Thursday, March 29, 2007

What is safety in today's Church?

"… the Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain. It is good to know that the pastoral care of homosexual people is affirmed clearly by so many provinces.” ++ Rowen Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

What does it mean to be safe in the church today for gay community? Does it merely mean that gay folks won’t be beaten up and hung on a barbed wire fence? In the years before GC2003 before the election, consent and consecration of an openly gay bishop to the episcopate, I would have said that the Episcopal Church was a fairly safe place for us. In some dioceses having gay clergy was not even sneezed at. Some, even had partners and if there were no problems in the parish, no one seemed to get especially exorcised about it.

But with the advent of +Gene Robinson and the reaction of the hot-eyed right of the Church, the safety of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered folk has eroded. Even in places where LGBT folk have traditionally found welcome, ordination processes and deployment processes are found to be closed to gays that are out, or in relationships. Even in dioceses where the delegations and bishops have supported the election of +Gene and even allow the blessing of same-sex relationships, it has become clear that anyone who might “rock THAT boat” are eliminated from the process.

Much of this has to do with the way that the dioceses and bishops face the issue of safety. For the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) it seems only to recognize that people need to be safe--that all we need is some pastoral care in various provinces. Safe for many in authority also seems to mean “quiet.” With the Church in major kerfuffle, anything such as an openly
LGBT cleric who speaks his /her mind is seen as a liability and consequently “unsafe” for many. The dioceses and parishes where gay clergy could once get positions have dried up often by the guidance of diocesan processes which want calmness in the light of the national/international conflict in the Church. Safety has become something for the authorities of the Church rather than those LGBT people in them.

At present the Episcopal Church is not a safe place for LGBT persons, lay or ordained. This struggle for power is being played out on gay folks’ backs even when our bishops say that it shouldn't’t be. It is hard to go to church every Sunday and know that some of the issues that are going to be discussed at coffee hour have to do with calming the fears of those who have difficulty with your life-style or your orientation. It is not safe to be a part of a church even when gay/lesbian presence in the Church is thought right and just, but the practice of our relationships cannot be spoken of from the pulpit, or our blessings are not printable in the parish newsletter because “others might get upset.” For 30 years The Episcopal Church (TEC) has recognized that gay persons were welcomed as part of the Body of Christ. So why is it so difficult to recognize our presence?

The communication from the House of Bishops does see the present conflict rightly. The issues facing TEC and the Anglican Primates is one of authority. As I see it, the Primates have neither authority over TEC nor do they have authority over the Anglican Communion save in their particular provinces. But the manifestations of their authority come back to haunt LGBT persons if nothing more than heightening the concern about people who are different in the pews or pulpits.

It is tiresome to be lesbian in the church these days. It is hard to discuss anything about the Church without it having to be about YOU, your life, your ministry,your relationship, etc. And it is very hard for LGBT folk to keep from taking it personally when the blogwags out there call you a pervert in the name of Jesus.

Safety in the Church? The bishops have promised it, even the Archbishop of Canterbury recommends it, but how will it come to pass when so few of them understand that safety is not silence? Safety in the church will mean that there will need to be agencies in the church to hear the needs of LGBT people that are not run or attended by those who regard LGBT people as depraved, degraded, or sinful. It will take the willingness of the authorities in the dioceses to listen to the words and lives of LGBT people without writing them off. And it will take the willingness of the authorities in the dioceses to defend LGBT persons from the outrage that the neo-fascists of the right have heaped upon us in the past 4 years.

Perhaps we could not have foreseen that the battle for authority, and biblical scholarship would have surfaced over the inclusion of gay folk in the Church. But it is time to separate the issues to make it clear that LGBT folks are not the cause of the possible break up of the Anglican Communion. And it is not safe for us not to take the blame that many would have us assume.

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