Response to General Convention

July 26, 2018

The clergy deputies. I was feeling punchy.

In case you are wondering…this is not a sermon! This is my attempt to summarize a part of General Convention.

            The 2018 General Convention marked my 4th convention.  While some people may perceive that as a punishment, it has been an honor for me.  That said, it can be overwhelming at times/most of the time.  There is a lot of information to digest.

            In some ways, this year was the first year we were not in the midst of something major (like a big conflict or the election of a Presiding Bishop.)  My first two conventions debated gay marriage a great deal.  We knew that the news that would come out from those conventions would be about gay marriage.  This year, it was the Book of Common Prayer revision.  Keeping up with the resolutions (even if you know which one you are following) can be onerous, which is why many Episcopalians tune into the news.

            If you looked at the headlines, you might see the following:

Episcopal Church considers making God gender neutral
Is God male? The Episcopal Church debates whether to change its prayer book

What’s in a name? Episcopalians move to change their words for God

From these headlines, some people might conclude that we are not using the name of God anymore.  This is not the case.  There are different perspectives on what it would look like to move to gender neutral language.  For most people, it is simply a matter of not using pronouns to refer to God.  This was the policy of Princeton Theological Seminary when I attended in 2001.  It’s not a new idea and it’s not an Episcopal idea.  Using gender neutral language for God does not mean that we no longer refer to the Trinity as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   It does not mean that we no longer assign a gender to Jesus.  It does notmean we change the Lord’s Prayer.  There are some people who would like to change some of those things, but that is not the majority.  The majority simply want to refer to God as God and not as he or him.  It’s that simple. 

        Why does this matter?  There are a couple of reasons.  First of all, the name of God is a confusing thing.  I am not a Hebrew scholar and, therefore, I do not feel equipped to explain it without a lot of time studying and even then, I am not sure it would be helpful.  So let me use one example.  When Moses receives his instructions from the burning bush in Exodus 3, he asks what to call the being that is sending him forth.  God answers , “I am who I am…Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” That name is neither male nor female. It allows for a more expansive view of God.  Therefore ,if we are true to what God calls Godself, then perhaps we should not relegate God to one gender.

            The other compelling reason for dropping pronouns when referring to God is that it enables us all to see God in different ways.  It keeps our minds open.  Genesis tells us that we (male and female) are made in the image of God.  Every person is made in the image of God. Therefore, relegating God to one gender can make it difficult for all people to see themselves as the image of God.  There are several other reasons that people listed for revising the BCP, but the gender neutral language was the one that came up the most. 

            I know what you are thinking… “Just tell us what they decided!”  Well…it’s not super clear. I would encourage you to read the actual resolution which is here:

In essence, we will think about it some more and form a task force. That is usually the go to answer when we cannot find a good compromise.  Part of the issue was the cost in creating a new BCP.  The estimate was about $8 million over 9-12 years.  There wasn’t enough money in the budget for that.  Instead, they put aside $200,000 to create a good Spanish, French and Haitian Creole translation. I was absolutely shocked to learn that we don’t have good translations for our current BCP.  What have literal translations.  As you can imagine, a literal translation lacks the flow and cadence of our beloved BCP.  Another thing the resolution did was memorialize the 1979 BCP.  No one is exactly sure what that means.  Most have interpreted that it means that no one is taking away your 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  There might be a new BCP in the next 20 years, but we would still be able to use the liturgy of the 1979 BCP.  This was to allay the fear of another schism in reaction to a new BCP.  At this point, the soonest we could have a new BCP would be 2033 and that would only be if the process started at the next General Convention in 2021.  Long story short, there is no reason to panic.

            Obviously, there was a lot more that happened at General Convention and I will try to write one more post, as I am sure you all are dying to hear what I think.  To be honest, I am not ready for a new Book of Common Prayer.  The 1979 BCP has a lot of flexibility already in it and we don’t use the flexibility that is already there.  Personally, I would like to start using some of the liturgies that have already been authorized but continue to use the 1979 BCP as our primary text.