After a week of sessions, the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) has three legislative days remaining. I see more weary deputies and bishops; a few more people are absent from the sessions; meanwhile, the complexity of issues on the table is increasing.
Yesterday, Convention produced three significant results. First, the House of Deputies affirmed inclusivity, for both TEC and its ordination process. The votes were lopsided: almost four-fifths voted in favor of the resolutions. Hopefully, these votes establish a firm foundation and pervasive tone that all are truly welcome in TEC.
Second, the House of Bishops approved provisional rites for blessing same-sex relationships by votes of more than two-thirds but not quite three-quarters in favor. That legislation moves to the House of Deputies today for approval. The Church needs this liturgy (or one like it). Another resolution, which hopefully both houses will approve, establishes a task force to study marriage and report to the 78th General Convention.
These actions represent constructive steps toward providing appropriate pastoral care for all God's people. TEC is obviously not ready, as an institution, to move beyond the traditional but defective (in my estimation, neither biblical nor theological sound) view that marriage is between a woman and a man. I expect the liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships will pass the House of Deputies after contentious but not divisive debate. Most of the individuals who cannot accept this action have already left TEC.
Furthermore, since many dioceses already allow priests to bless same-sex relationships, creating an appropriate liturgy for this action is important in a Church united by common prayer rather than common belief.
Third, the House of Deputies approved and sent to the House of Bishops for their approval two resolutions concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The two resolutions call for positive investment to aid the Palestinians, encourage peacemaking, urge TEC and individual Episcopalians to examine whether their investments and purchases unintentionally support injustice in the Middle East, and task various Church bodies to develop study resources on the conflict.
Other major issues remain on the table awaiting action, including restructuring and finance.
When the House of Deputies votes by orders (each diocesan delegation then has two votes: one from its clergy deputies and one for its lay deputies), the House takes the vote electronically and with paper ballots. Staff then validates the electronic vote by comparing it to the paper ballots. This redundant process illustrates some of the dysfunctionality of TEC’s governance processes. People do not trust the electronic vote, used for at least two General Conventions. Why utilize the technology? The gadgets, if truly unreliable, are a gimmicky, expensive, time-consuming waste. Alternatively, if the electronic vote is reliable, why waste time with the traditional paper ballots?
TEC loves its traditions and appears likely, only with great angst and resistance, to adopt efforts to streamline essential housekeeping tasks, shed unproductive activities, and become a more nimble, mission-focused twenty-first century Church. Spending $5-10 million on a triennial General Convention attended by 0.1% of Episcopalians during which they primarily focus on denominational governance is a luxury that a declining Church can no longer afford. More importantly, God has called us to bring the water of life to a parched world, a task far more critical than most of the issues General Convention faces but one that will receive disproportionately little time, energy, and focus.