House of Bishops to discuss same-gender relationships, hold elections

Annual spring Texas gathering a time of reflection, respite
March 15, 2010

A discussion of same-gender relationships will be on the agenda when more than 115 bishops of the Episcopal Church gather March 19-24 for their spring retreat meeting in Camp Allen, Texas.

Bishop Henry Parsley of the Diocese of Alabama, who chairs the House of Bishops' Theology Committee, said two major papers will be presented from the study "Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church."

"One paper represents the church's traditional view and the other a proposal to revise the tradition, and there's a response to each paper," Parsley said in a March 16 telephone interview from his Birmingham office.

"We'll have a discussion of the paper and see what questions it raises and what we can learn from each other and how this kind of theological dialogue can be advanced," Parsley said. "The purpose was to prepare theological papers by academic theologians so they focus on the classical theological approach to the question."

The study was commissioned in 2008 and authored by a diverse group of theologians to represent a wide range of views. Included in that group are:

• Dr. John Goldingay, the David Allan Hubbard professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California;
• Dr. Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary in New York;
• Dr. Willis Jenkins, Margaret A. Farley assistant professor of social ethics, Yale Divinity School;
• The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Kittredge, Ernest J. Villavaso Jr. chair of New Testament and dean of community life at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin;
• The Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand, academic dean and associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania;
• Dr. Eugene Rogers, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro;
• The Rev. Dr. George Sumner, principal and Helliwell professor of world mission, Wycliffe College, Toronto; and
• The Rev. Dr. Daniel Westberg, research professor of ethics and moral theology, Nashotah House, Nashotah, Wisconsin.

Parsley said that Dr. Ellen Charry, associate professor of systematic and historical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and editor of Theology Today, served as editor.

"This is meant to be a contribution to the church's discernment and to the Listening Process going on in the Anglican Communion about these matters," Parsley said. "The group of theologians is intentionally diverse and inclusive. We think all voices are included, in as much as eight people can include all voices."

Parsley had declined to release the names of the study's authors in June 2009, sparking outcry from at least two groups, Integrity USA and the Chicago Consultation.

Parsley said at the time that he wanted to "assure those concerned that the panel very intentionally represents a robust range of views on the subject and includes gay and lesbian persons."

Study results will be available as a church resource later. Parsley said a group of ecumenical and pan-Anglican theologians will also read and comment on the study later in the year.

"It is hoped that by listening carefully to different viewpoints we will all learn and be enlightened and hopefully more respectful of one another," he added.

The discussion is part of the meeting's larger theme, "The Church for the 21st Century," which will focus on opportunities and challenges to today's ministry such as the emergent church movement, the Around One Table report about Episcopal identity, and the Anglican covenant.

Bishops will also have a "welcome time for reflection and prayer and fellowship and quiet, which bishops don't get enough of," from Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, Parsley said.

They will also elect the bishop suffragan for federal ministries and the bishop of Navajoland Area Mission. Additionally, there will be an election to fill a bishop vacancy on the board of General Theological Seminary.

There will be daily worship and, at the concluding Eucharist, the bishops will renew their vows.

Although the annual bishops' spring retreat began as a time to be "less formal and for community building and spiritual renewal, prayer, worship three times a day … this particular meeting sounds busier than some of the others," Parsley said.

He said it was good news to hear that Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin of Haiti will be in attendance. "We are a companion diocese with Haiti and I am longing to see my brother Zaché, for all the difficulties he and our friends have been through," he said.

He added that: "I am sure there will be time for him to speak and for us to give him our love and support."