Op-ed in today's San Diego Union-Tribune
A question of how we feel about each other After Election 2008
By James R. Mathes (Episcopal Bishop of San Diego)
December 4, 2008
When the Diocese of New Hampshire elected as its bishop a gay man living in a faithful, monogamous relationship, the Episcopal Church became a target. And so did I.
I received hate mail and even a death threat, so you can imagine that when I went to the Lambeth Conference in July – a conference of all Anglican bishops held every 10 years – it was with a certain degree of anxiety. Human sexuality is a charged issue in the Anglican Communion, so charged that the bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, was not invited.
Although he was not recognized as a participant, Bishop Robinson was permitted to make presentations twice during the two-and-a-half-week conference. Bishops from Africa, India, England, Asia, Australia and South America met Gene. Many of these bishops, who had rejected the very concept of an openly gay leader in the church, came to know the person and their perspectives changed.
On election night, friends who gathered at our home to watch the returns witnessed another change. When Barack Obama was declared the winner, we all sensed the history of the moment. I felt chills watching the president-elect in Grant Park in Chicago as he addressed the nation he would lead. As he spoke of healing and bringing unity to the United States, I remembered feeling similar chills when I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has taught us so much about healing divisions and reconciliation. Archbishop Tutu often leans on an African understanding called ubuntu, which can be captured in the words: “I am because you are.”
As I watched my friends listen to the president-elect, I felt connected to a constellation of people who had the capacity to overcome division and fear. I found myself filled with hope in the same way I had been when Bishop Robinson patiently met face-to-face with people who rejected him as a minister because of his sexuality and life partner.
Later in the evening, when it became clear that Proposition 8 would likely pass, the mood in our home changed again. Another historic moment had come. The state of California was changing its constitution to take away a right. A gay couple, who have been together longer than any of the straight couples present, quietly left our home, but their pain remained.
Many people say they have lots of gay friends, but they just don't approve of their “lifestyle.” In fact, Frank Schubert, the chief strategist who helped raise more than $40 million to pass Proposition 8, says he is not anti-gay, that he has a lesbian sister. I wonder if he celebrated this victory with his sister and her partner?
I feel a bit odd as a straight, white man making the case for gay and lesbian rights. It will seem even odder to some that I do so as a church leader. Nearly half of that $40 million war chest was contributed by Mormons, and we now know the Mormon Church was recruited to the cause by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. But here's the rub. On Election Day, we voted to take away a right, a right that hurt no one and that did not threaten traditional marriage. In taking that right away, we hurt people and demeaned their humanity.
There are reasonable people who think I am wrong and that the right side prevailed on this issue. However, the ongoing protests so widely criticized by Proposition 8 supporters speak to the level of pain this measure has inflicted. Those who favored the proposition, especially, must own their share of responsibility for that pain.
The solution may be another proposition; but in the meantime, I suggest that we follow the lead of Desmond Tutu and remember that the dignity of each person depends on every other person: “I am because you are.” We need to come to fully understand the other: straight, gay, black, white, brown, disabled, smart, not so smart. History has taught us that when we do, the world is changed because we are changed.