Part One posted yesterday is here.
Virginia Theological Seminar
March 4, 2010
The Rev. David Norgard
President, Integrity USA
PART TWO begins after John Spong's Statement of Koinonia caused a turning point in the church's history of inclusion.
Still, skirmishes continued through the rest of the decade. Between General Conventions, the Episcopal Church caught the attention of our nation’s secular media by the novelty of conducting a heresy trial, namely that of the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter for ordaining a gay man named Barry Stopfel. As anachronistic – can I say medieval? – as it appeared to many reporters, several were nonetheless kind enough to note how the Episcopal Church maintained its sensibility throughout the ordeal. The Wall Street Journal, for example, noted that afternoon tea was served to the journalists and from a proper silver service.
The new century and the new millennium arrived…but not the end of the conflict. The story picks up in Minneapolis in 2003. That bastion of radical liberalism, New Hampshire, had the audacity to elect Gene Robinson, a gay man with a partner, as its bishop and, because of the timing; it was up to the General Convention to consent to the election. The line of people rising to speak their mind, pro and con and sometimes both in truly Anglican fashion, stretched all the way to the back of the huge hall. The testimony was variously emotional, logical, political, personal, and theological. Frankly, it was probably also unnecessary. Most people knew how they were going to vote before they ever entered the room. Nevertheless, the debate ran its full allotted time and then the House of Deputies voted. With a majority that was neither vast nor slim, it confirmed the election of the church’s first openly gay bishop in the church of God and the bishops did likewise, with the added dramatic flourish of a score of them abruptly walking out upon announcement of the results. Eventually, Gene tied with Desmond Tutu as the most recognized Anglican bishop in the world. (Sorry, Rowan.)
With the advent of a gay bishop, a reasonable outside observer might have expected the Episcopal Church finally to get on to other business. It had now been debating essentially the same subject for three decades. The Nicene Creed had been produced more quickly. Yet in 2006, at the proverbial eleventh hour, the same Presiding Bishop who had presided at Gene’s consecration pushed through a resolution designed to ensure that what had happened in New Hampshire stayed in New Hampshire. Although couched in sober and pious phrasing such as “exercising restraint,” Resolution BO33 basically called for a moratorium on the consecration of any more gay bishops.
That brings us close to the present moment and to Disneyland, or, I suppose I should say, to the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, California. The passage of two resolutions by the convention brought the saga that had lasted nearly as long as “Days of our Lives” to its long-awaited conclusion. The resolution finally came.
Resolution #C056, originating from the Diocese of Missouri (whose Standing Committee just consented to the election of Mary Glasspool), moved the Episcopal Church decisively toward recognizing – and solemnizing – same-sex unions. Specifically, it acknowledged the changing legal landscape with respect to marriage and called upon our bishops to provide for generous pastoral response, especially in those places where civil unions of one sort or another are now permitted. Furthermore, it mandated the Standing Liturgical Commission “to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships” while, it added, “honoring the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality.” In other words, we recognized that not everyone is happy about the emerging reality but it is what it is and we are moving forward.
The other landmark resolution, #D025, unequivocally affirmed that God has called and may call LGBT individuals to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. In other words, the de facto moratorium of 2006 on gay and lesbian bishops was lifted and what was characterized as “inappropriate” and untimely back in 1979 was at last found to be entirely appropriate and indeed timely.
That brings us to 2010, to the present day, which is by definition of course, the threshold of the future. Looking across the ecclesiastical landscape now from the perspective of the history I have just recounted, I believe the direction that this church is headed is clear. Collectively, we are now moving in the direction of transforming the legislative victories attained at the national level into living realities at the diocesan and congregational levels. We have decided, finally and unabashedly, in favor of being the kind of faith community in which lesbian and gay people are truly part of the family. We have become a “Modern Family,” to borrow another TV show title, and Mother Church, if you will, has come out. She has come out as a “P-FLAGer.” As an individual Episcopalian and as President of Integrity, my outlook is both hopeful and optimistic because once you have come out of the closet, friends, it really is not all that easy to go back in.
Having said that, I hasten to add that, as it is with the stock market, so it is in politics: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Even the freshman student of history knows that human progress is not inexorably linear. History is littered, in fact, with examples of progress not merely coming to a halt but taking a violent u-turn. The “war to end all wars,” World War I was followed by World War II. In China, the move toward a free market was followed by the brutal clampdown of free expression in Tiananmen Square.
Nevertheless, there are multiple sound reasons for optimism. Let me cite just a few. Just recently, the Attorney General of Maryland announced his official opinion that his state should recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere. The nearby District of Columbia, of course, just became the latest civil jurisdiction to allow such unions and even though the city has long been regarded as a bastion of liberalism (like New Hampshire), the symbolic value of the nation’s capital city doing so is potent. Likewise with Iowa: Today, in the Midwestern heartland, same-gender marriage is the law of the land and a fact of life. Looking northward from here, the Bishop of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw, has granted his clergy permission to perform marriages for same-sex couples in the churches of that diocese, C056 being his justification. And across the country in my new home diocese of Los Angeles, the convention elected the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, to serve as one of its two bishops suffragan. As of yesterday, 55 of 56 required Standing Committee consents have been received and her consecration is tentatively scheduled for May 15th.
Why all this movement in a forward direction? Fundamentally, I believe it is because nearly everyone today knows someone who is dear to them and lesbian or gay: a brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother, neighbor, teacher, student, judge on “American Idol.” This increasing familiarity has brought contempt some places, to be sure, but mostly, to know us has been to love us.
My primary ministry these days is as an organizational development consultant to churches and nonprofits. In that work, I spend a fair amount of time helping leaders articulate mission and vision statements for their organizations and communities. A vision statement is essentially an articulation of what you want to be true when you have succeeded in your mission. It implies a commitment to do whatever is possible toward making that preferred future the reality. If I were to draft the de facto vision statement of the Episcopal Church, it might read, in part, something like this: “The community and its leadership are diverse in age, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and familial constellations. This fact is a great blessing and is nurtured in the way we live together.” If this phrasing sounds familiar to you, it should be. I adapted it from the student body section of the VTS website.
As with any great cultural shift, this one will too will continue to meet resistance. A review of the national church’s website illustrates the point. There is an extensive section on diversity that includes a, b, c, d, x, y, and z…but not l, g, b, or t. Thinking historically again, just consider the Ordination of women or the adoption of the current Book of Common Prayer. Years after the formal actions were taken at General Convention moving the church forward on these matters, battles still raged on. Every great struggle, it seems, is defined by and motivated in part by the resistance with which it must continue to contend. And in this vein, I see the struggle for a diverse faith community as no exception to that historical rule. Three challenges in particular are possible and substantial enough to merit specific mention.
First is the desire for a scapegoat, a common temptation in community life. Whenever some crisis occurs or some unforeseen disaster descends upon the scene, it can seem expedient or advantageous to cast blame upon a vulnerable target. Jerry Falwell blamed AIDS on gay men, for instance. Never mind HIV. The only necessary ingredients for combustion are some inflammable scandal or incendiary economic friction coupled with invidious rhetoric.
Another viable force of resistance to a diverse church is the temptation of political expediency. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Episcopal Church might persuade itself to do the wrong thing (in my view) for the right reason. For instance, it is not implausible to imagine a scenario in which our church moves toward a recognition of global interdependence and, in the process, negotiates away aspects of its own identity or polity.
The third challenge I would name is perhaps the most worrisome of all because it pertains to our very viability as a community. I speak of the challenge of our own apparent irrelevance in the sight of the world around us. What if we Episcopalians finally do invite all the gays and lesbians in our neighborhood to our party…and they don’t to show up? What if what we have to offer is just not seen as being all that appealing? I do wonder: Have we fought for two generations to be included in a community that our younger gay brothers and lesbian sisters will simply regard as unimportant?
This question, it seems to me, leads to an even larger one: In an increasingly complicated world…one in which individuals are at once bowling alone and inextricably interdependent…one in which many doubt the primacy of any one theological narrative just as others defend their one true faith ever more militantly…one in which the strongest trend is identifying as “spiritual” and not “religious”…in such a world as this, is what we have to offer sufficiently authentic and compelling to appeal to those we would welcome?
I would like to offer two suggestions before I close. First, I believe we are perhaps uniquely positioned as a Christian denomination to offer to the spiritual seeker a community where a sense of mystery in life goes hand-in-hand with a respect for reason in the life of faith. As a communion, historically we have welcomed honest inquiry. To borrow words from the VTS website again, “our church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has been open to new truths discovered by reason and experience.” At the same time, it is a church that has generally also been open to the ineffable, especially through experience of the aesthetic. In short, we are equally comfortable with answers and questions, with art and science. In my personal experience, this perspective on the world resonates with individuals who identify as belonging to a sexual minority. It does so because, in a culture where gender roles are still defined by straight lines, they are outliers on the spectrum of conventional understandings of social reality.
Secondly, I believe we are necessarily yet nonetheless sincerely at last beginning to see ourselves not first and foremost as an institution to which people, if they have enough sense, will just join naturally. In our most vital congregations anyway, I see evidence of a very different self-understanding. Instead of institutions bound by law and dedicated to self-perpetuation, they see themselves as communities bound by love and dedicated to purposes beyond themselves. This also resonates with LGBT persons in my experience for it mirrors the story of LGBT families and communities. No social conventions have brought us together, let me assure you. It has been nothing other than the soulful desire to belong to a family of choice and a community of choice that allows us not only to be ourselves but also to be there for the other.
If we continue along these lines, I believe there is hope not just for the future of inclusion but for the future of our church over all. We will be a community whose appeal to all sorts and conditions of folk is neither a passing fad nor an artifice of political strategy but rather the natural further expression of a catholicity that stretches all the way back to the coming together of Jew and Greek.
Friends, in the first few years after the advent of the Ordination of women, I recall a question arising frequently in conversation: Do you believe in women’s Ordination? It was almost like out of the Baptismal Covenant. Whether it was intended to elicit an affirmation or a renunciation, you couldn’t always be sure. In either case, the most memorable response I ever heard came from a very sincere if somewhat naïve man who said, “Do I believe in them? I have seen them!”
As openly gay and lesbian people become a common and unremarkable aspect of the cultural landscape, I do believe that more bishops will ordain LGBT persons, more vestries will elect them to serve as rectors, more congregations will elect them to vestries, and most importantly of course, Altar Guilds won’t wince at the need to set up a wedding for two grooms or two brides. We are past the turning point. We have crossed the tipping point and the forecast is bright.
There will be resistance. The impulse to respond eagerly and faithfully to the emerging realities of each succeeding age is always met with the opposing impulse to preserve and hold fast to what has been familiar and comfortable. But as I see it, it’s not a matter of acquiescing to a more inclusive future for the sake of those who have been on the outside. It is rather a matter of embracing opportunities that give us all a future as a community – a community of mystery and reason, of determined commitment and unconditional love.
Thank you for your kind attention this evening and your willingness to reflect on these intriguing questions together. I dearly appreciate your hospitality and your openness to this conversation. I invite all of you – lay and ordained, straight and not-so-much, to walk with Integrity in your ministries going forward. It is, after all, by walking with integrity (small “I”) that we have arrived at the threshold of the future we behold, one that is bright precisely because it is blessed with a veritable rainbow of color.
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