Eyes on the Floor: The house reclaims solid ground

By Richard Helmer

The question was raised early on from the floor during debate yesterday afternoon whether or not the much-anticipated resolution D025 rescinded the provisions of 2006 B033. The desire, it appeared, was for an unambiguous answer. But such an answer of “yes” or “no” would have ignored D025’s careful and heartfelt comprehension of who and where we are as a Church living with disagreement: over theological perspective, over interpretation of scripture and tradition, over the nature of faithful witness.

Just the same, I believe D025 did move us beyond B033 at a foundational level. D025 affirms the integrity of The Episcopal Church in our discernment processes and canonical structures – an integrity that had been undermined for three years by the urges and implied false choices that drove the passage of B033 in 2006.

D025 re-anchors our orders at every level in the centrality of our baptism in Christ Jesus; our reliance on the Spirit in the midst of community to draw out the best gifts of all our members, gay or straight, celibate or living in covenanted relationship. Without rancor, it also affirms our love for the Anglican Communion – a reflection of our heart for Anglican ministry around the world and our commitment to upholding it in every way we can. But this support and participation is no longer offered by our trying to be something we’re not. Rather D025 offers commitment of our authentic selves, with all our differences, as a Church – as a diverse Body of Christians on mission both locally and globally.

In short, D025 contains the truth of who we are and where we are, stated with a great deal of that real humility that is rooted in honesty – the same kind of truth that grants us footing in our place as God’s beloved children; truth that sets us free from the bondage of fear, and allows us to move more deeply into the Way of Christ Jesus.

A Study in Parliamentary Chess

D025 clearly did not pass without opposition, and in that lay for me a fascinating study in the dynamics and risks of parliamentary procedure. I had the rare privilege of sitting next to Tobias Haller, who had given his seat in House to a New York alternate for the afternoon. In the alternate deputy section, Tobias and I compared notes as the parliamentary drama – while civil – unfolded like a chess game on the floor.

In a classic opening move, there was an immediate call for a vote by orders – counting the clergy and lay votes separately, which effectively raises the bar for passage as high as possible. But then came the next move, an effort to gut a critical portion of D025. An amendment was moved from the floor to eliminate the included quotation from 2000 D039, which recognized the membership of our baptized lesbian and gay sisters and brothers living in covenanted same-sex relationships.

But as debate began on the proposed amendment, an important rule-of-thumb in chess strategy sprung to mind: Be very careful about pushing a strong piece forward early in the game. Such moves can be very powerful in taking command of the board. Indeed, they can, on occasion, garner an early win. But such moves can also just as easily leave a powerful piece vulnerable for lack of a strong defensive structure, and with that powerful piece taken, the game is lost.

The amendment, as powerful as it was in attempting to undermine the full truth in D025, was also quite reactionary in its nature. With no context of explanation – no defensive structure of compelling reason – it provoked a strong reaction from a majority of the deputies. The debate took up all the amendment time remaining and then the proposed amendment failed to pass. This left few, if any, moves for opposition to significantly alter the resolution’s content.

For me, it was a poignant moment in some ways. The fear and concern articulated by some of our brothers and sisters was very palpable, expressed most fully in a risky early parliamentary move. I sensed a level of desperation there: something that I continue to hold in prayer.

Heart to Head

The other attempt to scuttle D025 came in the form of motions to divide the resolution into two or more parts for separate consideration by the House. The first of those divisions reminded me of my sense that B033 had painfully severed the House’s heart from its collective head. That same severed state was re-offered to the House in this way: a motion to divide the resolved clauses respecting our place in the Anglican Communion from the resolves recognizing the full membership and ministry of all the baptized in our Church. The proposed division risked perpetuating the idea that we were confronted with a choice between two mutually exclusive calls to ministry. Yet it was precisely this idea that needed healing in order for us to move forward from the pain of B033 – a false choice that had to be set aside in order for us to be freer to live as a Church into our full, undivided calling.

It was an incredible moment when the House rejected the proposed division. For me, it put to rest three years of a painful disconnect in the Body of Christ, of severing heart from head, incarnational from structural, local from global ministries. We rejected, in rejecting the division, three years of sacrificing the dignity of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in the name of Anglican unity; a division which really did injustice to both.

By rejecting this false choice implicit in the proposed division, we had now stepped back into fuller truth.

And, then, with the strong passage of D025 by both orders, we formally embraced the grace that could heal the integrity of our House, and we called upon our Bishops to do the same.

Solid Ground

While D025 still faces an uncertain future in the House of Bishops, I believe that the House of Deputies has taken a major step forward for the life of The Episcopal Church and honest relationship in the Anglican Communion. In doing so, we have sent a clear message about both our identity and calling – one that will not be easily dismissed or undermined.

As I was departing the House, which adjourned about fifteen minutes late this evening, I happened by God’s grace upon The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson at the back of the hall. He had stepped into the guest section shortly after the House of Bishops had adjourned. Smiling, we embraced, and I said, “I think this house is on solid ground again.”

He agreed.

With the passage of D025, the House of Deputies is now back on the solid ground of truth.

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