Restraint Trumps Protest in Episcopal Church
By the Rev. Anne Howard, executive director of The Beatitudes Society.
My church is in the headlines again today. The headline is not “Episcopal Church Opposes Warâ€ or “Episcopal Church Supports SCHIPâ€ or “Episcopal Church Works to Fight Povertyâ€ or “Episcopal Church Lobbies for Katrina Aid.â€ No, my church doesn’t have time for such pressing social justice issues.
Today’s headline is “Episcopal Bishops Promise Restraintâ€, or in a slightly more active choice of verbs: “Episcopal Leaders Act to Avert a Schismâ€ or even more active yet “Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orderâ€.
Forgive me, but I’m just so tired of it all. Don’t get me wrong, the issue is critical: the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church is indeed a social justice issue. But I’m not sure that’s the issue at hand. I’m afraid the competing issue is something called “unityâ€.
Our bishops are big on unity. We have been schism-shy since Henry VIII dumped the Pope for Anne Boleyn. We Episcopalians didn’t split over slavery, as many of our mainline colleagues did. (No doubt a few Episcopalians experienced “unityâ€ and even communion through the cotton of their southern plantations and northern mills).
I’m thinking that unity has become an idol. Our bishops have pledged to “exercise restraintâ€ in ordaining another gay bishop, and they are not authorizing rites for same-sex marriages. While the American bishops rightly did not cave in to pressure from the conservative bishops of the worldwide Anglican communion to stop ordaining gay bishops and reject same-sex marriage, they did assert their over-arching desire to remain part of the international body. Unity trumps integrity?
I hope not. I do love my church. I became an Episcopalian because I saw the Episcopal Church (in the local iteration of All Saints Pasadena) as the church that opposed the war in Vietnam, worked for Civil Rights, championed the ordination of women, fought the Reagan nuclear arms buildup, forged ahead with gay marriage and supported openly gay priests and bishops. And I have been proud to be part of a local church (Trinity in Santa Barbara) and a diocese (Los Angeles) that has been at the forefront of the struggle for our church to become open and welcoming to all.
I love my church, and so I want us to just get on with it. I want us to look like the church of Jesus, where all manner and condition of folks gather for the feast: everybody’s welcome at the banquet table. I want us to stand up for inclusion, and that might mean that unity takes a back seat.
It’s time for the Protestant Principle. Time to exercise not restraint, but protest.
Because, as Gene Robinson, our gay bishop from New Hampshire said about the New Orleans summit, “No one’s vision won.â€
And the people need a vision.