Today marks the formal start of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I will be on-site during the convention.
Same-sex blessings and transgender legislation are on the agenda. In 2009, General Convention authorized bishops in legal jurisdictions that allowed same-sex marriages to give a “generous pastoral response” to same-sex couples seeking church recognition. The General Convention also called for the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin collecting resources for the development of same-sex blessing rites. Three years later, the denomination is expected to formally adopt same-sex rites, in direct contradiction to the requests of the broader Anglican Communion. Same-sex blessings will now spread to a larger number of dioceses, although the rite will not (for the time being) be in the prayer book, which requires two successive General Conventions to alter.
Homosexual and Transgender activists are also pushing for new language adding “gender identity and expression” to a list of protected items that “shall not disqualify” a person from entering into ordained ministry. This resolution was effectively defeated in 2009, but homosexual and transgender activists have vowed to press on, making it the centerpiece of their 2012 legislative agenda.
Much of the energy at General Convention is going to be taken up by a budget fight, which should reveal new divisions between liberals who are jockeying to be in the driver’s seat. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson have both been at odds over how the church’s diminishing resources should be allocated. We got a preview of this at the last Executive Council, and the presiding Bishop recently released her own budget proposal. Among other changes, Bishop Jefferts Schori wants increased funds for property litigation, more staff in her office, and a shift in Anglican Communion giving from London to the Episcopal Church’s own Anglican relations efforts.
Deputies will also have the added distraction of last week’s development in which nine bishops – all theologically orthodox – were notified by the church’s disciplinary board that complaints have been filed against them, prompting investigations that they have violated the church’s disciplinary canons. It remains to be seen if the disciplinary process will result in formal charges.
Lastly, IRD will be tracking about 40 resolutions, specific to the National and International Concerns committee. The resolutions range from unilateral withdrawal and ending military exercises on the Korean Peninsula to ending the embargo of Cuba and freeing Cuban spies. Once again, the church’s anti-Israel activists are seeking to build support for their efforts to isolate and punish Israel. Nine dioceses have forwarded on identical resolutions originally drafted by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF). Titled “Pursuing a Just Peace in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,” the resolution calls upon every diocese to study the “Kairos Palestine” document, an anti-Israel letter drafted by some Palestinian Christian officials. The Kairos Palestine document calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Jewish state.
Yesterday, committee members reviewed “Peacemaking Through Positive Investment in Palestine,” introduced by the bishop of South Dakota. The resolution specifically “Rejects boycott, divestment or economic sanctions and other divisive and punitive measures which seek to tear down, not to build up.” The resolution is still awaiting committee action, but appears to be an effort to provide an alternative to the EPF legislation.