The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall
President, Integrity USA
One of the wonderful things about being Episcopalian is the freedom we have to believe something slightly different from the person next to us in the pew. Our liturgy provides such a strong connection that we do not need a confessional statement to keep us together. Of course that’s not comfortable for everyone, and it certainly isn’t convenient. It would be much more convenient for us if General Convention were to decide that every diocese and every parish had to be fully inclusive of LGBT people. That isn’t going to happen, because we respect each other, we respect diversity, and we respect the Holy Spirit leading us through the councils of the church. Where there is disagreement over a controversial innovation, we allow local flexibility.
In his responses during the process of Bishop selection, Brewer stated,
“Simply put, there is no Biblical precedent that allows us to redefine marriage or to open ordination to practicing gay people. I agree with that portion of the Windsor Report that states that to move forward with either gay marriage or the ordination of practicing gay people breaches the bonds of affection within the Anglican Communion, and I am committed to staying within the boundaries the Windsor Report requests.”
Bishop-elect Brewer is not likely to approve blessings for same-gender relationships in his diocese anytime soon, regardless of what General Convention decides. This is a big disappointment for those of us who had hoped for a new perspective, especially those who are members of, and minister to, the large number of gay people living in Central Florida.
But Bishop-elect Brewer also talks the talk of relationship, “The task is to find a way to be both Biblically clear about our ethics but also equally clear about demonstrating (not merely professing) the call to walk in love, as Christ loves us. Knowing that relationships can be trampled by politics, we have to work together to both form policies that reflect both Biblical clarity as well as compassion, and form relationships that do the same.”
If you’re like me, the implication that having a relationship with LGBT people somehow requires “compassion” in a way that relating to straight people does not, grates on the nerves. But if we read the Bishop-elect’s words with compassion ourselves, we can see that there is an opening here.
Bishop Jack Spong who became a champion of LGBT inclusion in the Church was once on the other side of the aisle. What changed him? Relationships with the LGBT clergy and lay people in his diocese. People, even Bishops, rarely make the move from opponent to ally unless they come to know, trust and respect gay people.
That is why the work of local Integrity networks, chapters and partners is so important. How will Bishop-elect Brewer ever come to see things differently unless the people of Central Florida who have themselves experienced God’s call to be gay and Christian, work without ceasing to form relationships with him and to tell him our stories? This is hard work, sometimes discouraging, but it is the work that changes hearts and minds. It may mean refusing to be silenced, refusing to be forced to meet in secret, insisting that Brewer put into action his language of relationship.
Looking back over the early issues of the Integrity newsletter, we see Louie Crew and others doing just this - constantly knocking on the doors of bishops, writing to them, asking questions and going back again and again. I am grateful to them for their work. I am grateful to all those who have seen the oppression of LGBT people and chosen to take action. I am grateful to the LGBT people in Central Florida and all our straight allies there who will take heart from the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Her persistence eventually paid off, and so will theirs.
And let us all support their work and that of Bishop-elect Brewer in prayer, asking that he may come to a new understanding of the Biblical imperative of justice and equity.