The Episcopal Church and Us
by David Riley
The Episcopal Church recently finished its seventy-second, once-every-three-years General Convention. The Episcopal Church in the United States, which is part of the Anglican Communion (those churches that recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England as the "first among equals" in the world of bishops), was referred to at one time as "God's Frozen People." As a longtime and active Episcopalian, I can testify that God has thawed the church when it comes to issues revolving around Her Lesbigay children.
Perhaps most shocking to those who follow the politics of the so-called "mainstream denominations," is the fact that the proposal to approve a ceremony for the blessing of same sex marriages very nearly passed. Some calculations show that it failed by as little as two votes.
Dr. Louie Crew, who founded Integrity, a group for gay and lesbian Episcopalians, and a Deputy at this convention, attributed the closeness of the vote to the recognition that "there is a certain inconsistency in damning people for promiscuity and then damning them to be promiscuous by not allowing them access to a committed, recognized relationship." Dr. Crew seemed to think that this measure would pass at the next General Convention, which will be held in Denver in 2000. "The clock," he said, "doesn't usually run backwards."
In response to those who ask if a "blessing" is the same as a "marriage," Dr. Crew noted "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, but is gay it isn't a duck for heterosexuals. Still, if by calling it a blessing rather than a marriage it makes it easier for some people... sometimes you have to ride in second class on the train just to get on the train. In time, the quality of those relationships will tell the story."
The General Convention urged that organizations associated with the Church make insurance benefits available to domestic partners, but failed to pass a motion to allow survivor benefits for domestic partners. It would appear that the mind of the Church is more than slightly divided.
Perhaps the best indicator of the tone of the Convention for Lesbigays was given when the Convention passed, overwhelmingly, a very unusual resolution of apology for the mistreatment and marginalization of gay men and lesbians by the Church. The resolution acknowledged that there was a range of opinion on homosexual conduct, but stated that all people were the children of God.
The question is, will this fly in the pews? In my home parish, letters to the Bishop saying in various fashions "What were you people thinking?" have been sent. The Church, if she wants to continue to deal with this issues, has a tremendous amount of education to do at the level at which Episcopalians seem hardest to reach -- the "just a parish member" level.
The conservatives were not, however, without a voice. The most interesting proposal at the convention suggested that the Church not deal with issues related to sexuality for the next 21 years -- "a Sabbath of Conventions" in the wording of the resolution's supporters. Dr. Crew said, "I think this is lovely idea. I'd like to see both gays and straights go without sex for the next two decades." It is my opinion that he was kidding. In any case, that proposal went nowhere fast.
But the real fireworks started after the convention when a group upset over the strengthening of the provisions for the ordination of women and the increased tolerance displayed toward "homosexuals," held a meeting of the conservative Episcopal Synod of America. Despite dire predictions prior to the convention, they didn't quite walk out the door of the Church. As Dr. Crew noted, "They seem to want to be in full rebellion, but keep their church properties and investments in the Pension Fund." Generally speaking, that won't be possible.
The past few years have been hard ones for the Church I call my own. It has had to wrestle with "meat and bones" issues which are a far cry from the kinds of "Where do the bells look best?" issues with which most Anglicans feel comfortable. In the past twenty-years women became priests and now a few sit in the House of Bishops at our General Convention. And, it would appear, that the Church will finally realize that Lesbigays are also the children of a God who wants them to love, live, and be happy.
That pace of change might be a little uncomfortable for a Church that still uses Elizabethan language in its liturgy. But it might be the only pace at which justice will move.
A few notes made during my interview with Dr. Crew, who founded Integrity, the primary organization for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church. Quote marks would indicate Dr. Crew's statements. Other statements were my notes made as he spoke.
85 or so people testified on same-sex unions.
The Righter trial ruled that there was no doctrine of the church inhibiting ordination of lesbians and gays, and no doctrine inhibiting the blessing of committed relations between same sex couples.
That resolution came within one vote. Very surprising.
"I do believe the holy spirit is present among us, I'm not sure she always agrees with me, but in this case I think she did."
"It is much easier to get people to say they will study something than it is to get them to put it into the official book."
Louie is both charming and funny. Very intelligent, well spoken and outrageously informed on the minutia of the process of the governance of church.
Apology resolution used model of So. African Church's apology and an apology out of Canada. "It seemed easy, you can always say I'm sorry as long you don't have to do anything about it... but I think it is healthy and a beginning of an important process. During my testimony people were crying and hundreds of people approached me to thank me for my testimony."
"Local option is not finally a solution for a church that has common prayer."
"One of the things that is part of the genius and curse of the Anglican church is that we have always been composed of a broad diversity. It has therefore never been a part of polity to make confessional statements."
"They are wanting to leave, but wanting to stay in the Church pension fund. They want to leave but they want to keep the deeds to their properties."
"The issue of the ordination of women did upstage us."
"Who owns the church? The parish holds it in trust for the church."
"The clock doesn't typically move back. I have some strong opposition to some of the crap I have seen as proposed liturgies. By having it in the book of Occasional Services, the church gains some control."
"I am enormously grateful... I don't for a moment discount that I've worked very hard, but on the other hand I'm just a tired old queen."
"Barbara Harris takes it all the time... she has a frank and direct manner. I love her. She wore a button "Doing my part to upset to upset the religious right." "
"While we define, we want to have unity; we can pretend to a kind of unity that isn't really there yet. I have often felt that one of the things that Integrity has done is to keep the Episcopal Church honest. No other group has enjoyed the amount of success that Integrity has in the General convention."
"The religious right has gotten their hands on training documents from Integrity."
"People on their side don't have their lives and their salvation on the line; whereas gay and lesbian people do. Now that this isn't true of us, we run a certain risk. I , for one, would like to move to other issues - dealing with the poor and young people. And not have the church constantly talking about sex, well, talking about justice issues relating to sex... they rarely talk about sex although they often think they are."
"Jack (The Rt. Rev. Jack Spong, Bishop of Newark) held back, his form is the world not general convention. He is one of the most widely read Christian writers in the world today."
"I have felt extremely called to do what I am doing. It is maybe the most anti-intellectual statement I could make, but I don't feel that my work has been entirely of my doing. I do take credit for adding a certain tackiness to it."
"I use to think the task was "let us in" But since I started Integrity, I understood I was in with God... after all it is through his immense love that I am able to do what I have. The body of Christ in all the places where Integrity has met is the church. I am not on the outside, banging on the door; I am banging on the door saying come on in, come on in to the Body of Christ. I don't honestly think Jesus has much time for the Episcopal church.. he leaves that to people like me."
"Jesus's reputation wasn't as a a saint but as friend of sinners. If sinners are anything like I am now, they didn't take to people telling them what to do."
"There are a lot of people who need to come into the Christian community, not to be served but to serve. There are plenty of congregations where you can go... if you have no experience with religion, I invite you to the Episcopal Church, but do go visit. But I hope you don't mistake respectability for religion. One of the curses of the Episcopal Church is that we have this reputation for respectability. I don't value the Episcopal church for it's status."
"Real religion allows you to speak like Barbara Harris (The Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Mass.), real religion allows you to say dammit God where are you, as Jesus did."
"The bible in the minds of most christians... it's a bit like dressing up in pajamas. The real bible has profanity, a lot of violence, and a lot we don't like. And a tremendous witness to the continuing relationship with God."
"We don't know very much. We see through a dark glass."
"I joined the Episcopal Church because I didn't really have to believe in God... you just had to like music and pretty stained glass. But She never stopped believing in me. Faith isn't something you worked up to have, it is something that comes as a gift from God."
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