Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jimmy Carter leaves the Southern Baptist Church

Here's a story that seems to have escaped the mainstream media -- Jimmy Carter has left the Southern Baptist Church.

And here's why, as he wrote in an essay for The Age:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.


The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.
Carter faced what many people face in their churches -- the sincere belief that their church has moved away from their core beliefs, or that they themselves have moved beyond their church's core beliefs.

When that happens, people face some choices. They can leave, they can stay and try to change the church, or they can stay and try to change themselves. Carter stayed for many years, trying to change his church.

I took another route. When I began to understand that the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on the role of women were wildly out of whack with my lived experience and my understanding of the teachings of Jesus I realized I had to either leave or violate the integrity of my very being.

I chose to leave, and eventually found the Episcopal Church, which was then beginning the process of trying to live into the Baptismal Covenant in the "new" 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I was attracted to a church that was willing to struggle with the disconnect between "traditional" interpretations of Scripture and the Baptismal promises to "seek and serve God in all people" and "respect the dignity of every human being."

The ordination of women was the presenting issue then, but quickly on its heels came the whole issue of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the full life and ministry of the church.

Of course, having been received into the Episcopal Church, I found myself in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, whose bishops refused to ordain women to the priesthood and who soon latched onto the issue of homosexuality as their best bet to keep fear levels so high people would do what the bishops wanted.

Their strategy worked a treat. Misinformation was ladled out like candy at Halloween and soon their demonization of the Episcopal Church led to its logical conclusion. They left the Episcopal Church. [But unlike Jimmy Carter, they are trying to keep Episcopal Church property.]

As for me, I soon realized I could not remain in the Episcopal Church in this place AND remain an ethical person without speaking out against what I saw as wrong. I knew enough about the wider church to know that it bore no relationship to the heretical church described by our former leadership. I was not alone in this.

We laypeople worked hard to try to counter the misinformation, and are still doing so. But you can't undo 30 years of lies in nine months.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Closing Eucharist of General Convention

That's why in the wake of the most recent General Convention, we see the old fears and lies raising their ugly heads as Episcopalians deal with action at Convention that simply described what has been the canonical reality of our church for many years -- the ordination process is open to all the baptized. That does not confer an automatic right to ordination, but it does mean we cannot arbitrarily block some people from entering the process simply because of who they are.

Convention also asked for the gathering of resources around the whole issue of blessing same gender weddings and unions as a way of dealing with the new reality being faced by at least 30 dioceses who are in states where same gender marriage and unions are legal. This new reality is also being faced by the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and the Anglican Churches of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Convention asked for collaborative work with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion as we work to find pastoral responses to these new civil realities.

In short, when LGBT Episcopalians can be legally married they want the church to bless those marriages, just as do heterosexual Episcopalians. This resolution essentially asked for resources and study on how the Church will respond to them.

These were only two of the many issues centering on Baptism that were dealt with by the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, but they are getting the most attention.

They is part of the Episcopal Church's effort to live into the responsibilities and promises of the Baptismal Covenant. It's not easy, because it requires living in a state of some ambiguity. This is very uncomfortable for those folks used to or desiring a top down authoritarian view of Scripture.

This work requires a lot of thinking and self examination on the part of individual church-goers. But that is what I love about the Episcopal Church. Our leaders expect us -- even challenge us -- to think.

After all, God commanded us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.

Too often we forget that last part.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And they did it all with dogs and sheep

This is the best thing EVER. As tired as I was after getting home from General Convention, this one piece of video delighted and amazed me. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Morse code in newsprint

Note:Written for ISSUES

There has been a great deal of justified angst about the proposal from the Episcopal Church communications director to eliminate Episcopal Life and the Episcopal Life printing partnerships with diocesan newspapers. Episcopal Life would be replaced with a glossy quarterly magazine with the same name. Episcopal Life online would continue.

The proposal was greeted by cries of outrage generated at least as much by the apparent lack of consultation with the Episcopal Life Board of Governors and the printing partners as by the proposal itself.

I confess to a great deal of affection for Episcopal Life as a monthly newspaper. It has been a literal lifeline for Episcopalians in Fort Worth.

Our former leadership worked for years to isolate the diocese from the larger Episcopal Church. One of the first things eliminated was Episcopal Life. There were many Episcopalians in Fort Worth who did not even know of its existence. Parishes were kept isolated from another and communication between parishes was actively discouraged. Parish directories were closely guarded. The bishop denounced Fort Worth Via Media as “thieves” when they began to share addresses out of their own members’ parish directories. No names or email addresses of diocesan leaders were available on the diocesan website.

So one of the ways those of us who intended to remain in the Episcopal Church found each other was with Episcopal Life. It became a signal in the dark from one Episcopalian to another, a Morse code in newsprint from one freedom fighter to another.

The presence of a stack of Episcopal Life on a table in a parish hall signaled that this parish’s leadership was at least open to news about the Episcopal Church. Someone actually carrying a copy of Episcopal Life was a clear declaration of one’s intent, no matter one’s place on the progressive-moderate-conservative continuum.

Episcopal Life helped us locate one another and communicate with one another. I know of no better definition of a newspaper’s purpose.

Episcopal Life continues to play a vital role as we in Fort Worth work to reconnect with Episcopalians across our geographically large diocese and with the larger church. I understand the budgetary realities facing the staff at 815, but I do know that our work of reconnecting will be made more difficult if the monthly Episcopal Life goes away.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where Trust Can Live

Note: I wrote a version of this for ISSUES, the publication of the Consultation, which is published daily at General Convention.

On Wednesday night, General Convention heard the Archbishop of Canterbury talk about the economic crisis in the world. Among the points he made was one concerning transparency, truthfulness and trust. He pointed out the obvious but too often ignored connection between these three things. Trust cannot live amid darkness and lies.

I appreciated his remarks. I have experienced firsthand how trust struggles to survive in a place where decision-making was reserved for a hand-picked few, where information was hoarded like gold, and where opacity had long replaced transparency.

It was that experience that gave birth to a resolution D045 – transparency in committee memberships. I crafted this resolution because I was alarmed by the decision to keep secret the names of members of a committee studying the theology of same-sex unions. (Aside from the outrageousness of once again studying this subject that has been been studied for more than 30 years I also was struck by the sheer weirdness of a decision to have a closeted committee studying this subject.)

D045 says:
Resolved, the House of ______ concurring, that the 76th General Convention direct that the membership of all committees, subcommittees, task forces and panels elected or appointed by any body or leader of The Episcopal Church (including, but not limited to, the House of Deputies, the House of Bishops, the Executive Council, Standing Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards of The Episcopal Church and their respective Presiding Officers and Chairs) be made public no later than 30 days after election or appointment.

The explanation says, “The Episcopal Church should model in its governance and life the transparency and openness all Christians are called to demonstrate. Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to seek Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. Transparency in our dealings with one another is one way human dignity is respected. Conversely, secrecy is destructive of human dignity and of our common life. Making public the names of persons elected or appointed to any body charged to work in Christ’s name for the good of the Church serves the Church’s health and promotes trust in one another.”

Deputies Nancy Key of San Joaquin and Joan Gundersen of Pittsburgh endorsed this resolution.

The Committee on Structure has sent it to be voted on after doing some slight wordsmithing. Let's hope both Houses pass it.

As we learned to our sorrow in Fort Worth, trust cannot grow in the dark.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Gift From Fort Worth

NOTE: I wrote this for ISSUES, the daily newspaper published by The Consultation at General Convention.

We have been welcomed home.

The deputies from the Diocese of Fort Worth have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome we have been receiving at General Convention. From the personalized gift bags from “our friends in the Diocese of Rochester” when we checked in to the affectionate handclasps when we got our deputy badges to strangers in hallways, the message has been the same—“We are so glad you are here. We need you in our church.”

It is, of course, an echo of Paul’s metaphor of the Body – one part cannot be lopped off without the entire body suffering.

And while we from Fort Worth are touched deeply by the gifts we have been given, we know we come offering a gift to our beloved church as well.

Episcopalians in Fort Worth are living into a new and deeper understanding of what Paul was talking about. We are learning that even if part of the Body chooses to leave, the entire body suffers. There is a wound left behind that will ache for a long long time.

But perhaps the most important learning we in Fort Worth can bring to the Church is that when the Body excludes part of itself, the Body is crippled, off balance, and dangerously vulnerable to losing its way.

We know firsthand the cost of exclusion, of scapegoating. Most of all we know the devastating and distorting affect of fear on love. Fear clouds thinking. Fear makes it hard to see hope. Fear closes the Body down and cuts off creativity.

Fear’s best friend is the word “no” – no to risk-taking, no to change, no to those who challenge or ask questions, no to anyone who is the slightest bit different from the people in charge.

Worst of all, fear causes the Body to turn its back on the Holy Spirit.

What is it God’s angels always tell us? Fear not, for you are not alone!

Let us remember that.

And then let us welcome home all those the Body has chosen to exclude.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

Happy Fourth of July!

This may be my favorite holiday, being as I'm one of those who gets choked up singing the national anthem, thinks our star-spangled banner is beautiful, and believes the Declaration of Independence is one of the world's great documents.

I love the Declaration because of the vision, the dream, it sets before us in the United States -- even though it's a vision we have yet to live into, a dream that remains unrealized for way too many of our people.

I am a patriot, but not one of those "love it or leave it" types. I am a patriot because I question our leaders, not in spite of those questions. I am a patriot because I will not settle for quick and easy platitudes about our country, seeking instead to push this nation to live into a time when the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn't depend on one's gender, race or social class.

I am a patriot because I will always ask questions when this nation moves toward war, believing it should be the last resort, not the first. I am a patriot because I am slow to believe our leaders, but willing to believe them -- if they will provide me with good information.

I am a patriot because I think the First Amendment is one of the keys to our nation's success. I am a patriot who believes that the only excuse for not voting is being dead.

So happy birthday to us. May we always love this nation enough to take our jobs as citizens seriously.
Here's what my garden looked like this morning at 7 a.m., temperature already nearly 90 degrees. Thank God for soaker hoses.