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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Helping Bishop Katharine

Helping Bishop Katharine

The Presiding Bishop needs our help. Her intentions appear good, but she doesn't always seem to understand the full implications of what she says or does.

Take for example her words about fasting. She wrote: "What is being asked of both parties is a season of fasting--from authorizing rites for same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other."

By those words she seems to mean that she's willing to exchange the baptismal rights of the church's gay and lesbian members so as to prevent the encroachment of foreign bishops and in order to protect the property rights of the Episcopal Church. Clearly, such an exchange would be immoral and shameful.

And it is ironic at best to hear the Presiding Bishop speak about fasting as if it were the entire Episcopal Church that will be "fasting." Rather, it is its gay and lesbian members who will be "fasting." It is the height of arrogance to ask that other people fast in order to protect your real estate and your "place at the table."

It's hard to believe that Bishop Jefferts Schori really means for us to "fast" so that she and her fellow bishops may feast at Lambeth and yet that's what her words imply.

This same tendency in our Presiding Bishop not to think deeply enough about the full implications of what she says was made clear to me in an exchange with her last Spring.

After the last General Convention in Columbus I wrote an article which attempted to explain, in scriptural and theological terms, why bishops are more inclined to emphasize the worldwide unity of the church, while lay persons, priests, and deacons are more apt to emphasize the unity of the local church. I tried to make the point that this is what explained, in part at least, why the House of Bishops was more ready to compromise the place of gay and lesbian persons in the church than the House of Deputies was.

On June 25, 2006, I sent the article to Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori. She read the piece and was kind enough to reply to it the following day.

Here is the opening paragraph of her letter: "I thank you for your epistle. While I certainly understand your viewpoint, I would encourage you to recognize the possibility of other motives. I lament the message that was sent to some people in the church, that B033 meant 'that gay and lesbian Christians were being sacrificed for some other purpose.' While I recognize that some people feel that very strongly, I believe that the resolution is framed much, much more broadly. The phrase 'whose manner of life presents a challenge to the larger church' applies equally to untreated alcoholics, to polygamists, to clerics who seek to remove their congregations from the Episcopal Church, to those who misdirect funds or abuse the people in their care."

When I read that paragraph, I wondered at first whether Bishop Katharine was up to the job. I replied to her by saying that I thought her list of miscreants was offensive, an example of guilt by association that she should have known better than to make. I wrote: "It is exactly the sort of list that our enemies hurl at us all the time: 'child molesters, serial killers, people who have sex with animals, wife beaters, drug addicts, and homosexuals.' It is the sort of list that makes us want to tear our hair out! Besides, it is really disingenuous to say that the phrase 'whose manner of life presents a challenge...' was used 'to frame the resolution more broadly' by including other undesirable groups. The phrase is simply a euphemism. We all know what it means."

Bishop Katharine's reply to my reproachful letter made a deep impression on me. She wrote: "I thank you for your corrective, and I am humbled by your care in offering it. I think I now understand more deeply the challenge of what I said."

The lesson in this small exchange--for me at least--is this: we must not give up on Bishop Katharine, but we must engage her on the deepest possible level and help her to realize why we cannot follow where she now wants to lead us.

When Bishop Jefferts Schori was elected our Presiding Bishop, she took office with the good wishes and fondest hopes of the gay and lesbian community, as well as the hopes and prayers of all those who long for an Episcopal Church where there are no second-class members. I, for one, have not abandoned the belief that that is what she wants too, but she needs the help of all of us to see that to continue along the path of appeasement begun by her predecessor will only lead us to disaster. Our bishops too need to help her--and us--by rejecting the misguided plan she brought home from Tanzania.

Peter Carey
Assisting Priest
Church of the Holy Apostles
New York City

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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