Friday, April 9, 2010

Letters from Bishop Shannon Johnston and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia concerning their votes on Canon Mary Glasspool as bishop

We received two statements this afternoon, one from Bishop Shannon Johnston and the other from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia, concerning the election of Mary Douglas Glasspool as suffragan bishop of Los Angeles. Some of you have asked what these statements mean. Here is my best attempt:

The Rev. Canon Glasspool, who serves as the canon to the ordinary on the Diocese of Maryland, was elected suffragan (assisting) bishop by a convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles last Fall, which would make her the second openly partnered gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

To be consecrated, anyone who is elected a bishop by a diocese must undergo a confirmation process involving the entire Episcopal Church. To be confirmed requires receiving consents from a majority of the elected Standing Committees representing each of our 110 dioceses, and a majority of the bishops. Canon Glasspool has, in fact, received the required number of consents to be confirmed, and she will be consecrated a bishop at a ceremony in Los Angeles in May.

The statements coming today from Virginia were to tell us how our representatives voted; both Bishop Johnston and our Standing Committee voted to withhold consent (i.e., voted no). Bishop Johnston, by the way, mentioned in his letter that he voted after Canon Glasspool had already received enough consents to be confirmed.

I believe you should let these letters from our leaders speak for themselves, and the letters are posted below. It is unusual, by the way, for bishops and standing committees to explain their votes, so this is also a mark of the sensitivity of this matter. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

April 9, 2010
Dear Diocesan Family,

The Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool, a priest of the Diocese of Maryland and a partnered gay woman, was elected to serve as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles in December 2009. The consent process, a 120-day period, requires the receipt of consents from majorities of the Standing Committees throughout the Episcopal Church and from the Church's bishops with jurisdiction. On March 17, just before the opening of the House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, Texas, the presiding bishop's office announced that Canon Glasspool had received the number of consents required to proceed with her ordination and consecration as a bishop.

Along with several other bishops, I had been delaying my vote until the House of Bishops meeting so that we might confer with one another as to the implications of this episcopal election. As consent is a responsibility upon all diocesan bishops, I then sent in my ballot even though the process had already been decided. Understandably, the diocesan offices have received numerous inquiries as to how I voted. I write this to announce my decision for this particular process and to say something about what this means (and doesn't mean) for my leadership in the Diocese of Virginia.

Bishop-elect Glasspool's election has been both a source of celebration and of alarm for many in our diocese, just as in the Episcopal Church and our wider Anglican Communion. In my judgment, both "sides" make compelling arguments and have quite legitimate concerns. Personally, I am more torn by this decision than by any other decision I've yet faced, whether as priest or bishop. After deep prayer and thought, I voted to decline consent to the ordination of Bishop-elect Glasspool. This is not to reflect on Bishop-elect Glasspool herself (who, by all accounts, is indeed highly qualified and well suited for the ministry of bishop) but rather is about the circumstances of this case.

My decision was based on the unique context of this particular election. Under other circumstances, I would have voted differently. Frankly, I look forward to the time when I can. As it is, however, several points swayed my decision; taken together they presented what was to me an overwhelming weight.

First, as I have stated before, I believe that it is theologically inconsistent to ordain a partnered gay person as a bishop without provision for the Church's recognition and blessing of that partnership. (We would not do this with heterosexuals.) As things stand now, the cart is before the horse. To me, the controversy about partnered gay bishops would be moot if we dealt successfully with the blessings of monogamous gay relationships. I will continue to work for that result: first things first.

Second, immediately following last summer's General Convention, both the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury (in letters made available to the Convention) stating that the Convention's actions did not overturn, and should not be interpreted as overturning the moratorium on the consecration of partnered gay and lesbian bishops. That moratorium had been in place since 2006. With statements from both presiding officers of Convention affirming that it remained, for the present, the policy of this Church, it seemed to me that a denial of consent to this election was necessary.

Third, the 2006 General Convention committed the Episcopal Church to participation in the work developing an Anglican Covenant for consideration by the Communion. My understanding is that we pledged to cooperate in those deliberations until the Covenant was either adopted for this Church or not. We gave our word, and I believe that we should live up to that word. To proceed with such a controversial move at the very time that the Covenant is under consideration is, I believe, contrary to the good faith necessary in our commitment to that work and ensuing discernment.

As I made clear when I was elected bishop for the Diocese of Virginia, I am committed to the Anglican Communion. The Communion is not some patched together entity; still less is it something merely abstract. Communion across international bounds and embracing the globe is nothing less than a gift of grace. This is why it must be held dear. I do not know just where this controversy will lead us, but as your bishop I will work to support and strengthen the unique witness that is the worldwide Anglican fellowship of faith.

At the same time, as I have stated clearly in a variety of settings, I am no less committed to the full inclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in all areas of ministry in the Church's life. I understand that my vote to deny consent in this case could be interpreted as backing away from that commitment. Even so, I can only declare again my deep conviction that full inclusion is also a sign of grace-and we should be reaching to embrace it.

From this, it follows that I am both "pro-Communion" and "pro-inclusion." I reject completely any notion that these positions are mutually exclusive. I remain hopeful, even confident, that there is a way to be faithful to this "both/and" witness. Our history teaches us that we Anglicans-when we are at our best-have been able to hold perceived opposites in a creative and liberating tension that has room for everyone and gives birth to new answers. This is the time to reclaim our best yet again.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

Statement of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia has declined to consent to the election of the Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles because, in the view of a majority of the Committee, her election is inconsistent with the moratorium agreed to by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. That majority believes that, at this time, failure by individual dioceses to respect the Church's agreement to the moratorium would be detrimental to the good order of our Church and bring into question its reliability as an institution. The committee found no other reason to withhold its consent to the election of Canon Glasspool.

1 comment:

Janice Dean said...

Thank you very much for this post, Jim. I am disappointed in the decisions made by Bishop Johnston and the Standing Committee, but I acknowledge that Bishop Johnston's letter is well-reasoned. I can't shake the nagging sense, though, that we are sacrificing the respect due to our Episcopalian LGBTQ brothers and sisters in order to attempt to show respect to the wider Anglican communion. This seems contradictory to me, and, thus far, I am uncomfortable with how the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have reconciled the tension between respecting both of these groups. Despite the fact that I am not as well-informed on this issue (or, perhaps more accurately, group of issues) as those with more experience with the politics of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, I am of the opinion that the Episcopal Church needs to either take a courageous stand on this issue of grave importance to our national/global and local communities, or we should expect to be out-waited and out-stalled for a long time. While the leadership of the Episcopal Church tries to move gingerly to preserve our ties with the Anglican Communion, members of their flock (who happen to be our friends and loved ones!) are suffering. I do not argue that we should cut or recklessly endanger our ties to the Anglican Communion, but I strongly challenge the assumption that it is ok to expect our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to bear the brunt of the burden of placating the Anglican Communion. As they are faithful, committed, and hardworking members and leaders of our parishes, we owe them more than that.