Running a church is incredibly complex, particularly when the church does not march in lock-step. And no one ever described the Episcopal Church as marching in lock-step! I think the more common phrase has something to do with herding cats! That's always the risk when individual members are encouraged to consider Bible, tradition and reason. What might seem simple -- considering the Bible -- is not simple when the church includes literal interpreters, liberal interpreters and everything in between. Then comes tradition. My tradition? Your tradition? British tradition? American tradition of freedom? Native American tradition? And do we even want to think about the variations that can come up with the concept of reason?
The Episcopal Church is in the midst of our once every three years General Convention. Thousands of Episcopalians are gathered in Anaheim, California, to do the business of the church. Just like the U.S. Congress, much of what they debate and vote on are fairly minor details, but some are rather significant. This year, the deputies and Bishops are considering a significant change in how health insurance is organized. With Congress looking at an overhaul of health care across the nation, one might wonder why the Episcopalians are worrying about health insurance, but...
What always gets the coverage lately is the sex. Why does it seem that all major controversies have to do with sex? We are incredibly concerned about what happens behind the bedroom door or the consequences of what happens behind the bedroom door. We get all in a twit over the role of women in the church, a church's teachings about abortion and anything having to do with homosexuality. In this case, the Episcopal Church is a complexity of how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are included in our church. Folks are picking and choosing segments of Deuteronomic law they feel must be part of the discussion, others are looking at the impact our canons have on the people in our pews (or not in our pews). And there are always considerations about the impact of the U.S. church on others in the Anglican Communion. The bulk of craziness on the matter seems to have begun in 2003 when a question of timing meant that New Hampshire's selection of a new Bishop had to be ratified in a vote at General Convention. Usually, when a diocese chooses a Bishop, that selection is ratified, or not, in a series of votes among the standing committee members. That was the case this year when northern Michigan's selection was rejected. It gets some note in church publications and such, but the general media rarely gives it much attention. If, however, a diocese chooses a new Bishop within a certain number of days before General Convention, the ratification gets thrown in with everything else at convention and might get more attention. As we learned in 2003, ratifying the election of a partnered openly gay man gets a real firestorm of media attention. There are those who think Gene Robinson would not be Bishop today if his election had gone through the usual process. Others think it was engineered to force the church into taking a stand. Whatever the case, we've been in a continuing state of controversy ever since. Inclusion of practicing homosexuals as full equals in our church in the United States apparently caused difficulties for others in the Anglican Communion, particularly for some of those in the Southern Cone -- South America, Africa, etc.
Leaders of other parts of the Anglican Communion demanded that the Episcopals be kicked out of the Communion. Meetings were held, tempers flared, poachers started interfering in U.S. churches. The U.S. church and the Canadian Church were pushed to undo the actions they had taken to be inclusive.
At the 2006 General Convention, the Episcopal Church offered a moratorium on gay bishops and same-gender blessings. This pleased almost no one with GLBT folks feeling they got the short end of the stick and the people we were trying to appease from other provinces of the Anglican Communion not appeased. And, to make matters worse for some in the Anglican Communion, we elected a female Presiding Bishop.
For the last three years, southern cone provinces have continued their interference in the Episcopal Church and LGBT folks have felt like second class citizens of our church. And now, the General Convention is again looking at a series of proposals regarding the role of GLBT folks in the church. At the moment, a measure to allow discernment and ordination of GLBT people is passing both houses. Other measures, including some that would allow blessings of same-gender relationships, are yet to come.
My personal take on the issue is rather simplistic -- my relationship with God is unimpaired by your relationship with God. God is a God of abundance with love and acceptance for all who want it. I have no patience with a God of scarcity whose love is so limited that your relationship with God might threaten my relationship with God. We sing about it all the time -- "Our God is an Awesome God," "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art" -- our all-powerful, all-loving God has room for all and our churches should be the same.