US Episcopal Church Convention affirms gay clergy/bishops and does not reject same sex unions
In the past week, the Episcopalian Church in the USA took major steps at their Convention to move forward and affirm the development of liturgical material for same sex unions, and instructed local bishops to make their own decisions as they "determine what such a generous pastoral response might mean in her or his diocesan context" re performing same sex unions. Further they stated "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."
The Episcopal Church has been in the midst of a storm since the 2003 ordination of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson is an openly gay man who lives with his life partner. He was legitimately elected by his constituency and the election was approved to have been fairly conducted at the Episcopal church's annual conference.
Then, the storm began. It is a huge story, full of nuances and global intrigue. I will attempt to be as brief as I can, and encourage you all to read further articles should you need more detail. Here goes the condensed version.
1. Bishop Robinson was ordained as bishop.
2. Conservative American Episcopalians were furious. Among other things they cited a discussions that had been had in England with the Archbishop of Canturbury and other country-level bishops in which everyone had agreed to not proceed so much regarding GLBT issues. (Note: The Us church is not subject to Canturbury. The Archbisop of Canturbury is not like the Pope. He is the head of the Anglican Communion. a group of many national Anglican churches who share a common theology -- but almost more importantly very similar Books of Common Prayer. They had also vowed to stay out of each other country's church business.
3. Bishops in what is called "The Global South" became heated. This area includes Central and South America and Africa, primarily. While some Bishops were in agreement with the US (Desmond TuTu for example), others begn to try to get the US kicked out of the Anglican Communion. Most notably, Peter Akinola, Bishop of Nigeria, attempted to assume leadership of US churches who wanted to leave the Episcopal Church. He would be their Bishop. So a church in texas could become part of the Nigerian Church and not allow GLBT members to be ordained or wed. In Nigeria it is illegal to be GLBT. In some areas it carries a jail sentence of 14 years, in some a penalty of death.
4. The Archbishop of Canturbury holds many meetings and asks everyone to just not do anything more for a while. Pressure rises to kick America out of the Anglican Communion.
5. Some US churches leave; lawsuits are levied by US conservatives who want to take their church buildings/land/assets with them; bishops cross national borders and interfere; Bishop Akinola refuses to receive communion if a gay person is next to him -- and so on.
6. There are huge implications financially as North America in general, and the US in particular, have been the prime financial supporters of the Anglican Communion, and the leaders in contributions to foreign missions, especially in the Global South.
7. The most conservative wing of the US church leaves. to form a rival church body.
Briefly, it was an unholy mess.
Now the ante gets raised by America, as in their General Convention they have done the following (taken from the ECUSA web site):
1. Resolution C056 calls for the collection and development of theological resources for the blessing of same-gender blessings and allows bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."...It acknowledges "changing circumstances" that call for a renewed pastoral response from the church for considering same-gender blessings, including state laws on same-gender marriage, civil-unions and domestic partnerships. The resolution also authorizes the House of Bishops, in conjunction with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, to devise an open process that will invite churchwide participation in collecting and developing theological resources and liturgies. The commission is to report its efforts to the next General Convention in 2012.
2. Resolution D025. In addition to underscoring the Episcopal Church's support of and participation in the Anglican Communion, that resolution affirms "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has written to all 38 global primates and to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canturbury, about the convention's actions. The letter concludes -- "The Episcopal Church treasures our relationships and partnerships as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and prays fervently for its life and mission, as we pray for you, brother Rowan, and your ministry as the spiritual leader of the communion."
The 2.3 million member Episcopal church is struggling. They have lost 19,000 members over the past few years. Many worry about further fragmentation. Susan Russell, a priest in California, and president of Integrity, the gay rights organization in the church when asked if she felt that these decisions would bode ill for the church numbers of attendees said:
"A church that is obsessed with fighting over whether or not gay and lesbian people can be bishops is not real attractive," she says. "I mean, 'Come watch us argue over gay people' is not a great marketing scheme. And I'm of the mind the decisions we're making are going to encourage church growth rather than decline."
This is a very big moment in the history of the Episcopal church. Many other denominations are watching, denominations that have yet to take a formal stand on the subject of full inclusion. The Episcopalian Church is a more formal, "liturgical church" -- more like Catholic than like Unitarian. That they have taken these steps is really big news in church circles.
Jennifer states the rlationship this has on overall LGBT issues.
...The entire issue points out something that is easy for us American gays and lesbians to ignore: the rights (or lack thereof) of gays and lesbians internationally has an effect on us here at home.
There is the threat of a schism because gays and lesbians in many parts of South America and Africa (South Africa being the notable, progressive exception) lag behind their American counterparts when it comes to how they are viewed by their societies. If gays and lesbians were seen as nearly equal in those parts of the world, we would have more rights in the U.S. now.
That is, mainline churches would have accepted us already — which would lead to more pressure on politicians — which would lead to a quicker change in our laws.
Our rights at home are affected by gay and lesbian rights abroad.
A gay rights battle in one place — whether that place is within the Episcopal Church or in a city in Africa — affects gay rights in every other place.
Reverend Amy points out that not everyone is happy with this decision. She herself used to attend an ECUSA seminary, but as she is lesbian, chose to drop out because of the then position regarding ordination of GLBT people.
So not all is well, and not all welcome this move to full inclusion of the (many) LGBT members of the church. I wish I could say I am surprised by that, but I am not. Members of my family are still Episcopalian, and some of those have struggled with this issue, particularly around the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. That is to say, not everyone is embracing this change...There are always going to be people who are not open to change, or unwilling to see that ALL people deserve to be treated equally. They can use whatever reason they want to justify it, in this case, God, but that is the bottom line, isn’t it?
Debra addresses the issue of potential membership loss:
But let’s allow this story to play out. If the arc of history truly does bend toward justice, then perhaps the Episcopal leadership has not so much gambled the church's immediate future as invested in its long-term vitality.
There is an upside to progressive action in our faith communities that too rarely gets reported. Some congregations that have taken deliberate steps to welcome LGBT persons and families have suffered temporary declines in membership. But many find they attract new members over time, including same-sex and heterosexual couples who want to raise their children in an inclusive community. So rather than counting how many people march out of Episcopal parishes, what if we watch for how many march in?
Elizabeth Keaton an Episcopal priest from NJ is a lesbian in long-term partnership. She serves a parish in NJ and keeps a fabulous blog. She celebrated the events of the conference but addded:
There is an urgency, a ‘now’ to our mission. The world has never been more dark or broken or hurting a place. The compassion of Christ has never been more needed. Now, more than ever, we need to be Christ’s representatives, Christ’s anointing, Christ’s healing presence in the world.
Now, more than ever, we need to be fed from the sacraments so that we might be sacramental presence in the world.
That work requires us to move past our own zones of comfort – to get out of the safety of our own little boats of home or church or national conventions – and make our way onto the shores of discomfort to be among the people of God.
This is the important work of the church. The frenetic work schedule of General Convention is designed to make us think that THAT is the most important work.
It is not.
This church building is often confused with being the center of important work.
It is not.
For me, compassion that finds its way into mission and ministry is the only work of the church that brings us any authenticity with the central importance of One whose Sacred Body we claim to be.
The mystery of compassion is that, in the process of trying to change the world for the better, it is we who are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.