Christians and the LGBT community in Madison and around the world

At Grace we are continuing to reflect on ways of making our congregation more open and welcoming of all people in spite of our struggles with the diocesan ban on offering same-sex blessings and Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A recent article by Doug Erickson told the story of the suicide last fall of Mindy Fabian, a transgender teenager who struggled to find acceptance at her school and a place in the world. It’s a reminder that even in a progressive city like Madison, LGBT persons face adversity, prejudice, and bullying.

But it’s much worse in other places in America and across the world. After lengthy silence, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to all Anglican primates to remind them of their public “commitment to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation.” This came while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is traveling in Africa and after considerable criticism for his silence on the recent laws passed in Uganda and Nigeria that increase criminal penalties on LGBT individuals.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori has also recently reiterated the Episcopal Church’s commitment to LGBT rights:

The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family.  Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.  The current attempts to criminalize LBGT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations.

Stanley Ntagali, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda has responded to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Uganda bill:

We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

There is supposed to be a screening in February at UW of the documentary God loves Uganda that details the role of colonialism and western missionaries in creating homophobia in Uganda.


What a Mess!

Mark Lawrence responds to yesterday’s developments. Money quote:

“Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ — But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church,” Lawrence said in a letter posted on the diocese’s website after the presiding bishop’s announcement. “We took this action long before today’s attempt at renunciation of orders, therein making it superfluous.”

Some circular reasoning here, I think, in that he claims his actions make the declaration of renunciation “superfluous.”

Other commentary on the spiraling crisis. From Mark Harris:

I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if one of the first dioceses to undergo the stress of division had come to the General Convention and petitioned to leave the General Convention, gave the grounds, showed that a large majority of the people and clergy were for it, and made suggestions as to how all could be responsible to the trust or common ownershop concerns. Could General Convention have said, go with our blessings, but know that we will continue in the area where you are to keep and Episcopal Church presence. I don’t know. But no diocese has to my knowledge ever petitioned General Convention on any level to a parting of the ways.  Instead leaders have gone with their followers, called themselves the Diocese and generally ended up in a spitting contest with The Episcopal Church leadership.

From Anthony Clavier:

When it comes to the essential morality of what has happened -I’m not using morality as in sex – few on either side have much to boast about. We’ve hurled insults as readily as we’ve sought to make theological justification for our positions. We look like our political parties. That’s no accident. We live in two worlds and as we spend more time in society and ‘culture’ as we do in the Kingdom: the world seems to triumph.


Is it too late?  It’s never too late. If those who manage the Episcopal Church don’t believe in conscience that they can make room for conscientious dissent, isn’t it their duty to make caring space for dissenters? If those of us who cannot square our consciences with the new canonical provisions, should we not do all we can to respond to any initiatives by the Episcopal Church to give us room.

Update on the Episcopal Church in South Carolina

I had some trouble figuring out what to title this post, since everything, including what to call the various parties involved in the dispute, is being contested.


At least I’m not being as tendentious as the the Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs, which entitled its press release today “Presiding Bishop accepts Lawrence’s renunciation.” It’s not at all clear to me that what Bishop Lawrence did or said in his convention address of November 17 constitutes renunciation of his ordination vows. The Episcopal Cafe story is here.

The article goes on to say that the PB’s actions were fully supported by members of her Council of Advice.

I grant that this is a difficult situation but I fail to see what is being accomplished in these actions or in earlier ones, such as the PB’s “pastoral letter” that read more like a legal document than attempt to listen, mend fences, or pray for reconciliation.

Tobias Haller wonders whether the PB is jumping the gun. He points out that the canons require a written declaration of renunciation:

While I believe that Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, I do not think he has renounced his ministry, at least in the manner laid out by Canon III.12.7, which requires a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop expressing a “desire to be removed.”

If there is a way forward, or a Christ-like presence in this controversy, it seems to me the statements of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina are bearing witness to Christ’s reconciling love. Here’s a resolution passed by that Diocese’s Standing Committee on the situation: SC Ltr Res

Bishop Waldo wrote a pastoral letter. In it he writes:

Looking to the future, we do not know how things will unfold across the state. We do not know what individuals and congregations within the Diocese of South Carolina will do. We do not know how the leadership of The Episcopal Church will proceed.

We do know that friendships and relationships across the state will persist. I do know that I will stay in contact with my brother, Mark Lawrence, and those within this diocese who have appreciated and agreed with his theological perspective. I will also stay in contact and dialogue with those who have felt that The Episcopal Church has moved courageously in its theological developments. And, I offer my support to those within the Diocese of South Carolina who wish remain within The Episcopal Church. Both Bishop Mark Lawrence and Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori are aware of my offer.

My deepest hope is that in the long-term we, in our brokenness, will steadfastly hold on to the possibility of reconciliation and restoration, even if it takes us a generation. This is precisely the kind of dialogue to which our diocesan strategic visioning process calls us. I will continue to foster such dialogue and to be the bishop of all in this diocese, regardless of where members are on the theological or political continuum.

Therefore we must continue to pray for those whom we love and for those whom we struggle to love, whether they live within or beyond this diocese.

The complete text is here: Advent 2012 – for posting


Further Developments concerning the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

The Presiding Bishop has written a “pastoral letter” to the clergy and people of the Diocese.

Dan Martins, Bishop of Springfield, has written a moving plea to both sides to step away from the brink. He adds in an update that contrary to a number of sources earlier in the week, the Presiding Bishop has not declared that Bishop Lawrence and the Standing Committee have vacated their positions.

Bishop Martins wrote:

To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of “mere Anglicanism.” I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God’s truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God.

To the Presiding Bishop: Katharine, for the love of God, step back from the brink. Rescind the announcements you have made about the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee being vacant. Give peace a chance. Create space for the seeds of future trust and love to at least lie dormant for a season in anticipation of future germination. When the Confederate dioceses formed their own church in the 1860s, the General Convention, in great wisdom, simply refused to recognize their departure, thereby greatly facilitating eventual reconciliation and avoiding the schism that other American Christian bodies experienced in the wake of the Civil War. You are renowned for your calls for nimbleness and imagination in the face of the challenges our church faces. This is the moment for you to exercise precisely that sort of leadership. The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days. Will it be a legacy of juridical gridlock, or bold generosity for the sake of God’s mission?

Bishop Martins writes eloquently and passionately about the importance of the Diocese of South Carolina remaining in the Episcopal Church. I share his commitment to unity but am still wondering what the point of forced unity would be (or the legal battle set off by the diocese’s departure).

I got no dog in this fight: The Episcopal Church, The Diocese of South Carolina, and the end of denominationalism

“I’ve got no dog in this fight.”

It’s something you hear occasionally in the South, usually when discussing childish antics of politicians or conversations over community conflicts. Sometimes, it seems especially appropriate when looking at conflicts within or between denominations. It’s true for me in the ongoing tussle between The Episcopal Church and the entity that now calls itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church of South Carolina (well, it still claims to be the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, but now there’s also a continuing diocese). This is the pattern that has been followed in other places where bishops and dioceses have attempted to leave The Episcopal Church.

What makes this case somewhat different is that Bishop Lawrence and the Lawrencian Episcopalians claim that TEC has “abandoned” them. You can read about it all elsewhere. There are a number of purported theological issues at stake. The Lawrencians assert it’s not just about LGBT issues but about central matters of the faith like the uniqueness of Christ.

I lack the time or the energy to go into the details of the conflict, but it’s pretty clear even to an outsider like me, that none of this is going to end well. The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina has published a resolution urging Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori and Bishop Lawrence to seek resolution to this matter that would prevent the imminent legal battle. You can download it here.

In an earlier post on this matter, I wrote this:

So why not stop it all now? Why not imagine what a church would be like that could allow those who want out to go, leaving behind all of those who want to remain in the Episcopal Church? Let them have their property and go their separate way. And after they go, let’s imagine what an Episcopal mission might look like in the low country of South Carolina–an Episcopal mission freed from the oppressive traditions of slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

Why not put our limited resources toward that vision of a future church rather than paying lawyers and fighting to hold on to a vision of an eighteenth or nineteenth century Church?

… I’m still waiting for an answer.

Look, everyone agrees that mainline denominations are in steep decline. Most observers think that the idea of “denominationalism” is on its way out, that in a few decades the way congregations are organized is going to look very different than it does today. That’s probably true even of hierarchically organized denominations like the Episcopal Church. Our intellectual energy, our institutional resources should be focused on thinking about the future, experimenting with new ways of being together as Anglican Christians, locally, regionally, and globally. We are in the midst of transformation. What the future will look like is unclear, but it’s safe to say that in fifty years The Episcopal Church will look very little like what it looks today. Why bother protecting its turf now?

When will we abandon our efforts to protect our “brand” and get around to doing the work of the gospel?

… I wonder whether anyone will attempt an answer to this question, either.

Reports on Day 1 of General Convention

Andy Jones’ take on yesterday is here.

The main news was the opening remarks by the Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefforts Schori) and the President of the House of Deputies (Bonnie Anderson). Crusty Old Dean comments on the latter here.

She has this to say:

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

Frankly, I don’t understand what Ms. Anderson was getting at (well, I do, but her understanding of what the Episcopal Church is, and mine, are radically different). As COD points out, she seems to think there are three orders–lay people, clergy, and bishops. As far as I know, bishops are clergy, too.

Communion without Baptism–more thoughts and additional links

We’re gearing up for another big, emotional fight about “open communion” and like some other recent conflicts in the church, we haven’t dealt with the core theological issues in any detail. Proponents of the change shout “Inclusivity!” and appeal to Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Opponents appeal to ancient Christian practice, beginning already in the New Testament, where it’s obvious the Eucharist was shared only by baptized members of the community (and even then, only those who were deemed “worthy”).

Is there a way to avoid the train wreck? Probably not, but before we make such a radical innovation in our practice, a change that would have implications for our relationship in the Anglican Communion, and with our ecumenical partners, it’s important to get the theology right. Open Communion has profound implications for our eucharistic theology, our ecclesiology, and our theology of baptism, to name only three areas.

Perhaps it’s best to start with the latter, our theology of baptism. One of the great changes in the Episcopal Church over the last generation has been a recovery of a robust baptismal theology, and with it, a recovery of the notion that all baptized Christians share in the church’s ministry. There’s a sense in the 1979 BCP that the norm should be adult baptism, with those being baptized able to affirm for themselves their faith and their commitment to the baptismal vows. The 1979 rite seems to presuppose the sort of catechetical process that was practiced in the early church, with a lengthy period of education and preparation before receiving the sacrament. I wonder how typical this sort of program is in our church today.

Something the Presiding Bishop said that was reported by the Episcopal Cafe today has got me thinking.

“We baptize infants in the expectation that they will grow in community to be faithful members of the Body of Christ and we invite those babes in arms to receive communion… We haven’t everywhere discovered an attitude that can welcome older people in the same way. I would much rather see us have ‘on-call’ baptisms in the expectation that a person will be nurtured by the community in his or her faith…”

Now, I had never pondered whether the baptismal practice outlined in the 1979 BCP was appropriate, adequately inclusive, or reflected the life of the contemporary church. I accepted it as the norm, largely because I came from a background in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition that assumed adult baptism was the norm, that it was preceded by a period of intense formation, and that it meant participation in a separated community. While the latter is not explicitly referenced in the BCP, it seems to be the assumption of many Episcopal theologians and leaders.

There are alternatives to this baptismal practice and KJS alludes to one possibility, what she calls “on call” baptism. In fact, there is a fairly common model in other churches. Among Southern Baptists, for example, it’s often the case that baptism follows almost immediately upon one’s confession of faith.

But what would an Episcopal baptismal theology look like that invited people at the beginning of their exploration of faith to undergo the rite? What would it mean to have the baptismal font featured as a central element in our liturgical spaces. In some churches it is, but in many, its location at the entry of the nave is obscured by its small size and by the minimal amount of baptismal water that remains in the font week to week.

I’ve had as a theme this Easter season the Ethiopian eunuch’s question of Philip: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip’s answer should be ours–Nothing! And an immediate invitation to join us at the font. If we want to practice radical inclusion, that’s where we should begin. That’s where the early church began. Baptism is a beginning, not an end point, and a theology of baptism that embraces an infant as well as an infant in Christ is radically inclusive and affirms the spiritual journeys of those who find their way to our church.

More on this issue here and here.

Sexual Abuse, abuse of power, and institutional self-preservation

As we learn more about what happened at Penn State, and people reflect more on the events and what they might mean, there have been a number of essays that examine some of the underlying issues that may have led to the apparent cover-up by Penn State officials.

Matt Feeney blames big-time college sports in general:

What happened at Penn State was the scheme of big-money college sports working as it was designed to work. The act of looking away, repeated by so many in State College, is the perfect emblem for the cognitive politics of the NCAA. It should be on their flag.

Katha Pollitt also blames college athletics, not only for the Penn State crimes, but for its effects on academia in general. She goes further, attacking the masculine privilege inherent in athletics today:

There really is a message here about masculine privilege: the deification of a powerful old man who can do no wrong, an all-male hierarchy protecting itself (hello, pedophile priests), a culture of entitlement and a truly astonishing lack of concern about sexual violence. This last is old news, unfortunately: sexual assaults by athletes are regularly covered up or lightly punished by administrations, even in high school, and society really doesn’t care all that much. A federal appeals court declared that a Texas cheerleader could be kicked off the squad (and made to contribute to the school’s legal costs) for refusing to cheer her rapist when he took the field—and he’d pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault too, so why was he even still playing?

Jane Leavy, whose earlier essay may be found here, writes an open letter to Mike McQueary. Commenting on all those who have vilified him for not taking stronger action, she points out that

When you were called to testify by the grand jury, you didn’t just expose a predator, Kohn pointed out. You exposed the morally lax administrators, directly contradicting the testimony of the now-fired university president, the vice president, and the athletic director. “But for McQueary, the coach [Sandusky] may still be there,” Kohn said. “The athletic department would be unchanged. That he didn’t throw himself under the bus doesn’t surprise me in the least. Look at the janitors. They didn’t tell anybody.”

I can’t help reading the Presiding Bishop’s statement about Bede Parry without thinking of Penn State. Bede Parry was a Roman Catholic priest and monk, accused of sexual misconduct and eventually released from the monastery (He has confessed to committing sexual abuse during the late 1970s). He found his way to the Episcopal Church and was received as a priest by Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori when she was Bishop of Nevada. News about this broke several months ago when one of his victims filed a lawsuit. There’s background here.

What I find surprising is the absence of a psychiatric evaluation in Parry’s process. The PB states that he was required to undergo medical and psychological evaluations and a background check. The canons for reception of a priest (as for ordination) also provide for “psychiatric referral if desired or necessary.” When I was in the ordination process, a psychiatric evaluation was required. Mine was somewhat perfunctory, but all of the necessary questions were asked, and one would think that a bishop would want to have as much information as possible, especially if someone had undergone treatment.

If true and there’s no reason to doubt her, the PB has done no wrong here. But waiting since the allegations were first made public in July, till now to make an official statement sends the wrong message. The impulse for institutional self-preservation should not silence the truth.

The Anglican Communion’s “consistent condemnation” of anti-gay violence

David Kato, a prominent Ugandan Gay Rights activist, was brutally murdered this week. While police officials chalked the motive up to robbery, most observers suspect his death was the result of the ratcheting up of anti-gay rhetoric and violence in Uganda in the last few years, much of it spurred on by American evangelicals.

Kato’s death came as the Primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting. The meeting is smaller than usual with a number of national church leaders staying away, some because of the Episcopal Church’s openness to gay and lesbians. In the course of the meeting, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori released this statement:

At this morning’s Eucharist at the Primates Meeting, I offered prayers for the repose of the soul of David Kato. His murder deprives his people of a significant and effective voice, and we pray that the world may learn from his gentle and quiet witness, and begin to receive a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone. May he rest in peace, and may his work continue to bring justice and dignity for all God’s children.

The Archbishop of Canterbury released a statement of his own this morning, two days after Kato’s death. It reads:

“The brutal murder of David Kato Kisule, a gay human rights activist, is profoundly shocking. Our prayers and deep sympathy go out for his family and friends – and for all who live in fear for their lives. Whatever the precise circumstances of his death, which have yet to be determined, we know that David Kato Kisule lived under the threat of violence and death. No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others. Such violence has been consistently condemned by the Anglican Communion worldwide. This event also makes it all the more urgent for the British Government to secure the safety of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK. This is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.”

The ABC says violence against gays “has been consistently condemned by the Anglican Communion worldwide.”

Later today, we learned that violence broke out at Kato’s funeral. The BBC reports that the priest presiding said from the pulpit:

“You must repent. Even the animals know the difference between a male and a female,” he said, before warning that they would face the fate of residents in Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical cities destroyed by God.

Gay rights activists then stormed the pulpit and prevented the priest from continuing.

An excommunicated priest who has in the past called for people to respect the rights of homosexuals then presided over the rest of the service.

Apparently, some Anglicans worldwide haven’t received the message sent “consistently by the Anglican Communion.”