The Episcopal Church USA finished its triennial convention in Anaheim, Calif., on July 17 with two controversial pieces of legislation regarding gays and lesbians, the substance of which still has many Episcopalians confused. Bishop Ed Konieczny of the Oklahoma Diocese said he voted against one of the pieces of legislation because of vague language that could lead to confusion in the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church USA is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The worldwide church was watching the ECUSA's first convention since the adoption of a controversial rule that requested the American church not elect people "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider Church and will lead to further strains on communion." The verbiage is from B033, a resolution adopted at the triennial convention in 2006, after Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called for restraint from the ECUSA following the consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The two pieces of legislation, D025 and C056, are a statement of the status of the ECUSA in regard to the LGBT community (D025) and a request for a committee to consider and report on the development of liturgical resources at the next convention in 2012 (C056).
Legislation is separated according to the letters A, B, C and D to designate where the legislation originated: A for parishes, B for House of Bishops, C for committees and D for House of Deputies, the governing body made up of lay members and clergy.
Problems understanding the new legislation started within minutes after the close of the session in which D025 was approved. José McLoughlin, the canon to the ordinary in the Oklahoma Diocese, said he sat through the session and believed he understood what had transpired. So, he was surprised to arrive at his hotel room 20 minutes after the session to find CNN running a scroll that the ECUSA was now fully open to gay and lesbian ordination.
"It was one of those situations where people were looking for a certain outcome," McLoughlin said. "Their perspective helps them interpret things the way they want. I was in those meetings, and I certainly don't believe this was a repeal of B033, something that the press was reporting."
Konieczny was one of the bishops who voted against D025, legislation that passed both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops by a two-to-one margin.
"I voted against D025 because it lacked clarity, and I felt it would be misinterpreted in the larger church," Konieczny said in an open letter on the Diocese of Oklahoma Web site. "Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. The press and others have interpreted D025 as repealing B033 and turning our backs on the Anglican Communion."
MORE DESCRIPTIVE THAN PRESCRIPTIVE
According to another posted letter on the Web site from the presiding bishop of the ECUSA, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and president Bonnie Anderson to Archbishop Williams, D025 is descriptive, not prescriptive: "We understand Resolution D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature " a statement that reaffirms commitments already made by The Episcopal Church and that acknowledges certain realities of our common life. Nothing in the Resolution goes beyond what has already been provided under our Constitution and Canons for many years."
D025 reaffirms the ECUSA's commitment to the Anglican Communion; it recognizes the contributions gay and lesbian Christians, both lay and ordained, have made and continue to make to the church; it affirms that many gay and lesbian couples in the church live in faithful, committed, monogamous relationships; it reaffirms that ordination is open to all baptized members according to the constitution and canons; and it recognizes that members of the church disagree "faithfully and conscientiously about issues of human sexuality," according to the letter.
The words "open to all baptized members" have created the most confusion. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, an organization of and for LGBT Episcopalians, said the language "completes the coming out process for the Episcopal Church."
"I wouldn't say that this changes everything," Russell said, "but I would say that D025 may not repeal B033, but it supersedes it."
OPENS THE DOOR
The confusion has been exacerbated by major news outlets, including The New York Times and Religion News Service, reporting that the legislation opens the door to consecration of gay bishops. The headline for the New York Times' coverage on July 14 was telling: "Episcopal Vote Reopens a Door to Gay Bishops."
Konieczny is adamant that this is not what the legislation actually does. Schori's letter to Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, states that this legislation does not overturn B033. Williams' letter of response encouraged the possibility of a two-tier system of Anglicanism so that groups with insurmountable disagreements could still relate to Canterbury and the Anglican Communion.
Williams's two-tier system is meant to avoid a schism in the communion that many members and observers believe is inevitable. Within hours after the ECUSA's decision, bishops around the world, including N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham, England, were accusing the U.S. church of pushing the communion toward schism. Wright even took the added step of accusing the U.S. church of embracing paganism.
Russell said she has been around long enough that talk of schism doesn't usually concern her.
"I'm 55," she said. "Thirty-five years ago, we ordained the first woman. According to the 'Chicken Littles,' that was going to be the big schism. Chicken Little can only say the sky is falling so many times before people stop listening."
Russell pointed out that what the legislation actually does will be left up to how members of the church interpret it, and the trend so far in the U.S. seems to be toward inclusion. In early August, the dioceses of Los Angeles and Minnesota released their candidate lists for new bishops. Both lists included partnered gay and lesbian clergy.
Konieczny also believes that the issue will be decided by what the church actually ends up doing. "There is no question that there are bishops in favor of moving toward full inclusion," he said. "They will see this as license to move that way." "Greg Horton