unity and discipline” of the Church. Given the teaching of Scripture, the Tradition as set forth in our own Book of Common Prayer, the witness of our Communion, and my own theological and pastoral concerns, I find no other alternative.
Of course, this one resolution was not the only matter discussed at this General Convention. As a matter of fact, we worked through some 459 pieces of legislation, in one way or another, through all eight days. Although it did not receive nearly as much attention, either in the press or in legislative meetings, one of our major concerns was evangelism and the state of our Church. Given both shrinking numbers of members, attendance and dollars, the General Convention authorized several new initiatives in reaching out in mission and ministry. Many of these initiatives are already part of our common life in this Diocese. We welcome a wider engagement in the proclaiming of Jesus as Lord, and the making of his disciples.
We also began a Task Force to study and recommend new directions for and restructuring of the Episcopal Church. What will come of this is anyone’s guess. But both the need for some renewal and the promise of such was energizing to the Convention and felt at all levels.
Where do we stand now after July 12? I answer that we stand where we did on July 3. Our God-given mission remains the same. Our churches welcome all people into our fellowship, proclaim God’s Word, form disciples, strengthen our people for service and ministry, nurture one another in trust and commitment, and pray for one another and our world. We honor one God: the Father who created us, the risen Jesus who calls and transforms us, and the Spirit who strengthens us for mission and enables us to bear fruit that will last.
When people come to us, they rarely ever ask what our General Convention did. Instead they will ask, “Is God real to these people?” And then they will ask, “Is there a place for me here?” By our worship, our study, and our action together we answer that first question. By our openness and welcome we answer the second. “Welcome one another,” St. Paul wrote, “as Christ has welcomed you.” That is our mission. Now, and always.
The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton
Bishop of Dallas
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