The bishop of Georgia consents and why

The Rt. Rev. Scott A. Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, wrote to his diocese concerning his decision to consent to the election of the The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles. Here is what he said:

21 April 2010

To the People of the Diocese of Georgia:

A few of our colleagues in the Diocese asked me if I gave my consent to the Reverend Canon Mary Glasspool’s election as Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles. I did. While it is not usual for bishops to report on individual consents, I realize that for some people this is different, so I will try to explain how I came to give my consent. I cannot do so in a sound bite or even in a few

sentences. Thus, you might wish to read this when you are not in a hurry.

1. Prior to my election as the 10th Bishop of Georgia, my theology and practice on the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church was well-known. I do not understand homosexuality to be a barrier to any of the four orders of ministry in the Church. I have been quite clear in that theology and practice. So, my consent to Canon Glasspool’s election was

consistent with what you had already known about me.

2. I would not have given my consent if I knew of any theology or practice of Canon Glasspool that was contrary to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Episcopal Church. Canon Glasspool has been a faithful priest of the Church for decades leading parishes to a renewed sense of their baptismal identity and purpose. More recently, she has served quite effectively as Canon to the

Ordinary in the Diocese of Maryland. From my perspective, we need more bishops like Canon Glasspool who have had extensive experience in the leadership of parishes so they are better able to be strategic partners with congregational leaders for the growth and mission of our parishes.

3. I am aware of some concern about the so-called moratorium. The House of Bishops did agree to a moratorium a number of years ago. That moratorium, however, was not one-sided. It was accepted in the context that certain of our Anglican brothers would refrain from crossing diocesan boundaries. While the House of Bishops exercised the restraint of the moratorium for seven years, others did not practice such restraint even for a year. So, in my judgment, the moratorium was no longing a compelling consideration.

4. I, of course, recognize that some in the Diocese of Georgia disagree with my consent. I welcome that. Disagreement in the Church is hardly new. In some ways, Anglicanism was forged out of an unresolved disagreement in the Elizabethean Settlement. After Queen Elizabeth, Protestants and Catholics within Anglicanism did not somehow see their differences go away, but they were committed to living with one another and serving Jesus together in the

church. They were willing to live with what they perceived as significant differences. In many ways, the challenge we face today is not new.

5. I believe that this current dilemma we face needs to be seen and understood in the larger context and truthfulness of Church history and tradition. The catholic faith has always lived with differences while holding fast to the Nicene faith. For example, the post-Constantinian Church

has lived with difference in how we interpret the Sixth Commandment. Some have insisted that all killing is wrong all the time. This is the so-called pacifist position. Others have insisted that there are times when violating the Sixth Commandment is the lesser of two evils. From this came the Just War constructs of St Augustine that provided ethical boundaries for the

violation of the Sixth Commandment. We have had both positions held faithfully in this Church (with many nuances in between) and neither has insisted that the other is not welcome or that the other is not orthodox.

6. More recently in my lifetime, we have had disagreement about violating Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Jesus is clear: If one marries after divorce one commits adultery. That seems to be the plain sense of Scripture. Yet, many have recognized that while divorce is never a “good,” sometimes it is the lesser of two evils for all parties. Others, however, still insist that Jesus’ words must be interpreted plainly. There are still others in our Church that hold even more nuanced understandings about this that fit somewhere in between the two extremes. Yet, in all these, we remain together in the same Church and receiving God’s gracious sacrament from the same altar.

7. I understand our current dilemma in a similar historical context.Faithful people will disagree about this. I do not understand such disagreement as a problem to be solved, but a dilemma God is asking us to live with for the time being. There are faithful people in the Diocese of

Georgia who are anxious for a definitive resolution. I do not believe that is possible right now and may not be in my lifetime on this earth. If that is true, how are we to live together with this dilemma? I think the answer to that question is this: We will live together just like the saints who have gone before us who heeded Blessed Paul’s admonitions. We will love and honor one another. We will bear one another’s burdens. We will not have a higher opinion of ourselves than we ought. We will not look only to our own concerns, but the concerns of others. We will forgive one another as we have been forgiven.

8. There is a prayer in the Marriage Rite that has always touched me deeply. When praying for the newly married couple, the Church hopes that “their life together” may be “a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, that forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” I see this as an image of our relationship together. I have been Bishop of this Diocese for three months now. In that sense, we are newlyweds together. Like in any relationship that is not worked at and nurtured, we can fall into patterns that lead to estrangement, guilt, and despair. You and I will work hard not to let that happen. We will seek

unity, forgiveness, and joy. We will seek to make our life together as bishop and people “a sign of Christ’s love for this sinful and broken world.” Of course, we will not always achieve such virtues, but I know we will constantly seek them and commit ourselves to practicing them.

As your Bishop, I am committed to leading this Diocese faithfully and effectively. I want those who have differences on the issue of human sexuality to know that I will not play favorites by rewarding those who agree with me or seeking to punish those who do not. All of us share in the mission of Jesus Christ together. All have an important role to play in that mission. I pray that we not allow whatever differences we have to distract us from taking the saving Gospel of Jesus to the world.


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