Bonnie Anderson sets a few things straight

ENS has a story on a letter that Bonnie Anderson, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his Panel of Reference, regarding its lightly researched recommendations regarding women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. You can find the letter beneath the “continue reading” tab.

The letter, dated January 12, appeared earlier today on the Stand Firm Web site, raising the question of how Matt Kennedy and company obtained it. I am not anti-leak. Few journalists are. And I don’t begrudge SF its scoop. But journalists are equally interested in knowing where a leak came from. Whose purpose does the leak serve?

One question to be answered here is whether the leak came from the Panel itself. If so, provinces that correspond with the panel can henceforth expect that private correspondence might very well become public. Which, if the province is sensible, will mean that it will have not correspondence with the panel at all.

The letter states:

With great concern, I write to you to clarify apparent misconceptions regarding the polity of The Episcopal Church reflected in the content and recommendations in the panel’s December, 2006 report. Inherent to our shared call to follow Christ in mission and ministry together as members of the Anglican Communion is the need for mutual understanding of each other’s polity and culture.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets every three years in a bicameral legislative system. It consists of the House of Bishops composed of all our bishops, and the House of Deputies, composed of up to four clergy and four lay elected from each of our 111 dioceses. There are more than 800 members in the House of Deputies.

It appears that the panel has misunderstood our polity regarding the primacy of General Convention and our overall structure that requires nearly every major decision in The Episcopal Church to have the agreement of bishops, priests and lay persons. The House of Bishops cannot alone make decisions for The Episcopal Church.

The panel interprets our 1976 Canons on the ordination of women to have been “permissive,” meaning that they did not have to be followed by everyone. The panel then interprets the 1997 adoption of the additional Canons on women and ordination as mandatory. The interpretation of The Episcopal Church’s Canons is the responsibility of our ecclesiastical trial courts when a clergy person is charged with a violation of them and of the General Convention in all other matters. The same is true for the question of whether or not the “Dallas Plan” complies with the Canons. Only our ecclesiastical courts or the General Convention are authorized to make those interpretations. In the polity of The Episcopal Church, only the General Convention or the ecclesiastical trial court interprets our Canons.

Thirty years ago, through our representative legislative process, we voted affirmatively to allow the ordination of women. Generally at that time The Episcopal Church did not think the 1976 Canons were permissive or ambiguous. Nonetheless, to address any possible misunderstanding, in 1997 General Convention, with the concurrence of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies adopted additional Canons intended to put to rest the question of whether a woman’s gender could be used to disqualify her from ordination. The Episcopal Church is abundantly clear about its position regarding the ordination of women and The Episcopal Church has been abundantly charitable towards those who do not fully embrace that position.

The panel appears to misunderstand the importance of the fact that our Church’s ordination process is carried out at the diocesan level. The discernment process happens with the Commission on Ministry, bishop and Standing Committee within a diocese. The panel’s recommendations propose that a diocese or diocesan bishop may ignore the provisions of the Canons specifically stating that gender cannot be a factor in access to the ordination process, licensing to function, acceptance into a diocese, or approval of rectors as long as women are allowed to be ordained and serve in other dioceses.

If the percentage of people supporting or opposing the ordination of women is important to the panel’s analysis, then the panel’s incorrect inferences that a substantial number of people in the Church oppose the ordination of women should be corrected. If any of the panel’s recommendations were influenced or based upon this misinformation then the panel should revisit those conclusions with the evidence that support for the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church is extremely widespread and strong and joyfully embraced.

A final point regarding a “period of reception.” In order to take the actions recommended by the panel based on its interpretation of what is or isn’t permitted during a Communion wide “period of reception” regarding the ordination of women, the decision making body of The Episcopal Church, General Convention, would need to consider the recommendations and come to a mutual decision in which the laity, clergy and bishops all concur. We have made our decisions regarding the ordination of women and 108 of our dioceses have been celebrating and living into that decision with great joy during these past 30 years. In all these years no one, including Bishop Iker, has been brought up on disciplinary charges for the alleged violation of the Canons for refusing to ordain, license, accept into the diocese or approve women as rectors. We are clear that women are not to be denied access to ordination. We have been tolerant of Bishop Iker.

I respectfully request that the panel acknowledge that lack of full understanding of the polity of The Episcopal Church may have resulted in recommendations by the panel that would be antithetical to our polity and therefore not appropriate.

I further request that future bodies charged to make recommendations to the Archbishop of Canterbury on any topics that have to do directly with a particular province of the Anglican Communion, have adequate representation from the province directly affected by the recommendations of the panel. I would also ask for clarification of the process by which submissions to the panel of reference are investigated and researched.

While understanding the difficult work and honorable intent of the panel, I pray that the Archbishop of Canterbury will understand that the recommendations made by the panel are incongruent with Episcopal Church polity and therefore inappropriate for implementation.

In Christ Jesus may we move together in the important work of reconciliation and peace.

Bonnie Anderson


House of Deputies

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