Tuesday, March 28, 2006

California's Choices: A Response to The Living Church

I post below my response to a recent editorial on the upcoming episcopal election in my diocese.

The reason that the bishop search committee of the Diocese of California included the Very Rev. Robert Taylor and the Rev. Bonnie Perry among the slate of five nominees it presented is simple: they were eminently qualified. That is to say, they evidenced the holiness of life and the gifts for episcope necessary to serve as a bishop in the church of God. This determination was made through a process of prayerful and passionate discernment. As one member of the committee stated, “For us to have made our nominations any differently would have been bearing false witness to the Church about who was truly called and qualified.”

In consenting to the election and consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, the General Convention recognized that such holiness of life can be manifested by persons in committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. The Living Church would have us believe this contradicts the “plain teaching” of the Church. That is true: just as the ordination of women contradicted the “plain teaching” of the Church. The plain truth is that the teaching of the Church evolves as we come to new understandings of Scripture and tradition under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If that were not the case, we would still have slavery in the United States.

As we proceed to prayerfully discern whom God is calling to be the next bishop of California, the last thing the people of my diocese need to worry about is who “will be acceptable to the largest number of believers.” If that were the case, we would have to disregard the women nominees as well; the admission of women to holy orders is rejected by many members of the Anglican Communion, not to mention the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Communions. Opposition to gay and lesbian nominees is simply the sheep’s clothing covering the wolf of sexism.

Those of us from the diocese of California have lived too long with women and gay clergy, not to mention countless faithful lay leaders, to be taken in by this thinly disguised prejudice. And the attempt to pit gay and lesbian people against people of color is simply reprehensible. We do not need to choose between ministry with gay and lesbian people and ministry with people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. God’s love revealed in Christ Jesus encompasses us all.

If the California slate is sending a “message,” it is this: No more lies. And no more scapegoats. As Bishop Doug Theuner rightly said regarding the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson: “The ‘H’ word at stake here is not ‘homosexuality,’ but ‘honesty.’” The Anglican Communion will have to get honest about its heterosexism regardless of who is elected bishop of California.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Framing the General Convention Debate

Claiming the Blessing Platform
A Proclamation for the Episcopal Church

The Claiming the Blessing (CTB) Steering Committee is an all-volunteer committee representing a broad constituency of progressive Episcopal voices. Members are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight, lay and ordained, old and young – all with a deep love of The Episcopal Church and a firm commitment to classical Anglicanism.

As baptized Christians, we commit our lives to:
· the celebration of the goodness of all creatures and creation as given to us by God;
· our relationship with Jesus the Christ;
· the discernment of truth as revealed in Holy Scripture and the work of the Spirit;
· the indivisibility of spirituality, prayer and politics as modeled by the prophets and apostles;
· peace with justice as proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;
· truth and reconciliation as articulated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu;
· the vision of the Beloved Community as revealed in the table fellowship of Jesus.

We come to the 2006 General Convention in Columbus compelled to communicate our identity, articulate our beliefs, and convey our sense of call to prophetic action and pastoral presence.

Therefore, we call the Church to:
· Work for full civil marriage equality.
· Clarify our theology of marriage, family and human sexuality.
· Oppose the limitation of adoption and other civil contracts on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity and expression.
· Study the role of clergy as civil magistrates in marriage.
· Reaffirm the sacredness of long-term committed relationships, as articulated in D039” “We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.” (GC 2000)
· Authorize the development of liturgical rites of blessings where civil marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships are a reality, and elsewhere.
· Support universal domestic partnership benefits.
· Affirm human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide.
· Work for an end to the violence against LGBT people throughout the global village.
· Engage the international community in a listening process which includes the active voices and full presence of LGBT people.
· Embrace a theology of abundance; reject the theology of scarcity, fear and scapegoating; and commit ourselves to proclaim and live the good news of Christ Jesus.
· Reaffirm that all orders of ministry are open to all the Baptized who are otherwise qualified.
· Establish as church policy the commitment not to meet in those places where justice and liberation for all God’s children, including LGBT people, are absent in state law or local ordinance.

Friday, March 24, 2006

To scapegoat or not to scapegoat, that is the question

The latest attempt to scapegoat gay and lesbian people for the challenges facing the Anglican Communion came this past week at the meeting of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops.

Ruth Gledhill reports in the London Times that the Bishop of Exeter, apparently speaking on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, warned our bishops "that any further consecration of those in a same sex relationship, any authorisation of any person to undertake same sex blessings, any stated intention not to seriously engage with the Windsor Report, will be read very widely as a declaration not to stay with the communion." He added that failure to head this warning would mean the end of Anglican-Roman Catholic and Anglican-Muslim dialogues.

No doubt, many people will wonder how those of us in the Diocese of California should respond to these dire predictions. Three of our nominees for bishop are partnered gay or lesbian clergy. How seriously should we take the Bishop of Exeter's admonishment as we discern whom God is calling to be our next bishop? If we elected Michael Barlowe+, Bonnie Perry+, or Robert Taylor+, would we be responsible for a rupture in the Anglican Communion?

It seems to me that the Bishop of Exeter's comments were rooted in fear and anxiety. And that is never the place from which the Holy Spirit speaks. As we in the Diocese of California consider the well-qualified slate of nominees from which we must choose, our decision must be guided by a sense of who will best help us to engage the Church's mission of reconciliation, embodying God's love for absolutely everybody revealed in Christ Jesus. We must act from a place of peace, joy, and hope. And we must act with courage, because faithfulness entails risk.

The risk is that the election of our next bishop will force the Anglican Communion to come to terms with its complicitly in the scapegoating of LGBT people and the violence and death it entails. The risk here is that the 30 year-long battle by fundamentalists to undermine the Episcopal Church will be seen as the institutional power grab that it really is. The risk here is that the sundering of the Anglican Communion is the cost of discipleship that we must bear for refusing to practice the very scapegoating over which Jesus triumphed in his death and resurrection.

Once again, we have been presented with the false options of either preserving the unity of the church, or else honoring our baptismal covenant by respecting the dignity of every human being. I believe that God is calling us to a much more challenging way forward: the way of the cross. It is far more difficult to stay together without scapegoating anyone, than it is to demonize LGBT people. Can we refuse the temptation of scapegoating and still remain together in the Anglican Communion? That is the real question that the Bishop of Exeter should be asking. The Diocese of California will answer that question with a resounding "Yes!,"
no matter who our next bishop turns out to be.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Advocacy AND Evangelism

photo by Jan Adams

Yesterday a group from my parish put on their walkin' shoes and witnessed to Christ crucified at the anti-war protest in San Francisco. As Dominic Orlando has commented with reference to his play Juan Gelion Dances for the Sun, "there is no such thing as pro-wealth, pro-war, pro-torture Christianity." The Church desperately needs to prove Dominic right.

St. John's may well have been the only "out" Christian group at this protest of some 10,000 people. One woman walked by, eyeing the St. John's contingent suspiciously. "What are you doing here," she demanded.

"We're here in solidarity with those working for justice and peace," replied M. M.

"I've never seen you at any of our meetings," the woman pressed him.

"And I've never seen you at our worship services," M. M. shot back without missing a beat! Then he handed her a flyer about St. John's. Who says doing justice and doing evangelism are incompatible?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Liturgical Direct Action

Last night we celebrated our midweek Eucharist on Mission Street across from the site where a young man, Russell Cummins, was brutally murdered Tuesday evening and three other people were injured. It was important for us to be in solidarity with our neigbors and offer a sign of reconciliation and healing in the midst of violence. Just as the Body of Christ is broken for us, so the church is called to be "broken open," vulnerable and available to share in the suffering and redemption of the world.

Sometimes we have to leave the safety and familiarity of our lovely chapels and make the connections between the structures of violence that leave dead men on our streets and the self-giving love of the One who comes to reveal and overturn those structures, inviting us to work for a world without victims or perpetrators. Please remember Russell and all victims of violence: in our homes, in the Mission neighborhood, in our nation, in Iraq, and around the globe.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meet the New Monastics

David Miller has a wonderful piece in today's SF Chronicle, Meet the New Monastics. Based on an interview with a Duke Divinity School student living in an intentional Christian community, the article describes what I hope my own parish would aspire to be like. There is indeed a renewal movement working its way throughout the mainline church that links a deeply grounded, authentic Christian spirituality with engagement in political and economic life. May it thrive!

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

On Being a Problem

Tobias Haller+ writes a thoughtful commentary on the episcopal election in California, California Dreamin', that is well worth reading. There is a kind of "codependent" thinking on the part of some when considering the prospect of California electing a gay or lesbian person as bishop: an inordinate desire to defer to conservative sensibilities regardless of whether or not it serves the long-term good of the Communion, not to mention whether or not it is God's will. The temptation is to "enable" heterosexism, if you will, rather than take responsibility for our own convictions and let other people take responsibility for their convictions. If a person's sexual orientation is no reason to vote for a nominee, it is equally true that it is no reason to vote against one. Replace "sexual orientation" with the word "race" or "gender" and you will understand what I mean.

Those "Global South" Anglicans and their allies in ECUSA, whose sensibilities about homosexuality we are cautioned not to offend, are almost all offended by women in holy orders as well. Yet, I hear no one saying, "We can't possibly elect a woman bishop. That would be a slap in the face to our conservative sisters and brothers." The truth is that pressure is being focused on gay and lesbian people in the current global struggle for ecclesiastical power because it is still acceptable to discriminate against us, to make us the whipping boys and girls for all the church's anxieties about change and privilege. We still have to justify ourselves: "What makes you think you can be a bishop?" We are still a problem to be solved, rather than human beings to be respected. We are talked about, rather than spoken with.

I can not help but recall the tragic, passionate, honest words of W.E.B Du Bois regarding African-Americans, the enduring "problem people" in the United States:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter around it. They approach me in a half-hesistant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a world. (The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 1-2)

I'm still waiting for someone to ask me, "How does it feel to be a problem?"

But then, as disciples of Jesus, shouldn't we all be a problem, a contradiction, questioning the dominion of division and death that marks life in the world? If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34) The challenge for me as a gay Christian is to engage being a "problem" from the perspective of discipleship, and not as a victim. In preparing to elect our next bishop, my spiritual practice needs to be focused on letting go of anxiety and ambition so that I can rest in God's love. It is only from that place of trusting love, rather than fear or resentment, that I can rightly participate in discerning who God is calling to be our next bishop.

Being afraid of what others will think or do if we elect a gay or lesbian bishop isn't an acceptable basis for discernment. But neither is being resentful of those who hold this fear, worried about what they will think or do. I'm praying for freedom these days: freedom to embrace my baptismal identity and to entrust by "being a problem" to the God who became a "problem" for us. The good news for gay and lesbian Christians is that we don't have to justify ourselves. Jesus has done that for us already.