This "Council" was called by the Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Andrew Waldo. As he explained to all present, the reason for the convention was because of the upcoming General Conventions of the Episcopal church in 2012 and 2015 and what we all expect to come forth from those conventions, which should be some form of endorsed trial liturgies or materials for same sex blessings in 2012 and perhaps some sort of authorized version in 2015. Bishop Waldo identified his fear that "we" might "lose people" as a consequence of the actions of General Convention. Our gathering was intended to help us develop a means to discuss the touchy subject of same sex blessings in a manner that would not result in such a loss. We were divided into groups of 6 per table for small group, "facilitated," reflection on the various "meditations" that Bishop Waldo presented over the 24 hrs of the convention. Ground rules for table discussions included confidentiality and speaking only in the first person singular.
We began, as planned, with reflection on the Introduction to the proposed Anglican Covenant. This discussion did not appear to be intended to come to any theological conclusion on the merits of the Anglican Covenant, but was likely intended to give everyone around the table (especially the facilitator) a glimpse of how your particular group interacted while examining a question. In particular, the question of how you interact with someone who you think is wrong. Bishop Waldo had opened the convention by talking about opposing truths. I think he said something to the effect of "my truth may not be your truth." In our small group, I pointed out the fact that there can be no "my truth" and "your truth," there can be but one Truth. I can't say that there was universal agreement with that truth, but I do think it may have planted a seed in a few minds.
Following the table discussions, an open microphone "plenary" session ensued where the Bishop tried to enforce the ground rules, in particular keeping to "I" statements. Everyone seemed to agree that it was pleasant to discuss things freely. One Priest was especially thankful that there were no "jerks" at his table.
Oh, if only I had the luck of being the other jerk at that table...
On Friday night, after most of those who spoke during the plenary session had finished, Bishop Waldo took up the microphone and expressed his disappointment that one voice seemed to be missing from the session, and that was the conservative voice (Uh..oh.. he went and used a label. Shame on you Andrew). He then proceeded to let the conservatives know that they had nothing "to fear" and that he had hoped this would be a safe place for them to express themselves.
At this point, "I" felt that the Bishop, by using the "fear" word, was baiting his conservative clergy and delegates. If someone had taken the microphone at that point and gone into a tirade, the conservative cause would not have been helped. Andrew must not understand that most who hold a conservative stance on the issue of same sex blessings in the church have no reason to fear, for they are walking with the Lord on this matter. Besides, it was late, and most of us were ready for the real discussions at the Phoenix Literary Society which followed the evening session.
The following day, the train seemed to jump from the track as we deviated from the originally planned reflections on the scriptures when Bishop Waldo began the sessions with his reflection on how he has arrived at his personal position on same sex relationships and blessings. If it had been a secret to anyone that he favors including these things in the life of the church, it should be secret no longer. He cited as his reasons for supporting the full inclusion of the LGBTs and the blessings of their pairings, personal experience, the "shellfish argument," his understanding of the scientific/genetic argument, the idea of "sexual orientation," and the "oppression" argument.
None of these are new to those of us who have been studying the issues, but for many lay delegates, who for years have been told that we are mission oriented and not issue driven, delegates who have not done the theological reflection and study needed to make a decision but instead are using their hearts for guidance, the favorable judgement of the Bishop regarding these arguments carries great weight. For many, once the Bishop has given his sweet, loving, soft spoken reasons, the issue is settled and there really is no need to do the hard work of Christian formation which, in my case leads to the conclusion that Bishop Waldo is an enaging but false teacher. I know that name calling was not allowed yesterday, but he is what he is.
Then the bishop threw in a little caveat, that he "might be wrong."
Arrghh...as if this attempt at sounding like a "moderate" is at all helpful.
What kind of shepherd is this who selects his green pasture, explains to his flock that this is where he wants to go, but then flusters and tells them that that he could be wrong? Here is a truth: Our Bishop is no Moses.
After the table "reflections" another open mike plenary session allowed people to get up and express their feelings, and that was pretty much what we got, feelings. It appears that the liberal mind is convinced that the "love thy neighbor as thyself" commandment means that since personal happiness in fulfilling your "sexual identity" is a sign of the Holy Spirit in action, that to "deny" others the all important self actualization attained by living in a committed homosexual union blessed by the Church would be to break Jesus' commandments.
It would take more than a few open mike speakers and more than the few minutes alloted to straighten this bunch out.
In the afternoon meditation, Bishop Waldo began by stating that people had misinterpreted his earlier comments. He now claimed that he believes that the burden of proof for going ahead with same sex blessings in the Church lies with those who favor such blessings. To top it off, he firmly stated that he has not seen any convincing theology to support same sex blessings.
Somebody got to him during lunch.
In any case, he had earlier stated that he had already formed his personal opinion on the need for full inclusion of the LGBTs and for same sex blessings. I suppose this leader of the church does not base his personal direction on solid theological work.
Then he should shut up until he has done the work!
The convention muddled on after our Bishop's backtracking.
During the plenary discussions, we did hear at least two calm, concerned conservative voices at the microphones. No one threatened to leave...except one liberal priest. That was the priest who I described earlier as thankful that no "jerks" were at his table. This particular priest stood at the microphone and told of his 17 year commitment to the cause of same sex unions, and that he has sworn an oath to renounce his orders if these blessings were not approved in his church.
Hope springs eternal.
To give you a little flavor of the high theology that was discussed at the First Theological Council of Upper South Carolina, I will throw in two choice quotes.
1. "We have to take into account past, present, and future sexualities." (From a certain table discussion).
2. "The continuum is pretty much continuous around the room" - Bishop Waldo.
A couple of take home points:
First, people will leave the church over the next several years as these things progress (remember that church time and regular time are two very different things, church time tends to run a lot slower than regular time). We should not worry that "we will lose people." I am not worried about those that seek God elsewhere because of the actions of the Episcopal church for they are truly children of God.
The second and probably most the important thing I took home from this convention is that our Bishop, the shepherd's shepherd, has placed the desires of his heart above the Word of God, and that this Bishop wants to see same sex blessings happen in spite of the Word. The fact that he has not done his theological work and cannot provide solid theological evidence behind his personal decision, but goes ahead and pronounces his opinion, wearing the vestments of his office while presiding over a convention of the church, tells me that he is leading his flock astray.
He is a false teacher, and as such, he must be rebuked.
Article XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church.Bishop Waldo, I rebuke thee!
It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever,
through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
Acts 2:40 "He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'"