Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Unfortunate Oversight?

Guess how many of the forty members of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council are lesbian or gay?

The answer is eight.

Twenty percent of the elected leaders of the Church’s most important governing body in between General Conventions are lesbian and gay clergy and laity from around the country. This is reflective of the talent, dedication, and service that this small minority of the church’s membership offers to the whole. It is a testament to the esteem in which gay and lesbian Christians are held by our sisters and brothers.

Now, guess how many of these lesbian and gay leaders are serving on the Executive Council committee appointed to respond to the Communiqué from the Anglican Primates’ meeting in Tanzania?

The answer is zero.

Despite the fact that two of the three requests made of our Church by the Primates’ Communiqué bear directly on the lives, relationships, and vocations of our Church’s lesbian and gay members, none of the lesbian or gay leaders on Executive Council were appointed to the committee drafting our Church’s response to these requests. Once again, our straight sisters and brothers assume the right to represent us, even when we are sitting at the table and can speak for ourselves!

This is called heterosexist privilege. Can you imagine a response to, say, requests about the ordination of women being drafted without women being in the room? Can you imagine a statement about racism being drafted without people of color in the room? I think you get the picture.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson are good-hearted people. They care about the lesbian and gay member of our Church. They are on record as supporting our full inclusion in the life and ministry of the Church.

Even so, their good intentions are readily subverted by the dynamic of heterosexist privilege operative in the decision-making structures of our Church. Their failure to insure that lesbian and gay leaders participate in drafting a response to requests for moratoria on gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions isn’t just an unfortunate oversight. It is an unconscionable, even if unconscious, participation in unjust power dynamics that exclude and silence us.

Write to Bishop Katharine and President Bonnie Anderson to urge them to expand the drafting committee to include lesbian and gay members of Executive Council. This is an opportunity to educate them and appeal to their better natures. They are strong, compassionate, and wise women who can handle it when we hold them accountable.

While you are at it, let them know that members of Executive Council, including some gay and lesbian members, should be invited to participate in the September House of Bishops’ meeting with Archbishop Rowan Williams. He needs to hear from all the orders of ministry in our Church, and Bishop Gene Robinson should not be the only (out) lesbian or gay voice in the room. That is an unfair burden for him or anyone else to bear.

The presence of so many of us on Executive Council, and the current visit of openly gay Nigerian human rights activist (and Anglican) Davis Mac-Illya to the United States, reminds us of how far we have come and of how far we have yet to go in terms of the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life and ministry of the Anglican Communion. Let us pray that all of our voices are heard as important decisions are made in the coming days and months.



Well said, John! Thanks!

Texan gent said...

Fr. John:

I'm responding to the link to your blog on Integrity News.

I'm sure that you are right about the number of gay folk on the Executive Council, but, after 36 years as a journalist, I have to ask: Who are the other seven members of the Executive Council who are gay? Do they say so themselves? I sssume so, but I ask.

And –– I came in late on this one–– who appointed the members of the executive committee who will respond to the communique? And, after the HOB's resolutions and letter to TEC, why bother to make any response whatsoever?

Oh: This is the first time that I've seen a priest put his astrological sign on “About me” on his blog. I suppose that it's mandatory in San Francisco.

Samuel Hudson
Austin, TX

Nancy Mott said...

Well said.It's rather incredible that such strong wise women have not seen the need for the voices of the oppressed to be included.

That being said, as a (white) member of a historically Black parish, St. Luke's/Knoxville, I have to say that sadly it's not been uncommon in the past for Black voices to not included in considering issues of race.

Heterosexual privilege and white privilege are not all that different.

Nancy Mott
Knoxville, TN

Fr. John said...

Dear Texas Gent,

Just to be clear, I am not a member of Executive Council. Those who are gay and lesbian members include Edgar "Kim" Byham and Bruce Garner. Both are self-identified advocates for LGBT people so I am comfortable naming them. Others are known to me, but I don't know them well enough to publish their names without their permission.

The 40 elected members include the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. I believe they appointed the members of the committee. Executive Council is fashioning a response to the Communique because it acts as General Convention during the triennium.

BTW, includes astrological sings in its member profiles for reasons unknown to me, but I don't attach any significance to that and neither should you. I do mention two personality typologies that I find helpful and interesting.

muthah+ said...

Thanks John for posting this. I was unaware but Mark Harris et al should be watching this. Yes I will write.

Father Doug said...

Take heart, Fr. John. Your position in the Episcopal Church is secure for the rest of your career there. All the significant positions of power and possibility for exciting ministry are open to LGBT candidates as we move forward. There's not a snowball's chance in Hell that we'll turn around now, with or without LGBT members on this particular subcommittee. The very fact that 20% of the EC are LGBT proves it.

It is true that TEC as a whole seems to be in a downward slide and its influence in the larger society waning significantly, but if it's influence in the church you want, fear not. The opposition to the new realities is splintering and defecting in large numbers. The inclusion side has stuck with the institution and has prevailed by doing the sometimes tedious, often thankless work of committee-sitting for years on end. Who ever predicted an all-female, all gay-positive leadership duet by 2007?

Fr. John said...

Dear Fr. Doug,

I'm not afraid or insecure about LGBT inclusion. I'm simply pointing out what seems to me an instance of continuing heterosexism. I'm not fearful or insecure about sexism or racism in the Church either, but that doesn't mean they have disappeared.

There is always work to be done.