Responding to news that Integrity's president, The Rev. Susan Russell will receive Lambda Legal's Liberty Award, Jeff Epperly rightly asks just how much we can work within oppressive institutions before we compromise our integrity and forfeit the right to speak. Epperly cites examples of hatred and oppression currently manifest by the Anglican Communion, and questions whether leaders in The Episcopal Church have sold out lgbts in order to remain in the Communion.
The question is urgent, and will remain so at each stage of the escalating conflict. Primates of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion have demanded that by the end of September the bishops of the Episcopal Church assure that blessings of lgbts cease and that we will have no more lgbt bishops. That would be a huge set-back were our bishops to agree.
Next month the Archbishop of Canterbury will pay his first official visit to the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and will try persuade bishops to meet the primates' demands. In the Church of England, the Archbishop is accustomed to bishops' having the power to speak unilaterally, yet, in the Episcopal Church, bishops by themselves cannot create official policy for the whole church. That must be done by lay and clergy as well as bishops, meeting in General Convention -- the next one not scheduled until July 2009. In essence, the Archbishop will ask our bishops to violate our polity: in March when asked to do so, they refused; I hope they won't give in to the Archbishop's new pressure face-to-face.
And note, so far they have refused! The Rev. Susan Russell is a major reason they have held steadfast. I know no one alive who is as adept as she in repairing spiritual spines.
I work in two institutions that still sport medieval clothing at least seasonally (the church and the university). I find it vital to listen to warnings such as Epperly's, asking myself at each negotiation whether the oppressor wants me to sell my soul for a mess of porridge.
Yet we need to be just as cautious not to back off from opportunities to reform the oppressive system. The vicious anti-gay stance now manifest in the Anglican Communion bears marked resemblance to the official positions of the Episcopal Church as recently as 1979. Even Bishop John S. Spong, an early and most aggressive supporter of lgbts, tells in his autobiography how he was not always a friend, how early in his episcopacy, he sought to remove lgbt clergy in the Diocese of Newark. He was living out, he notes, the homophobia that the church had taught him.
Had Integrity waited until the church was safe before we organized to work within it, few if any of the reforms would have taken place. Had Bishop Spong and other converts not encountered strong lgbt Episcopalians, many would have had no prompt to re-examine the stereotypes taught in their heterosexist education.
For 33 years Integrity has steadfastly spoken the truth to power in the Episcopal Church. Now the Anglican Communion has unwittingly offered us an opportunity to speak the truth to power globally. Dare we turn down that opportunity and deprive Anglicans elsewhere of a chance to encounter lgbts?
If Integrity and other lgbt Anglican organizations back away now, what hope is there for lgbts in other much more oppressive parts of the Anglican Communion?
It is spiritually unhealthy to stand outside a church saying, "Let me in."
Jesus has already let in all whom others would cast out. If lgbts don't show up to bring that good news, many in the Communion may miss out on experiencing authentic Christianity.
I rejoice in the stupendous energy and savvy that Susan Russell, our fearless president brings to these challenges. Her achievements are huge.
I rejoice that Lambda Legal will honor her. No one deserves the honor more.
Founder of Integrity