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Dioceses send resolutions to General Convention

Issues range from human sexuality to the economy

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[Episcopal Life] Six months before General Convention, it is already clear that dioceses want the triennial gathering to tackle a range of issues including same-gender relationships, criteria for consenting to episcopal consecrations, the environment, the economy, financing theological education and liturgical change.

In the run-up to the convention, which will take place July 8-17 in Anaheim, Calif., two issues in the debate over homosexuality have seen the most reaction from diocesan conventions. One involves blessing same-gender relationships, especially in states that grant some legal status to those relationships. The other centers on consenting to the episcopal election of individuals "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion," as stated in Resolution B033 from the 2006 General Convention.

Opposition to B033

Opposition to Resolution B033 remains clear in some dioceses. Then-Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold told a joint meeting of the houses of Bishops and Deputies in the waning hours of the last General Convention that passing the resolution would signal to the rest of the Anglican Communion the "willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose."

In recent interviews with Episcopal Life, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she doesn't think it's helpful to revisit B033.

"It is far more helpful for us to say something significant about where we are in 2009. Conventions have passed resolutions in the past and they have rarely been revisited. New resolutions have been passed that state where the church is at that point," said Jefferts Schori.

"Far more productive, I think, to have the hard conversations involved in claiming our current position and identity," she said.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson told Episcopal Life that she is committed to discussing the resolution in Anaheim, saying that the dynamics around its passage "were such that a full and thorough discussion of B033 was difficult to have."

By the time the convention meets "we will have had three years of reflection time," she said.

"Whether or not the particulars of the discussion are to repeal B033 or to affirm a 'no restrictions' policy for episcopal candidates is not the foundational question," Anderson said. "The foundational question is does the General Convention still support the use of 'restraint when consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose lifestyle poses a challenge to the wider church.'"

Diocesan conventions that have decided to ask General Convention to have that "further conversation and consideration" are taking one of two routes or a combination of those approaches. One route involves having the convention repeal B033. The second involves having the convention pass a resolution affirming that it will not place restrictions on the choice of episcopal candidates that would be in conflict with the church's constitution and canons (church laws).

For instance, the Diocese of Maine, among others, has called on General Convention to repeal or retract B033. In a resolution passed at its October 24-25 convention, the diocese directed its General Convention deputation to propose a resolution that would have the convention "refrain from restricting the field of potential candidates for future episcopates on the basis of gender or sexual orientation and will reject interference from outside the convention that would attempt to affect its parliamentary process or negate the polity of the Episcopal Church."

Among the dioceses yet to have their last pre-Anaheim convention, the Diocese of Newark's delegates agreed on January 31 to send a resolution (resolution 2009-14 available here) asking General Convention to affirm that "standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction are bound only by the rules set forth in the canons when considering consents to the ordination of any candidate to the episcopate."

El Camino Real and Rochester (New York) have passed similar resolutions.

The Newark resolution's explanation contends that B033 "was never intended to be permanent, and it was passed in what has been shown to be a frequently frustrated hope that it would prevent further fractioning of the Anglican Communion."

Kim Byham, a Newark delegate, told Episcopal Life that B033 was meant only as "pre-Lambeth" resolution, referring to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops. "We need to make clear that what was being done was an attempt to negotiate" with those members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion who opposed the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, he said. Those with whom the negotiations might have taken place ignored the attempt, Byham said, because they were intent on going their own way.

Newark's stance and others like it "is very much in keeping with the traditional Episcopal [Church] approach to resolutions at General Conventions," he said, explaining that "it clarifies to the point of nullifying [B033] rather than simply reversing."

The Diocese of Los Angeles took a combined approach. Its resolution, passed in early December, calls on General Convention to "abide by the canons of the Episcopal Church; to respect the responsibility of each diocese to discern prayerfully the will of God in calling leaders; to refrain from restricting the potential field of candidates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation; and thus to retract General Convention 2006 Resolution B033."

Same-gender blessings

The church's stance on blessing same-gender relationships also has received attention. The dioceses of Atlanta, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania), Massachusetts and Vermont are among those that have agreed to forward resolutions to General Convention calling for the development of rites for blessing same-gender relationships. Some of the resolutions would have the General Convention ask for those rites to be ready for consideration by the 77th General Convention, which will meet in 2012 in Indianapolis.

Atlanta's resolution also would have General Convention take into account what it calls "the variety of civil arrangements for such unions available in the regions served by the church." Massachusetts' resolution calls for rites that would be used in secular jurisdictions allowing same-gender marriage.

The Massachusetts resolution also calls on General Convention to amend the two canons referring to marriage to change references to man and woman and husband and wife to "two people" and "spouse." Newark passed a similar resolution.
 
In a related move, the Diocese of El Camino Real (based in Seaside, Calif. about 100 miles south of San Francisco) passed a resolution proposing General Convention call for an examination of "the theological dimensions of Christian marriage, to develop a program for discussion in the dioceses, and to report to the 77th General Convention."

The Diocese of Newark (New Jersey) will also ask (via Resolution 2009-5 available here) the General Convention to urge Congress to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in September 1996.

And Newark's convention also passed Resolution 2009-16 to have the General Convention require the clerical leader of a congregation to record civil unions in the register in which they are already required to note baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials.

Many other issues

The issues of episcopal consents and same-gender relationships are not the only subjects that diocesan conventions have asked and will ask General Convention to consider. For instance, at its Jan. 24 convention, the Diocese of Central Florida suggested that General Convention make three amendments to the proposed revision of the church's disciplinary canons, known as Title IV. The amendments would limit the definition of abandonment of communion, clarify voting procedures when bishops are asked to consent to the proposed deposition of a bishop and give diocesan standing committees a greater role in the possible deposition of clergy.

The economy and the environment are high on the dioceses' lists. Southern Ohio and Los Angeles passed resolutions proposing plans for the Episcopal Church to embark on a mission of securing economic justice for all. In a related effort, Connecticut, Dallas, Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), Newark and Oregon are proposing that the church's Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance provide money in the 2010-2012 triennium "to underwrite the mounting costs of theological education."

Concerning environmental issues, the Diocese of California in October passed two model resolutions for General Convention to consider. One would have the Episcopal Church call on the U.S. government to develop a sense of stewardship in its environmental policies. The other, also directed toward secular government, suggests that the Episcopal Church "urge[s] that policy decisions affecting the health and wellbeing of humans and ecosystems must be based on scientifically evaluated, peer-reviewed data."

Dioceses including Olympia (Washington state) and Oregon will call on General Convention to sign on to the Genesis Covenant, an interfaith commitment to work to halt global climate change.

In addition, the Diocese of Newark will ask General Convention to commend to congregations the idea of celebrating a four-week liturgical season marking the sacredness of creation. The Diocese of New Jersey will consider a similar resolution later this month.

Among other liturgical resolutions, the Diocese of Montana has passed a resolution asking General Convention to develop prayers of thanksgiving for the life of and to observe the loss of a companion animal. A number of dioceses will ask General Convention to dedicate the first Sunday in Lent as Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday as a way to encourage Episcopalians to support ERD through prayer and giving.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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Resolution Facts

Resolutions from dioceses and provinces (designated as C resolutions) are among the four types of General Convention resolutions, all of which can be filed up until 5 p.m. on the second legislative day of the convention (July 19 in the case of the Anaheim gathering). The other resolutions include ones from bishops (B resolutions), deputies (D resolutions), and A resolutions arising from the work of committees, commissions, agencies and boards (CCABs) during the previous triennium.

Those latter resolutions are proposed in the reports of those groups which are published in what is known as the Blue Book and issued usually in the April preceding the convention. It is rare for additional A resolutions to come to the Convention as late as the second-legislative-day deadline but it is rare, according to the Rev. Dr. Gregory Straub, the church's executive officer and secretary of General Convention.

Resolutions often duplicate each other. Similar diocesan and provincial resolutions are sent to the appropriate legislative committee during convention, Straub said. The committee can consolidate them into a single resolution and ask for "discharge" or dismissal of others.

A slightly different process is used when resolutions sponsored by bishops or deputies are similar to ones the convention office has already received. The sponsor is sent the text of the similar resolution and given the choice to withdraw his or hers, agree to co-sponsor the similar resolution or ask that his or her original resolution be submitted to the appropriate legislative committee. If the sponsor chooses the later option, the legislative committee chooses the best form of the resolution.

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