Dean Alan Jones of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral recently posted this commentary on the May 6th election of a new bishop for the Diocese of California to his blog: Alan's Journal. While I might argue that for many race and gender are not yet as "irrelevant" as the good dean would like them to be I do think he makes some important points about discernment and the challenge facing the diocesan electors: electing the best bishop for the Diocese of California. May God bless them all in their discernment process!
A Gay Bishop for California? Obsessed with Irrelevance
The Episcopal Diocese of California has just revealed the list of candidates for the election in May of a new bishop. What the public has learned so far is that two of them are openly gay.
In the past, it would have been noted that two of them are women and one of them is black. The fact that this is of no interest is, perhaps, a sign of progress.
The media has shown no interest whatsoever in the qualities of the five candidates -- their vision for the church or their qualifications to lead the diocese of California. And although there are fewer than forty thousand Episcopalians in the Bay Area, how we vote in May is of concern and interest to all Christians. Secular "church watchers" of all types are also interested -- particularly those who want to make religion the fount and origin of all evil.
With all the problems and challenges facing the world -- environmental degradation, poverty, hunger, war and injustice -- the church, with the media's encouragement, will be focused on one issue and one only -- two of the candidates, so far, are gay. On this issue depends, some say, the future of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
This, of course, is an absurdity but it is, nevertheless, real. The gay issue has become the lightening rod for all the obsessions and fixations of the church. For the intellectually indolent and the theologically ignorant on both sides of the issue, gayness has become the litmus test of orthodoxy. When we are angry or frightened, we often invoke an "authority." Some call for justice, others appeal to tradition, still others cite the authority of the Bible. These are ways of deflecting the real issue, which is our pain, confusion and fear. On one side, we hear the pleas of those who feel they have suffered injustice. It is as if they say, "Because, I've suffered, I should get my own way." On the other side, they say, "I hate change. It scares me. Please don't destroy my church." Both sides need to be honest about their terrors and respect the visceral concerns of the other.
How, then, do we proceed in the face of these distortions? How are we to give them the attention they deserve but no more than they deserve?
When it comes to my gay friends and colleagues, being gay is part of their truth, but that is the least interesting thing about them. In fact "gayness" or "straightness" rarely comes up in the conversation. We enjoy each other's unique individuality.
So there are some questions I will be asking myself in the weeks ahead as I prepare to cast my vote in May. Anglicanism is known for its pursuing a middle way between extremes. It is known for its moderation and restraint. Is this such a time for these virtues? Should we hold back for the sake of unity? Or is restraint (i.e. not voting for a gay candidate no matter how well qualified because the time isn't ripe) merely cowardice -- a capitulation to injustice?
The challenge for us in the Diocese of California is to vote for whom we discern to be the best candidate for us and for our times. If some in the wider church wish to react schismatically, that's their prerogative. I was raised in a Church, which lived with an amazing level of diversity and, on occasions, animosity. But we stayed together -- liberals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants. I will be voting for the candidate who best understands and embodies this sane and inclusive vision.
I hope Episcopalians in the Bay Area will turn a deaf ear to those who appeal to the gay issue either positively or negatively as a reason for voting one way or the other. It is irrelevant, as was the issue of gender and/race in the past.
Thank God we've moved on.