Some Good Sense from an Unexpected Source

Kudos to Bishops Benhase of Georgia and McConnell of Pittsburgh for their article, “A More Excellent Way,” and kudos to The Living Church for publishing it as a lead essay in their most recent edition.

Kudos to Bishops Benhase of Georgia and McConnell of Pittsburgh for their article, “A More Excellent Way,” and kudos to The Living Church for publishing it as a lead essay in their most recent edition. It is rare (in this Curmudgeon’s recent experience, that is) to see two Episcopal bishops who are not members of Communion Partners speak with such clarity about the crisis that is unfolding as the General Convention at Salt Lake City draws near.

 

Their topic is the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage and of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music — specifically, Resolutions 2015-A036 and 2015-A054, whose theological and canonical fallacies I discussed in this post (Part I), this post (Part II), and in this post (Part III). In addition, they take on the SCLM’s proposed Resolution 2015-A066, which I have been reserving for later comment, but which might as well be discussed now.

 

They begin with a rather surprising observation (as ones who have not exactly been distant from the events to which they refer):

 

St. Paul chastised the church in Corinth for failing to live in peace and concord as Christ’s body. The Corinthians had hauled one another before Caesar’s courts (1 Cor. 6:1-8) and split into warring factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17). For too much of the past generation, we have been like the Corinthians. Our Lord, however, has shown us a “more excellent way,” and we are called to take it up afresh (1 Cor. 12:31). In what follows, we provide a few suggestions for how we might embody this way at General Convention.

 

In taking up the report of the Task Force, they first observe that the group generated their report without any input from, or dialogue with, the Church’s Anglican and ecumenical partners — which was a mandate in the original resolution creating the Task Force. They also note, as did I, that the proposed revisions to Canons I.18.2 and I.18.3 will in effect divorce canonical marriage from marriage (“Holy Matrimony”) under the BCP:

 

Resolution A036 proposes that all clergy will henceforth conform to “these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage,” rather than to “the laws of this Church governing Holy Matrimony.” The manifest problem that this revision seeks to get around is that the Episcopal Church will continue to have contrary laws governing Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer, a constitutional document. There are constitutional provisions for revising the prayer book. Perhaps that is the conversation we really need to have, but it is hard to see how a canon that directs clergy to disobey the prayer book might help that discussion.

 

Next, their article takes up the rites proposed by the SCLM, and adds a new wrinkle to the language in that Resolution (A-054). Previous trial rites “authorized” by General Convention (and there is a good constitutional question as to whether General Convention had any authority to do so) had made their use “subject to the permission of the diocesan bishop.” But the new Resolution purports to authorize the rites independently of the diocesan bishop, and to make their use throughout the Church possible “under the direction of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority” (italics added). In other words, the diocesan may not, under this language, completely withhold his permission for the rites, a subtle change which many bishops will see as an infringement upon the prerogatives they enjoy within their own dioceses.

The article also takes up proposed Resolution 2015-A066, a constitutional amendment to authorize (finally) what General Convention has unconstitutionally been doing for years and years, namely, the authorizing of experimental rites on its own, with no intent that they eventual replacements for the rites in the BCP. The points the bishops make are valid, and it is high time that General Convention stopped passing resolutions first and considering their validity only much later, if ever.

The whole article, in other words, is well worth a careful read — especially by those who will be the ones to vote on the resolutions in question.

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