As I noted in a comment to the previous post, my bishop held a Town Hall meeting yesterday for clergy of the diocese. He and our suffragan bishop both spoke, as well as the vicar bishop and an old friend who although he retired as a diocesan some years ago has probably held more positions since his “retirement” than most bishops do in their entire ministry.
Two of the clergy present spoke very forthrightly about the extent to which the House of Bishops’ statement was a source of considerable pain to gay and lesbian members of their congregations. The bishop seemed at first to be slightly nonplused by this response, but then said some very profound things about the state of our church. I’ve been reflecting on them since.
[Update 10/1/07: a few people, including one reasserter blogger, have misunderstood what follows to be a summary of what the bishops said. This is not the case. The following comments are my personal reflections on the situation, in part in reaction to some of the things the bishops at the Town Hall meeting said.]
In keeping with an effort towards descriptive rather than prescriptive analysis, this is a sobering exercise in considering the state of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. What follows may be hard to hear, but I think these things need to be said. I will frame them simply as bullet points; I welcome commenters who disagree with my assessments to say so — but I am trying to be clearly, if not brutally, honest.
- It is very easy, in a liberal parish in a liberal diocese to come to think that The Episcopal Church as a whole is much more liberal than it really is. This applies to the Anglican Communion as well.
- The House of Bishops as a whole — even with the “Network” bishops missing — is not as liberal as its most liberal members. When they gather, something between the Hive Mind and the Stockholm Effect takes place. The whole is often less than the sum of its parts.
- The idea that gay and lesbian persons are full and equal members of the church is more of a hope than a reality. The ground has shifted considerably from 1979 (when General Convention resolution A053 recommended that bishops and standing committees not allow the ordination of “practicing homosexuals” to any order of ministry) to 2006 (when B033 recommended withholding consent only for the episcopate, for candidates whose manner of life might challenge the wider church) to this week in 2007 when the House of Bishops clarified that yes, this does include partnered gay and lesbian persons.
- That gay and lesbian persons continue to put up with the church may also be a sign of the Stockholm Effect, or of their great faith. I prefer to think it is the latter.
- While no one has a right to be ordained, or a right to get married (the hierarchy has veto powers on both matters) still these may have come to be seen as reasonable expectations, to some extent encouraged by a gradual movement towards greater toleration in the desuetude of 1979's A053, and the increasing practice of pastoral provision for same sex blessings in a significant minority of dioceses.
- This impression was also encouraged by a crucial act in 2003. The consent to the election of Gene Robinson was a “false dawn” — and was not the celebration of gay and lesbian equality it was perceived to be. The consent had more to do with Gene’s superb personal qualities and track-record as an excellent priest than with his sexuality and his partnership. The consent was given in spite of, not in affirmation of, his private life. The consent to his election thus made it appear both to us and to the world that we were moving faster than we actually were.
So, where are we then, speaking practically, and what can be done to encourage gay and lesbian persons that they have not been abandoned? A number of our bishops have already issued letters or commentary on the House of Bishops’ meeting, affirming their personal commitment in their own dioceses to continuing the struggle. That, I think, is the best that can be said at this point.
As I suggested in an earlier post, it is high time to proclaim that Lambeth 1998 1.10 does not represent the consensus of the Anglican Communion — and remind people that fully a third of the bishops present voted against the clause on the compatibility of same-sex relationships with Scripture: so that even if this is a majority view, it cannot by any reasonable definition of the term be called a “consensus.”
Meanwhile, the struggle continues — perhaps made a bit easier by the behavior of the radical right in their essential withdrawal from the process and choice literally to walk apart, both at the national and communion level. I take some hope in this — but it is a hope, not a thing achieved. What I say here may not be of great comfort to those who had come to believe that The Episcopal Church was more welcoming as a whole than it actually is. There are many parishes even in the most liberal dioceses where a gay or lesbian person cannot be honest about who they are. There are many dioceses in which clergy with partners continue to function, faithfully serving their parishes, from the closet. God willing, this will change in my life time. But even if it doesn’t, I know that the theologies of heterosexism are doomed, and that the day will come when the hope to which the bishops referred is realized.
For the present, a luta continua.
Tobias Haller BSG