I write this on a plane somewhere over “the middle.” I am eastward bound for a weekend of celebrating the work and witness of Bishop Gene Robinson on the occasion of his retirement as the Ninth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. And as I made my way to the gate this morning for the obscenely early (AKA “o’dark thirty”) transcontinental flight, I had flashbacks of the ghosts of the multiple dozens of times I have run the TSA gauntlet, queued up at Starbucks and then wedged myself into (hopefully) a window seat headed to an event, conference, caucus, convention or celebration over the last nine years.
It has been a journey.
I remember a trip to Oakland in early 2003. It was a meeting of the Steering Committee of “Claiming the Blessing (CTB)” – the coalition committed to “healing the rift between spirituality and sexuality and securing liturgical rites for the blessing of same-sex relationships in the Episcopal Church.” Gene Robinson – then “Canon Robinson” – was with us as we met to debrief the national conference we’d held in St. Louis in November 2002 and work on finalizing the Theology Statement we were publishing in response to the oft-heard challenge that we “hadn’t done the theology.” It was at that meeting that Gene let us know that he was allowing his name to go forward in the election process in New Hampshire … and while no one could predict what the Holy Spirit would do we needed to be thinking ahead to what our work would look like if we ended up going to General Convention in Minneapolis with both blessings and a bishop on our “to do” list.
I remember a trip to Texas later that year. Part of our CTB work was getting our theology statement into the hands of as many bishops and deputies as possible ahead of convention. Against many odds and due to the valiant work of dedicated diocesan activists I was given an “episcopal audience.” The one caveat was that I couldn’t tell anyone that we were meeting – and I had to park in the alley and come up the freight elevator … and then let the Canon to the Ordinary check the lobby outside the bishop’s office to make sure it was “clear” lest word get out he was meeting with me. We met. We talked. We did not get his vote.
I remember a trip to Maryland for another kind of “closed door” meeting. It’s one I’ve written about before, but can’t resist telling the story again. It was after Gene’s election on June 7 and before General Convention convened and it was a “called meeting” between the leadership of Integrity and the AAC (American Anglican Council.) Michael Hopkins was then Integrity president and I was the director of communication … and we met in his office at St. George’s in Glen Dale, Maryland with David Anderson (AAC’s president) and their communication guy Bruce Mason.
In the course of that meeting we compared numbers (they actually thought we had more votes than we thought we did), talked about outcomes (would we “trade the bishop for the blessings?”) and … in a moment I will never forget as long as God gives me memory … I asked David (who had been a clergy colleague of mine in Los Angeles for many years) to help me understand why this issue was THE issue that was worth splitting the church over after we’d survived the civil rights struggles, liturgical fights and the ordination of women battles.
“Because,” David said – as the early summer sunshine streamed into Michael’s office – “genital activity is so important to God that He was put a fence around it … and the only thing inside the fence is one man and one woman within the sacrament of matrimony. Anything else is contrary to God’s will and for the church to bless it puts the church outside of the fence, too.” He had me at “genital activity is so important to God.” I told Michael later – over a dinner that started with martinis and ended with red meat – that I had first year EfM students who could adequately rebut David’s foundational argument. And I flew home convinced that if that was the best they could do we were indeed going to prevail with both our bishop and our blessings.
I remember the trip to Minneapolis for General Convention 2003 and the rollercoaster ride of the consents to Gene’s election – as well as the adoption of Resolution C051: recognizing that blessings “fall within the bounds of our common faith.” I remember the trip to New Hampshire for Gene’s consecration in November 2003 – with the media circus, the metal detectors and the bomb sniffing dogs outside the hockey arena-turned-cathedral.
I remember several trips “across the pond” to connect and collaborate with wider Anglican Communion allies. In 2004 there was the “Halfway to Lambeth” Conference in Manchester, England and the “Justice is Orthodox Theology” Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. There were “big meetings” with the Anglican Communion Office and the “Listening Process” folks and the literally countless “small meetings” in parish halls, undercrofts, hotel ballrooms and lecture halls where over and over and OVER again we made the case for inclusion, we shared “the theology” and we told our stories.
I remember the 2005 trip to Nottingham, England to the meeting the Anglican Consultative Council as part of the official Episcopal Church “Response to The Windsor Report” delegation -- with Frank Griswold, Neil Alexander, Cathy Roskam, Charles Jenkins, Jane Tully and Michael Battle. I remember the 2006 trip to Columbus where the same Frank Griswold who championed inclusion with “To Set Our Hope on Christ” caved to homophobia with B033: the resolution that prioritized sending bishops to Lambeth over protecting the vocations of the LGBT baptized. I remember the 2008 trip to New Hampshire for one of the most singular honors of my life: being asked to be the preacher at the blessing of the Civil Union of Mark Andrew and Gene Robinson.
I remember the trip to Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference: what I’ve come to think of as a month-long course of reparative therapy curing forever any lingering bit of Anglophilia I had left and convincing me once-and-for all that the tea in the Boston Harbor was the smartest thing we ever did.
I remember numerous trips between 2009-2012 as part of the SCLM Blessings Task Force as we worked to “collect and develop” theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships -- as charged by General Convention 2009. And I certainly remember the trip to Indianapolis last July -- where ten years after the Claiming the Blessing crew began its quest, the Episcopal Church approved (by an overwhelming margin, I might note) a liturgical rite of the blessing of same-sex relationships.
It has been a journey.
And while of course it isn’t over yet, as I head east to celebrate Gene Robinson’s retirement in 2012 I look out from my window seat at a landscape vastly different from the one I flew over on my way to his consecration in 2003. I look out at a country where not only has a president “evolved” on marriage equality but three states just voted it in, the courts continue to rule against DOMA (the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”) and the very real hope of genuine civil marriage equality is in sight. I look out at a church where we may not yet have “healed the rift between sexuality and spirituality” but we have found our way past the “inclusion wars” and are shifting our energy and resources to focus on who will come rather than worrying about who might leave if we welcome everyone.
All of that and more I bring with me on this trip that started at o’dark-thirty from LAX -- along with an overwhelming sense of the privilege it is to be part of this chapter of the unfolding story that some call “salvation history” and others “the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.”
It hasn’t always been easy – and I suspect on Judgment Day we may have some accounting to do in the carbon footprint department. But when it comes to the “inasmuch as you’ve done it unto the least of these” part, I’m ready..
I am ready because I believe with deep certainty that one thing we will not hear from our Lord are the words “inasmuch as you kept genital activity inside the fence ...” Seriously!
Instead, these are the things I believe are “so important to God:”.
“I was hungry for the Gospel and you fed me;”
“I was thirsty for the living water and you baptized me;”
“I was imprisoned by homophobia and you liberated me;”
“I was naked with shame and you clothed me with love;”
“I was a stranger at the gate and you welcomed me.”.
It's been a journey. And la lucha continua!