Special GC Feature: Presiding Bishop Nominees Interviewed

By Louie Crew
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta
The Rt. Rev. Francisco Duque-Gomez, Bishop of Colombia
The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop of Kentucky
The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada
The Rt. Rev. Charles Jenkins, Bishop of Louisiana
The Rt. Rev. Henry H. Parsley, Jr., Bishop of Alabama
The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls, Bishop of Lexington

Interview with the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta

April 17, 2006, 2:00 p.m. EDT
If a gay or lesbian person is elected on your watch, would you consent to the election?

If a gay or lesbian person is elected on your watch, would you be willing to serve as key consecrator?

If the consecration is the order of General Convention, then the answer is yes. In our polity, unlike that of some other provinces of the Communion, when the councils of our church give orders for ordination, the bishops have to carry that out, unless for them it is a severe matter of conscience.

In terms of giving consent, I would probably answer the question in the other direction. I can see no reason why a gay person with a partner would not get my consent. That would certainly not be the reason for my not giving my consent.

I never have completely bought the argument that consent is only about ‘Have the canons been properly followed?’ If that were the only aspect of it [consents], there would be no reason for that [the canon] to exist. Have the canons been properly followed is a significant piece of the consent process, but it’s not the only thing. I would not give my consent to people who held certain positions that I thought were against the greater welfare and mission of the Episcopal Church.

So, whether or not I would give my consent would depend entirely on who is elected. The fact that they were gay and with a partner would not in and of itself be an issue.

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta

You mentioned in your part of the official DVD [of interviews with candidates for Presiding Bishop] that your first priorities would be to the bishops and to the Anglican Communion. What would your model be in bringing order, respect, and common cause in the House of Bishops, where there has been so much rancor? How would your own conscience be a factor? You won’t be the Bishop of Atlanta anymore. You’ll be the Bishop of Quincy, the Bishop of San Joaquin, the Bishop of West Texas … How will that play out were you to become the Presiding Bishop? What would you have to give up?

First of all, one actually has to believe as a first principle that there really is room in the church for all of us, regardless of where we are on particular issues, regardless of where we are on the theological spectrum. If in fact we do believe that we have all been died for, then there’s a place for everyone of us. That’s a fundamental conviction of mine. Obviously if one is Presiding Bishop of the church, one has to take steps toward those who are in a different place on issues, a different place on theology, different place on the nature of the mission and ministry of the church, But moving toward somebody doesn’t mean that you are giving up your own convictions. Moving toward somebody means that you are making room for theirs.

It’s not about people giving up their autonomy. It’s not about people giving up what’s important to them. It simply comes as a conviction. “Is there room for everyone in the life of the Church?” My answer to that is a profound ‘Yes.’

You said in the DVD that the Anglican Communion is not about structure but about relationships …. You said that we should do everything possible to get together.

The Windsor Report talks about structure. The primates have talked about structure. They want a covenant. They want some common canons. They want the primates to be the members of the Anglican Consultative Council. Those are all some very heavy structural changes. Something like a theological litmus test is talked about in some of them too. How would you hope to function as a member of the Primates body?

I would hope that one’s own life, one’s own integrity, one’s own personal witness will be the principal way into the relationships with other parts of the Communion, whether that is in a meeting with the primates or in other contexts. When we talk about structures in the Communion, I would like to refocus the conversation away from structures that are juridical or canonical to structures that are in fact focused on mission. We have these structures internationally on God’s green earth here to enable us to do mission.

In my conversations with bishops in other parts of the world — and I confess that I have not had this conversation with primates, and that will be an interesting conversation to have for whoever gets elected, but I have had plenty of conversations with bishops in other parts of the world — and it would be fair to say that they come to some of these conversations about structures in the Anglican Communion that are juridical or canonical with some anxiety. They are as anxious about some of it as we are. Many of these are autonomous churches that have gotten their independence from England or other parent bodies only in fairly recent times, comparatively speaking. They have anxiety about whether they would feel comfortable having some larger body take over some governance of their own province. Part of why they are thriving at this point in their history is because for the first time — in some cases, in over a century or more — they can actually respond to the Gospel locally in their own context, their own culture, their own political reality, their own economic reality, and not have various aspects of church life from other places imposed upon them. I would be very surprised if I don’t discover some general anxiety around the Communion about how tight you want some of those structures to be.

How would you empower or make good use of the talents of Executive Council? What has been your own experience of collaboration?

We are at a bit of a crossroads in how a number of pieces in our church life fit together — the relationship between the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, Executive Council, the staff of the Church Center … The report from the Committee on Structure (John Goldsack’s committee) recommends some fairly sweeping changes. This is perhaps the moment that a lot of us have been waiting for, to look creatively at the whole issue of structure to see whether we can make it more efficient and cost-effective so that more dollars are spent on mission and not on maintenance. A lot of those structures are there to serve the church, and a lot of folks on the this side of the river, as we sometimes say, are not altogether convinced that things are as responsive as they could be in supporting the church’s mission.

I say this with some trepidation, because whoever is the next Presiding Bishop won’t be the first to think that he or she had a mandate toward making the structures of our own church work more effectively. In making some attempts to do that some have basically got put down or slapped down. In some cases possibly the approach was wrong, and the person should have been slapped down. But it seems to me that a number of points are converging to give the new primate together with the President of the House of Deputies and other key leaders the opportunity.

We need an ecclesiastical version of re-inventing government.

My issues are basically two: (1) any dollar we are spending on maintenance is a dollar that we are not spending on mission. Obviously we have to spend money on maintenance. I understand that, and that’s millions of dollars. (2) Structures exist to lead, guide, and deliver services. Are they doing that in ways that are as effective and mission-oriented as possible?

I have to concede that certain departments at the Church Center and certain leaders at the Church Center are in fact doing a better job now than some of their predecessors. Some of the reorganization in the last ten years has increased effectiveness. At the end of the day I believe that still more moves of that kind need to be made.

I am not particularly hard on +Frank [Griswold], because it seems that some of the good things that he did to move that along were early in his archiepiscopate, and then of course in the last five years of his time in New York has clearly been, what shall we say, ‘busy with other things.’ He’s been working much harder outside New York than in. I honor him and respect him for that.

Speaking of damage control, what do you think you can do to reduce the rancor in the church? Is reconciliation possible with Network folks? We have spent enormous time in a battle that diverts us from mission. How can we move from that?

A couple of things would be useful — for example, some really, really strong signals from the Presiding Bishop about his or her commitment to holding the church together. I think that a lot of +Frank’s personal activities around this have been very good and very effective. If I have any criticism of him on this point it would be that I think it would have been useful for him to have spoken more boldly about at certain points.

I have never had any question about where +Frank’s mind and heart were, and I could see the many good things that he was doing behind the scenes.

I also understand that this is one of those occasions when you ought to be careful about how you criticize somebody until you have walked in their shoes. I am sitting here in a diocese where a bishop’s charismatic authority is still fairly significant. But a Presiding Bishop virtually has only charismatic authority to work with. The Presiding Bishop does not have a whole lot of canonical authority. We have a Presiding Bishop, not an Archbishop.

In addition to boldness, the Presiding Bishop needs to take initiative, to be proactive in including those who are upset.

We have lost no parishes in our diocese since General Convention. We could have lost a whole lot with some missteps on my part — half a dozen, or maybe as many as ten congregations, maybe ten percent of the diocese. We have lost none. We have lost some people, of course, but no parishes. They are all still here; they are all still active. They are all still growing. We are in a pretty good place. The issue here is me taking the initiative to walk toward them and not wait until they got in trouble and put me in a reactive position.

For example, going into one parish and saying, “Maybe we need to initiate a DEPO arrangement” completely diffused their need to do it. They thought, “If he cares enough to offer it, I bet we can figure out a way to work with him.” Another parish that was a DEPO-like parish prior to General Convention has dropped the DEPO-like arrangement since General Convention. I had not made a visit to that parish prior to the 2003 General Convention, but I have been there twice since. It’s a matter of walking toward them and finding some common ground.

At the end of the day, trust is the issue. People want to deal with people that they trust. One of the things that has happened in my diocese — I am sure it is not universal; I’m sure there are some who think that I am some sort of idiot — but even those in this diocese who disagree with me on these issues, for example, by and large do trust me. They realize that I have their welfare at heart. I care about them personally. I care about what they think. They know that whatever decisions that I make with respect to their parish or with respect to their clergy, are to the best of my ability in their very best interest.

My audience is primarily the progressives of the church. What would you bring to the office of the Presiding Bishop that would be of particular importance to progressives?

I always find it difficult to know how to characterize myself. I find it interesting to listen to how others characterize me. I sometimes say that I hang out in the middle of the church with only two or three friends because I am too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives. Consequently I go to meetings with Wayne Smith a lot, who finds himself in the same position.

For me it is about fundamental principles, the fundamental ideas. I really believe that there is a place at the table in the life of the Episcopal Church for absolutely everybody. When I say everybody, I really do mean everybody. The witness of my ministry, my personal history is clear. I believe the Church should be radically reflective of the hospitality of God. If one gives one’s life to Christ and to the Church, then one gives up being able to pick your own friends. God picks them for you. That allows you to relax.

Another thing that bodes well for me with moderate to progressive side of the Church is my theological orientation in the reading of Scripture, in the reading of the history and life of the church. I actually think this is an exciting time to be the Church. We are blessed to be at a particular junction in history and in culture. The Episcopal Church should have a much broader witness and much deeper traction than we seem to be having in some places. Those are things we can work on.

Recently someone asked me, “Is 20/20 dead?” Northing that has fourteen more years of life is dead.

I want us to focus much more intently on the goals of 20/20. There is no way to accomplish any of the 20/20 agenda unless we are willing to look at the whole populace, the whole world, and everybody in it. Some of that mission is going to be with Hispanic folks. We are going to have to re-double our efforts in African American communities. We are going to have to work on all fronts if we are going even to begin to accomplish those goals. But I still think they are possible. We have a 20-year plan. We did some good groundwork, and then we got sidetracked and we lost maybe three or four years with these diversions, but let’s get back to business.

Someone asked me what I would hope to be my legacy if I am elected. I would like in the year 2015 to hand off to the Presiding Bishop who is going to take us the rest of the way to 2020 (20/20) a church that is driven in mission, positive in its focus, growing and dynamic, so that in the last five years under the next Presiding Bishop’s watch that really is achievable. We must put together the machinery and the groundwork and everything necessary to accomplish that.

The 26th Presiding Bishop may be the last to be elected only by the House of Bishops. Do you support the movement which Dean George Werner has initiated to have subsequent Presiding Bishops elected by both houses?

I have been doing a lot of thinking about that, and it is a hard one to know. My normal inclinations would be to open it up to election by the whole convention. What are the positives and the negatives? What are the costs of that? The honest answer is that I really have not sorted it out yet. It has always been curious to me that we haven’t always had both Houses elect the Presiding Bishop.

What do you value the most about the Episcopal Church?

I value that we are liturgical and sacramental. I’m not a good enough Christian to function without the support of liturgical and sacramental church. I need those gifts of God to keep walking and doing the kind of ministry that I believe God is calling me to do.

There is a marvelous spirit of graciousness and openness in the Episcopal Church that I have found absolutely nowhere else. That means that some days it is not real pretty or not real tidy, but if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get in there, you will experience the life-giving potential of The Episcopal Church.

All Christians pray. An intentional life of prayer plays a role in the fabric of the spirituality of The Episcopal Church that for me is enormously life-giving.

I am very much drawn to the incarnational quality of Anglicanism and the way that we live that out in the Episcopal Church in the flesh and blood nature of the Christian life. Most churches that I know anything about will give theological assent to the notion of incarnation but you don’t see much evidence that it plays out in the warp and woof of their life. In Anglicanism the incarnation plays a special role that has the effect of opening us up to be able to see the grace and mercy of God in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people that we might not see otherwise.

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Interview with the Rt. Rev. Francisco Duque-Gomez, Bishop of Colombia

The Rt. Rev. Francisco Duque-Gomez, Bishop of Colombia

[Editor’s note, June 8, 2006: As this article was first published, Bishop Duque had declined to be interviewed. The Witness is glad to report that he recently agreed to be interviewed. The text in Spanish of that interview is available here; the text in English as translated by the Rev. Edgar A. Gutiérrez-Duarte, Associate Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Paterson, NJ, follows below.]

If a gay or lesbian person is elected bishop on your watch, would you consent to the election?

We need to have in mind that within the Episcopal Church there are conflicting opinions on that subject. In light of that, if the consent for the consecration is sought at General Convention in accordance with the Constitution and Canons, I would abstain from voting and I would follow the majority decision of the General Convention. If the request for consent goes to the hands of the majority of the Standing Committees and the Diocesan Bishops, and the majority of them grant it, I would add mine, always following the majoritarian decision of the Church thus expressed, because I believe that the Presiding Bishop must always shed light on and give witness to the sentiment and the clamor of the Church in general even above his or her own personal opinion.

If a gay or lesbian person is elected bishop on your watch, would you be willing to serve as key consecrator?

Following on the answer to the prior question, if the elected person has followed the established canonical process for that position, and if he or she has the consent from the majority of the Standing Committees and the Diocesan Bishops or from General Convention depending on the situation, as Presiding Bishop and Primate, I will be the key consecrator.

How will you move from being Bishop of Colombia, to being PB? What will you do to serve those with whom you disagree?

I believe that the service continues to be the same but with a global agenda pertaining the national and international matters of the Church. I will assume it with great openness to respond with loyalty, courage, and continuing prayer, in the face of new challenges and responsibilities, always listening to the clamor of the Church which is expressed through the voices of the bishops, presbyters and lay brothers and sisters.

Those who are in disagreement always will find in me a steadfast and open accessibility to fraternal dialogue, looking for consensus so that we can build together pathways toward unity, peace and resolution which are always positive to the life of the Church.

You voted not to consent to the consecration of +New Hampshire. How can you lead a church which voted to consent?

When I cast a negative vote for the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, as Diocesan Bishop of Colombia I was interpreting and expressing the feeling of the Diocese of Colombia in the sense that at that moment we were not sufficiently informed to say yes.

After that decision, we began in Colombia a process of sensitization on that subject which is still in progress because, in addition, we had to provide an answer to candidates who were in the same situation. At the present time we have homosexual clergy in our diocese whom I ordained in November 2005.

Are you a member of the Anglican Communion Network? Do you support the goals of the Network?

I am not a member of the Anglican Communion Network but I will do everything necessary to start processes of reconciliation as pathways to unity in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

How will you heal our unhappy divisions?

I believe that divisions occur when a group refuses to listen to others, when the channels of communication do not work, when we lack enough information about specific topics, when the flow of information about the processes conducted by the Church to allow everyone’s participation is interrupted, or when someone is convinced that he or she has ownership of the entire truth, or the only truth. This generates deep wounds and above all a huge anti-witness of the unity that our Church must demonstrate to the world.

The healing of wounds implies that we all must be able to acknowledge a part of the truth in each other, and that only through prayer, dialogue, listening, reconciliation, and, above all, acknowledgment and acceptance of each other we will be able to become one body in Christ.

How will you address the current property issues and other litigiousness?

Current and future properties owned by the Church will continue to be be internally managed according to the established by the Constitution and General Canons (trusteeship) and externally, the Presiding Bishop’s Office will offer consultation services and resources so that all dioceses legalize the properties, placing them under the name of the Episcopal Church according to the laws of the states in which they are located.

In terms of the rest of the litigation, I will always seek assistance from the Primate’s Chancellor, and if necessary from experts according to the situation, always aiming at safeguarding the interests and properties of the Church, as well as her good name and legal representation.

Are there limits to bishops’ behavior that you will not tolerate? For example, many of us are disturbed with reports that some bishops refuse to take Eucharist with other bishops. Is such refusal tolerable? What would you do to encourage us all to come to the Lord’s table?

I am not a friend of intolerance; the behavior of each one must have some justification (subjective or objective). As believers we should always embrace the evangelical attitude of the fraternal admonishment (Mt 18:15-17).

Because of the above I will always be ready to pursue the dialogue that will allow us to accompany our brothers without implying with it that they are being exonerated from the civil or ecclessiastical responsibilities that their attitude may involve.

Describe how you would work with Executive Council. As you know, the PB is chair of the board instead of reporting to the Board, and while our constitution gives to Executive Council the authority to initiate programs and oversee them, in current practice, the staff reports only to the PB and the management team reports to Council as a largely passive body except when it needs our approval. Please comment on your ability to collaborate with others.

Effective leadership is such that delegates and gives room for advice and recommendations from others. The leader knows that he has been entrusted with many things, but he cannot do them by himself, although he is the one to be held accountable for everything. The secret is to coordinate effectively the task and to be attentive to the management of time and reports.

Transparency? Closed vs. open sessions?

Obviously transparency and honesty are very important in everything and for all. The sessions must be open, with a possible exception: that is, when it is required to protect their privacy because of special legal reasons, according to the bishops’ judgment.

My audience is primarily the progressives of the church. What would you bring to the office of the PB that would be of particular importance to progressives?

In my opinion, one of the truly glorious aspects of the Anglican Church is the Vía Media. I am a believer in that position and I am firmly convinced that it can help us to achieve a balance between the progressive and conservative positions. The balance is in realizing that we can walk together, that the Church is a space where all of us can fit in. Therefore we will continue to promote the opening of spaces for dialogue, reflection, agreement … to be able to walk together.

The 26th PB may be the last to be elected only by the House of Bishops. Do you support the movement which Dean George Werner has initiated to have subsequent Presiding Bishops elected by both houses?

In fact the Diocesan Bishop is elected by both houses. However, given the unique character of the function of the Primate, Bishop of the Bishops (primus inter pares), I believe that it is more appropriate that his or her election continue to take place within the jurisdiction of the House of Bishops and be ratified by the House of Deputies.

What do you value the most about the Episcopal Church?

The election of the bishops. The Book of Common Prayer. The Holy Scriptures as the foundation of Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship. The absence of discrimination in holy orders by reason of race, gender, sexual orientation, social condition, ethnic background… The democratic process which allows the participation of both the clergy and the laity. The openness to the new. The constant evolution. The multiethnic and multicultural expression.

Anything you would like to comment upon that I have not asked?

To conclude: I just want to thank my brothers and sisters in the episcopacy and in general to the entire Church, because of the fact that that we are walking together in this historical event in the Episcopal Church as we nominate and vote for the first time in our history for a Bishop who is not North American, and neither comes from an English background; is a foreigner, Latin and, besides, Colombian. The mission that Christ has entrusted as a Church, fortunately, does not have boundaries. As I have always said, in this entire journey the hand of God is ever present and, as a “clay jar in the hands of the potter,” I will humbly follow his plan.

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Interview with the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop of Kentucky
May 3, 2006, 3:00 p.m. EDT
On your part of the DVD, you reminded us that we are the most democratic church and acknowledged that is where some of the strains are in our relations elsewhere. How important is it that we preserve that democracy? Is it under any threat by the Windsor Report and some of the things that the primates have asked us to do?

Although I am interested in democracy, what I am most interested in preserving is the integrity of the ministry of the Baptized exercising appropriate authority in the body of Christ. For me it is more a theology of Baptism issue than an understanding of democracy.

I am very proud to be in a church that so dignifies the Baptism of every Christian that we actually believe that those Baptized folks should exercise power in the decision-making process.

The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop of Kentucky

I was deeply moved by how you lived into that as you described on the DVD how you came to vote for consents to the consecration of +Gene Robinson. You stressed that he is a Baptized person who had made the same commitments as others elected to be bishop and had gone through the same screening as others. You communicated well your respect for him in that holy moment. That was very powerful for me, and I thank you for it.

In the same DVD you said the church needs to refocus away from gays as issues, and that the Presiding Bishop needs to be one to help focus, to be the “eyes for the head.”

What would you say to gays and lesbians that you hope would bring them hope in that statement? While I don’t think you would mean to say this, there is a threat that we might say “We’ve been there, done that, and the gay and lesbian issue can sit on the back burner now, and gays and lesbians can go back into the closet.

Here again I begin and end with Baptism. The way that I see people primarily is as Baptized persons. That is how I fundamentally understand myself in Christ. I would think that gay and lesbian Christians, along with their brothers and sisters, would take some comfort in any bishop whose fundamental ecclesiology begins with Baptism.

Leaping ahead to the Special Commission’s report and recommendations: I have given that a lot of thought, as you would imagine. As a bishop who voted to affirm and sustain the election in New Hampshire for the reasons that I articulated on the video and for some other reasons that I have articulated elsewhere, I think that the way a bishop like myself who was very clear in reasons why I voted to sustain the election in New Hampshire — and still am glad that I did — I can also see myself embracing some of the resolutions from the Special Commission’s report as a way of maintaining the dialogue and keeping people at the table so that the conflict can be resolved over time.

As a kind of strategy, I don’t think conflict is resolved by people absenting themselves from the table. A good thing that I can see coming out of the Special Commission would be providing an environment where as many voices in the Communion as possible can stay at the table and work through this conflict.

I don’t think that conflict gets resolved by marginalizing either extreme, although I must say that if in order to be consistent with the Commission we would have to turn down the election of a gay or lesbian person that would be a hard thing to do, given my theology of Baptism. I could imagine myself doing it for the sake of keeping the work going, but it would be hard. It is part of what I am praying about, and I am sure that other people are praying about it too.

So would you consent if a diocese elects a lesbian or gay person as bishop on your watch?

One of the things that +Frank [Griswold] warns us is not to opine on things before they become a reality.

I will be saying my prayers. This is not dodging it, Louie. If the deputies send to us the recommendations from the Special Commission’s report and we as a church vote in favor, generally speaking, of those recommendations, then I think it would be a disjunct then to confirm an election of a gay or lesbian bishop.

We are in a post-Windsor world, at least for a season, so for me the primary issue will be resolved as we engage the work of the Special Commission.

Even if you voted not to consent and the consents nevertheless were given, would you as the Presiding Bishop be the chief consecrator?

If the consents were given from both Houses and if I were the one of the seven chosen to be Presiding Bishop, then as I read the canons, the liturgy of the consecration of a bishop is in the purview of the Presiding Bishop, so I think that is part of the job. I would do it, or if I were sick, I would exercise the canon that allows someone else to do it.

But if my church, my particular church of which I were a member, were to sustain the election, then I think it would be the job of the Presiding Bishop to do the job of the Presiding Bishop. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the canons say that the consecration of a bishop is the ministry of the Presiding Bishop.

Any of us elected know that it a possibility. However, having said that, there is a caveat and it is not a dodge. It’s based on history, and that is, subsequent things can occur even after canonical assent. Other information might come to light, other realities might happen like they did in the election [of the Rev. Robert Trache] in Atlanta… I am not going to say “under no circumstances would it be possible for a Presiding Bishop not to preside.”

I think that +Frank [Griswold] made the right call in Atlanta. It was rather precedent-setting, actually. He based it on the tradition that no one can be forced to officiate if to do so violates one’s conscience. In that case the Standing Committees had already given their consents and the bishops had given their consents. I am not an expert on canon law, but it was a very, very precarious place to be, and I think it was a very weird moment in the life of the Church.

I think that what we understand in this particular church of the Anglican Communion is that the deciding authority regarding consecrations is in the hands of the bishops and in the hands of the Standing Committees (or the House of Deputies). Once that decision is made, the way I understand canon law, the Presiding Bishop is basically the servant of the decision process.

How will you move from being Bishop of Kentucky to being Presiding Bishop? What would you anticipate doing to serve those with whom yo…