There is enough energy - human, the earth’s, the infinite energy of the divine, to cope with the enormous problems of the world today, chiefly climate change and related human poverty and suffering. It is necessary, though for this energy to be applied and applied wisely for the saving effects to be brought forth. It is too bad that the Roman Catholic Church has chosen to expend funds of its available energy (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/us/catholic-church-unveils-order-for-ex-episcopalians.html) including what might be viewed as a kind of low-level creativity on making a national refuge for disaffected Episcopal priests and the lay people who follow them.
Make no mistake, these angry ex-Episcopal priests and their flocks are not victims; they have not suffered persecution of any sort other than that they are repulsed by the stance of The Episcopal Church on the status of women and of lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people in the Church and in the world. I can speak with some authority on this, having served in the Episcopal House of Bishops since 2002, a period spanning the explosive events around the election, confirmation, and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
Throughout this tumultuous decade of The Episcopal Church’s life I have seen the large majority within the House of Bishops act with kindness (understood as a strong virtue here, harkening back to its root that links it with “kin,” such that being kind means recognizing our commonality with others), respect, and charity towards the vocal, active minority, including Jeffrey Steenson, the new head of the ersatz diocese for the unhappy. I was present in the House of Bishops when Mr. Steenson announced his resignation as Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, and announcement which was met with tears, hugs, and, as Mr. Steenson walked out of the assembly, a standing ovation of affirmation for him.
The principled stands of The Episcopal Church regarding the status of women and LGBT people did not appear by direct revelation, but they are also not whims of fancy. Rather, they reflect the way Episcopalians have come to understand God – as staying with the world throughout everything, as never abandoning us. Because we, week after week, experience this transforming presence with us in the sacraments of the Church, we understand revelation to be a process of unfolding.
No, the Church did not ordain women for the bulk of the last two millennia, but in an Episcopalian view of things while we honor (that is, examine carefully, thoughtfully) the deposit of tradition as we seek to make a response to the needs of the world today, we do not assume that the tradition is always right. The Church has been in error on slavery, on women, on LGBT people, and currently I feel it is making only the faintest effort overall on climate change, but the Church has, under the influence of a God who travels with us, reformed time and again.
Another comment about how we spend our energy: there has been quite a lot of debate within The Episcopal Church about our energy budget, meaning, do we work on HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa or do we promote the recognition of the rights and dignity of women and LGBT people. To think that a choice must be made between these is false on every count I’ve heard put forward. Conservative African bishops will not work with us if we continue down the path we’ve been on in solidarity with LGBT people: Is there not a great enough fund of suffering in Africa and are there not enough potential partners to work with in addressing this suffering to fill any void left if we were cut off by some Church leaders there? The real justice front is with global poverty, not with the recognition of the rights of women and LGBT people: Such an assertion usually conveniently avoids looking at the systemic disempowerment of women and LGBT people globally, and definitely avoids looking squarely at the shocking levels of violence to which both groups are subjected. Finally, there aren’t enough resources to go around, we have to prioritize: Only in some world where we have made a god that is not the God of the universe and its infinite power of love.
I value my partnership with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco on forwarding the Millennium Development Goals, to cite one prominent example of our work together, and I debated with myself as to whether a response to this latest egregious action by the Roman Catholic central authority was worth the energy (see my opening sentence). Overall I concluded that something that gives credit to the amazing laypeople, deacons, priests, and bishops of The Episcopal Church who have courageously held to a course that follows that faintly shining tract through time to which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed (“The arc of history bends towards justice.”), and have done so with malice towards none and charity towards all – that such an effort was well worth it.