This is an article that I wrote for our Diocesan Newspaper The Spirit of Wyoming
One More Safe Space
Six months after General Convention, I am reflecting on the words of our prayer for Good Friday, "O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, ... (Book of Common Prayer p. 280). Well, maybe it has not been so tranquil! But those who have felt cast down have been brought into fullness of membership as baptized participants in our church.
As one of Wyoming's Deputies to General Convention 2003, I voted for the confirmation of the election of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson and for the blessing of committed same-sex relationships. I have worked since 1982 towards equality in the church for gay and lesbian Episcopalians based on four things.
1) The Bible does not speak in any place at all of loving committed same-sex relationships.
2) The church has made rules about homosexuality in the same way it did when it refused to believe that gentiles could be Christians without first being circumcised, when it said slavery was approved of by the Bible, and when Galileo was persecuted for saying the earth circled the sun. Our negative ideas of homosexuality were just that - our ideas and not those of God.
3) Jesus was a person of inclusion - reaching out to those who were shunned by the religious leaders of the day, and he commands us to continue his work of Love.
4) My experience of presiding at the blessing of same-sex union and seeing the love and commitment of these partners to God and to each other in the face of prejudice and rejection.
When I returned from Minneapolis, I went back to my work as the priest at the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole. This attendance at the chapel is partly local Jackson residents and many tourists. Often more than 150 people from all over the world and from all sorts of denominations worship together in this small chapel each week. Frequently, worshippers have to sit on outdoor benches because the church is full. The majestic Tetons fill the horizon as we share the bread of Christ’s presence and wine of the Spirit.
As the news of the Episcopal Church flashed on every TV set and our work was discussed endlessly, people came to the chapel. A young couple from Italy said to me, "We can’t wait until the Catholic Church does what you have done." Various members of other denominations said, "You Episcopalians always lead the way, thank you, thank you." I was amazed by the outpouring of love and support for our church and our actions.
I believe we did the right thing in Minneapolis, prayerfully and responding to Jesus’ call to Love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
I asked Wyoming gays and lesbians how life in the church is for them now.
A gay man responds:
"This has been a time of strange feelings for me since General Convention. I have felt both excited and anxious over the past few weeks. Excited in that at last we are being recognized in some way as full partners in the church. The old was a feeling of being tolerated, but now it feels like the church has fully recognized gay folks as real people, with something to offer. On the other hand I feel anxious because I don’t think there have been any real winners in this whole thing, but a lot of hurting people on all sides still struggling with the issue of homosexuality (or more real, the question of sexuality in general) but in way that makes us deal with our feelings and not just the intellectual question.
In [various] Wyoming congregations since GC, I have found that people want to deal with the feelings but are not being led or encouraged in a healthy way to do so. [Where there have been discussions] we have ended up at the point of knowing it is OK to disagree, and we can remain friends and "family."
I applaud our Bishop for his courage in going out to meet with people and taking the abuse he has since the GC. Bruce and our delegates stood for something important, and I know struggled with the way to vote, even those who may not have agreed with either issue. It has affirmed my belief that the people of Wyoming are more interested in individual rights than corporate correctness.
The Episcopal Church has led in many areas over the past years, like the ordination of women, and now gay inclusion. As a Methodist friend of mine said recently: "You have opened the door and now we will begin to step through it. I think this is how many of our church friends see things...even the RCs."
A lesbian woman responds:
"Much of what I feel now is what I felt after initially hearing the news: joy, the belief that I’m accepted and that I have a community who will stand up for me, and a sense of renewed commitment to my faith community. Previous to GC, I felt disenfranchised, even though I was accepted in my local parish (more or less) and even in my local diocese. I felt it as a tentative acceptance, something that could be overturned at any moment by a preponderance of people against me. -- I felt like I could be shunned again at any moment.
Now, my church has put itself on the line for someone like me -- stood up to likely recriminations, loss of income and membership, judgment on the part of the rest of the Christian community. I feel like the blacks in Alabama must have felt during the violent turmoil of the civil rights movement days when white people joined them. The white people willingly submitted to the violence of the bigots. They didn’t have to, but their beliefs dictated that they stand with the blacks. They put their homes, incomes, even their lives on the line. I am deeply, deeply grateful. But more than that, something in me is healed.
I never realized before that the blacks who had white people standing on their lawns and singing, "We shall overcome" really needed those people, not just because the bigots weren’t as likely to hurt the whites, but because the whites were the representatives of belonging -- being an ok part of the culture -- measuring up. Something in my heart is able to relax because of the dear Episcopalians from all over the country who are symbolically standing on my lawn.
I also feel like I’m not as likely to be kicked out or shunned again. Now my church policy is no longer just a matter of personal feeling on the part of people whose lives I’ve touched, it’s a matter of precedent. It’s a matter of resolution. There are many churches throughout the country where I would not be accepted, but there are many more where I would. And not only that, each church has been forced to make a decision for itself on this issue -- or maybe I should say the very beginnings of a decision. But in any case, the issue is acknowledged. It’s not some deep, dark thing that will shock people by its very mention. If I go into any church and say to the priest or the senior warden, "I’m lesbian. Am I welcome here?" I am pretty sure of getting a simple yes or no answer. It used to be that what I could look forward to was shock, horror at the question, a hasty retreat into ambiguity, and the placing of distance. It takes incredible steel of the spine to keep asking the question in the face of such a response."
These are members of your churches. Everywhere they wait in hope that they are acceptable to you, as the hymn says "Just as I am." I did not include their names because it still not safe physically, economically and socially, for gays and lesbians in Wyoming to be "out." But our actions as a church have made one more safe space for our brothers and sisters.
Looking back I still remember the story of Bishop Ted Eastman as he made his decision to support the confirmation of the election of the first honest and openly gay bishop. The Presiding Bishop asked the bishops to make two lists - reasons for voting yes and reasons for voting no on the confirmation and then to pray over the lists. Bishop Eastman said as he prayed he noticed that his "no" list was quite long and his "yes" list was very short. He continued to pray and it came to him that the "no" list was about fear and the "yes" list was about hope. And that was the answer: If the church is not about hope what else can it be about?
In November, on the Feast of All Saints, I watched the consecration of Bp. Robinson and there I saw it: A church, a people of hope, of joy, of love. Consecration photos and video