Bishops explore theme of 'inhabiting reconciliation' at Cleveland meeting

October 7, 2002

Continuing a process that began when they met in Vermont just days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the House of Bishops, at its interim meeting in Cleveland September 26-October 1, explored a model for reconciliation even as tensions over collegiality and canonical authority bubbled under the surface.

Using the small group model that has, over the years, strengthened the collegiality of the house, the bishops also drew on their chaplains to 'inhabit reconciliation.' Introducing the model for theological reflection was the Rev. Mark McIntosh from the Diocese of Chicago. 'What does reconciliation look like when I see it in terms of God's love?' he asked the bishops, walking them through the steps of the process that began with identifying a subject for reflection, moving to engaging 'the light of Scripture...and the Tradition' as a group. He then invited each bishop to engage 'the light of prayer for discernment' as an individual before returning to the group to discuss living out theology in public life.

In the afternoon session, the Rev. Michael Battle of Duke University in North Carolina modeled the theological reflection process on the theme of 'reconciliation and repentance,' wondering how a theological reflection on those themes might 'offer a meaningful approach, not just for current contentious issues such as the war on terrorism, sexuality, racism, and church authority, but for the constant and ongoing crises for the church and the world.' He asked, 'How might we practice reconciliation and repentance in a way that anticipates the conflict of the future and learns from the mistakes of the past?'

Respecting one another's urgencies

The bishops were soon to get the chance in a very concrete way. 'One person's elephant can very easily be someone else's mouse,' said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, opening the second day's session. With a reminder to the bishops to 'respect one another's urgencies' but to retain a sense of proportion with regard to them, he called Pennsylvania bishop Charles Bennison and Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan to the podium to speak to 'the facts' regarding Bennison's deposition of a traditionalist priest, the Rev. David Moyer, whom Duncan then invited to take up canonical residence in his diocese.

Bennison expressed gratitude to Griswold for his efforts at reconciliation, but said he 'had no choice but to depose [Moyer] according to the canons.' He apologized for 'any way in which this has undermined' the ministries of other bishops, the church, or the Anglican Communion, but refuted a statement by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey that he was 'unwilling to consult' with Carey or other bishops on the situation. After repeated attempts to contact Carey at his Lambeth Palace offices, he said that he felt 'undercut' by comments which have been 'contrary to the effort I undertook.'

Duncan began by admitting that he had 'purposely occasioned a constitutional crisis among us' to open a discussion about 'limiting episcopal power' and make known his objection to Moyer's deposition under Canon 10, which does not require a trial. 'I regret the chaos' this has caused and am 'willing to accept the discipline of this house,' Duncan added, but 'my abiding goal is our common good.' The action put Moyer in an 'anomalous situation' of being recognized as a priest in many dioceses of the Episcopal Church, but not in Pennsylvania, Duncan said, and made Bennison an offer of his own. 'Name me assisting bishop of Pennsylvania, I'll name you assisting bishop of Pittsburgh. You can deal with my difficult congregations and I'll deal with yours,' he declared.

Of one heart?

'They may not have been of one mind but they were of one heart,' commented Bishop Clifton Daniel III of East Carolina on the presentations by Bennison and Duncan.

After a brief period of questions and answers, Griswold turned to the theme of the session--appropriately enough titled 'Power, Influence and Authority.' He reminded the bishops that 'our authority is that of Christ's work in us,' to 'make incarnate the life-givingness of God.' But in Jesus' case, that process often ran counter to the needs of a religious establishment which is grounded in power and what he called the 'dynamic of law and domination.'

Such tensions exist within the community of the modern Episcopal Church as well, Griswold said, a 'dynamic of law and domination in which the canons overwhelm compassion...At its best, canon law affirms what is already reality. But law does not create the church and I think some of us need to be reminded of that. We have the freedom to choose the way of life-givingness and no canon can do it for us.'

Being a community of reconciliation is a lifelong process because of sin, Griswold went on, and the closer a community gets to the goal the more 'the Evil One lurks close by to disturb our reconciliation.' 'We must engage in dying to singularities and the need to win,' he told the bishops pointedly. 'What makes division painful is that we have begun to live into the community of reconciliation' and have 'increased expectations of mutuality, which makes conflict that much harder to bear.' Before the bishops moved back into their groups, he also warned of the sometimes unconscious pressures of 'bearing concerns that are not our own.'

Frustrations surface in resolution

Frustrations about recent actions by Bennison and Duncan, as well as the bishops of Kansas and Delaware, surfaced in the form of a strong 'mind of the house' resolution that would have chastised those colleagues for 'inappropriate behavior' that threatens the unity of the church

The original resolution asked the House of Bishops to express its 'disappointment' with the bishop and leadership of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in its failure to resolve issues surrounding the deposition--and it also pointed to what it called 'extra-canonical action' taken by the bishop of Pittsburgh in offering the deposed rector a position.

The proposed resolution also lamented the decisions in the Dioceses of Kansas and Delaware that 'went beyond the consensus achieved by the General Convention Resolution D039 when they formally authorized the blessing of same-sex unions.'

After a long, lively and occasionally confusing debate, the bishops unanimously adopted an amended resolution that removed the specific references to colleagues and asked the house's committee on pastoral development to prepare for the spring meeting a suggestion on how to deal with 'breaches of collegiality' among the bishops. The bishops are looking for a way to 'support one another in waging reconciliation within the Body of Christ and to enhance wider consultation and our role as guardians of the faith, unity and discipline of the church.'

During the debate bishops objected to the tone and use of language in the proposed resolution. Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem said the resolution did not reflect the spirit of reconciliation that members of the house were seeking because it created a situation of 'winners and losers.' Ohers were clear that legislation would not solve the underlying issues. 'Votes close off conversation,' argued Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis, 'creating victors and victims.' In the end, Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland, who introduced the resolution shaped by facilitators of the small groups, said that he was 'comfortable' with the amended resolution because it 'captures the essence of what most groups wanted to say.'

The final resolution retained a sentence that said, 'We believe that the canons, used properly, can be an instrument of grace and a unifying factor in the life of the church. We expect that depositions and other disciplinary actions be recognized by all bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.'

The bishops also endorsed a call from the presiding bishop to consider preparation of a pastoral teaching on reconciliation as a contribution to the General Convention next summer in Minneapolis. Professor Ian Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, who helped shape the reconciliation theme at the Vermont and Ohio meetings, will alter his teaching schedule to assist in preparation of a draft in time for consideration at the spring retreat of bishops.

Questions about war with Iraq

The possibility of war with Iraq was very much on the minds of bishops and they unanimously endorsed a strong statement that was sent to all members of Congress as they began debate on a resolution. President George W. Bush is seeking authorization to use military force if Iraq doesn't submit to inspections.

'We deeply respect the seriousness of your responsibility to protect the lives of our citizens and, with you, we condemn the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his regime,' the letter said. It quickly added, 'Our faith requires us to strive always for justice and peace. We believe that restraint and the on-going commitment to international cooperation are the means toward peace that we all desire.'

In arguing that 'we do not believe that war with Iraq can be justified at this time,' the letter pointed out that Iraq has not attacked the United States, 'our nation has not exhausted all possibilities for a peaceful solution,' nor has it 'sufficiently garnered world support.' The statement also stressed the 'unintended consequences' of war, including 'unacceptable civilian casualties.'

The letter concluded that the bishops 'do not support a decision to go to war without clear and convincing evidence of the need for us to defend ourselves against an imminent attack.'

In their own meeting, 74 spouses of the bishops signed a letter questioning the use of force against Iraq.

Living in reconciled community

In his sermon at Trinity Cathedral on Sunday, Griswold said that the possibility of war raises deep questions of 'what it means to be peacemakers, living as a reconciled community. How does shalom become the truth of what we are--and shall be?'

He said that 'as a nation we are accustomed to waging war,' and facing that possibility with Iraq it is important to ask, 'How are we as a nation called to be an agent of reconciliation? As persons of faith we are called to wage reconciliation...to bring people to the deep place of shalom, that true peace that flows like a river from the heart of God.'

Noting that how people speak to one another also shapes the response, Griswold decried the 'harsh language' being used by the US government over the Iraq issue. 'We must embody reconciliation, becoming the thing we preach...because we are called to the costly and on-going work of reconciliation,' he said.

While that doesn't mean 'being passive in the face of evil, it does recognize that even the enemies of truth have a place in the heart of God.' He also said that Americans 'must ask what it is in us, as a nation, that provokes such strong reaction.'