God of Many Names

by David Mills

JUDGING FROM WHAT they have said, the organisers of General Convention
believe that “God” will be present before anyone arrives, during all
the proceedings and after all have packed up and gone. Further, when
the eucharist is celebrated, the God of the Convention will become
more available to those who are open to the Spirit and who are in
touch with their religious feelings and sensibilities. At other times
this “God” will be invisibly involved in the lobbying, speeches and
the voting helping along all legislation and resolutions that promote
human liberation, peace and justice.
The God of the Convention
The “God of the Philadelphia Convention” is a “God” who has no preferred
names, but is always ready to be named by devotees, according to how
they feel and what are their current concerns. In fact this “God”
has no [grammatical] gender for any pronoun (“it” or “she” or “he”)
will suffice for it/her/him. Therefore this “God of 1997” is for all
people of all ages and of all races and of all sexual preferences.
In fact there seems to be a general rejoicing that this Deity does
not have a bias towards white male human beings.
The Deity, it is claimed, who was believed to favour men has long
since ceased to pay even a courtesy visit to the General Convention
of the Episcopal Church. This God of many names, tastes and values
has already inspired the general strategy and proposals which have
been published in the “Blue Book.” She/it/he has been present to illuminate
the minds of those who in committees and in commissions have been
discerning the spirit of the times and seeking to understand and follow
where the divine movement for human liberation, peace and justice
for all peoples is going.
The participants are here to make sure that what has been discerned
as the moving of the spirit of deity will be made a part of the legal
basis, agenda, and public face of the Episcopal Church.
Former Gods
Thus we can expect that doctrines and practices which can be traced
to the influence of the former “God of Conventions” will be modified,
changed, or made illegal. For example, the claimed right assumed by
a few bishops not to ordain women will be taken away! This will be
seen as a moral duty required by the will and commandments of the
“God of the 1997 Convention.” Further, the prayers of the Church in
the public liturgy will be adapted to reflect a full inclusivity,
so that the “God of many names” and of no gender can be named by each
according to her/his preferences.
To speak of and to address an all male God (as did former Conventions)
will be seen as not merely intolerable but positively immoral! And
speaking of morality, the spirit of the “God of the 1997 Convention”
will be particularly active to ensure that the judgment of the Righter
Court is not overturned and, more practically, that in one way or
another there is no slowing down of the just cause of homosexual liberation
- especially in ordination, marriage and economic justice.
Happily the “God of the modern ECUSA” is also the “God of the modern
Evangelical Lutheran Church America” and thus he/she/it will be active
in both camps this summer moving people towards full acceptance of
the Concordat between the two denominations.
God of Many Names
All in all it would appear that the “God of many names” has got the
situation under control. Even if there is opposition from the few
devotees of the “God of former Conventions,” the pursuit of liberation,
peace, and justice, will continue and the “baptismal covenant” (so
beloved by the Presiding Bishop) will remain in place as the religious
charter for the Episcopal Church at the end of the second millennium.
It seems almost certain that the new Presiding Bishop to be elected
on July 21st will continue to serve the “God” whom Bishop Browning
adopted and thus take the cause forward past the year 2000.
Theological Reflection
Now a little theological reflection! In the last decade, the change
in allegiance of the Episcopal Church from “the God and Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ” to the “God of many names” has become apparent
for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. For a long time many
Episcopalians have been dropping words such as “Father” and “Son”
and “Lord” and “King” and “He.” The new liturgies before Convention
for approval reflect this decisive trend to all-inclusive imagery
and the rejection of biblical imagery. Attempts to make available
for public worship the classic and traditional Prayer Book (BCP 1928),
which uses the biblical imagery, will be rejected.
In the second place, many marriages of divorced persons and a growing
number of “blessings” of homosexual couples in church illustrate the
changes in sexuality, as do also such common expressions as “differing
sexual orientation” and “faithful homosexual partnerships.” The “God
of the 1997 Convention” certainly seems to support what used to be
called “sin.”
Erstwhile Lord
The former “God of Conventions” (i.e., Yahweh who is the almighty
Father together with His only-begotten Son, and with his Holy Spirit)
was understood to be transcendent, apart from the world he has made
and keeps in orbit. Yet at the same time he was held to be immanent,
present in and unto his creation as the Holy Spirit, who made Jesus
known to waiting souls. The Bible, as the Word of God written pointing
to Jesus Christ the Word Incarnate, was seen as the place where his
character, will and commandments were to be found and then obeyed.
It is possible that this God, “the God of our fathers and mothers,”
is actually alive and well and that He will take more than a passing
interest in this Convention. He may become an uninvited and unexpected
Visitor and His Visitation one of judgment and not mercy.
His Devotees
His devotees are certainly hoping and praying that He will show Himself
and thereby reveal - at least to those who are open to know - that
the “God of the 1997 Convention” is in no way superior to the high
“gods” of Canaan or of the Greek and Roman Pantheons and that, in
fact, she/it/he of many names is no real God at all"
Peter Toon is executive director of the Prayer Book Society, USA.
This article first appeared as part of the Episcopal Synod of America's
On-line coverage of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church,
on Wednesday, July 18, 1998

on sex alone . . .”. Clergywomen Ask Defeat of Canon III.8.1 Denounce
“sin of impatience,” argue that reception will take two generations
The following statement, signed by 84 clergywomen, was read to the
Ministry Committee on Sunday evening by the Rev. Mary Hays, associate
professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, are clergywomen - priests and deacons - in the
Episcopal Church who feel that it is now time to speak out against
the proposed canonical change in Canon III.8.1 which mandates the
ordination of women. It goes without saying that we obviously believe
that the ordination of women is not contrary to orthodox, biblical
faith. Thus, we disagree on biblical and theological grounds with
those who do not approve of or permit the ordination of women. Each
of us has had painful experiences of prejudice, discrimination, condescension,
and even outright hostility because we are women in the ordained ministry
of the church. None of us would be where we are today if it were not
for other leaders in the church who affirmed God’s call in our lives
and opened the door of ordained ministry through which we walked.
Accordingly, we share the pain of those who are in parishes or dioceses
which will not affirm the ministry of ordained women. Nevertheless,
we believe the proposed change in Canon III.8.1 making such ordinations
mandatory is not the right action to take at this time. 1. We believe
the process of “reception” of such a sweeping change as the admission
of women into the presbyterate and episcopate will take at least two
generations. We have the privilege today of living between the time
when the ordination of women has already been passed, but it has not
yet been fully received by the universal church. This “already, but
not yet” aspect of the reception of the ordination of women is part
of the greater eschatological reality of the life of the church today.
2. Patience is described by St Paul in I Corinthians 13.4 as one of
the characteristics of love. To adopt the proposed Canon III.8.1 would
be to indulge in the sin of impatience toward those who clearly differ
from us. We are called to love one another . . . and, even to love
those who disagree with us theologically on the ordination of women.
For us, this means that we are willing to be patient for full reception
of our orders to take place. 3. We believe that the integrity of General
Convention’s leadership is at stake in this vote, and that it is important
to be faithful to the promises made at the time the ordination of
women was passed, namely that during the process of reception the
ordination of women would be permissive, not mandatory. We firmly
believe that the approval of the ordination of women was the work
of the Holy Spirit in the life of our Church and the General Convention.
Furthermore, we believe that in the fullness of time, God will move
the universal Church to wholeheartedly embrace the ordination of women.
We see no need to act in a precipitous, coercive, or un-Anglican manner.
Rather, we urge the defeat of the proposed changes to Canon III.8.1
and the adoption of mutual respect across our differences while the
Holy Spirit brings to completion the work begun in passing the ordination
of women. A New Way to Elect the Presiding Bishop? by Elijah White
CHANGING the way future Presiding Bishops are elected may well change
the criteria for selecting nominees for that office - “which would
be a good thing,” according to Massachusetts Deputy Byron Rushing,
who placed D-017 before Convention. Future Presiding Bishops would
be chosen by a joint meeting of the bishops and the clerical and lay
deputies, with a majority of the votes in each of the three orders
needed to elect. Currently the House of Bishops keeps voting until
it has elected a candidate, whose name is then presented to the House
of Deputies to confirm or reject. “Knowing that the PB would have
to receive majority support in all three orders will keep the Nominating
Committee aware that they’re proposing a bishop for the whole Church,”
veteran legislator Rushing told the Joint Committee on Miscellaneous
Resolutions Tuesday morning. “They would have to bear in mind that
whoever they suggested would have to be electable - there are many
issues very important to lay people that many bishops have no clue
about.” “This would deliberately not be a vote by orders,” he emphasized.
“This will be much closer to the polity and practice already used
in the elections of diocesan bishops, so people are familiar with
it.” In the House of Deputies a vote by orders requires polling the
clergy and the laity in each diocesan delegation separately, with
deputations which split 2-2 counting as a no vote. The results of
such ballots are counted by diocesan delegations. For example, the
result might be 70-63 in one Order and 85-18 in the other. If the
clergy and lay orders do not agree, the measure fails. Under the proposed
D-017 clergy and laity would vote separately but as individuals, not
by dioceses, so that a result might be 300-162 in one order and 232-230
in the other. Because this proposal would change the Constitution,
it would have to pass two consecutive General Conventions without
alteration or amendment. If passed by both, it would take effect on
January 1, 2001. Hands Across the County Line Two Texas Bishops and
Women’s Ordination Two Texas bishops of opposite convictions on the
women’s ordination question told the ministry commission Tuesday of
their ad hoc effort to address it effectively and compassionately.
Bishop Jack L. Iker of Fort Worth is under fire, along with three
other bishops, for continuing to insist that God calls only men as
priests. Bishop James L. Stanton of Dallas has ordained women throughout
his four-year episcopate. The two Bishops, who agree on practically
all other theological questions, and whose diocesan offices are less
than 50 miles apart, worked out two years ago an arrangement for helping
Fort Worth women enter the priesthood. The arrangement could hardly
be simpler: The women make themselves known to Iker. Iker refers them
to Stanton, who tests their vocations and, if he sees fit, ordains
them for service in his own diocese. The two bishops see their arrangement
as a model of constructive cooperation, as well as a way forward for
a church deeply riven by continuing disputes over women’s ordination.
The agreement compasses a situation that so far has not arisen --
in which a Fort Worth parish seeks to call a woman as rector or assistant.
Were this to happen, Iker would turn over to Stanton the right to
license the priest in the Diocese of Dallas. The parish would remain
in the Diocese of Fort Worth, but the woman could function only in
that Fort Worth parish. In its loose, laid-back fashion, the Iker-Stanton
pact resembles one in the Diocese of Pennsylvania whereby Bishop Allen
Bartlett allows retired Quincy Bishop Donald Parsons to act as official
“visitor” to ten traditional parishes that remain, nonetheless, in
the Pennsylvania diocese. The Dallas-Fort Worth agreement builds on
a historic relationship between the two dioceses -- until 1983 both
formed a single diocese, called Dallas -- and on the friendship Iker
and Stanton formed after the latter’s election and consecration. The
agreement was forged in the spring of 1995 -- Stanton Tuesday couldn’t
remember the exact month or date, a sign of the unwritten deal’s informal
nature. Iker presented it to the national church committee considering
ways of resolving the impasse over women’s ordination; however, the
committee majority, impatient to implement women’s ordination throughout
the church, showed little interest. Not so those Fort Worth who view
themselves as called to the priesthood. One such woman, the Rev. Nancy
Hood, has already been ordained by Stanton and installed as an assistant
at St. James Church, a short distance from Stanton’s home. A second
woman has been ordained deacon by Stanton, with her priesting to come
in October, and a third is in the discernment process in Fort Worth.
The ministry committee Tuesday, during testimony on Canon III.8.1,
which would force acceptance of women’s ordination throughout the
church, heard Iker describe the success of his and Stanton’s good
neighbor policy. The Fort Worth bishop said it was far kinder to refer
a woman to Dallas’ commission on ministry than to Fort Worth’s, where
most members oppose women’s orders. “Not one woman who has come to
me has refused that,” he said. ”...It’s worked, it is working, and
we fully expect to continue working in that fashion.” Stanton said,
“The issue is ministry,” not power. “Ministry or power: it seems to
me that ministry is what we are talking about.” III.8.1 = One Big
Mess THE Episcopal Church’s 72nd General Convention opens Wednesday
amid renewed tensions over the acceptance of women priests in all
dioceses. Battle lines grew taut at a five-hour hearing on two proposals
that would mandate the acceptance of ordained women even in dioceses
with strong theological objections to women’s ordination. Bishop Jack
Iker of Fort Worth promised that attempts to implement such proposals
would be met with “active resistance.’’ A Newark layman dismissed
warnings that adoption of the proposals could split the Episcopal
Church. “If four dioceses (not open to women priests) want to get
out,’’ said George Heyman, “let ’em . . . The time has come that if
you’re going to be an Episcopalian you’re going to have to accept
the fact that women priests are here to stay and you are going to
have to accept them regardless of what it does to your conscience.’’
Iker - who said he remains open to the possibility of changing his
viewpoint on the subject - pleaded for the right “to deal with the
ordination of women question in our own way, in our time, as God gives
us strength to do it.’’ “Please do not put a gun to my head,’’ said
the bishop, “and say, “Now, is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?’”
The Rev. Ed Baker, rector of All Saints, Pasadena, CA, replied: “We’re
not holding a gun to someone’s head; we’re holding a cross to someone’s
heart.” At the ministry committee hearings Tuesday, which lasted five
hours, 52 witnesses presented sharply contrasting viewpoints. Most
supported the proposed Canon III.8.1, but women priests divided sharply.
Eighty clergywomen Monday released an open letter urging the convention
to draw back from acting “in a precipitous, coercive, or un-Anglican
manner” by embracing the canon.” (See page three.) Canon proponents
addressed themselves caustically to the letter. A sobbing Katie Sherrod,
from Iker’s diocese, said she was “appalled that so many ordained women
who have never had a pastoral relationship with us.” She challenged
the letter signers to “come to Fort Worth and live with us and teach
us patience by giving up your priestly ministry for 20 years or whatever
it takes.” However, the Rev. Janet Echols of South Carolina, anticipating
Iker’s prediction of resistance should the canon pass, declared that
“The Great Commission is not the Great Litigation.” The Rev. Meg Phillips
of Virginia said it would be “unconscionable for us to pull the rug”
from beneath Episcopalians who believed the church had promised to
make room for both proponents and opponents of women’s ordination.
The Rev. Alison L. Barfoot of Virginia, principal author of the clergywomen’s
letter, praised Iker for his two-year-old agreement with neighboring
Bishop James M. Stanton of Dallas, whereby Dallas takes responsibility
for Fort Worth women seeking ordination. Three such women have come
under Stanton’s jurisdiction since the agreement went into effect.
(See accompanying story.) “What a big step he has taken,” said Barfoot,
”...and it’s a step in the right direction.” Barfoot proposed that
instead of mandating acceptance of women’s ordination General Convention
should set up a process for its reception by the four dioceses that
still exclude women priests. Another “ardent supporter of women priests,”
Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy,
called for “patience and gracious persuasion.” A subcommittee was
to meet Tuesday night and craft a proposal for subsequent action by
the full committee. Canon III.8.1 stems from a vote at General Convention,
in 1994, for a process to protect the consciences both of opponents
and supporters of women’s ordination. In 1995, the committee came down
narrowly on the side of the supporters. The House of Bishops, in a
straw vote that fall, voted overwhelmingly to support Canon III.8.1.
However, since then, some supporters have drawn back, fearful of a
major ruction in the church’s life. Bishop Stanton, of Dallas, told
Episcopal Synod of America leaders he would introduce a canon authorizing
“provincial Episcopal vicars” to serve parishes that differ from their
bishops on women’s ordination. The resolution tracks the structure
and provisions of a Church of England plan that addresses similar
needs. In the English church, which voted in 1993 to begin ordaining
women, a parish unable to accept women’s ordination is assigned the
services of a so-called “flying bishop” of like convictions. If Canon
III.8.1 is passed, the proposed Canon 34 would protect parishes nevertheless
unwilling to accommodate the new order. The Episcopal vicar would
be authorized, according to the official explanation of the resolution,
to “assume exercise of the ordinary’s jurisdiction over that congregation
on the ordinary’s behalf.” He would have the power to ordain in that
diocese and to “serve as advisor to, and spokesman for, all those
persons and bodies within the Province which do not accept the ordination
of women.”