This has been a day of tremendous tension in the Anglican Communion. Our House of Bishops are finishing up a six day meeting in New Orleans at the beginning of which they received a visit from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bishops and the Episcopal Church in general are under enormous international pressure to bow to demands that we unambiguously stop blessing same sex unions and lifting up openly gay people as bishops. The media has been reporting on our denomination to an unprecedented degree because of the intense fear of schism. Every Episcopalian I talk to is exasperated by the situation. I too get irritated, particularly regarding coverage of our governance as a denomination. Admittedly, it’s a confusing system with elements of hierarchy and democracy. The most important factor in the present circumstances is that in the Episcopal church bishops don’t actually have authority to declare a national church policy on their own. We include all orders of ministry—bishops, priests, deacons, and baptized laity-- in that sort of decision, and we meet in a kind of congress every three years to do so. In between such meetings the highest level of authority in the Episcopal Church is actually the Executive Council which, again, is composed of all orders, not just bishops. In other parts of the Anglican Communion, governance structure can bestow more authority on bishops than we do. What’s frustrating is when other parts of the Communion expect our bishops to operate as theirs do. I imagine those kinds of expectations can be seductive to our bishops, especially those who instinctively a) want to rein in a chaotic situation and b) keep everyone happy. A situation like this requires strong spines and level heads. Thankfully, this past Spring, our bishops made a clear statement resisting what others would have them take on. As the pressure continues, I pray they’ll do that again.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress gets closer to passage of the Matthew Shepherd Act, legislation that would enable the Justice Department to support the investigation of crimes based on hatred of particular groups, including gay and transgender people. A version of this bill has passed the House of Representatives and now looks as though it will come up for a vote tomorrow in the Senate. I called my senators this afternoon to tell them I support it. This morning I noted a Boston Globe op ed by Cornel West and Sylvia Rhue that calls to task clergy who have been claiming that this bill would infringe on religious freedom in any way. It won’t.
As it so happens, late last week it came out that Marvin Nissin, a man serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena, as well as Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert, now claims that he, not his accomplice John Lotter, did the killings. The case of John Lotter, who is on death row, may now be reopened. Brandon Teena, who inspired the film Boys Don’t Cry, was murdered when his female birth sex was discovered. That kind of discovery also catalyzed the murder of Gwen Araujo in Newark, California ten years later and numerous similar murders have happened between and since. It is for precisely these kinds of cases that this federal legislation was written.
And so on this day, as Anglicans—especially LGBTI ones—look for affirmation of our denomination’s polity and direction, and as LGBTI people of the U.S. await federal protection of our basic human dignity, I pray for an end to the fear on which division and hatred is based.
- The Rev'd Cameron Partridge