Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's: A New Decade

Singing Owl posted a challenge to hope in today's Friday Five:

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but it does seem a good time for some reflection and planning. For the last few days I keep thinking of Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Among other things, that seems to say that reflection is in order if we want to learn and grow.

For some of us, this has been an incredibly difficult year; for others it has been a year of many joys. For all of us, there have been challenges and questions and there have been blessings and--maybe even an answer or two! As we say our goodbyes to 2010 and look towards 2011, share with us five blessings from 2010 along with five hopes or dreams for 2011.

Blessings are usually hopes and hopes are usually blessings for me.  I am in my 6th decade and my hopes are high in my retirement.  At the same time there is a precariousness in life as my energies begin to not be as dependable as they once were. 

  1. Pension Fund
  2. a kitten
  3. the strides made in LGBT issues in the past year.
  4. leisure to enjoy the warm climate.
  5. being close to family and childhood friends

  1. I can find a part-time position to use the gifts I have.
  2. The rebuilding of the diocese here be one filled with caring and support
  3. Good health for J and me.
  4. To continue to respond to Christ's love through living a more Christian life each day.
  5. Get the house ready to have house guests and that the house will survive the kitten!!
May the New Year be a blessing for all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adventual Ponderings on Social Media

Over the past few weeks I have had more international contact regarding the Church than at any time in my life. The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has brought me into conversations on line about the state of constituent churches (Canada, Scotland, Guatemala, New Zealand, etc). Also I met a young woman lawyer from Uganda who attended my local parish. I have also, because of Facebook, read articles from Uganda, Kenya, and other places in which there is a significant Anglican presence.

My global involvement has flowered in just a matter of a few months and I think this is a good thing. After the missionary efforts of my youth, I was always frustrated that I could not get any news about international matters in my local newspapers. Even wars and coups were not reported and I would wonder about the welfare of my friends. Only the Christian Science Monitor provided any insight into the lives of people around the globe. Now social media does it in a flash.

In a matter of seconds from the floor of the Senate, Twitter reported the repeal of DADT today. Now in a matter of moments I can hear about things happening in South Africa or Bangladesh. Today I had comments in French on my blog—someone who had read my post through on-line translations. The ability to communicate now is absolutely astounding to someone who born during WWII and grew up during the Cold War.

And all of this makes me stop and think about what are my responsibilities as a blogger to a greater audience. When the woman from Uganda came, I sat down and talked with her. She was very much in favor of the legislation against LGBT people in her country. I identified myself as lesbian and she had to stop and think. Later she talked with her host who opened the Scriptures and discussed why the Leviticus passages do not apply to today. The following week I saw her again at a church function and we talked a bit more. She shared how corrupt the Church has become in her country. She knew that money that had been sent to support the Church never made it past the bishop’s discretionary account. It broke my heart to hear how she had faith but not in the Church and was being lured into more and more evangelical churches in her nations because the witness of the Anglican Church there was so abusive.

I have also listened to the politicking of those from the General Synod in England. I chuckle to myself to listen to the “niceties” of British ways and yet know that anything done in the C of E will have a momentous effect on how we understand our church in this country. I would hate to see us “put out” of the Anglican Communion simply because of the Anti-American sentiment or the desire to support the Archbishop of Canterbury with is “project”. I would also hate to see the Anglican Communion governed by a Covenant- especially this one that fails to see the integrity of individual churches. But I would also hate to see a few corrupt bishops be responsible for tearing down the familial ties that we have had for the past 100+ years.

So what is my responsibility in this global information society when I blog. Am I just promulgating Americanism, or am I promoting what I understand the Gospel of caring for my fellow human beings? Can I with integrity talk justice to a woman lawyer from Uganda who will be compelled to uphold a law that will oppress LGBT persons in her own country without it being just Americanism? I think so. But it requires my being able to listen to the needs of people in other nations. It means that I must log into the news papers in Uganda and Kenya and in Bangladesh. And even then I must listen to the voice of the people.

It is not simple to keep shalom. And yet that is what our Lord taught. I, from my recliner must reach out to people who are far away to welcome the Holy Family. The story does not get lost in the technological age. The story just calls for us to reach farther.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Incarnation—messin’ with Athanasius

I am preaching on Christmas Eve. A colleague is sick with the horrible flu that is going around and I am filling in. After 30 years of preaching on Christmas, I have numerous sermons for Christmas. I can do a sermon for Christmas Eve cold. But I am getting bolder and I am more rested in preparation for Christmas this year than at any other time in my life. I have also been reading and listening more to ideas that I would never have promulgated in my own parish in fear that I would upset people. So I am messing with the doctrine of the Incarnation as preparation for preaching next week.

All the emphasis on the Baby Jesus  takes away from the real meaning of Christmas-or the Incarnation. I think that Athanasius got it wrong. He said ‘God became man so that man might become god.’ It is a great one-liner, but it is lousy theology. The Incarnation is about God becoming human so that the human race might become more fully human. Our destiny is not to become god or God-like. We are made to become as fully human that we can be.

Now this is not some lame-brained humanism. I believe that in creation we are not just created what we are—we are created in hope of what we might become. And human beings are called to be all we can be. Now, I am not an Aristotelian—I don’t believe that Jesus is the perfect man that we are to become. But I do believe that I have the possibility to become, with God’s help, the best ‘muthah+’ I can be, if I am willing to trust in God and live with charity and responsibility.

Now, this image of humanity and creation puts me at odds with a whole bunch of long-held doctrines in the Church. This should not be surprising, after all I AM an Episcopalian. But it also means that I have to look hard and long at these doctrines and then be very careful about how I explain this relationship I have with a God who would love me more than life. I don’t believe that the God who created the Grand Canyon, or Victoria Falls, or Mount Everest or the Japanese Trench has ever made things that are unchanging. It is contrary to the whole make up of Creation. All atoms are in motion, I believe. And consequentially, we do not have the right to sit on our backside and complain because the world leaves us behind.

Unlike Augustine, I do not believe that humanity is born in sin. I do not believe that humanity is most assuredly damned. I believe like Tutu that we are “made for good.” And I believe that the new reformation that is happening in the emergent church is going to develop new doctrines for a technological world that can claim a wholeness and a positive way of looking at God’s incarnation in Creation. Does God need a virgin birth to signal God’s presence in a technological age? Does God need a crucified Christ to save humanity from itself? Perhaps rather than claiming the ‘total depravity of man’ we need the positive message that Christian maturity calls for living peaceful, balanced lives without the need for vengeance or competition. Perhaps instead of the futile struggle to become divine, we as human beings might claim a doctrine that challenges us to become what Jesus was, the best of what it means to be human.

The birth of an infant in a manger 2000 years ago is an image of the hope of humanity. All children call from us that same hope. It is a hope that makes life a worthwhile endeavor. It says that we humans have a chance to enter into a life of continuous call to become more than we were the day before—not HAVE more—but to BE more. What a challenge this is and what a call to excitement each day of our lives!

Friday Five: Memories of Christmases Past

Jan at Revgals has posted a Friday Five for ‘Memories of Christmases Past’. Because I suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), it is sometimes difficult to pull up good memories of Christmas. But here goes:

1. In our family, Christmas Dinner was always roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Because my mother was not native to  Yorkshire pudding making, having learned how to make it from her mother-in-law during the Depression while living with her, the making of Yorkshire pudding was always a bit of an trauma. I love the savory egg, flour and milk breadiness of the dish slathered with gravy. I seldom ate the mashed potatoes that were also offered. It was such a treat. I finally made a more than credible version –not my mother’s recipe a week ago and found it easy to make. All the ‘sturm und drang’ have been removed. The Food Channel triumphed over my grandmother’s recipe and I am so psyched that I can make it without all the terror that my mother instilled in me. I am not making Christmas Dinner this year, but I will be ready when it comes my turn.

2. In 1969 I was invited by a nun friend to play a musical gig at her convent for Christmas Eve. I had been a professional French horn player for some years after college and supplemented my income at Christmas time doing musical performances. But this one was different. My nun friend was also a French horn player whom I had met playing in one of the local civic orchestras. It was just as the nuns were beginning to take part in the larger community following Vatican II. We became friends and talked about all kinds of things including religion as I was unchurched and really didn’t think I believed in God. Christmas Eve at the convent was wonderful and it was then that performance changed to worship. And ever since, Midnight Mass is a celebration of my rebirth in Christ. Baptism and confirmation came later but it was at that service that I knew God.

3. I remember the year that my maternal grandmother who nearly always bought me clothes, not toys, sent a package that had gotten quite smushed in transit from MO. I must have been about7 or 8. Everything she sent me was turquoise in color. It was the IN color that year. There was a dress and socks, underwear and crinolines, a bracelet and even a hat, I think. She even colored the candy she made, blue-green!

4. My cousins lived in Chicago and they were older than I. So at Christmas, I was often sent good hand-me-downs from them. The only problem was that they often sent wool items that were only wearable a few weeks of the year in TX where I lived. But for a few weeks each winter, I was very well dressed in clothes that we couldn’t get in Ft. Worth. But the next winter, I would, of course, have outgrown them.

5. The first year I moved to Syracuse, NY we had ‘snow upon snow’. On Christmas morning it was minus 22 degrees. I was to fly to TX to be with my family for Christmas evening. I remember the sound of the snow ‘singing’ under my boots. We even had had to ‘plug’ in our car –we had a heating device in the dip stick of the car so that the oil was viscous enough to turn over. I got off the plane and it was 76 degrees when I got to TX! I think my body revolted because I came down with a tremendous sinus infection.

Thanks, Jan. I remembered many more good memories than bad---Have a Holy and Happy Christmas to all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Five: What brings us up when we are down

Mary Beth has put up this Friday Five.  She has been wondering what picks us up when we are down.:

So, for today's Friday Five: What lifts you up when you are low or troubled? Who helps you remember that you are not alone, it's getting better all the time, etc.?

Your five responses can be people you know, people you DON'T know, music, places, foods, scripture, surprises, something you do for someone else. It could be a pair of slippers. It could be a glass of water.

Bonus: Do you like the song "Jingle Bell Rock?" If you do, who do you prefer to hear sing it? Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Mean Girls, Stephanie Smith, Chubby Checker, Billy Gilman, Brian Setzer, Hilary Duff, Thousand Foot Krutch (I am not making this up), oh, there are so many more! I am currently partial to my friend Marco.

1.  As on who has had to deal with depression and "recession" in my emotional life, I have developed lots of ways to deal with this disease.  Drugs is one--but most of all it has been having people I can call or have lunch with, or email when I am low.  They are the ones who send me silly, irreverent or ribald emails and pictures.  We generally don't talk about my problems, we talk about anything that can keep our interest. 

2.  I love classical music, especially the great choral works.  The Mozart, Faure or Deutches requiems can fill my soul.  I sometimes sing along since I know much of those compositions from singing them.  I can sing the alto part of the  Halleluia Chorus by heart.  There are a couple of alto licks that I have forgotten, but hey....

3.  At the moment we have an 8-9 week old kitten in the house.  She is so cute and absolutely terrorizes our 9 yr old tom who has become rather grumpy.  He is not a morning cat, but little bit is full of it.  The two of them can raise the spirits of anyone during Advent.  Come on down, Mary Beth!

4.  Usually preparing for Church Christmas helps me with the SAD or the Christmas blues. But since I don't have a parish to prepare for this year I was wondering what I was going to do.  But the parish I am attending needs altos in the choir so I have pitched in for Advent Lessons and Carols which has been fun.  Also, the pastor has asked for help on Christmas Eve so at least will have something to 'suit up' for on Christmas Eve.

5.  This is the first Advent/Christmas that I have entered RESTED since I was ordained.  Hmmmm.  I have not had the usual dumpiness that I usually have.  Part of this is because I have had more light since moving South.  I have also been working with young adults at the University chaplaincy which is uplifting because they are so full of hope.

BONUS:  I LOATH Jingle Bell Rock!!! It is like fingernails on the chalkboard.  I don't like it by anyone.  I hated it when Brenda Lee brought it out when I was young and I still hate it still.  And when I hear it, it gets into my head and I can't get rid of it.  Dang it! Mary Beth, I am gong to be hearing it in my brain all day.  Guess I am going to have to get out my Messiah disks!  Happy Advent, all!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Five: For this Friday Five: T'is the Season

I've been a follower of Revgals for some years and have played the Friday Five.  Today's from Katherinzj asks

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you

My tradition celebrates Advent and I get a little churlish when I have to do Christmas things too early.  When we lived in NY Black Friday did bring craziness, but here in TX it is over the top. Christmas lights were on when we came home from Thanksgiving Dinner!   Even the classical music station was pumping out the First Noel on Nov. 29th.  Add to this, all our household tradtions are in flux because we have moved.  We haven't the foggiest what we are going to do to decorate, celebrate with family, attend church.  For over the past 30 years Christmas was celebrated in the parish.  Now we haven't got one yet.  All our usual markers are gone and we will have to invent new ones.  So here are somethings we MAY do to begin new traditions.

  1. Sunday a big parish in Dallas is having a tradtional Lessons and Carols with choir and orchestra.  We may take that in.
  2. Look for a wreath for our front door that we can change from purple trimming to red and green the week of Christmas.
  3. We already have our tree--a 2 1/2 rosemary bush that is still on the patio--so far we haven't had a freeze yet.  And we will use its branches to fix our Christmas roast.
  4. I am meeting with a rector on Tues. to see if he can use me for Christmas Eve services.  If not, I will sing in the choir for Christmas.  It has been a long time since I have done that.
  5. And for the first time in many years, I will be able to celebrate Christmas Day afternoon with my family. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cats and Covenant

November has been a crazy experience: My letter was finally transferred to my new diocese just in time for Convention; I had a second cataract removed; I became a member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition; I was appointed a college chaplain, and we brought home a 7 week old kitten to our 8 year old main-man cat. None of those events can even hold a candle to having a kitten in the house.

Nothing is safe in our home now. Toes to toilet paper are fair game for a small tuxedoed little bit of fur that loves to snuggle on one’s chest while one is trying to address the serious implications of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s very annoying demand for loyalty at General Synod last week. It is hard to be scandalized by the ABC’s blatant grab for power when sharp little claws or teeth are making mincemeat of one’s recliner or mouse pad. The diocesan convention with all the sturm und drang of renewing the constitution and canons of a diocese regaining our presence in TEC cannot equal the thundering herd of cats’ feet asserting dominance. And no matter what dire consequences about post-operative care necessary, kitten snuggles take precedent.

It is hard to keep focused on what one is writing, thinking, praying when one’s toes are being attacked. It is impossible to think creatively when one notices 3 lbs. of dynamo is flying off the shelf where great grandmother’s china dwells.

I am desperately frustrated with the Anglican Communion after the Church of England voted to give the Anglican Covenant a hearing. The Covenant doesn’t speak of LGBT issues but the fear of dealing with LGBTQ folk is used to fuel a fire that seems in the ABC’s mind the only answer to us queer folk. It is draconian in its development and punitive in construction. It is the worst case of scapegoating that I have seen in church politics.

Of course we all know that this is what +Jack Spong would claim as the last gasp of the white-straight male hegemony. I just find it the same kind of gay bashing that you might find in the dark corners of our cities. I am tired of being blamed for the loss of membership when it is really those who get mad and leave.

In my entire career, I never had a parish that failed to grow. Even in the last 5 years when there were all kinds of threats in both the Lutheran and the Episcopal churches, I never had anyone leave simply because I was lesbian. I had some very rewarding discussion with those who could not get their heads around the idea. I would occasionally have someone who finally realized that they needed another way to express their own faith. I remember one woman who went to a parish that eventually went to ACNA. She was charismatic and she just needed a different way to express her faith. I don’t begrudge that. After all, I had to leave the Roman Catholic Church in order to follow my vocation.

But I find it very frustrating to deal with people who are unwilling to discuss the issue. It is like my senior cat who for several days after the advent of kitten hiding or wanting to go outside rather than deal with too much wiggle or pounce. Finally we have become a household in which senior patrician cat has made it clear what he will tolerate and what he won’t; there is peace. No more hissing; no more growls; no more running to the door and crying to be let out. And once little cat gets on regular food, there will be unity in communion.

Our two beasts can figure out how to work out living together. How is it that the ABC won’t allow us to even talk to other members of the Communion? Why is it that +Gene must not be invited? Why is it that the African archbishops or the Southern Cone are allowed to walk away and still be catered to? Why is ++Katharine and + Ian told not to attend? Now the GAFCON folks say the Anglican Covenant isn’t tough enough on TEC and Canada, no Covenant for them. What does the Anglican Covenant accomplish anyway?

Meanwhile I watch the antics of cats and find their liveliness absolutely thrilling. It gives me hope. I look at the freshness of my new diocese struggling to reclaim themselves as Episcopalians after the abuse of a bishop who was so frightened of talking to LGBT people and women that he would destroy the Church to keep from having to serve with a female Presiding Bishop. I find parishes growing here even though we are still having to fight in courts. I listen to the laity sharing faith and talking about their faith life at coffee hour—something I rarely heard in any other diocese of the Episcopal Church. It fills me with a kind of energy I have not known in the past 10 years and I give thanks.

If cats can live in détente, the Anglican Communion can too without Covenants, without dictatorial Standing Committees or Instruments of Unity.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Observations on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address

Observations on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address
and the Anglican Covenant Debate
Church of England General Synod, November 2010
November 30, 2010

In his Presidential Address on the 23 November 2010, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presented a message of fear and gloom to the Church of England General Synod. He suggested that, if the Synod did not accept the Anglican Covenant, we could witness the “piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion.” The “risk and reality of such rupture [of some aspects of communion] is already there, make no mistake,” he said. “Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted.” If we try to carry on as usual, he warned, there is a danger of creating “new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly.”

The message came across loud and clear—be afraid, be very afraid. The Covenant is the only lifeboat in the troubled sea of Anglicanism, and doing nothing or being idealistic is not an option. It is particularly ironic that Dr. Williams painted an picture of a frightening Anglican dystopia should the Covenant fail, yet he and other supporters of the Covenant have been quick to accuse Covenant sceptics of "scaremongering.” It is also surprising, both in this speech and in the subsequent debate, that concerns were raised about the decline of the role of the Church of England, as well as references to it’s being “the mother church” that needs to set an example, whereas Covenant sceptics have been accused of being “Little Englanders.”

The interpretation that most people put on the speech was that Dr. Williams saw the Covenant as the only way to keep the GAFCON Primates and their allies in the Anglican Communion. Ironically, even as the 24 November debate on the Covenant was going on, GAFCON issued its “Oxford Statement,” which rejected the Covenant as being “fatally flawed” and insisted on the more conservative Jerusalem Statement as the foundation of international Anglicanism.

The Archbishop asserted that the Covenant is not “a tool of exclusion and tyranny.” “To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands,” he insisted. It is difficult to see, however, how a document that, in the words of the Windsor Report, is to “make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion” is not coercive, and it is likewise difficult to see how enforcing “relational consequences” on a church that might take a “controversial action” is not a punishment. Bishop John Saxbee put it like this:

Anglicanism has been described as a fellowship of civilised disagreement. Well I leave you to judge whether a two-tier Communion with first and second division members answers to that description of civilised disagreement. It frankly feels like we will be sending sincere and faithful Anglicans to stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and can return to the ranks of the pure and spotless.

The Archbishop spoke of loyalty and catholicity. Apparently, he believes that belief and practice should be uniform across the Communion. Otherwise, the Church is disordered, and if the Church is disordered, then the faith is disordered and the mission of the Church is compromised. Dr. Williams consistently speaks of the Anglican Church, which, in his mind, must be centralised and rigidly ordered. Personal beliefs and choice need to be sacrificed for the greater good of the Church, and those who refuse are disloyal. In reality, of course, there are only Anglican churches, and many, unlike Dr. Williams, do not want to create a worldwide Anglican Church.

Although Dr. Williams says that the tendency of the last hundred years has been to centralise, increasing the number of “Instruments of Communion,” the No Anglican Covenant Coalition see this centralisation as a radical departure for Anglicanism. The Lambeth Conference and Primates’ Meeting have been instituted to discuss and share ideas, not to impose a single view on the whole Communion. The Covenant speaks of the Provinces as being family members, and this is a good metaphor. However, Dr. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes spoke about the misuse of this term in the document:

"As a University Chaplain I see, all too often, the emotional damage done when a family puts conditions on their love, on their support and on the continuation of relationships. “Relational Consequences” sounds very chilling indeed. We are told that the Covenant sets out the framework for family relationships. But what sort of family lives by a Covenant, with “relational consequences” for breeches of the rules?"

During the debate, the vote on the Covenant became a vote of confidence in the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus was the integrity of the synodical process compromised, with speeches that centred not on the document that was being considered, but on how Dr. Williams needed support and how he knew better than the Synod what would be good for the Anglican Communion. This was consistent with Dr. Williams presidential address, with its assertion that the Covenant “represents work done by theologians of similarly diverse views,” a though the activities of theologians were not to be disputed by mere members of the General Synod.

To those who spoke against the Covenant, the assurance was that General Synod members were not agreeing to accept the Covenant, but merely allowing the process of discussion to continue in the dioceses. By voting yes, they could at once be loyal to Dr. Williams while retaining serious reservations about the wisdom of the Covenant in its current form.

The idea of an Anglican Covenant was always a means to placate those in the Anglican Communion who were upset by the “controversial” actions of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The Oxford Statement makes it clear, however, that that faction of the Communion will never be satisfied with unity without uniformity. Its insistence on the Jerusalem Declaration is proof that not even the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant are acceptable. It is obvious that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglican created by the GAFCON movement is intended as a separate, “pure” Anglican Communion that will include churches, such as the Anglican Church in North America, that are not part of the present Communion.

In these circumstances, the churches that subscribe to a more traditional view of Anglicanism than the “biblical Anglican” vision, should abandon the Covenant, which can only divide them, and re-establish the Anglican Communion as a tolerant fellowship of autonomous national and regional churches.

Comment:  This is the statement of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition of the Cof E.  It addresses many of the issues that deter Brits from the Anglican Covenant.  But there are many more reasons to not sign this backwards document that predicts a radical change in the realtionship and make of the Anglican Communion.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Purtianism and New Puritanism--on the day after Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner and the day after the Church of England’s General Synod you
might think it poor form to attack the Puritans.  And perhaps it is.  But sometimes it is appropriate to look to
our roots to see what is going on and where it came from.
the General Synod (CofE) voted by a fairly good margin to send the Anglican
Covenant off to the dioceses to debate. The Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), Rowen Williams spoke rather harshly
about those who oppose the Covenant call us disloyal and uninformed.  (In the press lately we were admonished to
read the document by his office, as if we were bumpkins who had not even picked
the document up).  In addition the
Archbishop of York evidently did almost the same. 
I watched the ABC ‘s speech.  From the perspective
of an American, I found it incredibly condescending.  It was as paternalistic as any head of table
telling the children to calm down and eat their peas even if it was
I am told that folk in the CofE take this as the kind of instruction to do what “Father
knows Best” and return after not paying attention to it and voting it forward
without further ado.  In other words, the
Anglican Covenant is a done deal in the UK because they are being loyal to the
ABC.  And in my father’s lingo “that’s no
way to run a railroad!” or a Church for that matter.
As a nation that was founded by the Puritans who were run out of England almost 400 years
ago, this American is not in any hurry to sign onto a document just to be loyal
to someone who does not listen to the people of his Communion and is not ready
to deal with the realities of a world that is no longer modern, no longer a
product of Renaissance and the Enlightenment. 
At the same time, I am unwilling to allow the perversion of Calvinism or Neo-Puritanism
that has taken much of the world by storm to be the kind of faith my Church
promulgates.  Anglicanism came to this
country as an alternative to the close-mindedness of the Puritans and Pilgrims.  It was a faith that was left to its own devices by poor oversight of the colonial system.  It became a faith and practice that welcomed those who came to this country from whatever religious heritage and helped us develop
as a nation.
I once served a colonial-founded parish when I was in the Diocese of Washington,
DC.  It was interesting to read in the Lambeth Archives of the work of this little parish that clung to the banks of
the Potomac in the letters to the Bishop of London by the vicar.  He had been sent ostensibly to evangelize the
Piscataway Indians, but when they did not seem interested he turned his
attention to the growing Anglo/ European presence.  We have often been an Ex-Pat church carrying
our culture and our values to other lands along with a type of Christianity that
did not want a “window into the souls of men.” 
I am thankful for the rich heritage of the Episcopal Church and for its roots in an
Anglicanism that promoted a faith that met the needs of people who were
populating a New World.  Anglicanism gavea wideness of faith to the people who developed the kind of democracy that has marked the modern era.  It has always
provided an alternative to the Puritanism that has reared its head throughout our
Puritanism is a kind of Calvinism that is so rooted in individualism that everything is
based on personal relationships:  with
Jesus, with the Bible, with one’s neighbor and even state or the Church.  Ecclesiologic ally it developed into congregationalism.  During the 19thcentury, the various ecclesiologies ( episcopal,  presbyterian and congregational) fragmented and formed various denominations. In the Southern states, congregationalism formed by puritan theology provided the model for the worshipping community.  And it is this version of Christianity that
has influenced the development of much of the American ethos.   Politically
and economically it has developed into ‘state’s rights’, the protestant work
ethic, and individual rights taking precedent over the good of the common
weal.  Through the charismatic movement
it even infected the UK with its biblical literalism and its moralistic
This kind of
individualistic Neo-puritanism was not generally accepted as regular Episcopal
fodder but throughout the 20th century those seminarians and
missionaries who had been affected by it became the bulk of foreign missionary
effort in Africa and Latin America.  Many
of those nations who now oppose TEC in the Anglican Communion were those who
were evangelized by missionaries who were self-imposed exiles and could not get
positions in the US because of their intense moralistic or their literalist
views.  So in some ways, we in TEC must
take responsibility for some of the popular Christianity we have exported, just
as Great Britain exported Puritanism to the Americas. 
But in this
new age, this time of technological post-modernism, we are being forced to
consider a new way of thinking of faith. We are called to consider a wider-understanding of God by the likes of
Spong.  We are being called to consider a
wider concept of what is moral especially with regards to sexuality.  We are being called to a different kind of ethics with regards to how to deal with medicine, economics and how we support
the common weal.  With the widening globalization we must reach beyond our nationalisms to embrace without limit those whose experience is not ours.  The ABC is trying to do that but with the wrong vehicle at his disposal.  The Covenant cannot do that.  Only a willingness to walk in each other’s shoes can do that. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anglican Standing Committee

“The Standing Committee is not new; it is made
up of elected Primates and elected members from the Anglican Consultative
Council and it co-ordinates work in the Communion.”
Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity Faith and Order,The Anglican
Communion Office
This quote from the Anglican Communion Office does offer the
kind of assurance that the Rev. Canon seems to want to offer. 
At present, a majority of the Anglican Communion hasn’t the
foggiest how such officials of the Anglican Communion come to have the titles
and positions that they have.  Until
recently I have never paid much attention to such politics.  I have no understanding how Standing
Committee members are elected or who elects them. I have wandered all over the
Anglican Communion website but I do not find their names or where they are
from. But if they have the power to exclude me from the Communion, I damn well
want to know!  I also want to know that
those who represent me can do so without having been relegated to the ‘second
table’ without voice or vote as has occurred recently (without legal support)
and at someone’s fit of pique.
The Anglican Covenant presently uses a governmental process that
is not accessible to the majority of the membership.  It is so removed from the members of our
parishes that it cannot be responsive to the needs of those who fund them or
must abide by their decisions. It smacks of the kind of colonialism that has
fostered the current unrest in the first place. If the Rev. Canon Barnett-Cowan
thinks that a 21st Century Church is going to put up with that kind
of governmental structure, she sadly mistaken. 
If the Covenant is passed in its present form, a whole new
system of oversight will have to be developed. It will require an elections system that is available to those in the
pew.  It will require a whole new set of
by-laws to run it. 
I have always admired the Common Law system of governance---the
idea that less law is better law.  But
the Covenant will demand a much larger and more unwieldy system of governance.  Instead of being an ‘endoskeleton’ it will be
an ‘exoskeleton’ since it has already set up a system of exclusion.  In all exoskeletal species, this would demand that the Communion be constantly in a form of revision and reformulation of its
organizational structures.  In the terms of government, it will ultimately call for “big government” which we as a Communion cannot afford, nor do we want. 








Wednesday, November 10, 2010


During the very heady
days following Vatican II, the hope for a “one world, one church” in Roman
Catholicism was strong.  Much was made of
the ‘scandal of denominationalism’ in catholic circles, but the reunion was always
understood to be under the Vatican.  I
was swept up, as a new Christian and a new Roman Catholic with those
sentiments.  At that same time, the
charismatic movement was raising its head in the Church.  That ‘fresh wind’ took the staid practices of
Romanism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism and set the Church on its ear.  Glossilalia, and prayer meetings brought a
liveliness to a religious practice that had grown stuffy and stiff.

For me, there was no
more powerful commentary on the changes of Vatican II than Leonard Bernstein’s
“Mass”.  To the conservative, this
tribute to John F. Kennedy, was a disgrace. But I found in this remarkable musical drama such an icon of the whole
liturgical attempt of humanity’s attempt to seek God that I think it has marked
how I have perceived the creeds’ call to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church.  Bernstein had caught the
incredible spirit of the age to bring the simple but current into the faith
life.  But unlike, the myth of Eden, the
Church, has never been a single unity—a simple place where perfection began.  From Pentecost, we have been an assembly of
disparate peoples trying to find commonality in Jesus Christ. Years ago Raymond
Brown’s little book, The Church the
Apostles Left Behind
captured the struggles that faced the early Church
that the NT seems to gloss over.

If we read the Acts of
the Apostles rightly we find various groups of Christians abounding in the
early church.  And if we study the
history of the 2nd through the 4th centuries, we cannot
help but see how the issue of orthodoxy has plagued us.  We will never be one.  And I do believe that it would not be well
with the soul of the Church for us to be so. After pastoring an ELCA congregation for several years, there is no
reason at all I would want the significant parts of Lutheranism to be part and
parcel of Anglicanism.  It is unique and
appropriate for Lutherans.  Each
denomination expresses something that is unique and important to the worship of
all that is Holy—the worship by different human beings of a singular and
indescribable God.

The same thing applies
for the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  TEC is not a national or state church as is
the CofE.  It cannot be in the light of
the US Constitution and in the light of how TEC understands itself in
relationship to the people of the United States.  I have never quite understood how TEC works
in those nations that are part of Province X but I would hope that their
understanding of the relationship between church and state are appropriate to
their national milieu in the Philippines, or Honduras or the Virgin Islands.

As someone said, all
theology is local—it all has to do with ‘how it plays in Peoria’-- because
ultimately all theology is relational no matter how much the systematic
professors would try to drain relationship from it.

I have often listened
to some Anglo-Catholics bemoan that women’s ordination or consecration will
threaten the reunification with Rome.  I
have NEVER thought of reunification with Rome as a laudable goal for
Episcopalians or for Anglicans. The uniqueness of the RCC’s response to
reformation in the 16th century marked that denomination with a
character that cannot consider a world-view other than its own. Its emphasis on
obedience and order does not emphasize the liberation and the charisma of
personal responsibility that I find in Episcopalianism. All of these
characteristics are important but not compatible one denomination.   Neither
would I look for a reunification with the Greek or Russian Orthodox churches. Their
forms of spirituality are not, lamentably,  the stuff of the Western minds. Enough time
has gone past for each denomination to have brought their ‘peculiar honors’ to
the Faith of Jesus Christ.  This does not
mean that we cannot glean the greatness of those denominations, but we cannot
regain the fullness of the histories of their traditions.  They can garner from Anglicanism some of the
uniqueness that characterizes us, for the future of the living of
Christianity.  If there is to be any
meaningful reunification, it will come at the local level and most likely due
to economics, however, it will come at the loss of much of the charisma of the
individual denominations.

With the reorganization
of my diocese, I am seeing an interesting trend:  Those churches that left the Iker régime to
stay with TEC but were forced out of their buildings are much more willing to
vision a new way of being Church.  Those
churches that were able because their clergy were willing to stay with TEC with
their buildings, are less likely to care about creative change.  In other words, the status quo has held with
their building. It has always been said that we have an “Edifice Complex” in
the Episcopal Church.  Holy place is
valuable to us.  But a changing world
calls for more flexibility.

If the Anglican
Communion is going to hold together it cannot be with so-called covenants that
are designed to make action by one church an expellable offense.  In order for any Church, national or regional
to be vital means that it must be able to meet the needs of its people.  I have no problem if the Church of Nigeria
needs to make exceptions to the western understanding of marriage to bring the
Gospel to a people who have deeply woven clan issues.  I do not have a problem with those places who
cannot yet embrace the ordination of women because the education of women is
not on a par with men in their societies. But I do have a problem when those local churches tell our church that
they cannot accept us or be in communion with us because we are seeking to
minister to a group that has been excluded from the Church or to ordain those
who are called by Christ to serve in our local churches. I have a problem with
those churches who would bully other churches into compliance simply because
they refuse to be in relationship with us. I have a problem when the lack of education for women is sustained by
the Church as a way to control women or various minorities simply to sustain
male power.  And if numbers of members
are all that is to direct who has say rather than education and reason, there
is no point to church at all.

If the Global South
churches wish to go their own way and not be a part of the Anglican Communion,
I would be very sorry, but I would wish them well. If their history must be on
a track that is different, incorporating more animistic theologies or
syncretism with Islam, or different social customs into their understanding of
what it means to be Christian, I have no problem with that.  But at least acknowledge those social needs
rather than getting outraged at some other Church’s mission to advance the

I do not deny that much
of the kerfuffle in the Anglican Communion at present is a product of the
colonialism that formed us, but we need to be willing to address that as a part
of our discussion with member churches, not pick up our marbles and flounce off
simply because we have not addressed that before.

There will be no
two-tiered Anglican Communion.  We will
either choose to be one or we will choose to walk apart.  It is as simple as that.  I, for one, would choose to be Anglican—but
not one with the present covenant.  It
would be a tremendous loss to Anglicanism if +++Rowan’s legacy would be the
fracturing of the Communion completely.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The So-Called Anglican Covenant

With the rereading of the St. Andrew’s Draft (final draft) of the Anglican Communion, I am still struck with the heavy handedness that this document exhibits. It speaks some interesting things about covenant, but it does not contain the elements that I believe necessary to be covenantal. The purpose of this Covenant is contractual at best. It is an instrument of power, not relationship. The purpose is to rein in any of the national Churches that might find a need to follow Christ into new and important expressions of what walking in holiness might require. Covenants are made between God and humanity in the Bible. Covenants are not made between groups of people, treaties or alliances are made between nations, but nowhere is there an model of covenant being used between groups of humans.

This ‘Covenant’ is more of a constitution than it is a covenant. Perhaps it more emulates the American Articles of Confederation than even a constitution because it outlines an ecclesiology that does not exist for a collegiality that does not exist. As the Rev. James Stockton has commented, it is a “litigational document”. It is trying to develop a pattern that does not work for any of the constituent churches in the Anglican Communion. It certainly is not at all workable for The Episcopal Church with our sense of the egalitarianism of orders. One thing that the Anglican Communion does not need to be is a “litigational” body. We have enough difference among ourselves as constituent regional churches. These differences do not need to be highlighted by a legal constitution.

This Covenant is a bishops’ document. Nowhere in it does it provide a clear place for discussion and presentation of any action to the laity or the clergy. The Covenant seems to assume that the Communion is to be led by bishops and ruled by bishops to the exclusion of anyone else. The Instruments of Communion— funny, I always thought that was a chalice and paten ---are now the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ACC, and the Primates meetings. What about our Synods, our General Conventions, the discussions of lay and clerical theologians, etc?

The Covenant provides for a Standing Committee but provides no mechanisms for how that Standing Committee would be constituted. Who would choose the members so that said Standing Committee could be acceptable by constituent churches? The proposed Covenant makes no provisions.

This document seems to be concerned with immediacy. It requires the whole of the Church to consent to theological, justice or mission demands by a specific member church. This means that the peculiar character of Anglicanism is lost. Perhaps the most endearing quality of Anglicanism is its ability to be a national, or a regional church addressing issues as they present themselves in the local community. Unlike the global Roman church which cannot act until the whole world understands the Copernican centrality of the sun, Anglicanism has always been free to address the needs of mission in a particular area without needing to get a consensus world-wide. What works in San Francisco does not have to work in Timbuktu and vice-versa.

The immediacy that this document calls for is for the slowing down of addressing global concerns. It would require the same understanding of Scripture, the same theological premises, the lock-step thinking that has paralyzed the Roman Church for centuries.

But it is in 4.2.5”If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.” that this document fails to be a covenant. It is here that this document shows itself to be what it was set up to be—an instrument of coercion. Covenants are the result of gratitude and grace. This document has one purpose, to force constituent churches to be whatever the persons in power want them to be. There is no call to discernment; there are no provisions for the gathering to discuss except for bishops. This document allows for power politics to ultimately settle the issues of the Anglican world. This document is based upon expediency and coercion, not the relationships that are necessary to share the mission of Christ.

It is scary to me that the Church of England would consider passing this legislation in their General Synod simply because they were being nice to the Archbishop of Canterbury. And then go on to ignore the legislation in the long run. But other churches would not be that sanguine about such legislation. In true common law practice, we try to minimize law rather than try to legislate for every work of the body. In this case, the legislative principle of the Covenant is not in keeping with the purpose of the document. The purpose, as has been pointed out, is disciplinary, not for greater sense of community. It will ultimately be used by those who find the letter of the law more important than the will of God. And if the past ten years in the Church are of any indication, we cannot afford to repeat that scandal.

A new Spirit is blowing in the world in matters of faith. We cannot embrace a backwards document for the sake of unity if it does not promote important processes for listening, discussion and compassion. We cannot settle for expediency when we need to do the hard work of relationship. The Anglican so-called Covenant cannot be the way of a future Anglican Communion.

Anglican Covenant Coalition

Anglican Covenant Coalition

Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity





LONDON – An international coalition of Anglicans has been created to campaign against the proposed Anglican Covenant. Campaigners believe the proposed Covenant constitutes unwarranted interference in the internal life of the member churches of the Anglican Communion, would narrow the acceptable range of belief and practice within Anglicanism, and would prevent further development of Anglican thought. The Coalition’s website ( will provide resources for Anglicans around the world to learn about the potential risks of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

“We believe that the majority of the clergy and laity in the Anglican Communion would not wish to endorse this document,” according to the Coalition’s Moderator, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows, who is also the Coalition’s Convenor for the Church of England. “Apart from church insiders, very few people are aware of the Covenant. We want to encourage a wider discussion and to highlight the problems the Covenant will cause.”

The idea of an Anglican Covenant was first proposed in 2004 as a means to address divisions among the member churches of the Anglican Communion on matters ranging from human sexuality to the role of women. The current draft of the Covenant, which has been unilaterally designated as the “final” draft, has been referred to the member churches of the Communion. The proposed Covenant establishes mechanisms which would have the effect of forcing member churches to conform to the demands and expectations of other churches or risk exclusion from the Communion.

. . . 2/

Critics of the proposed Anglican Covenant, including members of the new Coalition, believe that it will fundamentally alter the nature of historic Anglicanism in several ways, including the narrowing of theological views deemed acceptable, the erosion of the freedom of the member churches to govern themselves, and the concentration of authority in the hands of a small number of bishops. Two English groups, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, ran anti-Covenant advertisements in last week’s Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper aiming to make more members of the Church of England aware of the dangers of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

"If the Anglican Communion has a problem, this is not the solution,” according to former Bishop of Worcester Peter Selby. “Whether those who originated the Covenant intended it or not, it is already, and will become even more, a basis for a litigious Communion from which some will seek to exclude others."

The launch of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition website coincides with the commemoration of the sixteenth-century theologian Richard Hooker. “Hooker taught us that God’s gifts of scripture, tradition, and reason will guide us to new insights in every age,” according to the Canadian priest and canon law expert, the Revd. Canon Alan Perry. “The proposed Anglican Covenant would freeze Anglican theology and Anglican polity at a particular moment. Anglican polity rejected control by foreign bishops nearly 500 years ago. The proposed Anglican Covenant reinstates it.”

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition began in late October with a series of informal email conversations among several international Anglican bloggers concerned that the Covenant was being rushed through the approval process before most Anglicans had any opportunity to learn how the proposed new structures would affect them.


Revd. Dr Lesley Fellows (England) +44 1844 239268

Dr. Lionel Deimel (USA) +1-412-512-9087

Revd. Malcolm French (Canada) +1-306-550-2277

Revd. Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384

Saturday, October 30, 2010


At the Lambeth Conference in 2008 this presentation was made to the gathering of Anglican bishops by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of the UK. It is a remarkable article on Covenant: what a covenant is, what it is not. It is a worthwhile read not only because it is appropriate as the conversations develop around the Anglican Covenant, but it reminds us that is through covenant that God first called humanity into relationship in the Judeao-Christian tradition.

I was also appreciative of the rabbi’s explanation of what contracts are, the contracts of power and the contracts of wealth that bring order into governance and economics. Sachs states:

The state is about power. The market is about wealth. And they are two ways of getting people to act in the way we want. Either we force them to – the way of power. Or we pay them to – the way of wealth.

But there is a third way, and to see this let's perform a simple thought experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began. Suppose you have a thousand pounds, and you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began.

But now suppose that you decide to share, not power or wealth, but love, or friendship, or influence, or even knowledge, with nine others. How much do I have left? Do I have less? No, I have more; perhaps even 10 times as much.

How simple an explanation! I am so thankful for those who can succinctly illustrate how humanity functions.

In my move to TX, I have come up against “the free market society” writ large. I have spent weeks trying to find a doctor who will take Medicare. It is genuinely scary because I cannot find a SINGLE doctor who will take new Medicare patients. It as if there is a collective idea here that if doctors do not take any new Medicare patients, they can ignore how broken the whole Medical industry is in Texas. They have allowed the Market to dictate the laws of medical practice to the detriment of society. The once noble profession of medicine and its emphasis on healing and caring has been lost to the power and wealth dictates of state and market.

There is a disconnect between the state and the market that only serves those who have opted out of Medicare sometime in their work history. And as I am the last of the “pre-Boomer” generation, the situation of health care in this state is going to get critical very quickly. We, in our nation, and in our world have so dichotomized our existence between state and market that we have forgotten the glue that keeps us from being sterile as a humans.

It is that third way that is at the centre of who we are as human beings that is being left out in the name of free market economy, or orderly governance and it is that third way of caring—the most marked way that makes life worth living, and lifts us from the place of being mere animals to the place where there is nobility to human race.

It is that covenant—that sense of being willing to love that gives purpose to living. Neither the state nor the market has room for love. The political and economic realms cannot entertain such “fuzzy thinking” as caring and sharing. The mechanisms that make them work cannot include the human or the humane simply because we have made science of them both.

It is the third way of faith, whether it is faith in God or in Creation or in humanity, that provides a way forward, a way that does not sterilize that unique quality of humanity, the ever-changing dynamic of Creation or the constantly breaking in of the Holy.

I am unwilling any longer to say that Church (with a capital C) is the way to promulgating love. I have seen the institutional Church depend upon the mechanisms of political power and market economy so completely of late that we have lost our ability to speak the words of Love, Caring, Sharing and Faith. It is as if the church has failed to read its own Scripture when it comes to managing itself and can only use the “world’s” ways. This does not mean that I would abandon the Church. I have been too long a person of her creation that I could not desert her. But at the same time, I cannot find in her the conversations that speak a faith in God, humanity or Creation that can call down that Third Way—those conversations of love that call humanity to its humanness, that calls people to find something beyond power and wealth that gives life to what it means to live in joy and respect with others.

‘The Anglican Covenant’ as it has been promulgated by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a document of governance, not a proclamation of a common call to relationship in the name of Christ. At best it is an attempt at ecclesial posturing and power. It does not speak of relationship and journeying together. It speaks of who may have voice and who may be in communion with us. It is a disciplinary tool rather than a celebration of how God interacts with us and how we share God’s life in the face of state and market.

If the Anglican Communion is to continue to have any on-going conversation with the issues that face our world, we must be free to embrace the issues and speak to the issues that are raised in the particular environments in which we live. Our responses in love that remind us of how God has loved us need to be flexible enough to address the inhumanity of political and market structures in the name of Christ. It is the only way that the Anglican Communion can even hope to be supple enough to meet the new era that is upon us in religion.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It DOES get better!

Once again my friend Elizabeth Kaeton has prompted me to speak.  That is what a good preacher does, she compels you to speak your own truth. And it has been several weeks of hearing “It gets better” from folks all around that has inspired this, my version.

I have known since my youth that I was lesbian. I laugh about that because I didn’t know the word lesbian until I went to college. In TX in the late 50’s and early 60’s I we didn’t use words like that. I don’t even remember when I learned what the F word meant. I certainly was older than all the other kids because they laughed when they used it. I just looked blank. I just avoided the topic of sex altogether. And in a sex-suppressed world of the bible-belt, those of us who were questioning as teens had nowhere to turn for answers. The only sex education was “health” classes and NO ONE was going to say anything there.

I knew about “fairy” boys, those effeminate souls that I met in music school but I wasn’t sure what it meant. I knew that I liked being around other women. I liked their company; I liked their energy. And in college I saw women who were independent from their husbands, who thought independently from the men in their lives and I liked that.

But my images of women as a girl were not images I aspired to. The wives, the mothers, the women of my neighborhood were not women I wanted to be. And it wasn’t until I met the Ursuline Nuns that I finally met women that intrigued me and challenged me to be more than I was. I aspired to be an independently thinking woman like them. But sex was not part of their equation. So as my faith life developed, my sexual awareness did not. I ignored who I was as a sexual being. I knew it was safer somehow. But I missed a LOT!

I never felt “bad” about being attracted to women. For some reason I felt “bad” about being identified as being ‘queer’, bad about being different. That is what society does: It makes one feel bad about not being just like everyone else. But my mother was one of those mothers who didn’t fall for “everybody else is doing it” excuses. “You don’t have to be like everybody else,” she would say. But that did NOT have anything to do about sexuality. We just did NOT talk about it. She would try to tell me things, but I would not allow her to talk to me about it because her experience did not relate to mine.

Once, when I was young, I heard my father say to a bunch of other men who were talking about “queers”, that “if I had a kid like that, I would take him out and drown him.” It is the kind of talk that men of a certain generation did. But it made me quite aware that issues of human sexuality were not safe issues to talk about at home—or anywhere else in TX at the time. I didn’t know other lesbians. Coupled women were not visible in the world that I lived in.

My experience as a novice among the Ursulines acquainted me with women who could think independently. They helped me articulate who I was and how I could live a life of faith without having to be married. It was an important part of my development. Celibacy was a given—it is what supported community. In women’s communities I did not hear the rhetoric about giving one’s sexuality as a gift to God as I think was preached to Roman Catholic men. Celibacy was the foundation for community and so it was seen in a much more positive light. It was less of a notion of abstaining or denying the flesh as it was that celibacy and sexual abstinence contributed to people living together well. And so, when I left the convent, I did not look or long for a sexual relationship, but I longed for that sense of friendship and camaraderie that supported my work, my ministry and my emotional health.

By this time, I knew I was lesbian, but I did not want to identify that way not so much because I feared being gay, I feared that it would keep me from doing the things that I wanted to do in my life. When my friendship with J. developed, we recognized that this relationship supported what it was we wanted to do with our lives as clergy. But the love we had for each other grew.

J. is straight. And we have lived together for 32 years. We are not lovers. We do love each other profoundly. Somewhere I knew that I have been ‘loved into being’ as a person. And each lgbtq person I know has been ‘loved into being’ who they are. And I believe that the healthy straight folks I know have been ‘loved into being’. J has loved me into being more that I was and I believe I have loved her into being more than she was.

Through the early years of our living together when our relationship was mainly economic (we couldn’t afford to live alone) into the years when we need the emotional support to sustain our ministries we have come to have a deep and abiding love for one another. It has gotten better. It has become a relationship full of God’s grace and commitment. That love has transformed us. We have through the years become people that we like and respect. We have become women who have a profound respect for the journey that each person makes to become real and whole and satisfying.

As the reality of same-sex marriage was being discussed in NY I laughingly asked J if she would want to be married. “Yes!” she said unequivocally. I was stunned. “You know that you would be indentified as gay, don’t you?” I said. She said, “That I don’t mind, and our relationship wouldn’t be any different than most married couples our age.” We both laughed. So for the first time, this year I have been referring to J as my ‘partner’ instead of my ‘roommate’ or my ‘colleague.’ This appellation doesn’t quite describe the relationship we have, but it is enough to help others recognize that we are coupled in some rather inadequate way and look to each other to nourish us as we grow older.

The move to TX has made us much more aware of the issues that face lgbt people because there are few rights for lgbt people here. We know that unless we hire a lawyer and make our relationship clear legally, that our common life can be infringed upon by the state. We know that unless we make some clear decisions about what it means to be family, we may not be able to support each other in hospitals or have any say in each other’s health proxies. These are issues that my straight friends do not have to pay attention to. But there are ways to address them even here in the bible-belt. This too has gotten better.

And when I see how many lgbtq folk are out and proud even here in TX after all these years, I KNOW it has gotten better. I am still careful and my bishop still wants me to be careful about how I address others on lgbt issues. But at least I can claim who I am without fear of rejection. I can practice the ministry that I have been called to. And I have certain clarity about those who I wish to make ‘uncomfortable’ with my presence for the sake of the Gospel. It has gotten better and continues to get better.

And to anyone who has become discouraged about being lgbtq: when you find yourself so fearful of life that it has become unbearable, find another gay person or someone who understands what it means to be different and talk. Share what you feel. Listen to those of us who have lived this life in faith, by whatever lights we have walked it. We are here. I am here. It has gotten better. It continues to get better and we would like to walk that journey with you. It does get better.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I have been going to a number of conferences lately. Some have to do with LGBT issues and some have to do with the Emerging Church. All of it has to do with CHANGE. And change is what I try to facilitate as a pastor/priest—the change that comes as a result of being loved by a God who calls us to be better each moment.

While I was still functioning as the pastor of a parish, someone accused me of being a “gay activist”. I was startled by that. I felt that I had been fairly low-key about being lesbian in a congregation. I didn’t demand that the church fly the rainbow banner. I didn’t call for registry with the ‘affirming’ parishes. While a parish priest or a pastor, one cannot, in my mind, be a one-issue person. The demands of serving a parish require what used to be called a “Renaissance Man” or a person who could address a multiplicity of issues. But LGBT issues have been in the view of the Church of late and what I included in sermons was appropriate, I thought, to address the zeitgeist.

But the events of the past couple of months, with the coming to light of numerous deaths by suicide by young gay teens calls for something more than a passing comment in a sermon, or prayers “for those who are alone.” It requires speaking out like the Ft. Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Bishop Gene Robinson have done to preserve our young people who find that they are different.

LGBTQ teens are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. Mostly this is due to just not being able to ‘fit in’. The demand for the young to be acceptable to their peers and/ or their families is often so overwhelming that young people do not know what to do if they find that they are attracted to those of the same sex. Add to that the bullying that is so prevalent in our society (not just in our schools) and the demand by schools and parents that the “gay agenda” be kept from our young, means that LGBTQ kids never get to see good and wholesome LGBT folk to emulate.

Kids know that it isn’t just getting through school. Being gay or lesbian is a life-long recognition that you will always be a minority, that you will never ‘fit in’ and that is crushing to adolescents whose only goal at that point in life is to be just like one’s peers. I have not checked the statistics but I would imagine that the level of depression among LGBT kids is much higher than the average population. I know that my own bouts of depression were often rooted in my identity and my inability to embrace my own sexuality. They began in 7th grade and did not stop until I came out.

But it is the culture of bulling that most disturbs me. Trash talk is considered de rigure these days. Sit coms are full of it. Even when there are gay-friendly shows, the humor is still about being different, being on the fringe. We use bullying in sports so that we can win. We use bullying just to get the basic needs from institutions in order to get what we want or need. The police bully the ‘bad guys’. Our political candidates resort to smear campaigns and bullying rhetoric. We resort to lawyers who bully to maintain our rights from other bully lawyers and we bully nations as a normal foreign policy.

An adult gay couple of my friends had to move just this week because their neighbors threatened them and the police would not do anything even when there were witnesses to the harassment. I am leery about putting a rainbow ribbon on my car here in TX or fly a rainbow flag or wear rainbow earrings in this environment where macho still reigns.

The problem with bullying is that the only way that bullies will stop is to ‘bully back’. “Might makes right” is learned early on the school ground and is carried on throughout our lives. Personally I am not easily bullied, whether due to size or sharp tongue, I am not always clear. But I do not like when I must “bully back” just to be heard, or just to get what is just or safe. I do not like what I must become to live peacefully in this world.

Christ was not a bully. Even in the anger he displayed in the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus was not a bully. He called people to hear a radical message in which manipulation and force were greeted with humility and generosity—difficult tools in this post-modern age.

Yes, I am an activist in my retirement. I am an activist that says that LGBTQ kids do not have to abort their lives in their teens because there are those who interpret some scriptural passages wrongly and heap it on youngsters grappling with their own image. As a person of faith I must be willing stand against those whose religion says that they can demonize people who are different because they manipulate some 7 passages of Scripture to ostracize those who march to a different drummer.

I live now on the ‘Buckle of the Biblebelt’ and I must be willing to say to the bullies of the religious right that the time has come to say NO to religious exclusivism for the sake of the Gospel.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue

• Cody J. Sanders

Cody J. Sanders is a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Cody was a Fellow in the inaugural class of the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study and is a participant in the Beyond Apologetics symposium on sexual identity, pastoral theology, and pastoral practice.

• When I heard about the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas early in September, I was terribly saddened. It is a tragedy when a young person completes suicide in the aftermath of daily torment and harassment. After this, I sat in stunned silence in front of my computer screen as news stories continued to appear about the suicides of 13-year-old Asher Brown, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, 13-year-old Seth Walsh, and 19-year-old Raymond Chase. Today, it is very clear to me that profound sadness and stunned silence is no longer a suitable, appropriate, or adequate response.

From Lamentation to Indignation

My sadness began to change into something different with each successive news story about another gay teen hanging himself, shooting himself, and jumping off of a bridge. As I saw the faces of these young victims and imagined the family and friends left to cope with the chaos of their suicides, my lamentation began to morph into an indignant fury.

My indignation grew as I shifted my gaze from the individual acts of suicide to the contexts in which these suicides are set. Suicide happens for numerous reasons. Some seek relief from enduring physical and psychological pain that seems infinitely unrelenting and others after severe bouts of depression. These teens, however, were not seeking relief from some persistent, internal state of depression or physical illness. The pain they faced had an external source: the cruel, unremitting, merciless pounding of daily humiliation, taunting, harassment, and violence.

And all of this pain visited upon these young lives because of one thing they had in common: they were not heterosexual.

These suicides are not acts of “escape,” or a “cop-out” from facing life. When LGBT people resort to suicide, they are responding to far more than the pain of a few individual insults or humiliating occurrences. When LGBT people commit suicide it is an extreme act of resistance to an oppressive and unjust reality in which every LGBT person is always and everywhere at risk of becoming the target of violence solely because of sexual orientation or gender identity. They are acts of resistance to a perceived reality in which a lifetime of violence and abuse seems utterly unavoidable.

The landscape upon which LGBT teen suicide is set calls for far more than our sympathy and sadness. There are times in which it is important to be guided to action by our anger. This is one of those times.

From Interpersonal Violence to Group Subjugation

Our response to bullying is a response to violence. Beyond the inflicting of individual pain, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has effects far beyond the individual target. This is what Iris Marion Young terms “systematic violence” in her famous “Five Faces of Oppression.” It is a violence of instrumentality—violence with the effect of keeping an entire group subjugated and in a state of oppression.

Young argues, “Members of some groups live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person”.* The only thing one must do to become victimized is to be a member of a particular group (e.g. to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender). We must widen our perspective from individual acts of bullying and violence to the instrumental purpose these serve in subjugating LGBT people to particular religious and cultural ideologies in which reality is defined from a strictly heterosexual perspective — and gay and lesbian people become non-persons.

As more churches and denominations ordain gay and lesbian clergy, more gay and lesbian people are featured in media, and more medical, psychological and psychotherapeutic organizations reject notions of the pathological in sexual minorities, dominant religious and cultural ideology is in a state of crisis. It is no longer an unquestioned assumption that heterosexual experience represents the definition of reality for all people. The power to define reality for the masses is at stake and this power comes with all manner of political and ideological implications. Thus, there is a vested interest on the part of the religious and political right in keeping LGBT persons silent and subjugated.

Whereas political rallying on issues like same-sex marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serve to maintain some ground on the preservation of anti-gay cultural ideology, the intermittent reinforcement of violent attack is an even better tool to ensure the silence (and suicide) of LGBT people and their subjugation to the closet.

While a majority of LGBT people may avoid ever becoming the victim of a violence, none will be able to avoid the psychic terror that is visited upon LGBT people with each reminder that this world is one in which people are maimed and killed because of their sexual and gender identities. It is this psychic terror that makes life so difficult for many LGBT people. It is this psychic terror that does the heavy lifting of instrumental, systematic violence. It intends to silence and to destroy from within.

While most of us will never be physically attacked by another human being, all of us know we are targets.

A Theology of Anti-Gay Bullying

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.

These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).

Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible.

With dualistic conceptions of good and evil and hierarchical notions of value and worth, it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. And no institutions have done more to create and perpetuate the public disapproval of gay and lesbian people than churches.

If anti-gay bullying has, at any level, an embodied undercurrent of tacit theological legitimation, then we simply cannot circumvent our responsibility to provide a clear, decisive, theological response. Aside from its theological base, anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it calls for acts of solidarity on behalf of the vulnerable and justice on behalf of the oppressed.

But this imperative to respond reminds us that the most dangerous form of theological message comes in the subtlest of forms: silence.

The Longer We Wait, the More Young People Die

There is already a strong religious presence in the debate around anti-bullying education in schools. Unfortunately, it is not a friendly voice for LGBT teens. There is also no lack of rhetoric on sexuality stemming from theological sources. But the loudest voices are not the voices of affirmation and embrace. In a recent article, I urged churches that rest comfortably in a tacitly welcoming or pseudo-affirming position to come out and publicly proclaim their places of worship as truly welcoming and affirming sanctuaries for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard well-meaning, good-hearted people respond to this appeal, saying, “Things are a lot better for gay people today than they were several years (or decades) ago. In time, our society (or churches) will come around on this issue.” To these friends and others, I must say, “It’s time.” For Lucas, Brown, Clementi, Walsh, and Chase the time is up. For these teens and the myriad other bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay youth lost to suicide, the waiting game hasn’t worked so well.

As simply as I can state the matter: The longer we wait to respond, the more young people die.

If this were a hostage situation, we would have dispatched the SWAT team by now. And in many ways, it is. Our children and teenagers are being held hostage by a religious and political rhetoric that strives to maintain the status quo of anti-gay heterosexist normativity. The messages of Focus on the Family and other organizations actively strive to leave the most vulnerable among us exposed to continuous attack. The good news is that we don't need a SWAT team. We just need quality education on sexuality and gender identity in our schools and more faithful and courageous preaching and teaching in our churches.

Catholic theologian M. Shawn Copeland offers profound words to any individuals and churches seeking to wash their hands of this issue. She states,

“If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if my sister’s mark of culture must be repressed, then we are not the flesh of Christ. For, it is through and in Christ’s own flesh that the ‘other’ is my sister, is my brother; indeed, the ‘other’ is me…”

If anti-gay bullying is a theological issue, perhaps what is called for is a creative theological response. A theological response that challenges the systematic violence that upholds an oppressive religious and cultural ideology will not be a response through which we can hedge our bets. It will be a full-bodied, whole-hearted giving of ourselves to the repair of the flesh of Christ divided by injustice and systematic exclusion.

Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publically hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well served by the status quo?

In the current climate, equivocating messages of affirmation are overpowered by the religious rhetoric of hatred. Silence only serves to support the toleration of bullying, violence and exclusion. In the face of what has already become the common occurrence of LGBT teen suicide, how long can we wait to respond?

Comment: I found this article on Facebook today and received permission from my brother Cody to post it. It is a message that needs to get out. I am gratified to find a Baptist addressing this issue especially here in TX. But at the same time I weep for those who have had to respond to the hatred that wrong-headed theology and wrong-headed Scriptural interpretation by taking their own lives.

I attended the 48th reunion of my high school class recently and then spent some time with a classmate going over our yearbook with that “where is s/he now?” thing that all of us of a certain age tend to do. I was saddened to find that several had succumbed to suicide. Several had died of AIDS. They were wonderful guys___Sweet men who were creative and capable and had so much to offer the world. This is not a new issue. It is as old as time itself. To be different is to invite such ridicule, such animosity and even the Church contributes to the maligning. The religious establishment is going to have to admit its complicity in the degradation of those LGBT persons and their deaths. We as Church must repent and return to learn a new way of being Church by including those who have been cast out.

If the Church were as proactive about condemning bullying as it is about rooting out sexual sin, we might find more people in our pews. If our theology spoke as passionately about loving those who were cast down as it has about “standing firm” for Jesus, the media’s image of Church and clergy might be a bit less vituperative. And if we as Church began to express our repentance for excluding those who merely want to live out the integrity of how God made them, then we would have a Gospel message to pass on to the future generations about salvation, renewal and resurrection.