Friday, March 09, 2007

The ECUSA Executive Council Responds

On Sunday, March 4, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church issued a letter as its initial response to the Primates' Ultimatum to get rid of gays in the church, or else. The letter is typically Episcopalian in that seeks a compromise statement that is not too strident. There are two things that I found most interesting in the letter.

1. "We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."

In a separate account of the meeting, it is clear that the letter underwent two drafts. Considering my friend Bruce Garner was invited to join in the 2nd draft, which was adopted, the first draft must have been much weaker and did not include the statement I just quoted.

(Bruce) called for a clear statement about the continuing inclusion of gay,lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church. He said that the statement was needed because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were "targeted" by the communiqué issued by the Primates after their Tanzania meeting. Those people are feeling "very vulnerable" and worried that they have been cast out of the Church or will be "exiled" soon.

He recalled that while being in church on Ash Wednesday he found it "painful for me to keep replaying parts of that communiqué and wondering if I was welcome in that place." Garner said that if he, who has felt for years that he was welcomed in the Episcopal Church, wondered how new members of the church must be feeling.

The Rev. F. N. "Butch" Gamarra (Diocese of Los Angeles) told the Council that he was conflicted between the desire to work for remain open to reconciliation and the "elephant in the room," which he said was the fact that the Church is getting "hammered" for being inclusive.

The people in the pews need to hear from the Council that "we are not appeasing" people whom he characterized as bullying and disrespecting the Episcopal Church, he said.

"The language is terribly important to people in the pews," said Bettye Jo Harris (Diocese of Hawaii). She described how her son feels as if he's been driven from the Church since the communiqué was issued.

I applaud the determination of the Executive Council to stand up for LGBT Christians in their midst. They have given clear voice to the violence done against LGBT Episcopalians by the Primates Ultimatum. Rev. Gamarra is correct to call the conservatives and Africans trying to force gays out of the church bullies who disrespect the Episcopal Church itself.

2. Yet, they also issued this statement: "Further, we offer our prayerful affirmation to all who struggle with the issues that concern us: those who are deeply concerned about the future of their Church and its place within the wider Communion, and those who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention. We wish to reaffirm that they too remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."

That is a damn sight more than what the conservatives offer US! For the conservatives, it is their way or the highway. There is no living together in peace. They either want to force their vision on everyone, or they will attempt to destroy the Anglican Communion by driving out anyone who disagrees with them. Here, the Executive Council is saying, you may not agree with us or the decisions of the church, but you are still welcome. Of course, that means they would have to accept that in some places, gays are welcome, as well as women in leadership roles. Can't have that, can we?

I do not see any way forward that does not lead to schism. The right wing of the church are determined to force their agenda down everyone's throat they way they accuse us of doing that. Yet, the Episcopal church does not force any church or diocese to have female priests or bishops if they do not want them. No one would even force them to accept LGBT Christians into their congregations, let alone force them to bless relationships. The Episcopal Church says that as a church, we allow women and gays, but we won't force anyone who cannot accept this to do anything against their conscience. That is not the case with conservatives. Anything short of banishment and condemnation of gays will not satisfy them. If the ECUSA finds a way out of the current Ultimatum bind, we will certainly be backed into a corner with the proposed Convenant. And God only knows what kind of draconian resolutions the Africans and others will ram through at the 2008 Lambeth. In fact, I think the 2008 Lambeth will be the place of final schism, if it does not occur before then. The "Global South" will demand draconian measures against gays, and they have the sheer numbers to pass such a resolution.

In the end, it will backfire. The Global South will be separate even from England. What has not been widely discussed is that priests in England are already performing blessings for gay couples who marry under the new Civil Union law. The way they have gotten around the vexing questions is a stated assumption that no sex will occur in these unions, and the priests are not to ask the intentions of the couple entering the union. It is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at its most ridiculous. If the ECUSA is kicked out of the Anglican Communion, it will not be long before England will find itself in the crosshairs too.

1 comment:

Button Gwinnett said...

Though I was raised Baptist, I owe a lot of my understanding of the history of the King James version of the Bible (something you don't get on Sunday's in most churches) to an Episcopalian minister that I took a religion class from at Shorter College. Not coincidentally, he's also the first minister that I've ever heard face-to-face say that gays are welcome in his church. I've always appreciated that. And I also give him a lot of credit for the restoration of my faith - which I was losing.

Good luck in this debate within the church. At least gays have a voice in the fight. As you said, its more consideration than we get in other places.