Tuesday, 2 June 2009

secret theology committee

Updated again Saturday evening

Here’s a very surprising story from the USA about the Episcopal Church.

Episcopal Café Secret theology committee studies same sex relationships

The House of Bishops Theology Committee is refusing to release the names of members of a sub-committee it has appointed to study same-sex relationships. The existence of the panel was first reported in the Blue Book, which contains information relevant to General Convention, 2009. However, the Rt. Rev. Henry Parsley of Alabama, chair of the Theology Committee has refused several requests to disclose the names of its members.

The anonymity of the panel raises serious concerns in the Church that prides itself on the transparency of its representative form of governance. In addition, the work of this secret panel has already been cited by some bishops as a reason to delay further legislative action on the issue of same-sex relationships until the panel finishes its work in 2011…

The Chicago Consultation has issued a press release:
CHICAGO CONSULTATION CALLS FOR HOUSE OF BISHOPS THEOLOGY COMMITTEE TO RELEASE NAMES OF SCHOLARS STUDYING SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS

…However, we are saddened that the House of Bishops Theology Committee has chosen to begin this important scholarly work without making public the names of the bishops, theologians and scholars who are serving on this panel. The theological study of human sexuality is essential to our common life, to our mission and evangelism, and to our ability to live out our baptismal promises. Such important work deserves to be no less than a model of the transparent governance that the Episcopal Church has upheld for centuries.

As theologians, priests, bishops and laypeople from across the Episcopal Church, we call upon the House of Bishops Theology Committee to release at once the names of those serving on the panel it has appointed to study same-sex relationships. We commit to praying for them by name and to providing our assistance as they continue their work…

Update

EpiScope reports this statement From the HOB Theology Committee:

The following is a statement from the chair of the HOB Theology Committee.

By the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.
Chair, Theology Committee of the House of Bishops

In response to questions that have been raised about the panel of theologians appointed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to prepare a paper on same-sex relationships in the life of the church, I wish to assure those concerned that the panel very intentionally represents a robust range of views on the subject and includes gay and lesbian persons.

This project has been designed in full communication with the House of Bishops. It has always been the committee’s intention to publish the names of the panel when the work has reached the appropriate stage. We believe that for a season the work can best be accomplished by allowing the panel to work in confidence. This supports the full collegiality and academic freedom of the theologians and provides the space they need for the deep dialogue and reflection that is taking place among them.

This project is designed to articulate theologically a full range of views on the matter of same sex relationships in the church’s life and to foster better understanding and respectful discernment among us. It will also be a contribution to the listening process of the larger Communion. It has several stages and is scheduled to be complete by early 2011. We are grateful to the distinguished theologians for their generous service to the church.

We wish to invite any member of the church who wishes to address the panel to send comments to the Theology Committee. We will see that these are communicated to the theologians to enrich their reflection and dialogue.

Comments should be directed to the chair of the committee, Bishop Henry Parsley, at hparsley@dioala.org.

ENS has a full report now, see Bishops’ Theology Committee chair declines to release names of same-gender study group.

Saturday evening update

Here’s a further twist to this strange tale. Frank Lockwood reports at Bible Belt Blogger that

Facing criticism for withholding information from its 2.3 million members, the Episcopal Church has quietly removed from its new IAmEpiscopalian.org website assurances that the church is committed to openness and transparency in government.

For months, the site had proclaimed on its home page: “Our controversies and conversations have been public. Our governance is transparent. You are free to see our imperfections…” (See a copy of the original message here.)

But sometime this week, after the church was repeatedly criticized for concealing key governance decisions from the people in the pews, the “transparency” and “openness” message disappeared.

Mark Harris doesn’t think this change is related to the above story. But even if it isn’t the original story is still very surprising. It even made the Church Times this week, see Name gay study group, say activists.

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Comments

I imagine the reason for not releasing the names of the panel is to protect them from being innundated with gratuitous statements, questions and pleas from all sorts of people.

If that is the reason, and regardless of what the reason is, it is a bad reason indeed. Theology done in a vacuum, without listening to and honoring the stories and experiences of real live people, taking those stories and experiences into consideration, is no theology at all, but a mind exercise that does no honor whatsoever to the triune God, not does it even begin to define the workings of God with humankind and creation.

But then, I guess my point of view is one reason why there are some who don't want women messing around with theology or ordained orders.

Posted by: Lois Keen on Tuesday, 2 June 2009 at 11:16pm BST

re the decision of TEC to 'closet' the names of those appointed to a 'secret Committee' to further investigate the policy of the inclusion of LBGT people in the ministry and membership of the Church (which is basically what is involved here); as an outsider living in another part of the Communion I find this rather disappointing.

Surely the importance of the subject matter has already been demonstrated throughout the Anglican Communion, so that further secrecy on the issue is counter-productive, and smacking of the old-time culture of Inquisition. Where people's personal lives and integrity are at stake, surely an openness to scrutiny is demanded of those who have been chosen to undertake the investigations that will be necessary to determine the de facto credibility of LGBT persons - not only in the Church but also in the wider world.

Many of us in other jurisdictions are looking to TEC for leadership in an area where your risky prophetic action has provided hope of further enlightenment, in matters of human sexuality and gender issues as they relate to religious faith in the modern world.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 2 June 2009 at 11:35pm BST

The report date of 2011 means an excuse for not doing anything this General Convention. Isn't that clever!

We have had how many years of study of this in the Episcopal Church?

What are they afraid of? That people will think they have gay cooties because they 'study' gays? Or are they afraid to let us know that they have no glbt people in the group? Like, don't confuse them with reality.

Why do I feel like a lab rat?

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 2:33am BST

Outrageous. I suspect that the House of Bishops in TEC is about to have a great big wake up call from the outrage that spreads over this one. Totally unacceptable.

Posted by: Dennis on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 5:55am BST

An anonymous committee.

This is sooo 1950ies - but then, isn't the 1950ies the anti modern wet dream?

;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 8:15am BST

OK, trying a more neutral interpretation: could it be that they're afraid that if people knew who the members of the committe were, they would shred their presumed views in advance, each based on their own theological preferences, and would not be receptive to the conclusion?

Could it be an attempt to make sure that the whole exercise isn't discredited in public before it's completion, and that no undue pressure is brought to bear on the participants?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 9:46am BST

In the wake of the Tiller murder, I wonder if the secrecy had another purpose--to protect their identities from right-wing nutjobs.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 11:25am BST

I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect that this will be yet another conversation about what to do with us that doesn't involve us.

Sexual minorities can be so inconvenient.

Posted by: counterlight on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 1:24pm BST

Ummm. Except that the names of the committee members were posted on HOBD yesterday. An oversight becomes a conspiracy.

Posted by: ruidh on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 1:47pm BST

Doesn't it rather depend - if the committee are named in the report then when it is published people will know ...

In the current climate might it not make sense to give a group of people time and space to reflect together without expecting hundreds of lobbying emails, tracts, pamphlets etc to descend upon them?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 1:48pm BST

No, the names of the *theology committee* were published, not the names of this *sub-committee* or *panel*.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 2:49pm BST

If all those on the panel are scholars known in fields related to the purpose of the panel I see no reason not to list them. However, if some are individuals being asked to share their own personal experience in lgbt relationships which it is not now safe for them to publicise, then I do see the wisdom of granting them privacy.
Columba Gilliss

Posted by: Columba Gilliss on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 3:39pm BST

Methinks this is precisely the way to discredit in advance whatever the committée does or find.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 3:52pm BST

Göran
I can't think of any way the findings might not be discredited.
If we know the members of the committee in advance, we will discredit their findings, each on the basis of our own theological preference and what we know of theirs.

If we don't know the members, we discredit their findings because of the lack of transparency.

Maybe it's not so much the make-up of the panel that's at fault here, but our instinctive reaction to discredit everything we don't agree with, simply because things have become so entrenched and polarised that no-one is genuinely listening to anything any longer.

What's the solution?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 4:36pm BST

Instead of focusing on why this committee exists, we should be asking why it was mentioned in the Blue Book to begin with. Somebody fouled up for certain.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 4:55pm BST

As someone pointed out - on Episcopal Cafe, I think - in the past half dozen years the Lutherans in the States have published several reports and felt no need to keep the names of the people who prepared them secret, neither before nor after publication.

As for violence, it's coming out that the man who shot the doctor had big mental health issues and a history of seeking to use violence against those he disagreed with.

Whereas gay people do often face violence - think Matthew Sheperd for one, and thousands, I expect, in Africa - those who merely 'study' us seem not be be such targets.

I think the worst the committee might encounter would be to be picketed by Fred Phelps and his lovely family of lawsharks. Now they might learn something from that!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 6:21pm BST

Cynthia:

All it takes is one person with a history of mental health problems to decide that ANY discussion of LGBT issues is an affront to God (or whatever) to make this a dangerous panel to be part of.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 7:21pm BST

"isn't the 1950ies the anti modern wet dream?"

Don't be absurd, it certainly never RAINED in the fifties. Think of the boys playing football on the manicured lawns, Daddy reading a paper on the patio, the steaks sizzling on the barbecue...

Actually, I kind of like the idea of being in the Secret Theology Committee. I have my own black cloak, do you think they'd let me in?

I seem to be in a silly mood today, sorry, I'll try and rebrand it as a Ludic Performative Action a la Ezekiel or something...( a week of "pro-life" murderers, Catholic charities preventing adoption, and the existence of a committee being neither confirmed nor denied just gets too surreal)

Posted by: Joan_of_Quark on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 7:29pm BST

"At fault here [is] our instinctive reaction to discredit everything we don't agree with, simply because things have become so entrenched and polarised that no-one is genuinely listening to anything any longer." --Erika Baker, 4:36pm

But it's not a question of "agreeing with," that is, aligning opinions. Some issues involve facts, which get disregarded in favor of entrenched and polarized OPINIONS. William Temple said it in 1914: It's impossible to distinguish between a deep religious conviction and sheer prejudice -- neither depends on evidence.

Gay people and their relationships are facts in present day life, and old theological opinions (theology doesn't proceed from evidence but from explication of old narratives) are resisting dealing with them.

Posted by: Murdoch Matthew on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 7:36pm BST

"If we know the members of the committee in advance, we will discredit their findings, each on the basis of our own theological preference and what we know of theirs.

If we don't know the members, we discredit their findings because of the lack of transparency."

Exactly! I confess I'd be one of the ones pulled into this quite early on. It wouldn't be right, but I am familiar enough with my own fallen nature to know I would. But long before they had come out with any statement whatsoever, all the conservatives would have trashed the committee for being in the power of the Heathen Liberals, and, let's be honest, we would be lining up here to tear it apart for being too conservative, and some would likely find in this a reason why the ABpofC is being a spineless overly intellectual wuss and betraying everybody.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 7:37pm BST

The bishops are clearly feeling themselves under pressure, and it is a shame.

I think the General Convention must grasp the opportunity by enlarging on the bishops initiative and establish a Public Commission to explore ....... well I can think of so many interesting things ... but perhaps a part might deal with the continuing discrimination against LGBT's in the US and the place of religion in that ill treatment. I am tempted to say that they could examine the whole Communion ....

Anyway, something healthy must be built on this rather poor start and GC has the power to carry this forward.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 3 June 2009 at 11:07pm BST

"We believe that for a season the work can best be accomplished by allowing the panel to work in confidence. This supports the full collegiality and academic freedom of the theologians ..."

Well, we've heard 'for a season' used before as a delay/appeasement tactic.

As a scholar - member of the Modern Language Association and American Association of University Professors - I am outraged that this man invokes "academic freedom" to justify secrecy. Academic freedom means you need NOT fear advocating scholarly positions publically. Bp P's invocation of acadenic freedom to justify secret panels is a travesty. I am disgusted.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 2:39am BST

I find Bishop Parsley's invocation of academic freedom to defend secrecy about the panelists to be deeply grossly offensive. Academic freedom means that one may espouse views openly and freely in the academy without fear of retaliation or retribution. One does risk other scholars disagreeing - but that's what it's all about.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 4:40am BST

Hard to believe that secrecy is the only way to set a boundary within which such a group can do effective scholarly work. The whole secrecy bit may signal that the group has already bought into the super hot button aspect of having any believer try to deal with that tricky-wacky gay thang? Once you buy into that, no scholarship will likely get done at a useful level. Too much of the hottest hot button stuff is pure flat earth systems. Alas. Secrecy won't do anything to head that off at the scholarly pass.

In this time of plots and schemes, mainly related to conservative realignment and claims to belong to far away virtual provinces, the likelihood that this group is up to no good is just too high to take completely on HoB faith.

These are the same HoB's that might let a gay or lesbian or trans neurosurgeon of great renown and skill operate on their brains, but God forbid the same person feels called to be licensed as a lay reader in a local parish?

Yeah, right. Keep it secret then.

Posted by: drdanfee on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 11:26am BST

Hi Murdoch Matthew-

You quote: "It's impossible to distinguish between a religious conviction and a prejudice": precisely!

This is one of the good reasons why 'religion' is practically a smear-term within protestantism (Barth, Bonhoeffer and many successors) and within pentecostalism which speaks of 'religious spirits' etc..

It may take a paradigm shift to realise that this is the case. The media etc imagine that all Christians are in favour of religion. The truth is very different. Millions of them do not approve of it at all, and plenty of others have no idea what the word 'religion' means in the first place. I know one can theoretically try to define 'religion', but nevertheless 'religion' was chosen in the 1967 Macmillan encyclopedia of philosophy as *the* classic example of a vague word.

And where is 'religion' in the New Testament? Some translations of James 1. And that's about it. So can someone explain how this word came to take centre-stage? Was it the idea that a divine drama should be reduced to a human activity which we could then analyse sociologically?

This is in fact one of the main reasons why we are so often talking at cross-purposes: possibly the main one of all. One lot thinks that the subject matter is something called 'religion'. The other lot is not sure it's possible to define what 'religion' is anyway - but insofar as it is possible (or desirable) to do so, it believes 'religion' often to be something negative.

Religion (whatever that is) is not the subject-matter. God, Jesus, and the nature of reality are the subject-matter. Reality not religion. No more dualism.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 12:33pm BST

"Academic freedom means that one may espouse views openly and freely in the academy "

But the academy, by definition, is not the general public. How many academic debates get carried on in the pages of the local newspaper? how many times does the BBC, or any other news organization, report on the academically free debates of any university? Yet you do not consider those debates to be carried on in an environment devoid of academic freedom, how is this different?

Christopher:
"Reality not religion."

Prove to me that Christianity objectively represents reality.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 2:46pm BST

"How many academic debates get carried on in the pages of the local newspaper? how many times does the BBC, or any other news organization, report on the academically free debates of any university? Yet you do not consider those debates to be carried on in an environment devoid of academic freedom, how is this different?"

Academic debate occurs in classrooms, in journals, at conferences, and by the publication of books. Academic journals would never accept an article from an anonymous source.

That the press seldom covers, say, the Modern Language Association's annual meeting is their choice about what would interest their audience. That's their press freedom, and, in fact, they usually exercise that power either by interviewing anxious job candidates or by making fun of the titles of conference papers [admittedly, very easy to do].

As a scholar I am offended by Bp Parsley's perverse use of the term to defend secrecy.


Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 9:34pm BST

OK, Christopher. You talk a lot about 'religion' in so many ways I'm getting dizzy. How about using the word 'faith', that might help your argument better than lots of semantic scrabble. (However, I don't think I agree with what I believe I detect you are trying to say.)

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 5 June 2009 at 12:02am BST

Either [some or all of] Christianity corresponds to reality or we should jettison it/them. But that applies, by definition, not only to Christianity but also to anything else (replace word Christianity with word Marxism etc). Of course, reality is multi-dimensional.

Someone said you can tell a mystic by which they would jettison first: Christ or truth. To me it seems so obvious that to every honest person (who is not in the business of believing what they want to believe) truth is the last thing to go - or rather the one thing that can never be jettisoned.
Everything else is retained (or otherwise) according to how far it conforms to truth - or rather to reality.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 5 June 2009 at 9:27am BST

Good, grief Christopher Shell, is the entire world that BLACK and WHITE to your eyes? "believing what they want to believe"....What else would you call the use of that verb?

"Either...or...or...."

Give it a rest, it's THINKING Anglicans mind you!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Friday, 5 June 2009 at 1:17pm BST

You haven't answered my question, Christopher. How does Christianity objectively represent reality? We're not talking about whether or not it "corresponds" to reality. That is merely a reason for faith. Here's an example: all people are imperfect, fallible, and have good and evil in them. That is an observation that fits with the Christian concept of the Fall, and so the Christian concept of the Fall "corresponds" with reailty. But this doesn't PROVE the Fall as an objective reality, I'm not sure how you'd go about doing that. It merely gives us a spiritual framework for understanding and dealing with the fact of human fallibility. Or would you say otherwise?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 5 June 2009 at 2:34pm BST

"But the academy, by definition, is not the general public. How many academic debates get carried on in the pages of the local newspaper? how many times does the BBC, or any other news organization, report on the academically free debates of any university? Yet you do not consider those debates to be carried on in an environment devoid of academic freedom, how is this different?"

But academic debates carried on in universities aren't generally kept secret. If no one pays attention to some of them, it's because they aren't interested - not because they cannot be told. If I were interested in what's going on with the MLA all I have to do is ask, if I don't subscribe to their journal. I'm pretty sure the answer wouldn't be "Shhh - it's a secret, and we can't tell you".

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 5 June 2009 at 3:54pm BST

I agree that tilted Either/Or presuppositional strategies will not serve us as believers, nor inform our discernment with spiritual light instead of heated small tent realignment debates.

Even our own scriptures, and our own real church histories, demonstrate powerfully to us that we in our Jesus-oriented communities of faith have made serious errors, right from the start.

Christian Jews mistook the Gentiles, entirely, until that bit got corrected. So far as we know, it was a huge hot button controversy with change versus no change camps. Jerusalem vs. Antioch & Athens?

A direct new revelation in the early church dared to fly change colors about Gentile believers. This change turned aside from the entire Jewish revelation and practical cultural knowledge of how innately dirty and pagan Gentiles were (and would always be, because divine revelation cannot change?).

Those believers who wish to make a No Change Gospel into the only possible conformed witness have quite a challenging task ahead of them. Using tilted Either/Or presuppositions may seem to offer help and hope; but in the end falls flat and empty. A way to settle down and stop knowing that the flat earth theological anthropologies are not real, a fine way to shift from open-ended critical thinking to closed-ended proclamation of legacy understandings that just might be as wrong as we believers were about the Gentiles.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 6 June 2009 at 8:43pm BST

"Christian Jews mistook the Gentiles, entirely, until that bit got corrected. So far as we know, it was a huge hot button controversy with change versus no change camps. Jerusalem vs. Antioch & Athens?"

Not to mention the much more painful issue of whether a man should be circumcised or not! Like all doctrinal matters based on the flesh, the Church could still conceivably be wrong about the issue of homosexuality. Why are the purists so hung up on condemning the positive benefits and delights of sexuality? Perhaps they need to read a little more of the 'Song of Songs' to get this in a better perspective.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 9 June 2009 at 6:39am BST

Father Ron:

Oh, but "Song of Songs" is just an allegory about God's love for mankind, didn't you know that?

Amazing how the parts they want to read less than literally get read that way, isn't it?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 9 June 2009 at 12:08pm BST

"Amazing how the parts they want to read less than literally get read that way, isn't it?"

Like "This is My Body", "This is My Blood", "Judge not lest ye be judged". And "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren...."

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 9 June 2009 at 8:48pm BST

Pat and Ford, re your last posts: we still have dualists in the Church - especially those who are averse to the idea of the Eucharist as the 'Real Presence'. Many of them want to rob the dominical words of the Canon of their incarnational reality.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 12:28am BST

"especially those who are averse to the idea of the Eucharist as the 'Real Presence'."

And others believe that "real" doesn't necessarily mean physical.

Do we really have to continue to slag off how other people experience their faith and make sense of its creeds and doctrines?
Might it be possile to engage properly and see whether the difference is as great as we caricature?

Sorry, Simon, this if this is too far off topic, delete it.
But it strikes me that it is this kind of arguing that made TEC believe that a secret committee and secret deliberations were the only way to guarantee academic freedom. They're wrong, but one can almost understand them.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 7:46am BST

What is it, Simon, that you find surprising?

Posted by: Kendall Harmon on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 2:01pm BST

Kendall

I am surprised that it is even possible in the Episcopal Church to appoint a committee of this type and not make public its membership, at the time of setting up.

I am also surprised that once the situation was uncovered,the response was not immediate disclosure. It seems to me that there are only two tenable positions:

a. Full disclosure.

b. Total denial, i.e. not only do you not release the names, you deny that the group even exists.

Any kind of halfway house just looks silly.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 4:18pm BST

I suspect Erika (but don't know of course) that the secrecy stemmed from a need for confidentiality in a truly open discourse (only) among the committee members. Granted, it perpetuates the closet, but who could blame them, notwithstanding lack of openness, given the hatred that has divided the Anglican Communion?

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 4:21pm BST

I'm catching up here, but I'm wondering if some of the panel refused to take part unless their names were kept secret. The secrecy may come from the panel members making an agreement with Bp. Parsley et al. To me that suggests that the panel has a built-in bias already.

Posted by: hopkins on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 at 11:49pm BST

Simon, thanks for the response, I think it helpful to see how others outside TEC see us from time to time.

The whole episode seems absurd to me, especially for a church that claims to pride itself on openness. If people are concerned about being pressured or getting too much email or whatever, then that can be said and handled in numerous ways.

Posted by: Kendall Harmon on Tuesday, 23 June 2009 at 11:09pm BST
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