Here are excerpts from a letter from Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania). I know nothing of the bishop, but as I read his letter, I found myself thinking "Bravo! Bravo!" to much of it.
The report seems not to recognize regarding us whom it criticizes that if one comes to a conclusion that something is morally mandated, one cannot deny what has come to be seen as justice because there is resistance to the idea in other places. I commend reflective reading of Why We Can't Wait by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Furthermore, although the report attempts to excuse itself from discussion of the issues at hand, its gratuitous and offhand denigration of modern biblical study prejudices the outcome of thoughtful study and discussion of the issue itself.
The report can lead a reasonable reader to the presumption that our visible communion has become the highest good. Is there an idolatry here? ...
... [T]he proposed contract puts the ultimate power of decision in a person appointed by the British Crown without the consent of those governed throughout 38 provinces worldwide. ... (I am a thorough-going fan of the current appointee, I hasten to add, and also hasten to note that he is not responsible for the manner of his appointment.) ...
I am troubled that the report begins by asserting that the Bishop of New Hampshire was "appointed," suggesting a steadfast refusal to comprehend of church life in the New World, where neither the state nor the episcopal college nor another small group chooses the bishops. Only much later in the document is there a nod to the concept of election. Despite occasional and late reference to the laity, the report does not recognize the voice of the people as being worthy of note. ... The commission did not feel able to ask whether the Holy Spirit might speak through so many of the faithful assembled for a solemn election. ...
The commission‚s characterization of the 2003 General Convention as authorizing the creation of same-sex rites seems, unavoidably, to be a willful misinterpretation. As the sole author of General Convention's offending paragraph, which was discussed in public committee meeting before coming publicly to the floor, I know that the text was designed to say that while this Church cannot now authorize such rites, it can tolerate their existence, giving the Spirit room to work and teach us one way or the other. To tolerate is different than to authorize; a document generally careful about definitions disappoints by nodding here.
In total disregard of 30 years of public discourse and more than 50 years of academic writing, the report states that insufficient formal theological work has occurred on the issue of human sexuality. It fails even to acknowledge the existence of the multi-part formal theological presentation made to the General Convention of 2000 in its formal reports (The Blue Book) or the other studies issued previously. There is nowhere expressed concern for the possibility, however faint, that insufficient reading and thinking
has occurred on the part of those not now open to change in this area. I recognize that the burden of proof lies with us who wish to see change; there is nonetheless a responsibility on the part of the rest to at least read the newspapers.
I have told you before, even with tears, how it was the bench of Bishops in Parliament that resisted the abolition of slavery for so many years, unanimously and on the basis of the clear words of both testaments. Nowhere in this report is any cognizance taken of the fact that institutions are by nature resistant to prophecy, that bishops in particular have an abysmal track record in this regard: there is not a hint of humility about our club and its historic patterns of intransigence.
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[T]he report requests the self-imposition of sanctions on the bishops who consecrated Bishop Robinson (but not those who invade other provinces),essentially asking them to have the good grace not to show up where they are not wanted, that is, at any international functions. ... While I am not one of those bishops, having had commitments that day, I hereby associate myself with them as I would with any group made untouchable by ruling class fiat, and consider any and all penalties they suffer as applying to myself. If they are not welcome at Lambeth, for instance, I hope no bishop of our Church or of those other churches represented at the Robinson consecration feels welcome. Let us remember that not of all Bishop Robinson's consecrators were American. Thus these sanctions that are to be self-imposed will affect several national churches. Perhaps an alternate meeting in South Africa will occur for those who are now to regard themselves as untouchable. ... .
The report has just begun its journey through nine months of discussion and reception. My hope and prayer will be that as the bishops, primates, and other groups ponder it, their vision will be less constricted and institutionally bound and more open to the possibilities that it is not out of arrogance or whim, but out of a desire to serve at considerable risk, that this church has chosen to follow the voice it has been hearing for half a century.
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