By Howard Anderson
I had trouble writing this. I had trouble because people I love and respect a great deal, people who have served the Church well seem to be placing unity before justice. Now I know that we ordained types are guardians of the institution of the Church. Bishops, especially, are the symbols of unity in the church. I know how hard it is to play that role because I have done it, both in the parish and on diocesan staffs. But I also know my very wise spiritual director often asks me, “Howard, do you love the Church more than you love God?” I always answer an emphatic “NO!” But if I were looking at my track record, my behavior, it would be very hard to tell who I serve, the institution, or The Holy One, whose Christ said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams, the American priest and Regius Professor of Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, wrote a very thoughtful and challenging (and might I add highly enjoyable) paper for the recent gathering of those committed to the full inclusion of all the Baptized at Seabury-Western Seminary. We are calling ourselves “the Chicago Consultation.” She points out that those of us committed to full inclusion in the life of the church of Gay and Lesbian Christians are so committed to inclusion that we often bend over backward to keep our more conservative brothers and sisters at the table. Some of these folks who cannot accept the full inclusion of GLBT members, use this commitment against us. She speaks of “sex and gender conservatives” who have lost their majority in the Episcopal Church had no problem excluding GLBT members from becoming priests or bishops, but now that they have lost that majority in the voting at General Convention, still exercise a kind of veto power because the majority of General Convention deputies find our commitment to Anglican Comprehensiveness (the biggest possible tent to include all) so absolute that we continue to throw our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters “under the bus” (witness B-033 which urged a moratorium on the consecration of additional gay or lesbian bishops) to try and appease the sex and gender conservative minority. It is not only unjust, it doesn’t work. When my grandson was told that there was a vote (B-033) which would make his Papi’s statement “anyone I baptize could become the Presiding Bishop” untrue, he was shocked. He said, “Yikes! That’s God’s decision.” I guess my talking to him about the Holy Spirit guiding the councils of the Church actually caught hold in his six year old brain.”
Think about it. Has anything the General Convention done prevented the schismatic bishops like Duncan and Schofield from pulling out of TEC? Has anything our successive Presiding Bishops have done appeased the sex and gender conservatives? Has trying to respond to the Windsor Report (simply a report, not a mandate from anyone with any authority in TEC or the Communion) stopped Archbishop Akinola and others from ordaining renegade American priests bishops in their overseas jurisdictions to function here in TEC? When the Archbishop of Canterbury, or conservative American bishops speak of compliance with the Windsor Report, do they EVER say much about the boundary jumping of Archbishop Akinola and company? They have even created out of thin air, new entities they are calling the “instruments of unity,” or as Professor Adams so aptly dubbed them, “The instruments of mischief,” to try and muscle TEC back into the fold of those saying “not yet” to full inclusion.
Professor Adams is right. The tolerance of the majority of General Convention Deputies who have voted strongly for full inclusion of GLBT members of our Church in all orders of ministry, has been used against us. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So, shame on me. Shame on me for tolerating evil. Dr. Adams points out sharply in her paper that homophobia of the type exhibited by some of the sex and gender conservatives, most particularly, Archbishop Akinola who is advocating Nigerian legislation that would criminalize merely being homosexual, is evil. Period! Evil! Strong words, but who can deny their truth? Adams says “homophobia is a socially constructed sin, one that is built into us as part of our socialization.” She calls boldly for us to root this sin out of the institution and our hearts. Amen! Preach it sister! I am convicted. This sin of homophobia is both institutional sin (sin done in our name) and personal, (those things I have done, and left undone.)
And so I confess that I have been guilty of poor discernment, often sacrificing justice, and following Christ in breaking down the walls of prejudice, in order to keep peace in the family. I confess that I have sometimes allowed others to talk me into “toning it down,” and not pushing the agenda of inclusion of all the baptized quite so hard, so I would leave a place for sex and gender conservatives to stand. I confess this, and I know there are many whom I love and respect that have succumbed to this same demand to “slow down so that the rest will catch up” when it comes to the full inclusion of GLBT members of TEC. I have spoken out, but mainly in safe places where most people agree with me. And so I repent, and speak it here for all to see. I have been guilty of the sin of cowardice in not doing more to root out the sin of homophobia in the Church.
Some would say that the group that gathered as “The Chicago Consultation” were pushing a “gay agenda.” Nonsense. It is nothing less than a Gospel Agenda. No one ever said following Jesus Christ to the edges of society to bring the “least of these” (however each society creates ‘leastness”) to the center would be easy. I have watched friends who are bishops not want to be publicly associated with “The Chicago Consultation.” They fear that their effectiveness, or their ability to function collegially in the House of Bishops would be compromised. They fear that their ability to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” in their diocese would be compromised. They may be right. But look at the conservative bishops. They organize into “networks and synods, and openly join groups with acronyms galore- CANA, AAC, IRD and more. Perhaps some of their appeal is that they are willing to step up and claim what they believe. However much I disagree with them, you have to give them credit for standing up for beliefs.
Something very predictable happens when we ordained types get together. My mother, when her Alzheimer’s disease had taken away her inhibitions, but not her words, said as she reached up to touch my clerical collar, “Cuts off circulation to the brain!” We get swept up in a wave of camaraderie, we bond with one another, relating effectively to one another becomes a prime goal of the gathering. So often, those outside that circle, (the 99% who are in the lay order) are not factors. But our General Convention’s genius is that lay AND clergy are together and vote. This tempers the “camaraderie effect” of a meeting of the House of Bishops or a clergy conference where the laity are excluded thereby rendering such rarified gatherings less comprehensive of the spirit of the Church than General Convention. I once sat with Michael Peers, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, as we listened to a debate on the issue of human sexuality in the American House of Bishops. One conservative bishop rose and said, in stentorian tones (and a British accent) “The only sexual activity sanctioned by Holy Scripture is life long, monogamous, matrimony.” In the spirit of brotherhood (pre-Barbara Harris) the other bishops nodded thoughtfully, and the gallery, in which we sat, erupted into gales of laughter. Murmurs of “What about Abraham? Wooo..Solomon” and the chuckling continued. Michael leaned over and said, “We have a single house, and the lay and clergy wouldn’t put up with such foolishness at our Synod.”
I re-read the Prayerbook service “Ordination of a Bishop” today. And like the Baptismal Covenant, the Bishops promise to “be chief priest and pastor, to encourage and support all baptized people.” They also promise to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel stir up the conscience” of the people, and to “defend those who have no helper.” This sometimes seems to conflict with guarding the unity of the Church. These people whom the people and the Spirit elect to be our Bishops face a daunting job of discernment on where to come down on these two promises. It seems an irony, but also no mistake, that right next to the “Ordination of a Bishop,” in the Book of Common Prayer, is the Burial Office. Dear me, they face some hard and taxing challenges. We should all be grateful that they are willing to serve. And do, please, prayer for our bishops.
But as for me, my spiritual director’s question, and Marilyn McCord Adam’s challenge to “root out the sin of homophobia” are foremost in my discernment. Those of us in TEC who are now in the majority of The General Convention deputies, should not be, as Adams suggests, “held hostage” by our commitment to inclusivity so that we give in when conservative threaten to leave if they don’t get their way. For many Conventions the votes went against inclusiveness. I went home, as the first clerical deputy from my diocese and had to say to the GLBT members of the churches, “the Spirit has said not yet.” No conservative ever said to me that the Holy Spirit was not guiding the Councils of the Church when the votes went their way. But all of a sudden, when the Spirit guided the General Convention in the direction of full inclusion, our conservative brothers and sisters changed their tune. “The Spirit of God was not there.”
I beg to differ. The Spirit of God has moved through the Councils of the Episcopal Church. It has taken us to a difficult place. But it is a goodly place. It is a place where Jesus Christ would be more comfortable than those parts of the Church where the gifts and charisms all the baptized cannot be exercised. That’s what I believe. That’s where I will stand, with the much maligned, under fire Episcopal Church. And I stand with her proudly. I’m not going to be blackmailed any more with threats of leaving. I’m not going to let others use my commitment to including all of the Baptized in my Church, at whatever level the Spirit gives them gifts to serve.
When Bishop Duncan said he would try to pull his whole Diocese out of TEC, he quoted Martin Luther. “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Ditto Bishop Duncan, ditto. Me too.
The Rev. Canon Howard Anderson, Ph.D., is president and warden of Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral.