Upper South Carolina bishop will appoint same-gender task force

Posted Jul 20, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] Diocese of Upper South Carolina Bishop Andrew Waldo has sent his reflections on the recently concluded 77th General Convention to the diocese. In those reflections, he announced that by the end of August he would appoint a task force “to articulate theologically and practically … the boundaries within which we might live together, including congregations that will have opened their doors to same-sex blessings, and protecting congregations whose conscience demands standing firmly within the tradition.”

The full text of his reflection follows and can also be read here in a version that includes readers’ reactions.

Brothers and Sisters,
The whirlwind of General Convention 2012 ended [July 12] with a flurry of resolutions. As you know by now, this convention passed several resolutions that remain controversial in the Episcopal Church and in Upper South Carolina—discouraging for some, elating for others. The convention also passed a number of important and hopeful resolutions for the restructuring of the church, a budget built around mission, and a call to move the Episcopal Church headquarters to a more central and less expensive location in the country, yet to be determined. To the astonishment of all, the resolution creating an autonomous task force to re-imagine the structure of the Episcopal Church passed unanimously in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. The task force will be comprised of persons not currently embedded in the institution or structures of governance so as to preserve objectivity. Restructuring has only occurred twice before in the history of the Episcopal Church, once in 1834 and again in 1919. There was a deep sense of the Holy Spirit calling us to this task over the coming triennium.

Our conduct of business in the House of Bishops was a profound experience of koinonia — of sharing a deep experience of community in Christ. Disagreement was at times sharp in substance, but graceful and deeply respectful in tone. Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori’s role in creating an often light-hearted and compassionate, but down-to-business atmosphere was an incalculable blessing. Many bishops commented that relationships within the House of Bishops have never been stronger or more collegial, even in the face of strong disagreements on otherwise tense and controversial subjects. We prayed, sang, worked, laughed and debated with a deep sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

As I expected would be the case, and as I noted in my previous blog, the rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships passed in both houses. And as I also have noted previously, I voted “no” for the resolution authorizing this rite, because the theological statement accompanying the resolution leaves too many important questions unanswered.
I ask you to read what follows her — to its end — with care and love, understanding that it is nuanced and partial, and that it comes from the depths of my heart and the ground of my faith.

I am utterly serious when I describe myself as a radical centrist. It means that my very first principle as bishop when it comes to life and change within the community of faith is Jesus’ command to the disciple community to love one another as we have been loved, and to be willing to give up even our very lives for one another (John 15:12-13). To be a disciple is to be disciplined: disciplined in discernment, disciplined in theology, disciplined in action, disciplined in love. In his second letter, Peter writes, “For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.”

My discipline is this: to listen deeply to the challenges and questions of all, from my position in that radical — and, I’m discovering, somewhat dangerous — center. My long-held and still-present desire to move forward on same-sex blessings has been given a new discipline upon listening to the questions of those who object to it and the questions of those who support it. Being the bishop of all requires of me an internal discipline that I am not free to ignore.

To those who object to same-sex blessings, my questions are these, among others:

  • How, exactly, is Christian marriage threatened by the blessing of a relationship between two persons of the same sex?
  • If two persons of the same-sex hold a sacred understanding of their bodies, rooted in St. Paul’s own words about the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit, and they understand and live their lives centered on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord, and hold traditional values around life-long, monogamous relationships, what, exactly, is the danger to Christian faith and marriage? Is it not possible for the church to bless such relationships as it seeks a balance between law and grace that errs on the side of grace, and still upholds the core of our biblical and theological inheritance?
  • Many have said that the sin of homosexuality is in the sexual act itself. How, exactly, is that so, when those same acts are common in heterosexual Christian marriages? A theology of complementarity — that is, the Bible’s description of male-female complementarity — by itself, does not answer this question.

To those who support same-sex blessings, my questions are these, among others:

  • What, precisely, will the Church’s teaching on human sexuality be? How will it be articulated in a way that takes the received biblical and theological tradition into substantive, respectful and “embraced” account, even as it articulates new understandings?
  • If I am a person who believes homosexuality is a sin, why doesn’t the Episcopal Church’s rationale address, precisely, how it might not be a sin? [i.e., the rationale included with General Convention Resolution A049, which addressed same-sex blessings]
  • If marriage between a man and a woman has served as a rich metaphor for the ultimate consummation of the relationship between Christ and his Church at the end of time, why doesn’t the Episcopal Church’s rationale take the time to articulate how same-sex blessings fit in this trajectory of salvation? Why doesn’t it articulate, exactly, how the traditional metaphor can retain its power and substance side-by-side with new understandings?

I use the words “exactly” and “precisely” in my questions because I believe they get at the issue of our discipline and the self-control that sacrificial love for one another within the body of Christ demands: we have to take time to listen to the questions each of us has and the time to think our answer through without foregoing our love or the principles that have shaped us. Christian faith and belief have never been monolithic and the Church catholic has been diverse from the beginning. Unfortunately, the 80-page theological rationale for same-sex blessings does not adequately acknowledge the questions of those in opposition.

I voted “no” at General Convention because these questions ask those who would change the Church’s teachings to respect and respond to the received tradition, not with dismissiveness, but with rigor, discipline, respect and love.

In the course of preparing for convention, I had the opportunity to read an excellent paper prepared by the bishop of the Diocese of Texas the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, for the people of that diocese. Containing a foreword by former Secretary of State, James Baker, Unity in Mission addresses a diocese that has a situation similar to our own: a significant diversity of theological perspectives, a desire to stay together within the Episcopal Church, and a search for a way forward that preserves the integrity of different congregations and perspectives. Of course, the Diocese of Texas is much bigger, having as many members in attendance in individual churches on a given Sunday as we have in the whole Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

I bring this paper to your attention because it develops a theological understanding of unity within the church that also describes how that diocese will shape its common life in light of disagreement. We have the same task in Upper South Carolina.

For those among us who reject same-sex blessings, passage of those blessings and the inclusion of “persons of different gender identity and expression” in the list of persons with non-discriminatory access to holy orders, tensions have been substantively ratcheted up. I spoke against this on the floor of the House of Bishops because of the confusion in church and culture about just what “transgender” and “gender identity” mean. Further, we haven’t even begun a conversion about this in the wider church. I was surprised and dismayed by this vote.

For those among us who are rejoicing in the passage of same-sex blessings and the gender identity resolutions, tensions have been substantively ratcheted up by my “no” vote on both.

Now that General Convention 2012 is over, I will appoint a task force by the end of August to articulate theologically and practically — in much the way Bishop Doyle of Texas has done — the boundaries within which we might live together, including congregations that will have opened their doors to same-sex blessings, and protecting congregations whose conscience demands standing firmly within the tradition. There will be thoughtful, reflective and theologically astute persons on this task force who represent a cross-section of perspectives, from gay and lesbian persons who seek the church’s blessing to persons who support traditional theological understandings of marriage and relationships. The goal will not be to “find the answer.” The goal will be to articulate the boundaries within which we might “walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.” The work will proceed with deliberateness and hope for a way forward in the near future.

The times are tense. Our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina are in deep pain struggling with the decisions of General Convention 2012. Their bishop, Mark Lawrence, and I are in direct conversation with each other as brothers in Christ and treasured colleagues in the House of Bishops. I ask your prayers for Mark and for the Diocese of South Carolina and for me and for this Diocese as we seek to discern God’s will for us, and his challenge to us as his disciples.

In conclusion, a story: My great-great-great-uncle, Francis McNeece Whittle, was assistant bishop of Virginia from 1867-1876, and bishop diocesan from 1876 until his death in 1902. He was zealously Low Church. In response to the rise of what has become known as Anglo-Catholicism, he prosecuted those High Church tendencies relentlessly, believing that candles on altars were blasphemous and that any “Romish” practices and accoutrements had to be banished from the Episcopal Church. Even though a dire disparity, and thus conflict, existed between my great-great-great uncle and his opponents, the catholicity of the Episcopal Church — its depth and breadth of theological diversity — persisted. Low, Broad and High Church congregations flourished side-by-side long afterwards. Christ was worshiped and served in all of them. Mission was engaged and God’s salvation in Jesus Christ was proclaimed. Our discipline, our mission — should you decide to accept it — is no different. And it will take each and every one of us to accomplish it.

Truly, then: “Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can accomplish more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

In Christ, whose love knows no bounds, I remain
The Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina