I’ve been conducting an informal survey here on the East Coast and among friends and colleagues around the world, asking, “What have you heard about General Convention?” I was there and can tell you quickly what I thought.
We are a different church than we were three years ago (in a good way). The Millenium Development Goals excited the convention, not as an alternative to dealing with sexuality, but as a campaign that is the gospel in action. We committed to do something concrete in every diocese to work towards accomplishing the MDGs in this triennium. The budget was altered to account for that commitment. This was an empowered convention.
The presiding bishop has led the way these past three years with his simple, courageous and straightforward message that we must respect the polity of our church. Our process, he has said, must be respected.
Yet it was, in fact, disrespected. The very process that has been celebrated and affirmed in the past three years, the process that created the space for Bishop [Gene] Robinson’s consent, the process that allows debate about LGBT-ness [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered-ness] to continue, the process that helped to create this year’s House of Deputies with its honest and diverse voice, that process was compromised on the last day of convention.
The resolution brought from the House of Bishops to the deputies on the last day to “not consent to the election of a bishop whose manner of life presents a challenge to the rest of the communion” already has made us a more suspicious body internally. Let’s hope that for the price of increased distrust and strain among ourselves, some small crumb is offered from Lambeth.
Of course, it is easy to defend process when it comes out in our favor. When I have asked my questions this summer -- What did you hear about convention, what did the church say to you, what did the church say to the world? -- I have been surprised that only people who are very involved in their parishes are even aware of the scandal of the final day of GC 2006. What most of the people I’ve talked to remember is that a woman was elected presiding bishop and that the Episcopal Church keeps pushing the envelope.
Can you believe it? I suspect if you are a reader of Episcopal Life, you are one of the very involved people. You might have read the blogs or Christianity Today, The Living Church or The Witness and have an inkling of the inner workings and feelings of your friends who were there.
What I have heard is that many people are aware only that we did a good thing. Not knowing who Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is, how a bishop or presiding bishop is elected or what Episcopal is, folks seem to define us as a church that is walking away from cultural prejudices.
In a public moment in which the Vatican is trying its best to restrict the use of contraception, religious extremism is the face of increasing violence around the world, the Republican Party throws around Christian language recklessly to defend hate and the Democrats quote Scripture awkwardly to claim faith, the Episcopal Church seems to some a compassionate and sensible religious voice.
A recent poll by the Center for American Progress titled Faith, Values and the Common Good reported that only four percent polled cited “abortion or homosexuality” as “the most serious moral crisis in America today.” Senator John Danforth said much the same at convention.
These are the issues used to bring out the worst of who we are. They are used to divide and provoke. These issues are not the primary concern of the U.S. population, yet we must face them. We must become comfortable talking about them so that we cannot be manipulated by those who come to the table with their own agendas.
In the same study, 89 percent of registered voters polled agreed or strongly agreed that government should uphold basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America.
The common prayer of the Episcopal Church is in synch with 89 percent of the American public! We don’t even have to translate our Good News. Open the doors and dust of those front pews.
To respond to this column, write to Episcopal Life or e-mail email@example.com.