We have just completed the Tuesday morning session of the House of Deputies, which convened after legislative committee meetings at 7:30 a.m. As scripture described the progress of the disciples' boat on the stormy sea, we "are making headway painfully."
That is not to say that we are making progress out of pain or conflict, but the simple fact that more than 800 members of the House of Deputies -- each with the right to speak, raise points of personal privilege, offer amendments or motions -- makes for glacier-like progress. While I find the process stimulating and intriguing, time does seem to move slowly.
No doubt you have seen press reports on the movement of D-025, the resolution approved by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops (in slightly different forms) seeking to clarify the church's position on issues of human sexuality and ordination. The resolution has passed both houses by wide margins, but now comes back to the deputies for consideration of the amendment made by the House of Bishops. The latest version of the resolution text may be found here: http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=986&type=Current
There is some historic consistency, at least from my perspective, in how this resolution is being described. In the 2000 General Convention, held in Denver, a resolution passed both houses seeking to describe the church's understanding of human sexuality and relationships at that time. That resolution, D-039, may be found here: http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=2000-D039
While that resolution prompted serious discussion and debate, in the end it passed the House of Deputies with a voice vote. There were very few dissenting voices. It was very clear, according to the resolution's proponents, that D-039 did not authorize blessing of same sex unions. It also seemed to be clear that very few objected to its final passage in the House of Deputies.
Afterwards, the chair of the legislative committee that cleared the resolution was quoted as saying, yes, the resolution does clear the way for same sex blessings. And at the same time, conservatives howled their objections to the resolution, indicating that it was utter apostasy. The contrast between the original discussion, the content of the resolution, and the interpretation after-the-fact was astounding.
When the current resolution (D-025) came up for consideration, a question was posed from the floor: "Does this resolution repeal D-033?" D-033, of course, was the resolution passed in 2006 that promised restraint by Bishops and Standing Committees when considering candidates for Bishop whose "manner of life" might be problematic for the wider church.
The response to the question regarding repeal of B-033 was ambivalent and unclear. I did not see D-025 as a repudiation of B-033, but instead as an honest reflection of the "raging ambivalence" of the Episcopal Church on these complex and controversial issues. I thought it captured "the mind of the house."
However, since the passage of B-025 by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, I have been amazed at how the meaning of the resolution has been construed. The New York Times this morning saw it as repeal of B-033 (that story may be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/us/15episcopal.html?_r=1&ref=us) and similar reports have issued from in-house convention organs, such as Convention Daily (the story about the deputies' action from that publication may be found here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/Daily06_071309.pdf see page three of the publication).
While I believe that many in the House of Deputies saw their votes as a repudiation of B-033, many others saw the resolution of an honest, frank and well-worded description of the ambivalence of the church on these matters. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose that is true, too, of the meaning of General Convention resolutions.
The House of Deputies received word this morning that the House of Bishops had amended D-025 and was sending it back to the committee (World Mission) for clearance of the amendments. It was assumed that would be a brief stop before the resolution was returned to the House of Deputies for what would likely be final approval. This slight delay seemed to cause the deputies great consternation. Motions were made for it to be brought to the house floor as quickly as possible and to move it ahead of other legislation, much of which has been on the calendar for days.
It struck me as odd, this anxious reaction. By the hastened effort to bring D-025 to the floor, we were seeming to say, "This particular resolution is more important than anything else this convention has to consider."
I agree D-025 is very important. It deals with a matter that is of much concern to many. Yet, I would note that the Episcopal Church faces huge challenges -- funding shortfalls on all levels, declines in membership, an aging church membership, lethargy in starting new congregations, connecting with different age and ethnic groups, among others. Why are we not facing these issues with the same urgency?
I would commend to your reading the State of the Church report (which was prepared by a committee including the Reverend Chip Davis and Canon Kathryn Weathersby McCormick): http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/BlueBook-HODCSC.pdf It describes fully many of the challenges we face as a church.
The Presiding Bishop has been guiding us toward focusing on mission. I hope and pray that we will soon be liberated from the grip of ancillary issues that have distracted us for too long. I do not contend that these ancillary issues are unimportant, but they are side issues. I just hope that we are soon able to get to the heart of Christian mission and ministry -- facing squarely the challenges before the church. There are serious institutional and systemic issues which we must confront in order for Christ's mission to thrive in this body.
As I write this, we are back in session for the Tuesday afternoon session. We have just taken a vote on whether or not to concur in the House of Bishop's amendments to D-025. The vote was "by orders" (which means that clergy vote as a group and lay deputies vote as a group) and we have not received the final results just yet.
Many Mississippians and ex-patriate Mississippians will gather tonight for the triennial Mississippi Night Dinner. I am told that there will be 55 of us at the Anaheim White House tonight -- including seven Bishops. It is always a good get-together of old friends.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Linda Nelson's presence here at convention. The dear friend and former Mississippian has been with us as chaplain to the deputation for the last two conventions. She is facilitating our deputation luncheons, as we meet to discuss our ideas, thoughts and reflections on daily developments.
We have also heard the sad news of the death of Eleanor Failing of Indianola, a much-beloved lay leader in the diocese. She was delightful, generous and wise presence both in her congregation and in the diocese as a whole. Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord: And let light perpetual shine upon her.
Please keep this convention in your prayers.