By Deirdre Good
Do not put your trust in rulers and in mortals in whom there is no salvation…Blessed is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who guards truth forever, executing judgment for the wronged; giving food to the hungry (Ps 146: 3-7).
These words from Psalm 146 have been ringing in my ears ever since I read the Bishops’ statement from New Orleans released earlier this week: “Put not your faith in princes! Trust and hope in God who alone redresses wrongs and who enacts justice!” Of course, the Bishops have done good work and to reach a degree of unanimity that responds to the Windsor Report while opening a way for full participation at Lambeth and commending a listening process is certainly pragmatic and noteworthy. But what good news does this statement proclaim to faithful glbt persons in the pews or at the altars of our churches every Sunday, in parishes here, in Britain, in Malawi, in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion?
The Bishops declared: We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. This is a ringing declaration of justice (even if it misquotes Gal 3:28—the text says “male and female”) but what does it actually mean in our dioceses or parishes? Does anyone believe gender discrimination doesn’t exist on a local level? Just do a tally, for example, of the women and men rectors or clergy in your diocese and you will see what I mean. Or put yourself in place of a visitor to an Episcopal Church. No one can put a foot inside the door without being confronted by distinctions of all kinds from knowing your way around the books in the pews, to seeing whether people look like me and thus whether I’ll be welcome. Are Bishops facilitating efforts to eradicate racism in their dioceses? Are dioceses discussing reparations for black Episcopalians?
Maybe the Bishops meant to interpret Gal 3:28 by one of the next declarations: We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. But is it the case in our parishes? Do I see glbt people like me represented at the altar, throughout the pews, on the vestry, in the diocese? Until I see something like fair representation in all these places (and others), statements like these have no teeth.
I have a job working for a church institution. But I know ordained glbt people who are not able to find employment in the church and whose God-given gifts the diocese in which they live is squandering. I know glbt lay persons who have been let go by their ecclesiastical employers. Where are the voices of bishops, deployment officers, priests and laypersons in our churches speaking out on their behalf or working quietly for justice and nondiscrimination?
So I say to the Bishops of our church: Let’s work on implementing what you proclaim in your meeting by employing and promoting ordained and lay women and glbt people fairly and equally in your dioceses. To my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters I say: we always have the power of the purse to leave the church or to withhold our time and our talents to demand change. But if there is some hope that the statements from New Orleans hold out to us: that we have an ongoing and particular place at the table; that without all of us the body of Christ is fractured and broken; then let’s take our witness –the angry patient tired but joyous witness of presence—as the church in the world to proclaim the incredible tireless love of God who guards truth forever and who always, always, always, executes justice for the oppressed.
Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. While she is an American citizen, she grew up in Kenya. Her blog is On Not Being a Sausage.