On March 4, 2010, the Rev. David Norgard was invited to address the students and faculty of Virginia Theological Seminary. Norgard is the President of Integrity USA. His topic was "THE FUTURE OF INCLUSION." Integrity USA has been an advocate for full inclusion in the Episcopal Church for 35 years. Norgard's historic address focuses on how far we have come and where Integrity and the Episcopal Church are heading. This address will be published in two parts. It is a must-read for anyone who believes that nothing short of full inclusion is good enough for Jesus or for the church.
Virginia Theological Seminar
March 4, 2010
The Rev. David Norgard
President, Integrity USA
Good evening. I want to begin by thanking the Dean for the invitation to be with you this evening. It was a most gracious offer that he made to me to come and speak here at the seminary and I am delighted to be doing just that. I also wish to thank you all for being here. I consider it both a great pleasure and a privilege to share with you my perspective on “The Future of Inclusion in the Episcopal Church.”
As you may be aware, the Dean issued the invitation to me to speak on this topic in my capacity as President of Integrity USA. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, Integrity is an organization dedicated to advancing the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons (LGBT) in the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church. Composed of individual members and parish partners from across the country, it has been engaged in its ministry of advocacy and education for thirty-five years now, ever since being founded by an Episcopal layman from Georgia, Dr. Louie Crew, in 1974.
When Mike Angell, a student here from the Diocese of San Diego and occasional preacher to the President, first contacted me about arranging this visit, he posed a straightforward yet intriguing question: What is the future of inclusion in the Episcopal Church? If I were someone who was prone to pithy answers, I would say “bright” and call for the next question. The very fact of my being here – at the Virginia Theological Seminary – as President of Integrity – provides strong evidence for the soundness of such optimism. There was a time within the living memory of some in this room (myself included), when such an occasion as this would not have been contemplated, let alone realized. This moment we are sharing right now, my friends, is in itself richly symbolic of the long road we have traveled together as Episcopalians over the past four decades. In fact, I believe that it is a directional sign toward where we are headed as a church….as you put it here, “orthodox and open”
I am not prone to pithy answers though, as you can already tell. So I would like to expand on my sunny forecast and give you a full report of the indicators as I read them. Speculating intelligently on the future is always first an exercise in interpreting history, particularly recent history. So let me begin there.
Recent history clearly has been a story of advances toward a more and more inclusive church, with only occasional setbacks. Looking at the issue broadly, we can see this progression a number of ways. For instance, we can observe how the role of women in the church has evolved and expanded. Thirty-five years ago, there were no women in the House of Bishops. Now there are sixteen. Thirty-five years ago, women were still somewhat new to the House of Deputies. Now a woman is President. In a similar vein, we can look at how the Spanish language has entered the life of the domestic Episcopal Church. Four decades ago, to hear Spanish in an Episcopal church was a novelty. Nowadays, many dioceses have at least one congregation where Spanish the primary language. We can look at various demographic trends and, generally speaking, they point to a denomination that is exhibiting more diversity in both its membership and leadership. My particular competence, however, lies in the area of the conscious inclusion of sexual minorities and, on the national level, that particular storyline begins in 1976.
That year General Convention debated a resolution which acknowledged and recognized homosexual persons as [quote] “children of God.” When you stop to think about that for a moment now, in 2010, to some of us it sounds just a little quaint…kind yet presumptuous in that old-guard, true-blue Episcopalian sort of way. That body of mostly churchmen, in all their magnanimity and sagacity, were moved to vote on the question of who was a child of God.
Thankfully – and to the great relief of many whose ontological validity hung in the balance, the vote was in the affirmative. (Don’t some of you feel much better now?!) Soon after that, presumably in the spirit of that declaration, the Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, ordained the first openly lesbian woman to the priesthood, Ellen Barrett, at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan.
The church at large was not at all amused, however. Mountains of letters of protest were delivered both to the parish rectory and the diocesan chancery, including (sadly) no small number of bodily threats and spiritual curses. Apparently, being a child of God was one thing; being a priest was entirely another. In a notable demonstration of elegant backtracking, another resolution passed at the next convention, declaring the Ordination of “practicing homosexuals” to be “inappropriate” at that time.
Permit me a personal excursus here. Despite the apparently ill-timed nature of my desire or desires (whichever), upon returning from the convention in Denver, I proceeded with my own plan of seeking Ordination and enrolling in seminary. It was a very big step for my home diocese, Minnesota, to sponsor an openly gay man. As a lot, Minnesotans are quite reluctant to be inappropriate; it’s just not in their nature. But the bishop, Robert Anderson, was a man of steadfast conviction and quiet courage. As the local process proceeded and the national debate intensified, he never wavered in his support. I recall one instance that might resonate especially with those here tonight. After receiving my admission application, the dean of the divinity school where I applied called my bishop to express his serious concern. He explained ever so delicately, almost apologetically, that I had listed Integrity – of all things – among my church involvements. The dean discreetly whispered over the phone to the bishop, “He is probably gay;” to which the bishop whispered back, “Actually, I have met his partner, and he is definitely gay…Is there some problem?” There was none for him if there wasn’t any for the bishop, the dean stuttered, leaving the bishop to wonder: Was it his chairmanship of the board or his matter-of-fact approach that had been more persuasive?
Back to the larger saga: For the next dozen years, no convention was without its resolutions about homosexuality. The topic seemed to move from being the love that dare not speak its name to the debate that would never end. Meanwhile, more and more lesbian and gay people, lay and ordained, lived on one side or another of an increasingly sharp and deep divide within the church. On the one side, more than one bishop prohibited any known homosexuals from serving at their cathedral’s Altar, unless they first took a vow of celibacy. At a prominent seminary, openly gay clergy were barred from serving as supervisors of field education. On the other side, another divinity school named a scholarship after Dr. Crew…and several bishops became increasingly vocal about their gay-supportive views, rejecting outright the argument that the church would fall apart if it accepted lesbian and gay people fully. Douglas Theuner, a predecessor of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, coined the rallying cry of the whole movement. “There can be no unity without justice,” he declared emphatically to the House of Bishops. For years, his quote was displayed on the front cover of every Voice of Integrity magazine. And I dare say that it is still timely and pertinent today on an even larger plane.
By the start of the nineties, more than a decade of debates and studies and hearings and speeches had brought no resolution. They had brought dozens of resolutions actually but no solution to the controversy. So, what was an “Episcopal” church to do when confronted with such vexation? Turn to its bishops was the answer that came to the Phoenix convention in ’91. The theologians among them (“bishops” and “theologians” not being coterminous, you realize) would undertake another extensive study and report back at Indianapolis in ’94. If nothing else, we are a studious church. Just parenthetically, I do wonder about our bishops sometimes. They have studied homosexuality for years and some still claim to be perplexed. It only took me a summer to learn it…but I suppose that is a story for another time.
Back to Indianapolis: The bishop who succeeded Paul Moore of New York, a man by the slightly unfortunate name of Dick Grein, delivered the report to a packed and tense House of Bishops. The report started well enough from the perspective of those hopeful for a breakthrough in LGBT equality. It recognized that gay people existed, that they were in the church, that indeed they were children of God, that they did some good things, and that many of them were actually very nice…lovely, in fact…devoted to partners, devoted to church, great on the Altar Guild, etc., etc…but…But the report concluded, nevertheless, they still should not be ordained and we should not be marrying them either, particularly to each other.
That night everyone felt a pall hang over the entire convention. Liberals were in despair. Conservatives were anxious. What would happen next? It was not at all obvious. Integrity folk worried: Would these unfounded conclusions somehow end up enshrined in canon law? Had the struggles and efforts of so many of us for so long been for naught? As a church, were we about to retrench?
Well, perhaps I should have guessed what was coming, since I happened to know the antagonist so well. The next afternoon, a son of this very seminary, the famous or infamous Bishop of Newark, Jack Spong, stood to a point of personal privilege. Slowly, dramatically, he read what eventually became known as a Statement of Koinonia, i.e. of community. With forceful eloquence, he stated unequivocally that he would ordain whoever was fit and called, homosexual or heterosexual. He took a similar stand with respect to blessing the committed relationships of same-gender couples. Then, with savvy and audacity, he invited his colleagues with courage enough to share his convictions publicly to sign the statement along with him. That evening the special service sponsored by Integrity was overflowing…and so were the tears. By 7:00 o’clock, about five hours later, dozens of other bishops had signed that statement and by late the next day the number had reached 78. There could be no mistake. It was by no means the end of the struggle…but our church had reached a turning point. TO BE CONTINUED.........
Part II of The Rev. David Norgard's VTS address: The Future of Inclusion will be published tomorrow.
Open up the conversation about the future of inclusion at your school. If you are a faculty member, administrator, student, or alum of any one of the Episcopal seminaries, Integrity President David Norgard is available to speak at your school. To inquire about this possibility, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org