Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Brutal Honesty

There seems to be a wide variety of expectations floating about regarding the recent and future actions of the Episcopal Church. I've tried to not disturb those expectations, even though often they seemed to me to be quite unrealistic.

I've served in six dioceses in Wisconsin, California, South Carolina and now New Jersey. I've experienced the Episcopal Church in over a dozen congregations. To be quite honest, the Episcopal church I often hear described in our conversations seems to me to sometimes be viewed through rose tinted glasses. It has little to do with reality.

So, time for a reality check. And, just so it is not dismissed as yet another rant from crazy Jake, I'll use the words of another. In this case, the picture is painted by Tobias Haller, offered shortly after the statement from the House of Bishops was released:

...What follows may be hard to hear, but I think these things need to be said. I will frame them simply as bullet points; I welcome commenters who disagree with my assessments to say so — but I am trying to be clearly, if not brutally, honest.

  • It is very easy, in a liberal parish in a liberal diocese to come to think that The Episcopal Church as a whole is much more liberal than it really is. This applies to the Anglican Communion as well.
  • The House of Bishops as a whole — even with the “Network” bishops missing — is not as liberal as its most liberal members. When they gather, something between the Hive Mind and the Stockholm Effect takes place. The whole is often less than the sum of its parts.
  • The idea that gay and lesbian persons are full and equal members of the church is more of a hope than a reality. The ground has shifted considerably from 1979 (when General Convention resolution A053 recommended that bishops and standing committees not allow the ordination of “practicing homosexuals” to any order of ministry) to 2006 (when B033 recommended withholding consent only for the episcopate, for candidates whose manner of life might challenge the wider church) to this week in 2007 when the House of Bishops clarified that yes, this does include partnered gay and lesbian persons.
  • That gay and lesbian persons continue to put up with the church may also be a sign of the Stockholm Effect, or of their great faith. I prefer to think it is the latter.
  • While no one has a right to be ordained, or a right to get married (the hierarchy has veto powers on both matters) still these may have come to be seen as reasonable expectations, to some extent encouraged by a gradual movement towards greater toleration in the desuetude of 1979's A053, and the increasing practice of pastoral provision for same sex blessings in a significant minority of dioceses.
  • This impression was also encouraged by a crucial act in 2003. The consent to the election of Gene Robinson was a “false dawn” — and was not the celebration of gay and lesbian equality it was perceived to be. The consent had more to do with Gene’s superb personal qualities and track-record as an excellent priest than with his sexuality and his partnership. The consent was given in spite of, not in affirmation of, his private life. The consent to his election thus made it appear both to us and to the world that we were moving faster than we actually were.

    So, where are we then, speaking practically, and what can be done to encourage gay and lesbian persons that they have not been abandoned? A number of our bishops have already issued letters or commentary on the House of Bishops’ meeting, affirming their personal commitment in their own dioceses to continuing the struggle. That, I think, is the best that can be said at this point.

    As I suggested in an earlier post, it is high time to proclaim that Lambeth 1998 1.10 does not represent the consensus of the Anglican Communion — and remind people that fully a third of the bishops present voted against the clause on the compatibility of same-sex relationships with Scripture: so that even if this is a majority view, it cannot by any reasonable definition of the term be called a “consensus.”

    Meanwhile, the struggle continues — perhaps made a bit easier by the behavior of the radical right in their essential withdrawal from the process and choice literally to walk apart, both at the national and communion level. I take some hope in this — but it is a hope, not a thing achieved. What I say here may not be of great comfort to those who had come to believe that The Episcopal Church was more welcoming as a whole than it actually is. There are many parishes even in the most liberal dioceses where a gay or lesbian person cannot be honest about who they are. There are many dioceses in which clergy with partners continue to function, faithfully serving their parishes, from the closet. God willing, this will change in my life time. But even if it doesn’t, I know that the theologies of heterosexism are doomed, and that the day will come when the hope to which the bishops referred is realized.

    For the present, a luta continua.
  • Thank you, Tobias.

    I know that some will find this honest view of the current situation upsetting. I really would prefer not to cause any additional pain. But, if we are to move forward, I think we need to take off the rose tinted glasses.

    I realize that some consider the recent bishops' statement as more "justice delayed; justice denied." And so some will no longer be able to continue down this path with us. I find that heartbreaking, but personally, I can no longer deny the reality Tobias has articulated above, and feel it would be irresponsible to do so.

    We've got a lot of work to do between now and General Convention 2009. There are many Episcopalians who are not yet convinced that the time has arrived for us to stand together as witnesses to the radically inclusive love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ.

    I sincerely believe that General Convention 2009 will be a dramatic shift. I think the House of Deputies learned something at GC2006, and will not be as willing to be manipulated by the bishops again. I will be there in 2009, hopefully with voice and vote, and I am not inclined to quickly forget my outrage over how events unfolded during the last days of GC2006. But for the hope of this shift in 2009 to become a reality, we each have to do our part.

    If we are to work together to find solutions, we have to first correctly describe the problem. And the problem is not limited to the Anglican Communion. We've got plenty of work to do in our own backyards. And every one of us will be needed if we are to accomplish our goals. I hope that even in this harsh light, you will be willing to continue to walk with us.


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