Thursday, September 27, 2007

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

by the Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck

I attended seminary in 1978-1981. Thus, I was in seminary when the 1979 General Convention passed a resolution stating no persons having sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman should be ordained to any order in our church. This resolution was largely seen as a reaction to Paul Moore's ordination of Ellen Barrett, a lesbian, to the priesthood in 1977. It sent shock waves through my seminary, Nashotah House, and not just among the gay or lesbian students [And yes there were both there in those days.] One student, a gay man who I thought had great promise as a priest, decided that he needed to leave seminary and cease being in the ordination process. One of the results of that resolution was that a new organization called Integrity, and a charismatic leader named Louie Crew, became emboldened. I heard Louie preach at St. Francis House in Madison, Wisconsin in that time frame and he was compelling.

What if instead, Louie Crew and many others had simply left the Episcopal Church? What if Gene Robinson, when he clearly did discern that he is a gay man, had decided to leave? On one hand our Church would have deserved it. But thanks be to God they stayed and taught and talked and built relationships, in what must have surely have seemed like a frustratingly endless basic tutorial on human sexuality and the Bible.

In 2003 the General Convention gave its consent for Gene Robinson's election to be a bishop. That was 24 years after passing a resolution saying he shouldn't even be a priest. In the lives of people living in history, 24 years is a long time, a generation. In the scope of Christianity, 24 years is nothing, not even the blink of an eye. Even in the history of the Episcopal Church, it is not that long a period of time. When Gene's election was confirmed we thought that in many ways that the struggle was over, not completely, but much closer.

But then we were reminded that not only are we not a congregational or presbyterian church, we are not merely a national church. We are an episcopal church, and bishops by definition are symbols and even means of unity across the globe. When first Barbara Harris and then other women were ordained to the episcopate we faced the global challenge that people, serving in an order one of whose purposes is unity within the church, would not be received by many within our Communion. We entered a period of "impaired Communion" with many of our dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion. Yet in that case, we could look to resolutions from prior Lambeth Conferences which stated that there were no theological barriers to women being ordained.

When a gay man was elected a bishop in our church, we thought this would be similar, but we were wrong.

We were reminded that – legally and constitutionally – we are part of the Anglican Communion. We were reminded that unlike the ordination of women, Lambeth had said "no" to this move. We have repeatedly been told, and I believe the bishops heard again, that to continue down this path would mean that we have decided to leave the Anglican Communion.

For us to ordain to the episcopate people whose "manner of life" causes a problem for the rest of the Communion [and since I am divorced I may be included in that group] until there is a change in the consensus of the Anglican Communion is to, in effect, leave the Communion. For us to authorize rites for blessing same-sex relationships [something I have advocated for twenty years] until there is a change in the consensus of the Anglican Communion is to, in effect, leave the Communion. My prayer, my hope, and the thing I work for, among others, is the full participation of gay and lesbian people everywhere, and especially in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, including the Anglican Communion.

I think that the best thing in the long run is to refrain from acting, but to be a powerful and strong voice for advocacy, as Integrity has been within the Episcopal Church. We need to try to have openly glbt people representing the Episcopal Church on the Anglican Consultative Council. We need for our Primate and Bishops to be fully present voices within the councils of the Communion. I think that the Cathedral Deans need to become more creative about building relationships with other Deans and cathedrals across the Anglican Communion, so that the gays and lesbians among us may be heard and seen.

We need to be realistic that all this may take another generation, but I do not think we should walk away from the challenge of transforming the third largest body of Christians in the world, and I believe it will happen. I say all of this realizing that as much as I may preach and teach and advocate, as a married, straight male I am not paying the cost for this journey the way glbt people are. Only the glbt among us can decide if they want this journey and if they are willing to pay the cost. I hope for the sake of God's Church, and even more for the sake of God's Dominion, that they will find the ability to do so.

About the Author: The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck is Dean and Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Syracuse, New York.

Baptized in Philadelphia, confirmed and ordained in the Diocese of Dallas, and a member of the Standing Committee in the Diocese of New Hampshire, Father Luck has experienced first-hand the breadth of life in the Episcopal Church. His ministry is one of redeveloping communities by building bridges between people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives in the service of God’s mission of justice, mercy and peace, within the Church and the world. He served as a Deputy to General Convention in 2006.

Father Luck says: "I rejoice that the Episcopal Church offers a catholic sacramental life while adhering to the principle of the primacy of Scripture, seeking to drink in all the knowledge of the arts and sciences, and celebrating the ministries of all people, clergy and lay. Educated at Austin College, Nashotah House and Harvard, I have served parishes in growing suburbs, struggling towns, and coastal exurbs. I am currently Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Syracuse which is an urban cathedral offering a variety of liturgical styles and music, including classical Anglican, jazz, and Sudanese Dinka. Among its ministries is the Samaritan Center serving over 200 free, hot meals every day of the year. I also serve as Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Central New York."

His wife, Jane, is a Deacon, and they enjoy a variety of music, sports, and museums. Their children are Shannon, a home health aid in nursing school in Syracuse, Ian, majoring in Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Maine, and Ryan, majoring in Environmental Studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

3 Comments:

Blogger Christopher Evans said...

The incessant focus of our clergy on the ordained and episcopate to what seems like ignoring of average Joe Gay and Jane Lesbian in the pews grows old. I don't give a leap if we have a gay bishop, let's start with the most of us who are in the pews--for once.

I think we might find a lot more ability to do so if liberals would do more than advocate. Offer concrete ways you are willing to pastor us and ritually care for our relationships and other markers in our life in the meantime. Offer resources so that we can bless our own relationships where you cannot. All of this "private pastoral response" stuff in my experience in two diocese, one liberal and the other moderate, has generally meant very little in actual concrete terms beyond you have a seat among us and we won't deny you Eucharist. The Canadian bishops were far more courageous and pastoral in the concrete than all of our liberals here have been to date. There is a failure of pastoral care here on the concrete level, and it won't preach in gay and lesbian communities beyond the church, and it has failed us in the pews for so long that sustenance runs out.

As it is, I'm taking time to discern; it is no longer clear for me if staying in The Episcopal Church is the best place in which the gospel can reach those on the outside. And rarara's about stay because we need you without concrete pastoral and ritual commitments have grown incredibly tiresome and hollow. As have widespread episcopal statements given lots of media coverage that have not one iota of a personal word while we're talked about incessantly in the statements, statements that themselves contain incongruities hard to hold together. No amount of personal meetings with individual bishops afterward undoes the damage. It may be unfair, but that's reality in our media age. Our bishops don't seem to get that even one I and others have pointed this out before. Such failure to offer a personal word in statements about us to the world is a pastoral and evangelical matter.

9/28/2007 11:57 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

A difficulty with this approach is that young queer people have and are discovering they no longer have to be dogs, willing to lick hands and settle for a pat on the head and "good boy" or "good girl." Many of us old church dogs will stay, but who could logically expect the younger ones to come?

9/28/2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger The young fogey said...

Father,

In a free society, which I believe in, you can have any kind of wedding you want.

What if instead, Louie Crew and many others had simply left the Episcopal Church?

You may have had by now what you'll probably have in a few years if not sooner. Two denominations, one of which will be in the Anglican Communion which will make no difference to the people in the pews, the liberal one probably bigger than the other, not in communion with each other but with clear consciences and intellectual honesty all round.

A velvet divorce. Like the breakup of Czechoslovakia and NOT like Yugoslavia's!

I don't see the problem with that.

9/29/2007 10:39 AM  

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