Thursday, June 04, 2015

#TBT: GC2000/Denver -- Of Salt and Guacamole and the 8th Resolve

In preparation for the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City I have spent a considerable time reviewing the actions and history of General Conventions past. Today's #TBT (ThrowBackThursday) offering is this article -- from the 2000 post-convention issue of "The Voice of Integrity" -- offered as another in my personal series of illustrations in response to the argument that we need more time for conversation before we make full inclusion of LGBT people in the sacramental life of the Episcopal Church a reality and not just a resolution. Here's some of our history:

General Convention: What a Difference Three or Six Years Make
by Scott Larsen

That, in a nutshell, is how many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Episcopalians felt after attending General Convention in the Mile High City July 5-14. For the first time, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution stating the Church should offer “pastoral support” to couples in relationships outside of marriage.

Three years ago, Episcopalians met in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, and turned back steps to permit same-sex holy unions in the Episcopal Church by a handful of votes. Six years before in Phoenix, Arizona, both liberals and conservatives considered that conclave as rancorous.

By a vote of 119 to 19 with four abstentions, the House of Bishops concurred with the House of Deputies in passing Resolves 1-7. It was this resolution which called for the Church to recognize the value of relationships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and holy love which enables those in such relationships to see each other in the image of God.”

“With the passing of this resolution by both houses, the question is no longer whether our relationships exist or are of God,” said the Rev. Michael Hopkins, President of Integrity. “The question is how they should be celebrated,” added Hopkins.

The harder-to-pass resolution came in the form of Resolve 8 that called for the study for the creation of rites of relationships outside of marriage which would have been presented to the next General Convention in Minneapolis in 20003: “Resolved, that desiring to support relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage which mediate the grace of God, the 73rd General Convention directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare for consideration by the 74th General Convention rites for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services by means of which the Church may express that support.”

The House of Bishops voted down Resolve 8, 85 to 63. This happened two days after the Deputies split their vote with the clergy voting in favor but the laity voting it down. Conservative bishops tried to play up the point that the Church was divided over this issue with both the clergy and laity voting it down in the House of Deputies. However, when a recount was made, it showed the clergy deputies had in fact voted in favor of Resolve 8 while the laity voted it down by only two delegations.

Both houses approved overwhelmingly a resolution that the Episcopal Church—which hosts numerous Boy Scout troops—begin dialogue over the Scout’s anti-gay policies. As a result of a Supreme Court decision, the Scouts can exclude gay boys and gay Scout leaders. Even though Episcopal Church parishes sponsor many Scout troops, General Convention has said that the Episcopal Church should be a “safe haven” for GLBT people.

But the first week of the convention seemed like it was choreographed by Barnum & Bailey Circus. On July 4, one day before the convention got underway, Soulforce members staged a protest in front of the Colorado Convention Center. Founded by the Rev. Mel White, a former speechwriter for the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the two-year old gay faith movement wants to knock doors down on discrimination toward GLBT people in the Christians churches.

All summer long, Soulforce members spent thousands of their personal dollars flying to Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Episcopal convention sites, getting arrested and paying fines. It was their way of protesting the anti-gay policies of each of these denominations.

However, their tactics of “fly-in and fly-out” while committed GLBT folk in each of these four denominations work on the inside to try and change church policy have not set well. Further, Judy Collins had been billed to perform at the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for continued on next page World Relief concert where millions of dollars are raised and allocated to people in need throughout the world. However, it was believed SoulForce “got to” Collins and asked her to cancel her performance over the Episcopal Church’s anti-gay policies. It was an attempt to embarrass Episcopalians. It didn’t work. In fact, it backfired.

In the words of the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, the pro-gay dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., “Judy, Judy, you’ve been talking to the wrong people.” He spoke these words at the Integrity Festival Eucharist, held at the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness, Denver, where over 1,200 people turned out for the historic service: it was the first time a General Convention Eucharist was celebrated by an openly-gay priest, the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, our president. Michael invited all other openly gay priests and ministers to concelebrate at this service, and a total of 33 participated

Integrity welcomed convention deputies and bishops every day by holding a banner welcoming all deputies to General Convention. When the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka showed up with venomous signs and scurrilous epitaphs, a number of conservative deputies and bishops came up to the Integrity banner, shook our hands and embraced Integrity members, some saying, “That’s not our Church!”

Clearly, Phelps was helping moderate and conservative Episcopalians turn and embrace their GLBT brothers and sisters. One action early during the convention put a damper on the proceedings. A clergy deputy, the Rev. Nelson W. Koscheski from Dallas, placed salt under the tables of two liberal dioceses including that of Dr. Louie Crew from Newark. Dr. Crew brought the action to the attention of the president of the House of Deputies, Pamela Chinnis, who suspended the proceedings until the salt could be cleaned up. The priest said that he did what he did to wipe out the “wickedness” of homosexuality among those delegations that had introduced pro-gay legislation or had gay or lesbian deputies.

Integrity’s message every day of the convention was that they represented GLBT people inside the Church. Over 70 volunteers from around the nation spent two weeks in Denver, monitoring each piece of legislation, coordinating communications and press coverage, maintaining a booth in the exhibition hall, and being one of the groups that make up The Consultation, a consortium of progressive Episcopal groups such as the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Union of Black Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Women’s Caucus.

Another bright light for Integrity was that Dr. Crew was elected to the Executive Council of the Episcopal, garnering the highest number of votes. “It is a new day for the Church when the founder [of Integrity] is elected to the major decision-making body other than General Convention. We rejoice in it,” said our president. The Rev. Cynthia Black, an Integrity member and former president of the Episcopal Women’s Caucas, was also elected.

Perhaps, one of the best tongue-in-cheek lines was made by the Rev. Susan Russell, Associated Rector of St. Peter’s in San Pedro, California, and a member of Integrity’s communications team. “It’s not the whole enchilada but there’s enough guacamole for me,” said Susan about seeing the first seven resolves pass the houses but the eighth resolve fail. “This is a huge step forward. I am thrilled to be a priest in this Church!”

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