Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Episcopal Church Embraces Inclusivity - FINALLY

Some of you may already know that the Episcopal Church voted the other day to open up all ordination orders to GLBT people (h/t to Linda Anselmi. This is no small thing - I know, I used to be an Episcopalian, high church to boot (all the "smells and bells" - incense, and all, that is to say). In fact, I was in the process for ordination in the Episcopal Church while I was in seminary.

While I was in seminary, once again, the Episcopal Church voted again NOT to ordain LGBT people. Since I was already VERY out, and since they flat out ask you (or did), "Are you now, or have you ever been, involved in a homosexual relationship?" I knew I could not stay. I was not willing to lie to go into the priesthood - that just seemed so, so wrong to be - sinful, if you will.

Concurrently, while acknowledging that I could not be fully myself in the Episcopal Church at that time, I also had to acknowledge that my theology had begun to shift away from the traditional Christian paradigm. A bit of a double bind, if you will - I had grown up Episcopalian, and had wanted to serve the Church for as long as I could remember. But I could not do so under false pretenses, either, in terms of my sexual orientation, or my shifting theology. Consequently, I left the Church, and the ordination process.

A number of priests did hide who they were, though, sad to say. Imagine living your life hiding who you truly are, even going to far as to get married and have children to provide cover for yourself. Now, imagine being in a "helping" profession, a job that includes a LOT of counseling. You are hiding who YOU are, yet counseling people to be open to who they are, so that the Spirit can work through them, or what have you. HOW can anyone do that while masking who they are? It's a soul killer, if you ask me. And believe you me, it happened (happens?) a lot.

So, at long last, the Episcopal Church has voted to be more inclusive, as this PBS report details (and there is a video, there, too):
BOB ABERNETHY, Anchor: After decades of debate and division, the U.S. Episcopal Church this week said, overwhelmingly, that gays and lesbians are eligible to become bishops, or serve in any other ordained ministry of the church. At their General Convention, Episcopal leaders also moved toward developing an official rite for blessing same sex unions. These decisions are likely to widen the divide between Episcopalians and the worldwide, 77-million-member Anglican Communion of which they are a part. Kim Lawton has our special report from Anaheim, California.

KIM LAWTON: At their meeting in Anaheim this week, Episcopal bishops, clergy and lay representatives tackled a host of social issues, from global poverty to justice for Disneyland hotel workers. But the most divisive topic, once again, was homosexuality.

REV. IAN DOUGLAS (Episcopal Divinity School): It wouldn’t be a meeting of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion if we didn’t somehow engage matters of human sexuality.

LAWTON: Despite concerns from many global Anglican partners, convention delegates overwhelmingly voted to move ahead on two of the most contentious questions: whether to ordain gay bishops and whether to bless same-sex unions. On the issue of gay bishops, the delegates asserted that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians” to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.” The vote effectively ends a de facto moratorium that was approved three years ago, although it does not guarantee that more gay bishops will be consecrated.

Separately, the delegates also voted to move forward in developing liturgies for blessing same-sex relationships. The issue will be taken up again at the next general convention in 2012. In the meantime, the measure allows local clergy leeway in blessing same-gender relationships, especially in states where gay marriage is legal.

Reverend Susan Russell is the outgoing president of Integrity, a group that works for the full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-gendered people in the Episcopal Church.

REV. SUSAN RUSSELL (Integrity): I think the overwhelming message coming out of this convention, not only for LGBT people but for all who are looking for a community that that embraces peace justice tolerance compassion and the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, is that the Episcopal Church welcomes you.

Not everyone is happy with this decision, however:
LAWTON: The measures passed in part because many conservative Episcopalians have left the denomination. Those remaining feel increasingly isolated.

BISHOP WILLIAM LOVE (Diocese of Albany, AT PRESS CONFERENCE): It is very sad for me because I am a lifelong Episcopalian, I’m a lifelong Anglican, but first and foremost I am a life-long Christian. And it is breaking my heart to see the church destroying itself in the manner in which we seem to be doing.

LAWTON: Many delegates here said they voted for the direction they believe God is calling their church to go in. But those votes pose new challenges for a global communion that has already been strained close to a breaking point. There’s a lot riding on how what happened here gets interpreted around the world.

Many Anglicans, especially in Africa, Asia and South America, were outraged in 2003 when the Episcopal Church approved the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the church’s first openly gay bishop. An emergency communion report called on the US to ban on any future consecrations of gay bishops until an international consensus emerges.

The Communion’s spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended this meeting before the controversial votes took place.

ARCHBISHOP ROWAN WILLIAMS: Along with many in the communion, I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.

So not all is well, and not all welcome this move to full inclusion of the (many) LGBT members of the church. I wish I could say I am surprised by that, but I am not. Members of my family are still Episcopalian, and some of those have struggled with this issue, particularly around the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. That is to say, not everyone is embracing this change:
LAWTON: Much of this week’s debate centered on balancing Communion concerns with a desire to move forward.

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: I believe with my whole heart that we all know where this is going to wind up. It is going to wind up with the full inclusion of all of God’s children in God’s church.

BISHOP PETER BECKWITH: I would concede that if indeed that it is the right thing to do, we should do it now. But I do not believe it is the right thing to do.

BISHOP NATHAN BAXTER: While I am very, very much concerned about our covenant with the communion and our mission, I am also concerned about our covenant with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

BISHOP SHANNON JOHNSTON: The Communion, for me, is too much to lose. There is too much at stake, with mission, and our ability to apprehend, larger wider truths that go way beyond our own small church and setting in the western world.

LAWTON: Shannon Johnston, coadjutor bishop in the Diocese of Virginia, said he personally supported the gay ordination resolution, but voted against it because he didn’t want to further divide the communion.

JOHNSTON (Diocese of Virginia): It was quite wrenching because it took two of the core values of the church and juxtaposed them against each other. Mission and inclusivity on the one hand and then the unity of the church on the other, which is no less a core value of the gospel.

LAWTON: Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said her church is not fomenting division.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Schism is not a Christian act.

LAWTON: The approved resolutions reasserted the Episcopal Church’s desire to remain an active member of the Anglican Communion. But Bishop Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles says that doesn’t mean total agreement with overseas churches about homosexuality.

BISHOP JON BRUNO (Diocese of Los Angeles): I think I would explain it to them that the context that we live in is totally different. And that they have to be tolerant of our context as well as we are tolerant of their context. I still want to be in relationship with them fully.

LAWTON: Reverend Ian Douglas, a representative from Massachusetts, described the votes as being honest with the rest of the world about what the Episcopal Church stands for.

DOUGLAS: There’s no communion without genuine relationship. And there’s no genuine relationship without truth-telling. So I see commitments to being in Communion and telling the truth about who we are as being of a whole.

LAWTON: Conservative Anglicans already don’t like what they’re hearing.

BISHOP DAVID ANDERSON (American Anglican Council): I think it signals to the rest of the Communion, the Anglican Communion, that the Episcopal Church wants to be a member only on its own terms. And that if terms are applied to it, then they will go their own way and have things the way they wish. And others can be with them or not.

LAWTON: David Anderson is among the Episcopalians who left the denomination over theological issues. He was ordained a bishop in the Anglican Church of Kenya.

Disaffected Episcopalians, including four breakaway dioceses, have formed a rival jurisdiction called the Anglican Church in North America. They’re seeking recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

ANDERSON: I see that as The Episcopal Church continues to go through these earthquakes of adopting things there is going to be a constant stream of both people and churches, perhaps more dioceses, that wind up leaving and coming over into the rest of the Anglican Communion.

LAWTON: But at the same time, many Episcopalians believe their actions here will help bring in other people who may have felt alienated in the past. Both sides say they’re anxious to focus on mission rather than division. I’m Kim Lawton in Anaheim, California.

Bishop Jefferts Schori is the first woman Presiding Bishop in the US. Yet another big move for the Episcopal Church. I remember well when women were not even ordained to the priesthood, and was friends with a woman who was one of the first illegally ordained women. Of course, had she, and the others with her not done what they did, who knows how long it would have taken for women to be ordained as priests? And that was just back in the '70's, so it has only taken 40-something years for GLBT people to have the keys to the kingdom. But clearly, not everyone is happy with that decision. I reckon that is just how it goes, though. There are always going to be people who are not open to change, or unwilling to see that ALL people deserve to be treated equally. They can use whatever reason they want to justify it, in this case, God, but that is the bottom line, isn't it?

I should add, my adopted denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has ordained LGBT people for years, and was the first denomination to do so. I remember my minister telling me the story of when the resolution came up in General Assembly in 1980. She said the president at the time spoke on stage, reiterated one of the Principles and Purposes of the UUA, that is, that "we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person." The vote was then called. All those in favor were to say, "aye." My minister said the "Ayes!" rang loud. All those who were opposed were to say, "nay." The vote was called. She said you could have heard a pin drop. Nary a nay was heard. Then the place erupted into wild cheers and applause. Since then, the UUA has also been supportive of same sex unions, passing a resolution in 1997 on that issue as well (though same sex unions have been performed for decades).

Of course, the UUA is not perfect - any organization run by people is, by its very nature, imperfect. But in this area, they have sure gotten it right, and for a long time, I might add. Glad to know the Episcopal Church is finally doing the same. I hope they will be an inspiration to other mainstream denominations as well.


Mary Ellen said...

Wow...good for you,Rev. Amy for not compromising your principals. This whole subject within the Catholic Church drives me crazy. Of course, you know that they will never accept the gay lifestyle or allowing gay priests (of course, there are many more gay priests than you can imagine, but they are "living that lie" in order to do so).

There are some things within my Church that I just cannot accept and their views on the gays is number one on the list. However, that hasn't been enough for me to leave the church because I hold so strongly to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, I just can't let that go.

Anyway, I have talked to a few priests about this and they said that just because I don't accept all the pretexts of the church doesn't mean I can't be a part of it. Of course, if I went to a more fundamentalist priest, he would probably tell me to pack it up and don't come back. The way I figure it...God knows where I stand and I think He's standing there with me on this issue. I feel that in my heart.

But hey...good for the Episcopal Church, it's a beginning, and that's a good thing.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, Mary Ellen -

Thanks - I appreciate that! Honestly, I just couldn't see past that lying thing, especially since my concentration was in ETHICS!!!

Oh, I understand why you have stayed in the church even though you don't agree on everything. It is sad, really, since Jesus made it so clear that everyone was to be treated with respect and dignity. Leave it to people to mess up that simple message...

I am glad you have priests who are helpful to you, as opposed to making you say a bunch of Hail Mary's and other penance for your "sin" of thinking people like me belong in the church. Like you, I have no doubt that the divine stands with you on this issue.

And it is only through people like you that change can be made. When you talk to your priests, it's like tossing a stone in a pond - the effects ripple out. The next time this issue comes up in their discussions, they'll remember what you said, and it spreads from there. So GOOD ON YOU for speaking out!

It is refreshing to find someone with such deep faith, Mary Ellen. Blessings on you!