by Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck
July 6, 2007
From June 18 to 25, members of the Anglican Church of Canada gathered from across the country to hear reports, to worship together, and to make decisions on some fairly important issues. The most controversial of the issues, of course, was the ongoing acrimonious debate about the place of queer folk in the church. As someone who has been in the thick of this particular battle for the past several years, I was watching closely (via internet coverage) to see where the chips would fall.
It was almost a year ago when my own patience ran out. I found myself caught on the horns of a vexing ethical dilemma: as a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, I had taken a vow of obedience to my bishop (yes, slightly medieval, I know), but now that vow was putting me in a position where I would be actively discriminating against GLBTT members of the church. As the chaplain for our local chapter of Integrity (a group within the church for queer folk and their allies), I had received a request from a gay couple to bless their relationship. Church law forbade me. My bishop forbade me. But the Spirit compelled me, and She trumps the others. There was no way I was going to turn this couple down.
So after a fair bit of soul-searching, I told my bishop that I would not be towing the line on this issue anymore. I called my position an act of ecclesiastical civil disobedience, but I don’t think he really got it. In any case, I soon found myself delicensed and out of a job, in exile along with the many who have been marginalized by the ecclesiastical powers that be. Interestingly enough, others in the church have picked up on my action, calling it “holy disobedience,” and it is not impossible that more clergy will follow suit in the months to come. In fact, recently Holy Trinity parish in downtown Toronto voted to do just that: clergy and people together, they are not waiting any longer for the full inclusion of queer Christians — the entire parish is prepared to break canon law. Holy disobedience indeed.
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