Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An Open Letter to the LGBT Community from Bishop Gene Robinson


Received via email this morning from the Bishop of New Hampshire: (Thanks, +Gene!!! Onward and upward!)

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An Open Letter to the LGBT Community
from Bishop Gene Robinson
October 9, 2007

Now that the Church has had some time to absorb and consider the recent meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans and its response to the Anglican Communion, I’d like to share with you what I experienced at the recent House of Bishops meeting, and where I think we are as a result.

There is NO “mind of the House” nor a “mind of the Episcopal Church.” In fact, we are a House and a Church of many different minds. We are in transition from the Church we have been called to be in the past, to the Church we are called to be now and in the future. We are not there yet.

I value highly the thoughts and needs of my brother and sister conservative bishops, who have no intention of leading their flocks out of the Episcopal Church, but come out of dioceses which, for the most part, find the Episcopal Church’s actions of the last four years troublesome and alarming. I listened to them when they voiced the fears of their people that changing our views on homosexuality is a precursor to moving on to denying important tenets of our orthodox faith, from the Trinity to the Resurrection. We worked for a statement which would reflect the diversity we recognize and value as a strength of our Episcopal communion. It was our goal to describe the Church as it currently is: NOT of one mind, but struggling to be of one heart.

My own goal – and that of many bishops – was to do NOTHING at this meeting. That is, our goal, in response to the Primates, was simply to state where we are as an Episcopal Church, not to move us forward or backward. Sometimes, “progress” is to be found in holding the ground we’ve already achieved, when “moving forward” is either untimely or not politically possible. And, doing nothing substantive respects the rightful reminder to us from many in the Senior House that the House of Bishops cannot speak for the whole Church, but rather must wait until all orders of ministry are gathered for its joint deliberations at General Convention.

While many of us worked hard to block B033 and voted against it at General Convention, it IS the most recent declaration of all orders of ministry gathered as a Church. The Bishops merely restated what is, as of the last General Convention.

Yes, we did identify gay and lesbian people as among the group included in those who ‘present a challenge” to the Communion. That comes as a surprise to no one. It is a statement of who we are at the moment. Sad, but true.

Many bishops spoke on behalf of their lgbt members and worked hard to prevent our movement backwards. We fought hard over certain words, certain language. We sidelined some things that truly would have represented a movement backwards.

I want to tell you what I said to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the course of his comments, it seemed to me that the Archbishop was drawing a line between fidelity to our gay and lesbian members, and fidelity to the “process of common discernment,” which he had offered as a prime function of a bishop. I heard him saying that gay and lesbian members of our Church would simply have to wait until there was a consensus in the Communion. When we were invited to respond, I said something like, “Your Grace, I have always respected you as a person and your office, and I always will. But I want you to know and hear, that to me, a gay man and faithful member of this Church, this is one of the most dehumanizing things I’ve heard in a long time, and I will not be party to it. It reminds me of Jesus question ‘Is the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?’ Choosing a process over the lives of human beings and faithful members of this Church is simply unacceptable and unscriptural.” The next morning, the Archbishop tried to assure us that he meant both/and rather than either/or. I tried to speak my truth to him.

On the issue of same sex unions, I argued that our statement be reflective of what is true right now in the Episcopal Church: that while same sex blessings are not officially permitted in most dioceses, they are going on and will continue to go on as an appropriate pastoral response to our gay and lesbian members and their relationships. Earlier versions of our response contained both sides of this truth. I argued to keep both sides of that truth in the final version, providing the clarity asked for by the Primates.

Others made the argument that to state that “a majority of Bishops do not sanction such blessings” implied that a minority do in fact sanction such blessings, and many more take no actions to prevent them. All this without coming right out and saying so. That argument won the day. I think it was a mistake.

Another issue to which I spoke was this notion of “public” versus “private” rites. I pointed out on the floor that our very theology of marriage is based on the communal nature of such a rite. Presumably, the couple has already made commitments to one another privately, or else they would not be seeking Holy Matrimony. What happens in a wedding is that the COMMUNITY is drawn into the relationship – the vows are taken in the presence of that community and the community pledges itself to support the couple in the keeping of their vows. It is, by its very nature, a “public” event – no matter how many or how few people are in attendance. The same goes for our solemn commitments to one another as lgbt couples.

I suspect that these efforts to keep such rites “private” is just another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If avoidance of further conflict is the goal, then I can understand it. But if speaking the truth in love is the standard by which we engage in our relationships with the Communion, then no.

Let me also state strongly that I believe that the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates MISunderstood us when they stated that they understood that the HOB in fact “declared a ‘moratorium on all such public Rites.’” Neither in our discussions nor in our statement did we agree to or declare such a moratorium on permitting such rites to take place. That may be true in many or most dioceses, but that is certainly not the case in my own diocese and many others. The General Convention has stated that such rites are indeed to be considered within the bounds of the pastoral ministry of this Church to its gay and lesbian members, and that remains the policy of The Episcopal Church.

Lastly, let me respond to the very real pain in the knowledge that the change we long for takes time. This movement forward is going to take a long time. That doesn’t make it right. It certainly does not make it easy. Dr. King rightly said that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but that didn’t stop him from accepting and applauding incremental advances along the way.

We have every right to be impatient. We MUST keep pushing the Church to do the right thing. We must never let anyone believe that we will be satisfied with anything less than the full affirmation of us and our relationships as children of God.

BUT, I will continue to try to remain realistic in my approach. I work hard, and pray hard, to find the patience to stay at the table as long as it takes. And I hope we can refrain from attacking our ALLIES for not doing enough, soon enough. The bridges we are burning today may turn out to be the bridges we want to cross in the future. Let’s not destroy them.

We need to be in this for the long haul. For us to get overly discouraged when we don’t get all that we want, as fast as we want, seems counterproductive to me. We should never capitulate to less than all God wants for us, but to lose heart when we don’t move fast enough, and to attack the Church we are trying to help redeem, seems counterproductive.

The two days of listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury and some members of the ACC were the two hardest days I’ve had since my consecration. (It was a constant and holy reminder to me of the pain all of YOU continue to experience every day at the hands of a Church which is not yet what it is called to be. Ours is a difficult and transforming task: to continue serving a church that seems to love us less than we love it!) I was comforted by the support I DID receive from those straight bishops who spoke up for us, and especially by many of the Bishops of color, who implicitly “got” what I was trying to say and defied the majority with their support of me and of us. I was even encouraged by many conservative bishops’ willingness to work together to craft a statement we, liberal and conservative alike, could all live with.

I believe with my whole heart that the Spirit is alive and well and living in our Church – even in the House of Bishops. I believe Jesus when he told his disciples, on the night before he died for us, that they were not ready to hear and understand all that he had to teach them – and that he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. I believe that now is such a moment, when the Church, in its plodding and all-too-slow a way, is being guided into truth about its gay and lesbian members. It took ME 39 years to acknowledge who I was as a gay man and to affirm that I too am considered precious by God. Of course, the very next day after telling my parents, I expected them immediately to catch up to what had taken me 39 years to come to. Mercifully, it has not taken them the same 39 years to do so. The Church family is no different. It is going to take TIME.

I voted “yes” to the HOB statement. I believe it was the best we could do at this time. I am far less committed to being ideologically and unrelentingly pure, and far more interested in the “art of the possible.” Am I totally pleased with our statement? Of course not. Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely. Can I live with it? Yes, I can. For right now. Until General Convention, which is the appropriate time for us to take up these issues again as a Church, with all orders of ministry present. I am taking to heart the old 60’s slogan, “Don’t whine, organize!”

I am always caught between the vision I believe God has for God’s Church, and the call to stay at the table, in communion with those who disagree with me about that vision – or, as is the case for most bishops, who disagree about the appropriate “timing” for reaching that vision of full inclusion. In this painful meantime, please pray for me as I seek to serve the people of my diocese and you, the community of which I am so honored to be a part.

Your brother in Christ,

+Gene

18 comments:

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Thanks to +Gene for taking time to offer his reflections and perspective -- prayers ascending for him and for Mark ... and for the Diocese of New Hampshire blessed to have him as their bishop!

Pragmatic Mystic said...

Thanks so much for these encouraging words!

David Charles Walker said...

I suppose it is appropriate that Gene is the one bishop to come out with an excellent statement like this, but oh how I wish more would have done so. Too much acquiescing silence from the HoB was the only sound throughout their ranks.

Patience was never a virtue of mine, but I'll try! Thanks, Gene, for putting things in appropriate perspective.

Bob Van Keuren, Atlanta said...

What would we do without +Gene Robinson? At a time of so much bitterness, it is indeed well to remember that we cannot be teleported to justice; we have to walk every single step between where we are and where we hope to be. It was never going to be otherwise. We need to continue the journey, not give it up out of frustration.

the Reverend boy said...

Always good to hear from +Gene. He reminds us that it's hard to live in that awkward, in-between place of limbo between God's promises and their fulfillment. The entire church should be grateful for his witness.

RonF said...

On the issue of same sex unions, I argued that our statement be reflective of what is true right now in the Episcopal Church: that while same sex blessings are not officially permitted in most dioceses, they are going on and will continue to go on as an appropriate pastoral response to our gay and lesbian members and their relationships.

The people who asked that same sex blessings not be permitted in our Dioceses see this as a prevarication. To them, a bishop who closes their eyes and allows the priests of his or her diocese to administer same sex blessings is, in fact, permitting same sex blessings, regardless of whether an official liturgy for the same has been developed and approved.

When people that you supervise are taking an action and you don't tell them not to when you have the power to do so, then you are permitting them to take that action.

Anthony Keller said...

Yesterday was Columbus Day, and maybe we can learn from his courage, going to places unknown; sometimes the most heroic thing to do is stay the course.

Elizabeth Morris said...

How sad that other gay bishops (and we know they are there even if they are not out) could not offer support as the bishops of color did. It's taking a long time for folks to realize that we are all in this together!

Jamie Maury said...

No doubt we need the pace & direction we currently maintain, but as a 63 yr old in one of the conservative dioceses(GA), I grow mighty impatient that I personally cannot be considered for holy orders because I am in a monogamous, loving same sex relationship of 29 years and when I read in today's Advocate that LGBT teen suicide is on the rise again(not that it was ever low). It was the Episcopal Church that gave me such strength and refuge as a closeted gay teen and adult until I met my partner....so how long Lord? As long as it takes!
Jamie of the Diocese of Georgia

Lorian said...

Excellent. I especially like the distinction he makes between "public" and "private" blessings. It has always seemed to me that if we must hide the blessing of our relationship in a closet, then why not just hide the whole thing there and forget about it?

Rather, we make our vows to one another in private, and then affirm them openly before family, friends and neighbors, seeking the support of our community in persevering in the vows we have made. Much like the rationale for baptisms being a part of a community Eucharist, rather than private events taking place in a back corner after hours.

Jim said...

ronf,

This has become all about laws, litigation, and control, if it was ever about anything else. So, the HoB trying to comply with the letter of several, "requests" while not doing harm to the pastoral arraingments for many in the actual diocese wrote as they did.

I frankly think they erred. The forthright response should have been:

Like the Church of England, we permit local clergy with the acceptance of the ordinary to create individual blessing processes for lesbian and gay people. We will continue, as will we are sure the Church of England, to do so in some diocese. However, in order to avoid any greater offense to the larger if less tolerant communion, we like we are certain, the Church of England, will not at this time, add or authorize any formally adopted liturgies either for a diocese or for the national communion. It has been the historical tradition of the church that liturgy arises from pastoral responses to perceived need and we understand that we may well be in the process of such an event.

Of course, that might have done us all the favor of killing the nice dinners and royal tea party in Lambeth, but frankly, so what? Can you guess I am tired of the CoE and the ABC hiding in our shadows? Enough already.

FWIW
jimB

Bill Cruse said...

Others have made statemens - The Bp of New York.

Reflections on the House of Bishops’ Meeting, September 07

Reading the headlines, absorbing the story, and listening to the spin can be enough to make you dizzy: especially for an eye witness to the events in question. Rarely has this been more true than in the reporting on the actions of the House of Bishops at our recent meeting in New Orleans. The “take” even by media outlets who pride themselves on unbiased reporting is remarkable in its variety: The Boston Globe’s headline of September 26 read, Episcopal Leaders Act to Avert Schism, while the New York Times of that same day read, Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orders[1]. The intrepid reader who explores more edgy perspectives will discover a vast range of view points often expressed in sharply worded, sometimes even cruelly worded denunciations.

It would be my hope that none of us would allow ourselves to be swept up by such anxieties but instead would look closely at what was actually said and done.

In my view, and I believe that this is the overwhelming view of those bishops who debated and voted on the “Response” to our Anglican Communion Partners, there was an attempt to do just one simple thing: to clarify what the General Convention of 2006 had said. It was our goal to be clear, but to go not one step beyond, nor retreat one step from, the decisions made by The Episcopal Church gathered in Convention. This goal was not reached in a vacuum. It was our conviction that General Convention had in fact adequately responded to the requests made of us. Our assessment was shared by the Communion Sub-Group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to review our response.
I know that this limited objective was itself a sharp disappointment for those who want The Episcopal Church to adopt a clear, simple, and unambiguous statement on these pressing issues. The urgency which drives such yearning is that even to state the matter in terms of “issues” is to risk missing the crucial point that what is at stake here are not abstractions but people, our own beloved brothers and sisters, ourselves, of whom we speak. But the painful fact is that we, as a Church, have not reached a common mind; not that is, if we want to draw the circle of faith wide enough to embrace more than those with whom we already agree. The Church, if it is truly to be the Church, is far too large, far too complex, far too diverse and messy to come quickly or easily to such a conclusion.

I want to make two further observations. The first is to point out that it is easy, when enveloped in the energy of conflict, to miss important dimensions of what is actually happening. In that connection I was struck by those New York Times headlines of September 26th. On its front page next to its summary headline Anglican Demands Rejected, was the column Congressional Memo headed In Conference: Process undone by Partisanship. Not only did the page 1 summary and the actual headline Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orders fail to reflect either the content of the story or the events that the story described but they both altogether missed what is arguably a much more important story. It is this.

We live in a society, in an age, where the ability of people of sharply differing points of view to live and work together is becoming all the more crucial and far, far too rare. Think of it: whether it is Republican and Democrats who fail at their conferencing, or Hamas and Fatah, or Palestinians and Israelis, Sunni or Shiite, the crucial challenge of finding a way to work together creatively for the common good remains the same. What is remarkable about the Episcopal Church, and this meeting of the House of Bishops in particular, is that we seem to be finding a way to work together even when the differences that attempt to separate us are important, real, and passionately held. It just might be that this witness that our Church is making is one that has the potential of contributing significantly to the greater good far beyond the limitations of our own community. And that might be worth a story.

Finally let it be said that nothing that was done, declared or decided by this House of Bishops in any way reduces or inhibits the embrace of this Diocese for the gay and lesbian people in our midst. As I have said before, and as I said directly to the Archbishop, “We are they. I am happy to work with you, but I can not, we can not, abandon who we are.” As I wrote several months ago, I will not in any way countenance any action that strikes at the heart of my conviction that gay and lesbian people are God’s beloved children. The love of God as revealed in Jesus embraces each and all of us.

I am convinced that the honesty and faithfulness with which we have attempted to witness to God’s action in our common life will bear life-giving fruit.

May God Bless You,

The Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk

Julian said...

I'm grateful to Bishop Robinson in a bit different way. His letter is addressed to the LGBT community, but I realize reading it that I consider myself, as a straight person, to be part of that community. Nothing I have read or thought has focused this conviction quite so sharply for me as this wonderful letter.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Bill ... I'm breaking my own rule about not posting articles in "comments" -- but for the record, there are DOZENS of responses to the HoB Mtg online ... Kendall has a great assortment and so does Baby Blue ... I'm posting the ones I want to on this blog ... and +Gene's was one of them.

Peter Carey said...

Thank you for posting this letter - heartfelt, honest, and so helpful...I plan to share it around...

Peace, Peter M. Carey

Dan McMaster said...

I've read & reread the Bishop's letter to us...and the many replies to it.

Rather than encouraging words...I find despair. I came to the Episcopal Church in early 2004 from the Catholic Church. When I first started to attend...I would cry; the feeling that here was a Church where I would no longer hide and where, from top-to-bottom, there would be no barriers. I selected the Episcopal Church because of Bishop Robinson's ordination.

The rug has been pulled out from under me. Perhaps I was naive; that the "top down" structure of the Roman Catholic Church did not exist here.
+Gene talks about the 'entire church assembled' in Convention make the decisions. The big but to that is that the incoming & outgoing Presiding Bishops strong-armed the convention to pass B033. This was "top down" at its finest.

In my newness..I did not reckon with the Anglican Communion.

As a member of the laity, I find that there is little influence I can exert to change the thinking of the Church. I hear no one quoting from "To Set Our Hope on Christ". So I see little hope of working from within. In spite of the many straight "allies" and their words to the contrary, they continue to follow the ancient teaching that we are immoral. In that regard, this Church is no different than the RCC or the Southern Baptist Convention. They may phrase it as a "pause"; I see it rather as the adoption of the lowest common denominator.

Cynically I see that the most important issue is to keep the Episcopal Church Anglican at all costs. A "pause" just sounds nice.

To the Clergy...I see that you have a life invested in this body. What does the simple parishioner have to hang his/her hat on?

Respectfully,

Dan McMaster
Syracuse, NY

Anonymous said...

There is just too much hate in this church, because it is profitable to support discrimination against the glbt members. I say get out now. You have only one life and look for approval from religious people who make thier living off of God is just not fair.

BillMcCartney said...

I just read "An Open letter to the LGBT Community." I found the title thought provoking, which lead to my initial question, "Why is the Bishop addressing his thoughts to the LGBT Community instead of his diocese?"

As I read the article it struck me that as Robinson says "our current gains ... our future strategies ... and more," in essence he is saying it's "us against them." Clearly, he is expressing himself as an advocate/leader of the GLBT Community rather than Bishop to (all) people in his diocese. With that understanding it only makes sense for him to report to his community on what and how he fought for it.

If that is indeed what he feels called to do, then he should go for it. People in the GLBT Community have been, and are, marginalized and discriminated against daily. They also need to know and feel God's and Christians' constant love.

I just pray Robinson does not continue his advocacy/leadership of the GLBT Community at the expense of his concurrent responsibilities to the S community, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Community.