Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Response to the Bishops' Statement

The following is the draft of a resolution that our vestry is considering bringing to the floor of our Diocesan Convention on October 19. It is very much a work in progress, and comments are welcome. I will be away in Uganda for the next two weeks, and my ability to monitor comments will be spotty, but I'll do the best I can in getting them posted.

Update: the final version adopted by Convention is found here.

Response to the House of Bishops’ Statement

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention affirms the unanimous decision of the Standing Committee to refuse to discriminate against partnered gay and lesbian bishops-elect in the consent process as called for in General Convention 2006 resolution B033; and

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention deplores the lack of access to adequate pastoral and ritual care for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in large parts of the Episcopal Church and the refusal of the majority of our bishops to make provision for it, and calls upon the House of Bishops to publish guidelines for such care analogous to those developed by the Canadian House of Bishops; and

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention calls upon our bishops, individually and collectively, to defend the baptismal dignity and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people with vigor equal to the manner in which the House of Bishops has defended diocesan and provincial jurisdictional boundaries; and

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention commends the House of Bishops for its call to increase implementation of the Communion-wide listening process, and calls upon the Presiding Bishop and her staff to develop such a process within the Episcopal Church, recognizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people continue to be marginalized in many parts of our Church; and

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention commends the House of Bishops for its call for the full participation of the Bishop of New Hampshire in the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and acknowledges the basic contradiction between support for Bishop Robinson and the implementation of B033; and

Resolved, That the 158th Diocesan Convention commends the House of Bishops for its support for the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons, and calls upon the House of Bishops to work to resolve speedily and justly the basic contradiction between such support in civil society and the absence of such support within the Church’s own pastoral and sacramental life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bishop Jenkins Got It Wrong

Over at Episcopal Cafe, The Lead notes an article in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune that quotes Bishop of Louisiana Charles Jenkins decrying schism. Bishop Jenkins reportedly stated that:

"The most devastating thing, and the thing I do not want to see happen, is that there becomes two Anglican communions in North America," he said. "It is a sickness unto death. If we claim to be a catholic body, this is a temptation to which we cannot give in.

"On a more pragmatic level, those who will be hurt the most by this are the poor," he said. "We are involved heavily around the world in ministries of relief and development. And I don't think we have the luxury of giving in to our self-absorption on this issue, and taking that energy and those resources away from the poor."

The issue about which we are "self-absorbed" is, of course, the issue of what it means to include baptized Christians who are gay or lesbian in the life of the Church. Bishop Jenkins seems to believe that this is an issue peculiar to the Episcopal Church, and that our attention to it precludes our solidarity with poor people at home and abroad. He is very much mistaken on both counts.

This may be news to the Bishop of Louisiana, but there are gay and lesbian Christians in every Province of the Anglican Communion. If he is paying any attention at all to current events in Nigeria and Uganda, for example, this should not come as a surprise. Even if The Episcopal Church disappeared tomorrow, the question of including gay and lesbian Anglicans in the life of the Communion would continue, because people of faith are raising the issue everywhere.

We may have been engaging the issue longer and more openly than many other Provinces of the Communion, but The Episcopal Church is hardly alone. Rather than being "self-absorbed," perhaps the gift we have to offer the Anglican Communion is the fruit of our experience of ministry with lesbian and gay Christians. Maybe we can advocate for a real listening process that includes the forgotten voices of LGBT people in the Global South. That would not seem at all "self-absorbed" to me.

Bishop Jenkins second mistake is his implicit assumption that concern for lesbian and gay people and concern for the poor are mutually exclusive. We can't advocate for justice and inclusion for the former and support development projects that benefit the latter simultaneously. That is simply, empirically false. There are plenty of individuals, congregations, and dioceses that are doing both, and will continue to do so regardless of what is decided at the House of Bishops, or the Lambeth Conference, or General Convention. If Archbishop Akinola or Archbishop Orombi refuse to accept "tainted money" from us, the blood of the poor is on their hands, not ours. There are other ways to help the poor that don't require us to capitulate to prejudice.

And, dear Bishop Jenkins, need I point out that the world's poor include people who are lesbian and gay? Indeed, some of them are poor precisely because of the prejudice they experience. Gay and lesbian people in places like Uganda are arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. Their names are published in the press, leading to the loss of jobs and ostracism from families. They are blacklisted from private and public sector employment.

In fact, you don't have to travel to Africa to find gay and lesbian people suffering in this way. No doubt some are sitting in the pews of the Diocese of Louisiana. Why, Bishop Jenkins, I suspect some of the folks most affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are - my stars! - lesbian, black and poor. You see, Bishop Jenkins, the world doesn't divide up into the neat categories we try to impose upon it. It is a messy, complicated world out there, full of folks whose identity includes many labels and finally transcends them all in the beauty of holiness: our creation in the image of God.

Who are we to say who is to be excluded for the sake of the whole? Is it really better that one group should be sacrificed so that the whole Communion can be saved? Didn't Caiaphas say something along those lines . . .

Sorry Bishop Jenkins, but you can't hide prejudice behind concern for the poor. It shows right through all your pious hand-wringing. Poor people don't need their plight compounded by our prejudice. We need to work to eliminate both poverty and prejudice because all too often they end up affecting the same people. You should know that as well as anyone. It wasn't so long ago that people were saying, "We can't be self-absorbed about civil rights, when we've got all these poor people to help."


Monday, September 17, 2007

Hope for New Orleans?

In his usual perceptive way, Jim Naughton has written a thoughtful essay about the upcoming House of Bishop's meeting in New Orleans. Hopes for New Orleans essentially comes down to a hope that the bishops will preserve the status quo. The gist of it is this:

A minority in the House doesn’t like the fact that a candidate in a same-sex relationship would not currently receive a majority of consents from diocesan bishops, and hence could not take office. But they acknowledge it as a political reality, and probably wouldn’t mind saying so . . . If the question is whether Episcopal diocesan bishops are willing to postpone the development of an authorized text to be used in blessing same-sex relationships, then the answer, in all likelihood is yes. If the question is whether every diocesan bishop is willing to enforce a ban on the blessing of same-sex relationships, the answer is almost certainly no.

If I understand this correctly, the best we can hope for is that the bishops will assure Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council, that BO33 really does mean no more gay or lesbian bishops, and commit themselves collectively to refuse to authorize blessing rites at a national or diocesan level. This is where we are at now, and we can't move forward one way or another until at least General Convention 2009.

In other words, The Closet triumphs anew, and polity trumps prophecy. Is this really the BEST for which we can hope?

Maybe. But I dare to dream better dreams.

I can imagine the bishops saying something like, "Yes, we understand that B033 urges us to exercise restraint in consenting to the election of a bishop whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion. But the truth is that many of us really do not believe that being in a committed same-gender relationship in-and-of-itself constitutes an impediment to episcopal ordination. Therefore, the most we can do is assure you that we will collectively and individually vote our conscience in the matter of consent to episcopal elections, much as we always do. Only God the Holy Spirit knows whether or not that will lead to the consecration of a gay or lesbian bishop in the future. She hasn't spoken yet on the matter, but we are confident more will be revealed."

Or something like this, "General Convention hasn't authorized rites for the blessing of same-gender relationships at the national level, and only a handful of dioceses have done so. As we continue to experience the reality of gay and lesbian couples in our congregations, further discernment on the matter of blessing such relationships will emerge. Some dioceses will judge them already blessed by God and will seek to have the Church acknowledge this publicly, liturgically, and in good order. Others will not. We are unwilling - in fact, we are unable - to preclude the work of God the Holy Spirit in this ongoing discernment. If at some point we as a national church authorize such rites, then y'all will have to enter into a period of reception about the matter. Until then, don't get your panties in a bunch. We have a way to go before you need to get anxious about it. And by then, you'll be more concerned about gay and lesbian people in Nigeria and Uganda anyway."

Perhaps that isn't much more to hope for than the status quo, but words do have meaning, and honesty is the better part of valor. Surely we can hope for our bishops to say a word of encouragement to us, to declare that they can not pretend to ignore the gifts of gay and lesbian people, and will not suffer those in the Church who are ready to receive those gifts being forced to refuse them. So, dear bishops, be courageous and don't dissemble. Tell the Primates and ACC leaders how it really is with us and don't make promises you can't or in good conscience, will not, keep. Oh, it may hurt a little bit in the short run, but all is in God's hands anyway. In the long run, all will be well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Obama Got It Right

I haven't made up my mind about the Democratic Party primary campaign for President. I lean toward John Edward's populism and am allergic to Hilary Clinton. But as I consider the mess in Iraq, which has received so much attention from the hearings in Congress this week, I must say that Obama got it right. In 2002. Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave then:

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism.

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the President today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings. You want a fight, President Bush?

Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe. You want a fight, President Bush?

Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil. Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.

Guess I'll have to give the young Senator from Illinois another look.