- In moving forward with a legislative agenda do we "lose" the folks who aren't on board yet because we're "pushing too hard?" Or ....
- If we wait for the "middle to move" are we participating in "justice delayed" which Martin Luther King famously described as "justice denied?"
And here's the story I use to illustrate my argument. (Some of you will have heard it before so bear with me.)
I grew up in the Episcopal Church LOOOOONG before there we were even close to imagining that women would ever be ordained to the priesthood. Heck, they wouldn't even let girls be acolytes ... at least not when I was "acolyte age." The boys went off to serve at the altar and the girls went off to do nursery duty.
Anyway, when the ordination of women was the last-great-schism-that-was-going-to-split-the-church-and-end-civilization-as-we-know-it, I was a fairly oblivious college student paying a lot more attention to Saturday night parties than I was to Sunday morning politics ... so I pretty much skipped right past all the controversy. (It didn't seem to come up on Easter and Christmas when I showed up for church during that "young adult lapsed phase.)
When I came back to the church on a regular basis ... after the birth of my second child in 1985 ... I knew there were some women priests about but had never actually met any. (We only had a handful in the diocese at that point and none of them had made it up over the Conejo Grade.) I would have denied that I was opposed to the ordination of women ... I just didn't want a woman for my priest. For my rector. Having had absolutely no experience of a woman in that role I couldn't even imagine it ... and was of the opinion that if I wanted a priest I wanted a "real" one ...I wanted a "Father" ... because that was how narrow my vision was for what priesthood looked like.
In 1989 I was invited to go on a retreat weekend. I knew that one of the spiritual directors for the retreat would be a woman priest named Liz and -- as I've told this story on myself over the years -- I went "condescendingly open to the experience." (Which turns out to be a great set up for the Holy Spirit!) It turned out her homily the first evening of the retreat was the first time I'd ever been sorry a preacher said "Amen" and sat down. And when I experienced her presiding at the Eucharist for the first time I realized how wrong I'd been and how real a priest she was. And in 1993 I was in seminary.
Now -- here comes the point: The women who pushed the envelope and were "irregularly" ordained in Philadelphia in 1974 and in Washington in 1975 didn't change my mind or touch my heart. Neither did the legislation that passed in Minneapolis in 1976.
But if those things hadn't happened, the way would not have been paved for her to be a priest. And I wouldn't have had the chance to experience her ministry -- which changed my heart & mind and broadened my understanding of how the Holy Spirit works through women and men equally in the sacraments.
It took both. The women willing to go out on the limb & the activists willing to push the legislative agenda. AND the experience of those who followed -- living their lives, fulfilling their vocations, making God's love and justice and compassion known even to those who couldn't imagine that their lives could be vehicles for the holy.
And it's the same today. Legislation isn't going to change anybody's mind about whether my marriage is equally valid to a heterosexual marriage. Lobbying isn't going to overcome the bias that we should Focus on Some Families and Discriminate Against Others.
But the polls are shifting. The times are changing. And for all the stress and drama and pain and angst of the daily struggle for equality, the arc of history IS bending toward justice. And I am confident that someday ... if anybody cares to ... they will read the back-and-forths on this blog (and others!) about whether families headed by same-sex couples deserve equal protection with the same bemusement we now read the arguments about whether African American children deserved equal education or whether women could be equally called to the priesthood.
I couldn't "imagine" Holy Orders that transcended gender and so I didn't "approve" of women priests. And many can't "imagine" family values that transcend sexual orientation and so they don't "approve" of marriage equality. The good news is even when we can't imagine it, God can. And the other good news is that the Holy Spirit continues to move and inspire and challenge and equip us even when our imaginations can't imagine what She's up to next. Changing hearts & minds AND passing legislation. An inch at a time. Until the Garden of Eden grows green again. THAT'S my "final answer."