Fear and the Episcopal future

By Rebecca Wilson

We’ve had five hours of testimony about human sexuality in the last two days. Regardless of the setting or structure of the conversation, the speakers can be sorted into three broad groups: those in favor of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and (GLBT) people; those against; and those who know it is coming but are imploring us to wait.

It’s that last group that’s on my mind as we wait for the resolutions on inclusion to wend their way through the legislative process. These people—perhaps a growing number, perhaps just newly emboldened to speak—may be personally uncomfortable about sexuality, but they are anxious to point out that they don’t believe being gay is morally wrong or scripturally prohibited. They know that the culture has changed, the church is changing and they, too, shall be changed. And they’re frightened.

Mostly they say they’re afraid that the Episcopal Church will get kicked out of the Anglican Communion. No matter how much mission or how many relationships knit us all together, we struggle to remember, in the words of Anglican theologian Jenny Te Paa, that “Communion, as I witness it and as I have experienced it throughout my lifetime, is US, embodied in and for each other across the endless chasms of distance and difference.” That kind of communion—true communion—doesn’t kick people out and doesn’t ask for oppression as the price of admission.

I don’t understand this fear of the Anglican Communion’s hierarchy. I don’t know why people are afraid of including all of God’s children in God’s church. And if we love one another, I’m certain that God will not lead us anywhere we don’t want to go. Injustice frightens me. Covenants do not.

But I see other kinds of fear in the mirror pretty regularly, so I know it when I see it. Earlier today, when I was watching the people asking for more time projected on the large screens in the House of Deputies, I saw fear in their faces and my heart ached. It’s hard to be afraid. It eats up your soul. It paralyzes you.

Thanks to clergy deputy Diana Clark of the Diocese of Newark, today’s metaphor for overcoming fear is an airplane breaking the sound barrier. As the plane draws close, apparently, it shakes violently. But after the sonic boom, it glides into calm and seeming stillness. There’s only one way to get through, as Chuck Yeager proved. Waiting won’t help, and neither will fear.

As the weekend of General Convention begins, it’s possible that we’re breaking through some fear. Several deputies who spoke this morning in the Committee of the Whole said that they had voted for Resolution B033 in 2006 but now recognized that it is time to move on. They were afraid then, and they’re not anymore.

It’s not clear what will happen when legislative sessions begin tomorrow. Last night, however, we had an object lesson in overcoming fear: At the Integrity Eucharist, Bishop Barbara Harris preached and Bishop Gene Robinson presided and 1,600 people filled the largest ballroom in the Hilton Anaheim. When Bishop Robinson invited all of the GLBT clergy present to come forward to join him in giving the final blessing, the throng was so large that he worried that the platform on which they all were standing might collapse. Among them were a handful, who, in that moment, were stepping out of their own personal closets, and into the light.

Rebecca Wilson is the director of communications for the Chicago Consultation.

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