Saturday, October 15, 2011

Injustice and Same Sex Blessings (but not what you think)

And this should surprise no one…

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church will present a rite for blessing of same-sex unions to the 2012 General Convention. This is all well and good, and is an extension of Resolution C056 of the 2009 General Convention, which called for a study on this question. The SCLM will present a rite for three-year trial use, with, presumably, the rite to be authorized in 2015.

As COD says, well and good. But – and there’s always a but, isn’t there? – COD has two cautions as the Episcopal Church moves forward towards the inexorable approval of same sex blessings (As Theodore Parker said, not Martin Luther King, who cited Parker in his paraphrase, despite what the memorial in Washington says, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”). But before that, a disclaimer:

COD thinks the church should get out of the “marriage” business altogether, cease to be agents of the state, couples, whether same sex or opposite sex, should be permitted to be married according to civil law, and the church should provide blessings for those civil unions. But, as COD tells his students, getting the church out of being agents of the state is a good reason to get out of the marrying business. Unfortunately in reality there are 300 reasons to stay in the marrying business (picture a $ in front of that 3).

And COD is a firm supporter for blessing committed, monogamous same sex unions and committed, monogamous, heterosexual unions. It was in 1995 that I sat down with my first same sex couple and sketched out what a commitment ceremony might look like. COD served as liturgical assistant to same sex blessings in the 1990s at the Episcopal Church he attended, and, as COD once said in a job interview when asked when his support for same sex blessings began, replied, “I don’t ever recall a time in the Episcopal Church when I did not support or participate in same sex blessings, and I became an Episcopalian in 1991.”

OK, back to the but.

COD is profoundly troubled that the work on same sex blessings was more or less funded by a grant given through the Church Divinity School of the Pacific but essentially to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and music, whose chair, Ruth Meyers, is professor of liturgy at CDSP. Standing Commissions of General Convention, as COD knows from ten years on denominational staff, are just that: Commissions of Convention which meet in between the Conventions and draft legislation, follow up on resolutions, and monitor the area that they are charged with monitoring. COD served as staff liaison to one of the Commissions for nearly ten years. They are not program entities; that is the work of the Presiding Bishop’s staff various other persons employed in mission departments of the DFMS. COD constantly had to walk that tightrope as liaison. The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations was not my boss when I was ecumenical officer, the Presiding Bishop was. However the PB's office and Commission shared different aspects of a common commitment to ecumenical work. The Commissions have modest budgets, and are almost exclusively for meetings of the group, and not for new initiatives or programs. COD finds it disturbing that a grant was given to essentially a legislative body which perhaps might have been done in conjunction with a liturgical officer (oh wait, we haphazardly laid off staff in 2009 without a strategic plan), and furthermore a grant given by an outside body to fund this work.

Think about this again: Rites authorized for use in the Episcopal Church are written up in resolution form and the text considered and debated by a legislative body.

Thus an outside organization gave money to a legislative body to assist in drafting legislation for the Episcopal Church.

Good Lord, could you imagine if the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative religious think tank, had given money to the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to support curriculum which advocated for Islam as a religion of terror? Or if the lobbying group for trial lawyers had given a grant to help in the revision of Title IV, the disciplinary code of the Episcopal Church, to the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons? If the American Jewish Committee gave a grant to the Office of Governmental Relations, which oversees lobbying on behalf of the Episcopal Church in Washington, DC? In an era when many decry the influence of outside money, from the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court to the Koch Brothers or Scaife families supporting conservative causes, allowing outside money to fund the writing of legislation for the Episcopal Church could have a tremendous law of unintended consequences. Simply because the grant was for something COD enthusiastically and wholeheartedly supports does not make it OK.

Not to mention it is wholly unfair: “popular” causes in the church which attract financial support from outside groups apparently may be funded, outside of the budgetary procedures of the church, while equally important work which is not as appealing – say, COD’s old area of responsibility, ecumenism and interreligious relations – is left to scrabble and get by on whatever General Convention can provide for it. Should various departments of the church adapt their goals to make themselves more appealing to outside grants?

Matters of importance for the church should be funded through the proper appropriations process, and through the proper channels. Outside funding underwriting the work of the SCLM is bad precedent and courts the boundaries of inequity and injustice.

It is also troubling ecclesiologically: one of the main chunks of money the SCLM spent was to bring together deputies --specifically deputies -- from each diocese to a meeting to get an update on the SCLM’s work and to consider its progress at that point in the triennium. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, hailed this as an historic occasion when the HOD first met in between meetings of Convention.

The dog that is not barking here seems obvious to COD. The House of Bishops meets regularly, in between meetings of General Convention. Is hailing this historic meeting of the HOD somehow meant to imply that they should meet regularly outside of Convention?

If so, what are Standing Commission for in the first place? Comprised of equal numbers bishops, lay persons, and clergy, are they not supposed to be the bodies that see to the work of Convention in between Conventions? What is the purpose of Executive Council, also a representative body of clergy, lay persons, and bishops, which meets THREE times per year in between General Conventions, and which also has subcommittees devoted to particular areas of mission and ministry? We don't need more meetings of the HOB and HOD. If anything we need fewer. We need either to empower interim bodies or scrap them if we are not to empower them.

Further proof to COD that we need a complete, total, and thorough overhaul of the polity of the Episcopal Church. Polity development over 200 years by hundreds of incremental incidences has left us in an inchoate ecclesiological morass.

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