A Discussion with Bishop Catherine Roskam
She was instrumental in founding the Global Women's Fund of the Diocese of New York, which is devoted to empowering women in the developing world, as well as The Carpenter's Kids, a program developed in relationship with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika in support of AIDS orphans in Tanzania, through parish to parish linkage.
She spoke with The Episcopal New Yorker diocesan magazine as part of the diocesan study and report on The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The complete interview follows.
ENY: What do you see as the origins of the current controversies in The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion?
Bishop Roskam: The tensions have a long history, but the immediate controversy around homosexuality has been driven by the dissidents in this country. The deeper causes have to do with the wealth and power of The United States and the disregard in the past for the voices from the developing world. These causes have been exacerbated by our country's recent aggression in the Middle East. In many places in the world, The Episcopal Church is synonymous with the power of The United States [it provides a huge proportion of the funding for the Anglican Communion]. This is ironic as The Episcopal Church has opposed many of the policies that have alienated us from the rest of the world.
ENY: I'd like to follow up on what you said about the dissidents driving the agenda. What's that about?
Bishop Roskam: Opposition to the ordination of gay and lesbian people and the blessing of same sex partnerships is only the most recent chapter in the dissatisfaction of the dissidents. It began more than 30 years ago with the ordination of women. That is when the primates began meeting regularly.
What differentiates these two issues is that women are not in a minority in the Anglican Communion. We may be 50 percent of the human race but we are probably 60 or 70 percent of the Anglican Communion, yet we are represented by only 3 percent in the councils of the Church. The Anglican Consultative Council passed a resolution to move toward 50 percent representation in the councils. I don't think this is likely.
ENY: How much is cultural?
Bishop Roskam: Alot. The preoccupation with male homosexuality has to do with issues of maleness. So many parts of the Communion have no experience of Christian gays and lesbians in committed relationships. It's too dangerous for gay and lesbian people to come out. In some countries they can be jailed or even executed. The undergirding issue is patriarchy, and also clericalism.
The question is: who decides? Here, we have a highly developed theology of the role of the baptized. We elect our bishops, and many provinces don't do this; bishops are appointed or elected only by other bishops. Some in the Communion would like to see us more hierarchical rather than less. It used to be said that the controversy was about Scripture but I don't hear that as often: people who read Scripture come to different conclusions.
ENY: How do you see the controversy playing out at the congregational level here and abroad?
Bishop Roskam: I don't see it so much on the local level. People don't agree on the issue but are more concerned with filling their churches, about the future of their children, the war, making ends meet. I think people are concerned about mission, the Millennium Development Goals, and I think the people in our diocese do extraordinary work here and abroad—sheltering, feeding, running programs for children.
We're a communion, not a church; disaffection by a few does not constitute schism.