Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sui Generous: The PB Turns 1

A Look at the ‘Outcast’ Webcast

Yesterday’s webcast with +Katharine Jefferts Schori almost coincided with the first anniversary of her installation as the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Was she thinking, wow that was fast? Or, one down, eight more to go?

I came to the webcast with a fistful of questions designed to put serious rhetorical heat under +Katharine, but over the therapist’s hour I was disarmed by the generosity of her answers. Maybe she should be monitored by the Integrity member who, unable to get the webcast online, texted me to ask, “Is she doing her usual, sounding great but saying nothing?”

I texted back: “Yep, but lots less.” For instance, +Katharine talked about the delay in achieving “the full sacramental inclusion” of the lesbian and gay baptized. Sacramental. That was new. And she said it at least twice. Maybe she’s starting to get that what the church is doing, while mightily painful to LGBT folks, is something that pains the heart of Christ, as Integrity’s president Susan Russell has been reminding us for some time now.

It was also important to hear how central “our baptismal ministry” has become to the Presiding Bishop. In +Katharine’s mouth, the B word feels like a replacement for that worn out American differentiator, “polity.” Well, you heard it here at Integrity first. (Actually, you heard it first at your own baptisms, though living up to those vows has been a pillar of Integrity’s message for many a year now.)

But it’s not all sweetness and enlightenment at 815. I run through a few less comforting +Katharinisms in an annotated glossary below.

But first, let’s roll the tape one more time. See the face? Open, thrust up, sincere, in a word, welcoming. But suddenly it goes dark. Our moderator Jan Nunley is reading the very worrying stats from the new Barna Group study on the attitudes of young Americans toward Christianity. “Present-day Christianity is anti-homosexual: 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. They believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” Where on earth did they get that idea?

Pastor Katharine is stumped. She says we “focus on what divides us,” so that’s what people see. But clearly she’s moved into a murkier place and the smooth interview gets bumpy—and interesting.

When +Katharine is asked to explain how she has been put in a sacrificial place personally by the struggles over gay folks, there’s no retreat into canned language. She confesses, “I suffer the crucifixion of not being able to include the fullness of the gifts of my gay & lesbian brothers and sisters, that they are not yet able to live those gifts out in all orders of ministry of this church and that their unions are in most places unable to be blessed in this church. We as a body lose the witness of that commitment.” She means it; you can see it in her face. Still, future hope and present pain are tucked into her answer with two little words, “…not yet…”

I was the only “press” on hand. After New Orleans it was downright lonely. The upside was I got to have a short one-on-one with the Presiding Bishop. Like I said, my gotcha questions were already on the cutting room floor. What I needed to hear were some predictions about the fate of B033.

Is it true that B033 expires with General Convention 2009? She answered, “We don’t actually know.” And if the PB don’t know, kids, who does? Then I asked about something that the bishops’ recent actions put into doubt for me, “Will B033 be repealed at General Convention 2009?” BIG smile: “I expect there will be many resolutions dealing with that.”

And with that (really big) smile +Katharine Jefferts Schori lit out for the next stop on her journey…just eight years to go.


“End of the spectrum.” This is one of the expressions used to paint us as the far end of some small fringe. Yet if that’s so, then who is this “wide” group, this “we,” +Katharine says have “no willingness to go backward,” who believe “our vocation is to keep moving forward”? The truth is that the people who truly want full inclusion—coupled with the folks who just want to get inclusion done and out of the way—represent the true mind of the church. It’s time for us to stop marginalizing the majority.

“Civil rights.” When I first read the House of Bishops statement there was something anachronistic about “civil rights.” Plus, why separate our full “civil” from our ecclesiastical dignity? Because there’s an underbelly. It is part of the gospel, preached in the highest places in the Anglican Communion, that calls for justice outside the church but not within it. Be on the lookout also for “legal.” It’s all code for NIMC: “not in my church.”

“Sexual ethics.”
Another High Anglican phrase. “Changing our view of sexual ethics” seems to be the big stumbling block for otherwise liberal folk. But the implication is that we gays and lesbians lead inherently less ethical sexual lives than straights do. This is part of what, I think, Susan Russell (again!) means when she talks about the price we all pay for entrenched heterosexism. I don’t think anyone’s calling for a change in what constitutes ethical behavior, sexual or otherwise. LGBT folks are just asking that the church stop using it as a polite cover for implying that we are intrinsically unethical—unless that’s what they really think?

“Some have compared [the bishops’ reaffirmation of B033] with the compromise of Elizabeth I.”
Ah, music to the anglophiliac ears of the Episcopal Church. Lest we forget, the Elizabethan compromise was crafted to stabilize a shaky elite and did nothing to stop the incineration of papists and puritans throughout the Virgin Queen’s reign. B033 is a ‘compromise’ designed to comfort a foreign elite and is doing nothing to move gay and lesbian people out of the sacrificial place in The Episcopal Church.

“I wish we could stop focusing on what divides us.” One wonders, wouldn’t the simplest way to do this be to stop authoring,“reaffirming” and enforcing divisions—like B033 for instance? Brothers and sisters, I’d warn you against letting anyone shame you into silence but I know that’s unnecessary.

I hope such glossaries outlive their usefulness soon. After all:

“WE understand that our vocation is to keep moving forward.”
—Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, October 16, 2007

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