Thursday, July 12, 2012

Response to the Dissenting "Indianapolis Statement"

Deacon Carolyn Woodall from the Diocese of San Joaquin responds to the Bishops who signed the dissenting Indianapolis Statement.

July 11, 2012

To the Signers of the "Indianapolis Statement,"

Rt. Rev. Sirs,

I have read your statement and I respect your choosing to state your positions. I understand they are strongly held. I wish to state my positions and ask that you respect my choice to do so as my positions are also strongly held.
Rev. Deacon Carolyn Woodall

I am a recently ordained deacon. I am a lawyer, currently working as a Public Defender, almost a cradle Episcopalian, and no spring chicken. I am also transgender. Depending on where I live, A049 may apply to me as well. This gives me a somewhat different perspective on what it means to be a Christian, as well as on being Episcopal clergy.

I very recently took the same oath to which you refer. I took it with a clear conscience and with a firm belief that the relationships of faithful, monogamous, loving same-sex couples are worthy of recognition and blessing by the church. I also believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation. The sexual intimacy to which you refer, however, presupposes something else - that the relationship must be between a man and a woman so that they may procreate. We all know that procreation was of paramount importance. Yet we will, as a church, perform marriage rites, or blessings of a civil marriage, for couples who are not capable of procreation - be it because of age or medical reasons. We recognize the legitimacy of non-procreative relationships between men and women without qualm. Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, but it clearly was never intended to contain all things necessary to meet every situation in life for time eternal. Hence we rest our beliefs on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. To do otherwise leaves us crippled as to our ability to respond to changes in attitudes, society, technology and our knowledge of our universe and ourselves.

The Book of Common Prayer does state as you have said - marriage was established in creation and it references a man and a woman. We have, over time, changed the Book of Common Prayer. It is not immutable nor is it Holy Writ. It is written by people for the purpose of setting forth our beliefs and our liturgy. The current BCP even recognizes that priests and bishops might be women. The drafters of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer did not conceive of this. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was drafted we had not yet reached the point in our society where same-sex relationships were acknowledged as being anything but short term, promiscuous, and devoid of love. Those who were in loving, long-term, faithful, monogamous relationships knew better, but society did not. Most people believed it to be a voluntary lifestyle, not innate. The concept of innate sexual attraction which was anything other than heterosexual was unknown in the time of Jesus. It was largely unknown until approximately one hundred fifty years ago.

The provisional liturgy does resemble a marriage ceremony, and it should. The relationships being blessed are as wholesome, strong and of a character of holiness as those we consider appropriate for marriage. This liturgy will, in many cases, be used to bless civil marriages between same-sex couples. But it does not take the final step of solemnizing a marriage because it cannot by the laws of most states and the current state of the canons. I pray those will, in time, change.

In your paragraph six you state, "We are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of our dioceses. Our Baptismal Covenant pledges us to 'respect the dignity of every human being' (BCP, p. 305), and we will continue to journey with them as together we seek to follow Jesus." Forgive my bluntness, but I can not see in what way you are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of your dioceses. I find myself unable to see how you respect their dignity. Marriage, as you know and understand it, is so very important to you that you are compelled to put your objections in writing. Marriage recognizes the legitimacy of a relationship. Many of those gay and lesbian Christians in your dioceses are in relationships with someone they dearly love and to whom they are faithful. Your statement seems vehemently to say that their relationships, and by implication, they themselves, are not worthy of recognition by the Church and the Church must view them as strangers to each other. Are the needs for love and companionship of the gay and lesbian Christians not worthy of recognition by the church? Are those same gays and lesbians to be considered members of an unworthy class of human being? If this is the case, please just say so rather than insult them in this manner.

Our sexuality is a major part of our identity - both as individuals and as members of the Church. I chair the Commission on Equality in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and it was once suggested to me that people should leave their sexuality at the door when they come to church. The suggestion is, of course, impossible of realization. Those of you who are married come to church as part of a married couple. People know you are married and put the two of you together in their minds. If for some reason any one of you is not serving at the altar then you will probably sit with your wife. Your relationship is accepted and respected and you do not, when you walk in the door, suddenly become a stranger to each other. If you are not willing to treat the relationships of your gay and lesbian members with the same respect and recognition - or as closely as can be done in places where they may not legally marry - then you run the risk of being seen as being committed to the preservation of things as you know and like them. Do these gay and lesbian couples not quite rise to a level of humanity equal to that of a heterosexual couple? Perhaps they rate a bit less respect than heterosexual human beings?

Not so very long ago, at a diaconal ordination, the ordinands were told that the job of a deacon is to be "a holy pain in the ass." I pray I have done my job and presented an alternate perspective on this issue.

The Rev. Dcn. Carolyn Woodall

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