Thursday, February 20, 2014

Progress, Diocese of Texas Style (Or How A High Strung Gender Non-conforming Radical Goes To Council)

In the Diocese of Texas, Canon 43 effectively prohibits partnered gay and lesbian priests from working
within our diocese. It does this by setting a "standard of abstinence from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony". In the next paragraph, Holy Matrimony is defined as the "physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman...and with intent that it be lifelong".

Photo by S. Wayne Mathis
Progressives have been trying to remove, replace or amend this canon annually for many years. Each attempt is met with strong opposition often ending with very strident floor fights during Diocesan Council.

This year, the more radical elements of the progressive wing of our diocese tried a different approach. A core group of dedicated folks (including many of the Integrity Houston Board), put together a grassroots movement to amend the canon. With the help of lawyers and theologians and with months of rewrites, we came up with a proposed amendment. We worked hard at tempering our language to achieve a very sane and rational amendment, surprising both our supporters and opponents alike. With a deadline looming, we gathered 103 cosponsors in about 10 days. Of this number, 98 were laity and 5 were clergy (2 active and 3 retired). After meeting the Canons and Constitutions Committee deadline, we continued to gather support for the amendment. A careful strategy was in place heading into council. The radicals (myself in particular) were to remain in the background and we would move forward in a calculated approach putting forth our best team players.

In a bold move, Bishop Andy Doyle addressed the issue of Canon 43 within the opening Bishop's address. In his address (which can be found at www.epicenter.org), he directly asked the sponsors that the amendment not be brought to the floor of council. He asked for the opportunity to address Canon 43 in a way similar to the way "Unity in Mission" (a program for same-sex blessings of lay LGBT couples) had been introduced. Under these circumstances, we decided that we simply must withdraw the amendment, honor his request, and allow him the opportunity he so clearly asked for. We felt to have done otherwise would have harmed our position. The withdrawal and its timing gained us favor throughout the diocese. We were able to keep our dignity and to establish the fact of being able and willing to work with the bishop's office.

While monitoring the progress of this issue, we stand ready to assist in educational efforts. At the same time, we are poised to take action again at the next diocesan council if we are needed.

Having always been part of the core of the amendment to 43 movement and ultimately the spokesperson at council, I would like to share my personal feelings.

1. This was grassroots at its finest. We would not take a "wait and see" approach, our traditional sources of support did not immediately back us up, and yet we kept marching forward. As council approached and the amendment gathered momentum, our long time allies again stood with us. Lines of communication with the Bishop were evident throughout the final days so that our efforts, our opponents' efforts, and even the Bishop's intentions did not come as a surprise to anyone. Transparency was our motto.

2. We were fighting for those who have no voice. In this and in many other dioceses, gay and lesbian clergy cannot fight for their own equality. If we do not speak up, then who will?

3. Even though the amendment was withdrawn, OUR efforts brought the issue to the table. It can now be addressed in a peaceful non-combative manner.

4. This was a TEAM effort, each of us had a role to play and none of us felt ALONE. Some folks worked on the legal aspects, others worked on the theological aspects. My role was to manage the final amendment, keep track of sponsors, and to co-lead the efforts at council. The team always had my back.

Photo by S. Wayne Mathis
5. At council (in my purple shoes of course), I found myself in the unique position of holding our "team" together. I felt honored and privileged to speak and to act on behalf of our side. I was treated with the utmost respect by Bishop Doyle, by Maria Boyce the chair of the Canons and Constitutional Committee, and also by the Chancellor David Harvin. Throughout the two day council, I was greeted with words of support and encouragement from longtime friends as well as dozens of folks that simply knew of me and the work that I was trying to accomplish.


6. I believe that I gained greater respect and acceptance as a leader within my own parish delegation as a result of being able to work directly with the bishop while holding fast to my core values. I instinctively knew when to push hard, when to hold back and when to compromise.

7. My LGBT activism within the church has often been an uphill battle with no end in sight. There were times, that I felt very isolated and without hope. Every time that I would want to give up and leave the church, God would always send someone or something that would hold me back and provide me strength to not give up. Integrity at all levels has often been that sustaining force. The local chapter allows me the opportunity to lead and to their credit they never cringe when I show up in drag for the pride parade or when I stand before them asking them for donations for a cause. National Integrity has also welcomed me into their fold first as a volunteer at General Convention and now as Provincial Coordinator and also as a member of the Stakeholders. I have met so many great people along the way and I hold each of you in my heart and you travel with me every step of the way. Likewise, my mama taught me to care about justice and equality long before I ever realized that I was gay. She too travels in my heart.

8. I hope that I can give back to the LGBT (and allies) community even a fraction of the love that I have received.

9. I thank God for allowing me the tenacity to carry on because I have seen the Light of Hope. If God can use a high strung gender non-conforming radical from a small parish of a small town in a very conservative state, then God can use anyone. I stand as a symbol of HOPE. Never give up on yourself or each other. There is LIGHT and there is HOPE.



Mr. S Wayne Mathis serves as the Provincial Coordinator of Province VII.

6 comments:

Ann said...

I hope this strategy works -- time will tell. But I will most likely be long gone by then.

Christian Paolino said...

Wayne, I am so grateful for your patience and gentle persistence in the face of such challenges.

For those of us in places where the tide has turned, it is easy to become complacent and take for granted how far the church has come. Thank you for reminding us the same is not true everywhere. Our work is not done.

Ron in Colorado said...

When our new Bishop, Robert O'Neil, was elected in 2003, we were elated. The man holding the #2 spot on the last ballot was Ephrim Raidner, a very conservative priest.

Bishop O'Neil had to walk a fine line, trying to hold the Diocese together. Most of the conservatives left in the next 5-6 years.

The Bishop met regularly with the leaders of the Colorado Chapters, at our request, and held a number of town hall meetings with LGBT members and their supporters.

In the past 4 years he has allowed a partnered member, who has since married their partner, to seek Holy Orders. He has also removed the restriction of LGBT priests in the Diocese, and has allowed parishes who so desire to offer the same gender blessings authorized by General Convention in 2012.

Sometimes we didn't keep a low profile and Bishop O'Neil would say "tone it down, your hurting your cause". We followed his advice.

We couldn't be happier with Bishop O'Neil and the overall support he has shown.

I applaud the folks in Houston for following their Bishop's advice. Hopefully, it will pay off.

Marvin said...

Respectfully: How does this constitute progress? Are gay people barred from being priests in this diocese or not? What makes you think this will change? I truly am curious.

Tom Fehr said...

As always I stand in awe. Just wish I had some purple shoes to stand in while doing it!

Julia Marshall said...

I am a Dallas Native. I hate to be ashamed of my homeland but so many are trying to ruin it for us. I pray that the haters will see the truth. Julia