Wednesday, July 22, 2015




SAME-SEX MARRIAGE TO BEGIN IN
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
IN SOUTH CAROLINA



On July 21, 2015, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg announced that same-sex marriage will begin in the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina on November 29, 2015. Until then, the diocesan policy of allowing the blessing of same-sex unions will remain in place. The bishop wrote: "Our current policy involving 'blessings' remains in place until Advent I (November 29, 2015). At that point, the liturgies for marriage will be appropriate to use, as authorized rites of the Church." See the bishop's announcement at www.episcopalchurchsc.org . Bp vonR also said that he had asked the diocesan Liturgical Commission to study ways to implement the new policy in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The resolution on same-sex marriage that was adopted by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on July 1, 2015, Resolution A054, contained the provision "that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her theological objection to or support for the 78th General Convention's action contained in this resolution." (www.generalconvention.org/gc/2015-resolutions/A054/current_english_text ). This is called the "Thurlow Amendment" in honor of the Rev. David Thurlow. At the 2012 General Convention, South Carolina clerical deputy the Rev. David Thurlow, made a minority report in the House of Deputies opposing the adoption of the resolution on the blessing of same-sex unions, and this provision was put into the resolution that was adopted. The Thurlow Amendment was copied verbatim into the new resolution on same-sex marriage of 2015. This was announced in the House of Deputies on July 1, by the chair of the committee that drew up the resolution. Ironically, Thurlow is no longer a member of the Episcopal Church having left the Church in the schism of October 2012 (he is rector of St. Matthias in Summerton, in the Lawrence diocese).

The delegation from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina at the General Convention of 2015 unanimously approved of the resolution on same-sex marriage. However, not everyone from South Carolina was on the same page. In the House of Bishops, resigned suffragan bishop William Skilton voted against approval. Resigned bishop Edward Salmon did not vote, but he and Skilton both signed the statement of protest drawn up by the dissenting bishops on July 2. Neither Skilton nor Salmon has any current official capacity in the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina.

Bishop vonRosenberg is the diocesan bishop, and he has declared the new Church policy will become effective in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina on the announced date.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015





LE JOUR DE LA VICTORIE DU PEUPLE
14 juillet 1789



Considering all that has happened in the last month, it is fitting that we pause for a moment today, Bastille Day, and reflect on where we stand in America and in the schism of South Carolina. The storming and capture of the Bastille, a hated royal prison and fortress looming over Paris, by the people was the symbolic rising of the common man, and woman, to take control of their own lives. Rule of the people was to replace absolute monarchy, the rights of man to replace tyranny, power of the majority to replace aristocracy, and merit to replace birth. The great French Revolution of 1789, combined with the American Revolution of 1776, gave the world our modern systems of constitutional democracy, freedom, justice, and equality. The working of history over the last 250 years has been the evolution of this force throughout the world. It has not been easy. It has not been smooth. But, these great revolutionary values have prevailed against the odds and are now gloriously triumphant in the twenty-first century. The courageous men who signed that remarkable in-the-king's-face document in 1776 and the bold masses that confronted another king and his forces in 1789 would be proud to know just what their actions really meant for generations to come. For all of us ordinary men and women in the world, this is a day of remembrance. This is a day of rejoicing. This is a day of thanksgiving. We would be living in a very different place today if it had not been for the great democratic revolution of the late eighteenth century.

To say the least, much has happened in the last month, almost too much to absorb at once. On June 17, nine Christian martyrs were cut down in their own Church minding their own business in an almost unimaginable act of hatred. Yet, the tremendous response from the city, the state, the nation, and the world enveloped that scene in God's grace. The victims had enveloped their murderer with love just before they died. Their families also extended their heartbreaking love to him. Love defeated hate. Evil lost out to good. The despicable racism that prompted the act was crushed under the heel of a new racial respect. Most whites came to realize they had to remove that Confederate flag. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court validated Obamacare; the Court legalized same-sex marriage in all of the United States; the Episcopal Church overwhelmingly chose as its new presiding bishop an African-American, a first; and the Church just as overwhelmingly adopted same-sex marriage. No doubt everyone is still trying to process it all.

As for the schism, the next events are likely to be the court cases. The state supreme court is set to hear oral arguments on September 23 with no chance of delay. The Church lawyers submitted a brief to the court as the appellant. They are appealing Judge Goodstein's circuit court ruling of Feb. 3, 2015. The independent side has filed a counter-brief; and the Church side has submitted a response brief to that. In a nutshell, the Church lawyers argued in their briefs that Goodstein's decision should be cast aside for two big reasons, it violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and it violated the principle of neutral rights. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, that is, the separation of church and state. The principle of  neutral rights says a court must not get involved in the internal working of a religious institution. The Church lawyers said that Goodstein clearly and repeatedly violated these two points, and therefore her ruling should be invalidated. The independent diocesan lawyers are basically arguing that the state supreme court should follow and uphold their 2009 judgment in the All Saints/Waccamaw case in which they ruled the Dennis Canon did not apply to this parish. The judges recognized the right of property ownership of the local parish over the diocese, and Church. The lawyers assert that the Dennis Canon is invalid in the whole state of South Carolina and that the diocese is an independent entity not beholding to the national Church. Meanwhile, in the federal district court in Charleston, Judge Houck is awaiting the arguments of the two sides before he proceeds. The Appeals Court in Richmond ordered him to reconsider the case on a different principle than the one he had used. He still has the option of dismissing the case, but his window of opportunity is much smaller. He would have to make a highly compelling argument to do that. Houck has also agreed that the federal litigation is not dependent on the state supreme court case.

In the bigger picture, are the two dioceses any nearer a reconciliation now, more than two and a half years after the split? One can argue both sides of this. It seems to me there are strong signs denying any reconciliation. The most important of these was DSC's flat refusal of June 15 to talk with the Church side even about the possibility of discussing a negotiated settlement. The Church had offered to give all of the 35 parishes their property in return for the diocesan legal rights and properties. DSC's instant rejection of the overture showed that its difference with TEC was not about the parish property, it was about the DSC's leaders' vision of  making an American Anglicanism without the Episcopal Church. How could they make a reconciliation with an institution they consider hopelessly corrupt and erroneous, even heretical?

Also, DSC has doubled down on its anti-homosexual rights stand. Last March its annual convention overwhelmingly passed three resolutions reaffirming its solid commitment to heterosexual marriage only (no doubt anticipating the Court's and TEC's actions). Then, immediately after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, DSC instantly issued a statement denouncing the decision and reasserting its stand for homosexual marriage only even though the Court decision only applied to the civic state, not to religious institutions. Moreover, since the Court decision, Kendall Harmon's blog, the quasi-official voice of DSC, has promoted Anglican Communion denunciations of the Court, and TEC's, decisions. The anti-homosexual camp of GAFCON, Global South, and the Ugandan archbishop, all blasted the Court and TEC (even though they have not recognized TEC for many years); all were promoted on TitusOneNine to the cheers of their admirers. All of these factors make me think there is no chance of a reconciliation, at least not any time soon.

On the other hand, there are indications that the schism might be healed, at least in time. It is interesting to note that although DSC slammed the Supreme Court right after its decision on June 26, it was silent following the TEC vote on same-sex marriage only a few days later. One might say there was no reason to react to TEC since DSC has cut off all ties to TEC, but then there was no reason for DSC to react to the Supreme Court either and yet it did.

Too, one should keep in mind the situation of the independent diocese's bishop, Mark Lawrence. He has never personally renounced his Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church (as far as we know). The presiding bishop interpreted his resignation from the Church and his remarks to the special convention on Nov. 17, as de facto renunciation of Orders. On Dec. 5, 2012, she issued an official recognition of his renunciation in a document called a Release and Removal in which she released and removed Lawrence from any role in the Episcopal Church. As I understand it, he has not been otherwise "defrocked" by the Episcopal Church. His case has not been considered by the House of Bishops. It seems to me Lawrence is keeping his options open. At age 65, he must be considering his legacy for the future. As of now, he will go down in the long history of the diocese of South Carolina as the bishop who presided over the grand old diocese when it broke apart. Even though the schism is likely to be healed down the road, his legacy in the schism will stand for posterity. One can only wonder if Lawrence really wants this as his permanent legacy for all time. As I understand it, the door is still open for Lawrence to be reinstated in the Episcopal Church as the presiding bishop could revoke the Release an Removal. Apparently, this is still a possibility; and it is one that no one should rule out. There is about to be a change of leadership in the Episcopal Church. The present presiding bishop (much ctiticized in DSC) will be leaving office soon and a new one will take over. It is possible the next presiding bishop may want to handle this case differently. We will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, throughout these two and a half years of schism, Lawrence has steadfastly refused to join any larger entity. DSC remains a "diocese" apart. The oversight scheme with Global South is really meaningless. No one has even been able to describe it, let alone demonstrate how it is supposed to work. Time and again, he has been wooed by the leaders of the Anglican Church in North America only to turn them away. Obviously he refused to join ACNA for reasons he keeps close to the vest. The diocese uses only the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for its services, thus cutting off the new ACNA service book. Unattached to any larger entity, DSC is free to return to TEC. However much they may loudly decry such an idea, that is the reality.

One may have noticed that two bishops of the pre-schism diocese attended the recent TEC General Convention, Salmon and Skilton. Skilton voted against the same-sex resolutions. Both Salmon and Skilton signed the Salt Lake "Statement" denouncing the resolutions but also reaffirming loyalty to the Episcopal Church. By their actions, these bishops have shown their continuing ties to the Church.

As we have seen, the direct cause of the schism was the issue of homosexuality. The Episcopal Church has finished a sixty year period of reform to extend equal rights to blacks, women, and homosexuals. This reform period has now run its course. There is no new crusade on the horizon. This is a time for absorbing the monumental changes that have been made. It will take some time for all of this to settle down through the ranks of the larger Church. DSC could return to TEC knowing the change is over. If DSC persists in continuing its anti-homosexual stand, and to a lesser degree, its prejudice against women's roles in the Church, it will continue to decline. Demography is against it. This will become clearer and clearer as time goes by and membership, and income, continue to fall. Thus, the future holds a better possibility that DSC can reassess its differences with the Church and quietly make amends. The door is certainly open on the Church side and will remain so.

Mark Lawrence, and his inner circle, have invested a great deal emotionally into this schism. Surely, it would be personally difficult for them to reverse themselves at this point. Yet, at his age Lawrence must be thinking about his legacy. He knows the door is open and only he can make the decision to be a great agent of healing and reconciliation or not. If he does choose to reunite the old diocese, I think he would go down in history as a great bishop. His episcopacy would be seen as a troubled one full of crises,  but ultimately he would come out as courageous and heroic. If he does not, I believe he will have a whole different legacy.

Lawrence has said repeatedly he wants to help transform Anglicanism in the twenty-first century. One would be hard pressed to see any success in the last two and a half years. Now that TEC has finished its social reform and the pendulum is swinging back to the vertical side, perhaps his greatest contribution to transforming Anglicanism would be to rejoin his old conservative cohorts in TEC to lead the Church in a new age of evangelism. That could be his legacy, and perhaps a far greater one than he could realize otherwise.

I for one still believe that reconciliation will happen in time because it is the right thing to do. I started this post with revolutions. Historically, a revolution always has an ensuing counter-revolution. It is always two steps up and one step back. On the whole, however, progress happens.
       

Friday, July 10, 2015




THE CONFEDERACY AND
THE INDEPENDENT DIOCESE



The final lowering of Confederate battle flag on the South Carolina state house grounds today gives us an appropriate moment to reflect on our Civil War past.

First, before anyone calls me a yankee or outside agitator, let me say all of my ancestral families have lived in the South for 200-300 years and all of them alive in the 1860's supported the Confederacy. All of the able-bodied men of military age put on Confederate uniforms and went to war. Some of them died far from their homes in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. All of those who did return alive were wounded in more ways than one. These ordinary farmers believed they had gone to fight to protect their families, their homes, their communities, and their livelihoods from aggression. Besides, there was a military draft in the South. They did not have much choice. On the level of their own understanding of what they were doing, I have only admiration for them.

My forefathers did not fully comprehend what we know now. The Confederacy was actually fighting for two main reasons: to break up the United States into two countries, and to keep four million human beings in slavery. I am sorry, ancestors, but neither of these was really a noble cause. The Confederacy was not fighting for democratic or Christian ideals. And, it is time all of us white southerners throw off our "Gone With the Wind" non-historical romanticism and come to see the reality of the Old South. Indeed, reality struck us hard in the face just a couple of weeks ago allegedly by a young man who was driven by delusional unreality.

As a student of history, I am struck by the similarities between the Civil War and the schism. Both came from the same philosophical root, local over national sovereignty. The state of South Carolina claimed states' rights in the U.S.; the South Carolina diocese claimed independent autonomy in the Church. South Carolina declared it had the right to secede from the Union because there was no clause in the U.S. Constitution forbidding it; the diocese claimed it could secede from the Episcopal Church because there was no clause in the Church's Constitution and Canons forbidding it. South Carolina went to war to guarantee her secession; the diocese went to court to do the same. In both cases, destructive wars ensued for a long time. On victimization, South Carolina claimed it was forced to secede by the menace of the "Black Republicans" from off; the diocese said its bishop was the victim of the malevolent presiding bishop from off. Neither was true.

Neither case turned out well. South Carolina suffered more loss and destruction than did any other Confederate state. The war was a catastrophe for the state. Besides, a Confederate victory would have established the principle of states' rights in the Confederacy. This would have made long term union in the south impossible as one state after another would have left the Confederacy over one disagreement or another. And, what would keep counties from leaving states, and cities from leaving counties? The result would have been the balkanization of the south. If the Confederacy had won, the south today would be like Central America of the Balkans, a bunch of small and impoverished nation-states. Everyone of us southerners, white and black had better thank God the Confederacy did not win the Civil War.

It is too soon to know what is in store for the independent diocese, but the record so far is not promising. It has already spent two million dollars on lawyers by its own admission. No doubt before all this is over there will be many more millions in lawyers' pockets. This is true while the diocese shrinks. It is now two-thirds of what it was when Lawrence became bishop. As membership declines, income does too. Apparently, the diocese is having a harder and harder time raising money from its faithful for legal bills. There is no end in sight.

Meanwhile, the diocese has concentrated authoritarian power in the hands of its self-proclaimed "bishop" (apparently he does not hold valid Holy Orders in any known denomination) who has refused to join any larger group. He arranged for a peculiar "oversight" scheme with Global South that is not oversight at all. He has steadfastly refused to join the logical entity, the GAFCON-backed Anglican Church in North America. The truth is that more than two and a half years after leaving the Episcopal Church, the leaders are providing no direction for the future of the independent diocese and there is no sign this is about to change any time soon. 

The biggest concern for the independent diocese should be the demographic table. While the diocesan leaders insist on clinging to a strong anti-homosexual agenda, society all around it is going the other way. As the old communicants die off, the diocese will have an increasingly difficult problem of attracting the young. Studies show that young people are almost unanimously in favor of equal rights and freedom for homosexuals. In time, the independent diocese will have to reverse its anti-homosexual stands or go out of existence.

Both the Confederacy and the diocese split from their unions because of social policy. The Confederacy had rather die trying than to give up slavery. The diocese resolved to leave the Church rather than accept equal rights for homosexuals. The problem was that both movements were against the grain of American democracy and history. This country was the first nation in the history of the world to be established on principles. It declared at the very start that all people are created equal and are given by God rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Neither the Confederacy nor the independent diocese wanted to accept those ideals. One was swept aside by the time and tide of history, and the other is about to be. American society is moving along to incorporate ever more the ideals of freedom, equality, justice on which this country was founded. The independent diocese cannot stop that any more than the Confederacy did.


The monstrous evil of June 17 has not prevailed. It will not prevail because all around us are good people who lift us all up with the remarkable witness of God's grace and with profound understanding and commitment to democracy. The families of the nine martyrs taught us how to be good Christians even in the worst imaginable pain and suffering. Jenny Horne taught us how to be good democrats because we are human beings first. They are part of that great cloud of witnesses who lead us on to a better world and I thank God for them.           

Thursday, July 9, 2015




OUT OF AFRICA



Some DSC communicants and friends are euphoric at three statements recently coming out of Africa condemning the Episcopal Church's resolutions for same-sex marriage. A close examination of these three, however, shows us there is more here than meets the eye at first glance. In the first place, while GAFCON opposes homosexuality, there is a division in their ranks on how society should treat homosexuals. In the second place, the equatorial African prelates are continuing their campaign to criminalize homosexual behavior and punish homosexual persons under the law even in defiance of the Anglican Communion.

Nine Global South primates issued "Statement in Response to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church resolution regarding same sex" on July 4 (www.globalsouthanglican.org/index.php/blog/comments/statement_in_response_to_ ). Predictably it condemned TEC's action that "contradicts the Holy Scriptures and God's plan for creation..." Then, it goes on to declare "We are against any criminalization of homosexuals, they are like the rest of us..." Three of the nine signatories were from equatorial African nations Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda. In Kenya, homosexual behavior is criminal under the law and punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. In Burundi, the national Constitution specifically bans same-sex marriage and the Penal Code punishes homosexual behavior with up to two years in prison and a fine of 100,000 francs. One can only wonder at how hard the Anglican primates of Kenya and Burundi have worked "against any criminalization of homosexuals."

Two days later, two members of the GAFCON primates' council issued "A Response to The Episcopal Church of the United States' (TEC) decision to make 'Same-Sex Marriage' official" (http://gafcon.org/news/tec-decision-a-mistake-with-serious-consequences ) These two happened to be the archbishops of Kenya and Nigeria. As in Kenya, Nigerian law criminalizes homosexual behavior across the board. In northern Nigeria under Muslim law, it is punishable by death. In southern Nigeria, it is punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. In their statement, the two archbishops warned TEC of "a mistake with serious consequences" but did not elaborate on what those consequences might be. Most of the statement is a rather benign reaffirmation of the Anglican Church in North America.

The third came three days later. On July 7 appeared a statement of one primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda (http://churchofuganda.org/news/abps-statement-on-same-sex-marriage-in-tec-and-usa ). It should be recalled that the Anglican province of Uganda cut off all ties to the Episcopal Church in 2003 and subsequently established episcopal intervention in the U.S. and became a strong supporter of the Anglican Church in North America as the replacement church for TEC.


Ntagali's was the strongest reaction of all three, condemning the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court as "grievous" and that of TEC as "even more grievous." It blasts TEC and reasserts the sole legitimacy of heterosexual marriage. Then, in the last paragraph, Ntagali inserts a sentence that was perhaps the whole point of the statement: "...we despair at the path TEC has taken and their imperialist commitment to export it to the rest of the Anglican Communion..." As it had happened, a few days earlier General Convention passed Resolution AO51 "Support LGBT African Advocacy" ( http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/2015-resolutions ). It directed TEC "to work in partnership with African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people."

Ntagali is on record as an advocate of strengthening anti-homosexual laws in Uganda, a country well-known for its harsh policies, some would say persecution. All eyes in the world turned to Uganda in early 2014 as it debated a new anti-homosexuality law that would impose the death penalty in certain cases. Critics commonly called it the "Kill the Gays" bill. To Ntagali's credit he did campaign to remove the death penalty (it was removed from the final bill) but he still spoke out prominently for the new bill that was passed and signed into law in February of 2014. Practically every human rights group on earth protested the law. The archbishops of Canterbury and York told Ntagali and the world: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us...We call upon the leaders of churches in such places to demonstrate the love of Christ..." Nearly every political leader of the First World loudly denounced the new law. The United States and many other countries drastically cut aid to Uganda in protest.

On August 1, 2014, the supreme court of Uganda declared the new law null and void since it had been passed without a quorum in the parliament. Ntagali publicly registered his disapproval of the court's action: "I appeal to all God-fearing people and all Ugandans to remain committed to the support against homosexuality." He went on, "The 'court of public opinion' has clearly indicated its support for the Act, and we urge Parliament to consider voting again on the Bill with the proper quorum in place." (www.religionnews.com/2014/08/04/ugandas-anglican-leader-doubles-anti-gay-law/ ). In March of 2015, the authors of the original law announced they were going to reintroduce it with more muted language but still clearly criminalizing homosexual acts and imposing stiff prison sentences. In the meanwhile, numerous grass roots human rights groups have organized in Uganda to resist the bill. Perhaps Ntagali's real concern now is that TEC's Resolution AO51 will strengthen the opposition movement in Uganda against the anti-homosexual bill that apparently is still in the works.


There may be other factors too driving Ntagali's rallying cry on homosexuality. Early this year he was sued before the high court of Uganda jointly by four senior priests and by the trustees of the Anglican Church of Uganda claiming that Ntagali had unlawfully forced the bishop of Kitgum diocese to retire and was planning the same for other bishops at odds with him. ( DAILY MONITOR, Feb. 5, 2015,  www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Arch-Bishop--Ntagali-sued/-/688334/2610564/-/ ). Obviously there are clergy and officials of the Church of Uganda who are not happy with their archbishop's policies and procedures. The issues of homosexuality and American imperialism could be handy distractions from his troubles in court.

There are two points to take away from the three statements described above. The first is that GAFCON is divided on whether homosexuality should be treated as criminal under state law. In their statement of July 4, the Global South primates said it should not be criminalized. In contradiction, some Anglican primates in the "South" are campaigning for criminalization. The second point is that the Anglican archbishops of equatorial Africa have encouraged and supported legal persecution of the homosexual minorities in those countries. In spite of pleas from virtually the rest of the world, they seem resolved to promote their anti-homosexual views in their Anglican provinces. How much support they will get from the rest of GAFCON is an open question now. Will Global South back up its stand against criminalization?

The good people of South Carolina who are now thrilled at the certain Anglican archbishops' denunciations of the Episcopal Church really should ask themselves whether they want to be allied with people who are campaigning to deny human rights to all people. The freedoms that we take for granted in the U.S. are not found everywhere. While democracy is spreading around the world, there are still places that refuse to recognize the basic human rights that come with democracy. Does the independent diocese want to be allied with Anglican provinces that are working against human rights?
________________
For information on anti-homosexual laws in Africa see the Wikipedia articles on Homosexuality and the Anglican Communion and "LGBT Rights in Nigeria, in Rwanda, in Burundi, in Kenya etc.
On Archbishop Ntagali and the anti-homosexual laws of Uganda see: "Homosexuality is tearing fabric of Anglican union, says Ntagali," ( www.monitor.co/ug/News/National/Homosexuality-is-tearing-fabric-of-Anglican-union--says-Ntagali/-/688334/1947332/-/52s3yuz/-/index.htm ); "Uganda's Anglican Church Threatens Split Over Anti-Gay Law," Mar. 3, 2014 (www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/03/uganda-anglican-church_n_4890603.html ); "Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda_Anti-Homosexuality_Act,_2014 ); "Uganda's Anglican Leader Doubles Down on Anti-Gay Law," Aug. 4, 2014 (www.religionnews.com/2014/08/04/ugandas-anglican-leader-doubles-anti-gay-law? ); "Uganda Planning New Anti-Gay Law Despite Opposition," Nov. 10, 2014 (www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29994678 ); "Uganda's 'Kill the Gays' Bill is Back," Mar. 1, 2015 (www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/01/uganda-s-kill-the-gays-bill-is-back.html ).  

      

Monday, July 6, 2015



IT IS ABOUT GAYS




Now we know. The last two weeks have shown us for sure. If there is anyone left in the world who thinks the schism in South Carolina and the division in the Anglican Communion is not about homosexuality he or she has only to look at the events of the last couple of weeks. No one can have the least bit of doubt any more. It is about gays. It was always about gays.

Today, anti-homosexual forces are back on their heels following the double whammy of the U.S. Supreme Court's sweeping legalization of same-sex marriage in the nation and the Episcopal Church's overwhelming landslide (80-90%) approval of same-sex marriage in the Church beginning in Advent 2015. These two events occurred within five days.

Although everyone knew these reforms were coming, the opponents maneuvered to oppose them in a last-ditch effort for months beforehand and have been publicly indignant ever since. Last March, the independent diocese (DSC) passed three resolutions strongly supporting heterosexual marriage only. Even though the Supreme Court's ruling of June 26 applied only to the civic state and not to religious institutions, the independent diocese still felt it was important to issue a declaration immediately afterwards to reassert its resolve to maintain "scriptural" marriage. The Anglican Communion Institute, a conservative think tank, campaigned for a long time before the General Convention against marriage equality. Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz even put up a "Marriage Pledge"online whereby clergy could sign up and agree not to perform civic marriage in the church. (see "First Things.")

The fallout after the General Convention resolutions has been predictable. The Archbishop of Canterbury, still at odds on what to do with the stubbornly divisive GAFCON, fretted aloud that some provinces of the Communion  might be upset by the American action. (www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5581/response-to- ). That is a given. Then, of course, Global South, Mark Lawrence's best friends in the AC, blasted the Episcopal Church, yet again, claiming they were "deeply grieved" by the marriage equality resolutions. Again, to be expected. GAFCON is also out with a fierce blast against TEC. It is curious that Global South and GAFCON are so concerned about TEC when they broke off communion with TEC years ago and recognized only the Anglican Church in North America as the legitimate Anglican province in the U.S. Why should they be so upset with TEC now when they have had no relations with TEC for years?


Then, on July 3, we were presented with A.S. Haley's, aka "The Anglican Curmudgeon," "Apologia," in which he indignantly resigned from the Episcopal Church because of its supposed "blasphemy." (www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/31913 ). As everyone knows, for years attorney Haley has been actively involved in some of the secessionist diocesan court cases against TEC. Vocal too was Robert Gagnon, theology professor in Pittsburgh and longtime academic standard bearer in the religious fight against homosexuality. Right after the Supreme Court decision he fired off an essay "American Tragedy: Now Gird up your Loins,"(www.robgagnon.net/homosexSCOTUSgaymarriage.htm ) railing out against the Court and quoting every supporting Bible verse imaginable. The most sensible and reasonable conservative reaction to the Supreme Court decision that I have seen is "First Things. After Obergefell: A First Things Symposium" (www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/06/after-obergefell-a-first-things-symposium ). I recommend it for a better understanding of the opposition side.


Let's get something straight here about what did and did not happen. The social conservatives' claim that the Court and the Church attacked traditional marriage is not true. Heterosexual marriage continues on as before. There is no change in the law or the Book of Common Prayer concerning opposite-sex marriage. What has happened is that both Court and Church expanded the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. This is not an attack on heterosexual marriage. In fact, it actually strengthens the institution of marriage in society. So, right-wing ranting about the destruction of Biblical marriage is simply wrong.


Actually, both the Supreme Court ruling and the Episcopal Church's resolutions were parts of a historical movement that has been going on for years. They were not really breaking new ground. They were far from the first to do these things. An excellent article in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage ) reveals that twenty nations had already legalized same-sex marriage and numerous others had established some version of it or all of it in certain localities. The first country to legalize same-sex marriage was the Netherlands, in 2001. Two years later  came Belgium and parts of Canada. The first American state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004. Following came Spain, all of Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina (Bp Zavala's bailiwick), Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay (Zavala), New Zealand, England and Wales, Luxembourg. All of these and many more smaller entities, legalized same-sex marriage before the United States did so on June 26, 2015.

Likewise, the Episcopal Church was not the first religious denomination to recognize marriage equality. According to the Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/02/where-christian-churches-stand- ) numerous American religious bodies had already adopted same-sex marriage including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Reformed Judaism, the Unitarians, and the United Church of Christ. Others are likely to do so in time. The Pew Center also found in a recent survey that 62% of white mainline Protestants now favor same-sex marriage while 33% oppose. Moreover, a clear-cut majority of all Americans now favor marriage equality; and that number is rising quickly. It is almost unanimous among the young.

The issue of homosexuality was certainly the direct cause of the schism in the Episcopal Church. Immediately after the Robinson vote of affirmation in the General Convention of 2003, the Chapman Memo appeared to present a detailed plan for secession from the Episcopal Church. San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, and Quincy all voted the leave the Church in 2007 and 2008 as a result of the Robinson affirmation, the failure of foreign intervention, and the election of a woman Presiding Bishop in 2006 who happened to be an outspoken advocate of homosexual rights in the Church. The leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina led its majority out of the Episcopal Church in 2012 on the heels of General Convention of 2012's adoption of liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and rights for transgendered clergy.

It was also the direct cause of the division in the Anglican Communion. GAFCON I meeting convened in Jerusalem only a few days before the Lambeth Conference was to meet in England in 2008. It was formed to oppose the rising movement in Anglicanism of rights for homosexuals. Anglican primates from equatorial Africa, countries that traditionally punish homosexuality, have been prominent in GAFCON from the start. When its subsidiary, the Anglican Church in North America started in 2009, GAFCON declared it the new replacement branch of the Anglican Communion in America and ended communion with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. GAFCON, and its allied groups such as Global South, have split the Anglican Communion into two factions. The division is so bitter that the Archbishop of Canterbury has said it is doubtful that he will call a Lambeth Conference in 2018. He is frantically trying to hold together a loose confederation that in reality has already split apart.

The evidence is overwhelming that there is a worldwide movement to extend human rights to a historically oppressed minority, homosexual persons. Europe and the Americas have led the way while Africa and Asia lag behind (although South Africa has marriage equality). The movement is actually gaining momentum and will no doubt sweep even the most conservative regions eventually. After all, Spain, one of the most conservative societies in Europe was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage. Another historically traditional country, Ireland, recently voted in a landslide for marriage equality. It is sweeping the world.

That will include South Carolina. As time goes by, more and more people will support equal rights for homosexuals. Today's opponents will shrink away. Time and tide are against them. Social conservatives have every reason to be upset about the events of the last two weeks. They are undeniable towering landmarks of that time and tide. There is more, much more to come before this wave of democratic rights runs its course. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Episcopal Church were simply recognizing the reality of that wave, and rightly so.

In the long run, opposition to rights for homosexuals will fade away as did opposition to equality for blacks and for women. We may forget, but these created bitter opposition movements too, and not very long ago. Now those movements seem almost quaint, if ridiculous in hindsight. The world will survive the movement of rights for homosexuals. The Anglican Communion will survive. The Episcopal Church will survive. Once time has passed and tempers have cooled, reconciliation will take place. That too is part of the time and tide of history.       

Friday, July 3, 2015




THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND
THE END OF HISTORY



History comes to an end today, July 3, 2015, as the General Convention of the Episcopal Church gavels itself to a close. It is not history itself that is ending, of course, but a history. The epoch now closing is the age of the great democratization of the Episcopal Church. It occurred over a sixty year period, from the 1950's to today. It is appropriate that we pause for a moment and reflect on this most remarkable transformation of this great religious institution.

The first half of the twentieth century produced the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. These left two great results for the world, particularly for the United States. The first was the triumph of democracy over monarchism and totalitarianism (WWI & II); and the second was the principle that the government is directly responsible for the welfare of all of its citizens (New Deal). After 1945, American society began working out the democratic principles of freedom, equality, and justice as they applied to elements that had been denied these; and at the same time the federal government, and national institutions in general began a more direct involvement in that process. The Episcopal Church was one of those national institutions that felt the direct impact of the collusion of these two new waves.

The first rush of institutional application of democratic principles came in racial justice. President Truman integrated the U.S. armed forces in 1948; and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down "separate but equal" in 1954. The Civil Rights movement slowly but surely developed around the nation, especially in the racist south. The Episcopal Church awoke to the issue in 1952 when General Convention first denounced racial discrimination. In 1953, Sewanee became the last seminary to integrate. In 1955, the Diocese of South Carolina became the last diocese to admit blacks to voting in its convention. In 1956, the national council of TEC called for full integration of every level of the Church. South Carolina was the last diocese in the nation to fully merge, in 1965. In the 1960's TEC was active in funding and promoting programs to extend civil rights even as some southern Church people fled. Many individual Episcopalians joined in civil rights actions; some gave their lives doing so. In 1970 the first black diocesan bishop was consecrated, in Massachusetts. In 1989, the first black female bishop was consecrated, again in Massachusetts. In 2000, an African American was elected bishop of North Carolina. In 2015 he was overwhelmingly chosen as Presiding Bishop.

Once democracy was applied to one minority, it could not be denied to others. By the 1960's a movement arose for women to gain equal rights and treatment in the Episcopal Church. Ordination was the specific issue at hand. In 1970 GC voted down women's ordination to the priesthood, and again in 1973. In 1974, eleven women were ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia by two retired bishops and one resigned bishop. The House of Bishops promptly called an emergency session to reject the ordinations. At the next GC, in 1976, however, resolutions were passed removing gender as a barrier to all ordinations and offices in the Church. The next year, the eleven of 1974 were officially recognized. The Church began putting pressure on all dioceses to move forward on the ordination of women in the face of continued resistance from three dioceses: San Joaquin, Ft. Worth, and Quincy. In South Carolina, Bishop Allison allowed four women to be ordained as priests (1984-89). Bishop Salmon also allowed women into ordination while denouncing the national Church's measures to enforce this policy (Bp Lawrence did not ordain a woman to the priesthood, but did ordain two women to the diaconate before the schism). By 2002, a quarter of all priests in TEC were women. In 2006, a woman was elected Presiding Bishop of TEC. She was also the first woman primate of one of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion. Women now make up a third of all clergy of TEC.

The movement to extend democracy to homosexual persons began in 1975 when GC passed a resolution declaring that homosexuals have "full and equal" claim to the Church. This was extended by vote of the 1985 GC to "promote" the life of homosexuals in the Church. In 1989, an openly homosexual man was ordained a priest, thus prompting the issue at the next GC, in 1991. That GC declared sexual expression was "appropriate" only between a husband and wife, but also set up mechanisms for developing greater understanding of the issue of homosexuality. The next GC, in 1994, resolved that no person could be denied rights in the Church because of sexual orientation. Shortly thereafter, Bishop Righter, of Newark, was put on trial in a church court for ordaining to the priesthood an open and partnered man. The court found in favor of Righter and concluded that no person could be denied ordination because of sexual orientation. This effectively gave homosexuals open access to ordination in the Episcopal Church. The GC of 2000 recognized that lifelong committed relationships could be found in other than traditional heterosexual bonds. In 2003, the diocese of New Hampshire elected an open and partnered homosexual man as bishop; and this was confirmed by the House of Bishops in the GC of 2003. By 2009, GC was ready to move forward with setting up trial liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. In 2012, GC adopted the new trial liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and also declared rights for transgendered clergy. In 2015, GC completed the democratization for homosexual persons by passing two resolutions to make a liturgy for same-sex marriage and change the canons to allow the same.

All along the way while these social movements were developing, the Church also extended democratization to many other aspects of life in the Church. Most importantly this was in the revision of the Book of Common Prayer to make it more communal and gender neutral. There were also many other smaller reforms too numerous to list here, for example allowing laypersons to administer the chalice in Communion.

To be sure there were many critics and dissenters all along in the sixty-plus years of this democratization process. Many people found they could not go along with one or more aspects of the revolutionary changes going on all around them. Splinter groups began peeling off TEC in earnest in the 1970's. The Righter trial of 1996 broke the back of the opposition faction against equality for homosexuals but resistance continued. By the time of the Robinson affair in 2003, there were twelve diocese that were staunchly and invariably "conservative" or resistant to the changes. After Robinson's affirmation in 2003 and Jefferts Schori's election as PB in 2006, four of the twelve voted by majority to leave the Episcopal Church. After the liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and rights for transgendereds in 2012, one more voted to secede from the union, that being South Carolina. The five most conservative dioceses declared their separations from the Church. Following the votes in the GC of 2012, twelve dissenting bishops issued the "Indianapolis Statement" denouncing the resolutions and affirming their loyalty to the Anglican Communion (Salmon and Skilton signed, but Lawrence did not).

There are now seven brother dioceses left from the original twelve forming the pre-Robinson far-right wing of the Episcopal Church (Springfield, Western Louisiana, Northern Indiana, Dallas, Albany, Central Florida, and Tennessee). Yesterday they led a delegation of bishops to issue a new dissent called "The Salt Lake City Statement." This was not at all a replay of 2012. It was really fundamentally different. This time the statement, signed by twenty bishops, was much milder in tone and altogether conciliatory. It declared loyalty and commitment to TEC. Gone was the subtle threat of secession or appeal over the head of TEC to powers overseas. The remaining seven have clarified their devotion to their principles and to their Church. From yesterday's declaration, it appears most unlikely that any diocese will contemplate following the five departed brothers. In response to the Statement, the House of Bishops yesterday issued "Communion Across Difference" statement to the dissenters reaffirming the bonds of affection. Peace has come at long last.

Thus, the Episcopal Church closes the door on its greatest reform period in its long history. Some people think this revolutionary period of the last sixty years was great; some think it was disastrous. I for one think it was a natural, if long overdue, collusion of democracy and Christianity. Even so, it has come at a price. The Episcopal Church now has only about half as many members as it had fifty years ago. But, as we all know, doing the right thing is sometimes costly, but it is still the right thing to do.

So, as the Church turns a new page, where does it go from here? Is there more to be accomplished in social reform? There is none obvious. The Episcopal Church has been committed to horizontal Christianity for a long time now, and rightly so. But perhaps now it is time to steer back to a more vertical posture with renewed emphasis on evangelization. There were clear signs in the GC of the last few days of this happening. The new presiding bishop certainly radiates this. Perhaps the seven brothers could show us the way. I think now it is the right thing to do, to balance the horizontal and the vertical.

It is appropriate now to take a moment and wax a bit nostalgic as we look back on a most remarkable revolution in the life of the Episcopal Church. On this eve of Independence Day, what else should we say but thank God for the great democratic revolution of the Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015




EPISCOPAL CHURCH ADOPTS MARRIAGE EQUALITY




The General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopted marriage equality on July 1. On Monday, June 29, the House of Bishops adopted two resolutions, AO54 that offered liturgies for trial use as a revised an expanded version of the liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions from the 2012 General Convention (the old BCP liturgy of matrimony remains), and AO36 that revised the Church Canon 1.18 on Marriage to allow same-sex marriage. A roll call vote on AO36 showed 129 bishops voting for it, 26 voting against, and 5 abstaining (Bp. vonR voted for both resolutions). Those resolutions went to the House of Deputies for consent. The vote was even greater there. On AO54 of clergy by diocese (1 vote per diocese), 94 voted for, 12 voted against, and 2 were divided. Of laity by diocese (1 vote per diocese), 90 voted for, 11 voted against, and 3 divided. On the second resolution, on revising the canon, clergy voted 85 for, 15 against, and 6 divided while in the laity, 88 voted for, 12 voted against, and 6 divided (The ECSC delegation voted for both resolutions). Thus marriage equality passed both houses by enormous landslides.


Same-sex couples may marry in the Episcopal Church starting on November 29, 2015, in places where this is legal under civil law (there are diocese outside the U.S. where same-sex marriage remains illegal). However, under the terms of the resolutions, both diocesan bishops and priests are free to refuse same-sex marriages, but bishops refusing must still provide access to same-sex marriage ceremonies to persons within their dioceses who want them).


The decision of the Episcopal Church comes just five days after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the legality of same-sex marriage in the United States.