Who can speak for the Church?

Lionel Deimel writes of his concern that the provisional bishop of Pittsburgh, Ken Price, has signed onto a document that opposes a federal mandate regarding universal access to contraceptives.

“I was upset to learn today that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—its bishop, anyway—signed on to a statement by Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania (CASP) expressing opposition to the federal mandate that institutions with a religious affiliation must provide no-cost contraceptives to their female employees.

[…]Upset as I am about the CASP statement, I am that much more upset by the fact that my own bishop, Kenneth Price, was willing to lend his support to this horrible document. It is even more galling that our deposed bishop, now Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America Robert Duncan, is so publicly associated with the statement.

I do not doubt that Duncan supported the statement with some enthusiasm, but his appearance at the news conference was largely dictated by the fact that he is the current chair of the Council of Bishops and Judicatory Executives of Christian Associates. Interestingly, although 26 judicatories of various churches are represented in CASP, the 18 signers of the statement represent only about 14 of them. Apparently, the thinking on this matter was less than uniform. Reputedly, some did not sign due to restrictions on what their representatives to CASP are allowed to do. The United Methodist Conference of Western Pennsylvania is not represented on the statement, however, because the United Methodist Church has a policy of supporting universal access to reproductive services. (Apparently, the Methodists know insincerity when they see it.)

It is not actually clear to me that Bishop Price had the right to commit the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the CASP statement, a matter that perhaps will need to be considered at the next diocesan convention. Certainly, he does not represent my own view in this case, and I know he does not represent the views of a number of fellow Episcopalians with whom I have discussed this matter.”

I think Lionel’s issue is not so much that his bishop apparently holds a view regarding this matter that is different than his own, but that the bishop’s signature on the document makes it appear that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has taken a stance it hasn’t formally taken.

Is there a way that Bishop Price could have signed onto the statement in a way that makes it clear that he’s speaking personally and not on behalf of the diocese?

This is an issue for lay and clergy leaders as well. One of my predecessors in a previous congregation created a stir that ultimately cost him his job when we wrote an op-ed piece in the local newspaper that took a stance that his congregation disagreed with. They claimed he was putting words in their mouths.

How have you seen this tension between speaking prophetically to the world and speaking corporately for the body managed? Is it a fair concern?

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