A Letter from Bishop Benhase
July 17, 2012
My Sisters & Brothers in Christ,
By now many of you have heard various news reports and opinion pieces about our Church’s 77th General Convention. Not surprisingly, I have read many exaggerated reports and some that are just plain wrong. Two opinion pieces that seem to be circulating in the Diocese of Georgia are Ross Douthat writing in the New York Times on July 14 and Jay Akasie in the Wall Street Journal on July 13. I will not go through here a point by point refutation of the inaccuracies in both pieces, but suffice it to say there are many and they give the reader a skewed understanding. For example, in an otherwise thoughtful piece, Douthat claims that “most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared” the theological “premises” of retired Bishop, Jack Spong. That is patently false. I know my fellow bishops well enough to know how absurd that is. It is an irresponsible and misleading claim for Douthat to make.
Akasie’s piece, unlike Douthat’s, is not thoughtful at all. It is a hatchet job, particularly on our Presiding Bishop. While I do not agree with everything our Presiding Bishop does or says, she has presided over the House of Bishops with grace and fairness. She is not “secretive” or “authoritarian,” as Akasie claims. He uses the budget process as an example of his claims. The Presiding Bishop only proposed an alternative budget because the Executive Council presented an incoherent one, one that failed to move our Church away from a focus on governance and toward a focus on mission. The budget we passed at General Convention improved on the Presiding Bishop’s budget, but in my opinion did not go far enough in making the necessary changes toward a true missionary budget. It is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.
I am confident that over the next three years we will see continued movement toward future budgets that will make mission a higher priority. The Task Force on the Church’s structure will convene soon. We must get things right in terms of structure, so we can get things right in terms of budgetary resources toward mission. There is a strong and growing movement for such transformation. I believe it was and is the Holy Spirit driving us toward significant change. Let us all pray for that to continue.
Our Deputies already reported on the General Convention’s vote to authorize a provisional rite for the blessing of same-sex couples. In both orders our deputation voted 3-1 against the enabling resolution. As I explained before General Convention, I also voted against the resolution, not because I am opposed to a blessing rite for same-sex couples, but because the rite itself is problematic, poorly written, and confusing in terms of the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony. The rite, however, was approved by over 70% in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
What will this mean in the Diocese of Georgia? Frankly, I do not know. Since this is a provisional rite and the resolution gives the Diocesan Bishop sole authority to determine its use in his/her diocese, I need more time to consult with our General Convention Deputation, our Standing Committee, and the priests of the Diocese. I plan on doing just that over the next few months. The provisional rite is not officially authorized until Advent, so I have the time needed to consult, pray, and decide. I expect to issue my decision sometime after the fall clergy conference in October.
Until then, I urge all of us to avoid reckless hyperbole and unfair speculation. Rather, let us remain constant in prayer and generous in love. It is by God’s merciful grace that we have the privilege to serve our Lord Jesus Christ on this earth. One day we will have the privilege of serving him in heaven. Until that day, we will struggle to discern what is faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Scott Anson Benhase