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FORT WORTH BISHOP: "Covenant is a bitter disappointment"


For the second time within a time period of just eight weeks, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered once again to consider how to respond to The Windsor Report 2004 and to a recent Communiqué' about it from the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

A Covenant Statement was adopted, using all the right words, while still remaining in defiance of what the Report calls upon us to do.

The Covenant is a carefully crafted statement all about a desire to remain full members of the Anglican Communion, while at the same time rejecting the clear teaching of the Communion on human sexuality.

The Statement speaks of "deep regret" and offers "our sincerest apology and repentance" - but for what? Certainly not for going ahead with the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of a man as bishop who is in a same-sex relationship, but for "any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking those actions." It is like saying, 'We are sorry for the pain you feel, but not for what we did that caused your pain!' The fact is there was lots of international consultation about these matters prior to the General Convention of 2003, but we decided to go ahead with what we wanted to do despite the clear position of the Anglican Communion to the contrary. The results are the brokenness and divisions that now confront us, both here at home and internationally.

The Covenant Statement acknowledges that the Windsor Report has invited the Episcopal Church to "effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges." A pretty clear and straightforward statement of what we must do to maintain the unity of the Church, is it not? So how did the Bishops reply? 'Well, if we can't consecrate any gay bishops living with their partners, then we just won't consecrate any new bishops at all - at least until our next General Convention meets in 2006.' What in heaven's name does that accomplish? It completely dodges the issue and skirts around a very simple request. It is a delaying tactic and puts off a decision until some point in the future. Its only goal is to buy us time. This is not compliance with the request.

This same attitude continues in response to a second major request from the Report, namely that we effect a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions. The Covenant's response is that we will not "authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, and we will not bless any such unions, at least until the General Convention of 2006." Now don't be deceived by this one. It means absolutely nothing. First, several rites for these blessings have already been authorized by a number of bishops and dioceses and are in regular use. Nothing is being accomplished by saying we won't authorize any new ones. They're not needed! And second, while it is commendable that the Bishops themselves pledge not to bless any more gay unions until our next General Convention, they are perfectly happy to have the priests of their diocese continue to do them. This seems rather dishonest to me. The Bishops have the canonical authority to forbid their priests to conduct such blessings, but they have chosen not to do so. It feels like a little bit of game playing is going on and perhaps even deceit. But make no mistake about it: The Bishops have refused to effect a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions, period.

The only definitive thing in the entire Covenant Statement is that the Bishops are firm about insisting that no other Bishop is going to be permitted to minister in their diocese unless they first invite them and give permission. The purpose of this is to keep a stranglehold on the conservative clergy and congregations in their diocese and to prevent conservative Bishops from ministering to them. In this way, the revisionist Bishops hope to continue to maintain their power over those who disagree with them and to punish them if they step out of line. Once again, let us be clear that the real "dissidents" are those who reject the teaching of the Anglican Communion, not those who are faithful to it. Diocesan boundaries should not be used to keep orthodox, faithful Bishops from ministering to the people who need them in liberal dioceses.

And then the last non-action of the Covenant Statement has to do with the request of both the Report and the Primates that we not send our delegates to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in June. This will be left up to the national Executive Council to decide. We defer to their decision in this matter. Now let me get this right: We are telling dioceses that they cannot elect bishops - gay or straight - for the next year; and we are telling priests that we will not prevent them from blessing gay unions. But we cannot even advise our own Executive Council to be polite and respectful to the Primates in accepting their request that our delegates not come to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council? Something is wrong with this picture!

So from my perspective the Covenant Statement of the House of Bishops is a bitter disappointment. It does not serve to heal the brokenness and divisions of our Church. How can we maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion when we reject the requests that have been made of us? Dear Bishops - for the love of God - do what we have been so gently asked to do: Impose a moratorium on the consecration of bishops who live in same-sex relationships; forbid the blessing of same-sex unions; don't send our delegates to the ACC meeting. Do we really want to walk apart from the rest of the Communion that we value so highly?

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker is Bishop of Fort Worth

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