Bishop Roskam preaches truth to one of the most powerful men’s club’s of the Episcopal Church: the House of Bishops

Update: The proposal to allow the next Presiding Bishop to serve on a part-time basis was rejected July 11 by the House of Bishops.

Yesterday Bishop Catherine S. Roskam stood and preached truth to one of the most powerful men’s club’s of the Episcopal Church: the House of Bishops. 

If Katharine Jefferts Schori were a man, Bishop Roskham argued, the bishops wouldn’t be debating a measure to make the job of being Presiding Bishop into a part time post. 

Bishop Roskham went to great lengths to say this was not the thinking of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas who proposed allowing the next Presiding Bishop to retain their diocesan position. From what I know of Bishop Douglas I concur: he is a good man and a thoughtful bishop. Yet this is the General Convention of unintended consequences, and his honest attempt to rethink how the church works is caught in a perfect storm of conflicting wind and waves. 

One of these currents holds that the church is too expensive, that we can no longer afford this “bloated bureaucracy.” There’s an overlooked and inconvenient truth, one Deputy told me. “If you look at what we spent on the national church in the late 1960s and adjust for inflation, then in real dollars we are spending half as much on the national church as we did back then,” he said. “The irony is that we were talking about the same ‘structural problems’ then as we are here.” Cast in another context, of every $100 our church gathers only $1.50 goes to the national church. "Our budget probelms aren't because we spend too much. We are in trouble becuase some dioceses who could pay their assessment don't,"another deputy said. "One Texas diocese paid 5% when the assessment was 19%." The bishop of that diocese often argues for cutting costs and minizing the influence of the national church.

Another current is amove away from the “Presiding Bishop as CEO” image that some now see in our church leadership. To the extent that image exists it may have been created by requirements established by past General Convention – expectations such as the one that says the Presiding Bishop will visit every diocese during their tenure. Yet others, as the Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, suggested see the Presiding Bishop as both leader and chief pastor.

A third current centers on the Presiding Bishop’s power. Some bishops – who have since left the church – thought electing a woman to lead our church was a masterstroke in their battle against the ordination of women, homosexuals, and anyone who disagreed with them. They thought leaders of other Anglican churches would break off their relationship with our church because our Presiding Bishop was a woman. Worse they believed their own theology that women are weak and submissive. They were wrong on both counts. Not only does Bishop Katherine serve as an equal amongst the men who lead the Anglican Communion, she has stood firm in defense of our church. She has fought those bishops who left and tried to take their diocese with them, arguing a diocese if not the personal property of the bishop. She has fought them in court and mostly she has won. And she has made it clear no bishop will by hook or crook remove their diocese from our church during her term as our Presiding Bishop. All of which makes some current men who lead our chruch a little uncomfortable. 

It is no accident that  someof our church’s biggest steps towards inclusion of all of God’s children have come when two women were in our top leadership posts.  Perhaps that is also why some grumble about the influence House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson wields. As Bishop Roskam pointed out, it is also why some endorsed reducing the next Presiding Bishop’s role to part time status. 

Bishop Roskam also reminded the House of Bishops that as the first wave of women bishop retires the church is not electing women as bishops fast enough to maintain the current ration of men and women in that house. 

Worse, she reminded them, most of the women elected bishops are not chosen as bishops who will run a diocese. Regularly, some bishops propose that only bishops who run a diocese should be allowed to vote on financial matters. If passed that move would disenfranchise most of our women bishops. Yet the proposal continues to be made, that objection continues to be repeated, and some of the bishops seem genuinely surprised at that outcome – even though the it is clear from the start. 

This convention has been marked by demands for structural change. But there’s no “structural change” that will fix this problem – there’s no quota system that will change our hearts and minds so we elect more women as diocesan bishops. This is a matter of nbeing open to the Holy Spirit in the heart and of the mind and of the future of our church. We could increase on spending on structural change tenfold and it would not matter if we fail to meet Bishop Roskam’s challenge to the continuing patriarchy of our leadership. And we have not begun to talk about changing the House of Bishops to include more Latinos and Latinas and Asian Americans and …. oh yes: LGBT Episcopalians.  

This is the General Convention of unintended consequences, for the structural change requested may  reach the House of Bishops.