Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Susan Russell: An Unexpected Blessing

When Integrity's Treasurer, Elisabeth Jacobs, asked me last week if I would "write something about marriage equality for the Integrity blog" of course I said I’d be happy to. And I thought I’d jump right in and write a quick piece about how encouraging it was to see the dozens of bishops stepping up and signing the amici ("friends of the court") briefs that went to the Supreme Court on the pending marriage equality cases.

I thought I’d reflect back on what an extraordinary shift there has been in the Episcopal Church – in what is arguably an astoundingly short period of time.

I planned to begin by recalling the day in June of 2003 when the House of Bishops' Theology Committee was literally shamed into inviting then-Integrity President Michael Hopkins and me to come meet with them. I say "shamed" because they were on the verge of finishing their presentation on Human Sexuality for the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church  and they had not included the voices, perspective or input of a single, out gay or lesbian person. Not. One.

And so they invited us to come. To Chicago. At Seabury-Western. Where we were ushered into a large conference room with a big circle of bishops and theologians and two empty chairs near the door … one for Michael and one for me. And we had an entire hour of their time. And they were scrupulously polite as we told our stories and talked about our vision – Integrity’s vision – of a church where all the baptized were fully included in all the sacraments. And they thanked us. And we were ushered out. And it felt like nothing so much as a trip to the zoo – only rather than going to the zoo, the zoo had come to them – and we were the "live in captivity: actually gay and lesbian people!" they had arranged to come so they could say they did.

What a difference a decade makes.

I don’t flatter myself that anything Michael or I did or said that day moved any heart or changed any mind. Not in and of themselves. What we did that day was what we had done many, many times in the past … and would do many, many, MANY times moving forward: we showed up. We did what those who’d gone before us – on whose shoulders we stood in that conference room full of bishops in Chicago – had done in order to even get us in that room: we told our story. And we did what our spiritual ancestor – the persistent widow in Luke's Gospel – did when confronted with the unjust judge: we kept coming back … again and again.

So that’s the blog I was going to write. To celebrate the power of story and persistence to work with the Holy Spirit to move the Episcopal Church from a time when our bishops had to be shamed into even talking to us to a time when every-bishop-save-one (Albany) in a jurisdiction with civil marriage equality signed a friend of the court brief calling for the repeal of DOMA (the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act") and an end to federal discrimination against married couples of the same sex.

And then today I woke up to the "breaking news" that Rob Portman – a conservative, Republican congressman from Ohio – had "come out" for marriage equality. In his op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, Rep. Portman wrote:

"Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God."

Ultimately, he made the decision for equality not in spite of his faith but because of it – but it was "knowing that my son is gay" that prompted him to open his heart and change his mind.

And so I’m glad I waited until today to sit down and write the blog on marriage equality Elisabeth Jacobs asked me to write last week. I’m delighted that there is yet-another-example of the power of speaking up, stepping out and showing up to bend that arc of history toward justice.

Yes, it would be nice if everybody figured out that "liberty and justice for all" really means ALL whether or not they have a gay kid. AND ... when they do figure it out ... we say thank you. Not only because our mothers brought us up right... but because [a] it's the right thing to do and [b] because we know they're getting slammed from the other side. So do the right thing. Make your mother proud. Do what I did and call Rob Portman's office and leave a message and thank him. Seriously. Go. Do it. Now: 202-224-3353

And then invite others to go and do likewise. Because this is yet another way of standing up, showing up and speaking out with that great cloud of witnesses – including our Patron Saint "The Persistent Widow" – determined to come back again and again until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.


The Rev. Canon Susan Russell has served as Integrity's President and is currently the convener of Claiming the Blessing, a national collaborative ministry focused on the full inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender baptized into the Episcopal Church. She is also a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion Council and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post's religion forum. Her personal blog may be found at An Inch at a Time.

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