A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
The Rt. Rev'd Don A. Wimberly
The Diocesan Center
3203 West Alabama
Houston, Texas 77098
What follows is a very long letter, one of many you have received lately we suspect. It is written in response to your actions and that of the deputation from the Diocese of Texas at the recent General Convention, but it is also in response to the failures of the bishops and leadership of this diocese since Bishop John Hines. Reading this letter is a small penance when all those failures are considered. You have received the Crozier and institutional successes of your predecessors - St. Stephen's School, St. Luke's Hospital and Episcopal Charities, Camp Allen, the Episcopal High School. But you have also received a history of spiritual and pastoral failure, especially to and with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clergy and laity of this diocese whose existence has been largely denied or ignored. We who have met with you appreciate your apparent openness and willingness to listen and we sincerely hope to have additional opportunities. We sympathize with you as the victim of failures which preceded your election as our Bishop. But we also hold you responsible for continuing those failures by your actions at General Convention and as reflected in your letter of August 11. We have heard from friends of yours that your votes at GC and your letter do not reflect the "real" Don Wimberly. This gives us hope and we pray that you will have the courage and integrity to be the "real" Don Wimberly. And we pray for the courage and integrity to be "real" with you and to support you in your ministry as you support us in ours.
We write to you with a heavy heart as we reread your letter of August 11 in which you describe your failure and the failure of our diocesan deputation to give consent to the consecration of the Rev'd Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop-coadjutor of the diocese of New Hampshire. Canon Robinson as you know was duly and canonically elected by a large majority on the second ballot - surely a sign of divine favor if there is such a thing. You and Rayford High required more ballots. As a deputy from New Hampshire, Canon Robinson joined in the pro-forma consent to the election of Rayford High and the other Bishops-elect, while he had to submit to extreme scrutiny and to objectification as an "issue." The vote in the House of Deputies was approximately 60% in favor and 40% opposed in each order. But, this figure is 60% of the deputations, with divided deputations being counted as "No" votes, so the number of individual deputies voting "Yes" was probably more like 75%. After his consent from the House of Deputies, Canon Robinson had to face the additional indignity of character assassination by those who brought allegations of improprieties in the hope they could sway the vote in the House of Bishops. As you know, these allegations were soon exposed as baseless, but the false witnesses who brought them have not done him the courtesy of offering an apology. The calm demeanor, charitable attitude, and humble acceptance of insults and lies by Canon Robinson during all these trials mark him as a Christian and a priest of exceptional spirituality and virtue - one hopes there are many others of his character in the House of Bishops."
We regret your further statement that you will continue to fail to "allow the blessing of same-sex unions in the Diocese of Texas. . . ." and to fail to "license for ordained ministry any person living in a sexual relationship other than a sacramental marriage between a man and a woman." By failing to do the first you make the second inevitable, thus stigmatizing a whole class of persons as somehow "unworthy" of ordination. General Convention and the Council of the Diocese would be horrified if persons were so stigmatized for their race, color, or ethnicity, but many evidently believe it is appropriate to so target lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ( LGBT) persons. Such targeting also sends a message of tacit approval to those who perpetrate hate-crimes against LGBT persons, including our youth, in schools and in the military. And does this not constitute a default of pastoral responsibility and sacramental ministry to the LGBT clergy and laity of the Diocese of Texas as stipulated by General Conventions since 1976 - "it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God, who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." The "justification" for these failures are usually based on the oft repeated distinction between "sexual orientation" and "sexual behavior" such that the church condescends to tolerate LGBT people but is free to question or even pronounce judgment on their private, consensual sexual behavior. The implication is that there is something "wrong" and "sinful" about single LGBT people making love, even though this violates no vow of baptism or marriage. Another tacit approval of gay-bashing.
We also lament the characterization of your actions as "consistent with both the traditional teaching of the church and our diocesan canons," especially insofar as it may be accurate. St. Cyprian said, "tradition without truth is simply ancient error." The "traditional morality" or "biblical morality" currently espoused by the religious right was probably never observed strictly in any society. Conventional "morality" has been used in ancient, medieval, Victorian, and modern times as a form of social control of the masses, as a means of punishment against minorities and women, and as a means of reward for social conformity. Episcopalians decided it was appropriate to change the "traditional teaching" about contraception, the "traditional teaching" about remarriage after divorce, and the "traditional teaching" about the ordination of women. What makes discrimination against LGBT people more "traditional" than these earlier taboos? Canon 43 of the Diocese of Texas which seeks to enforce a narrow, heterosexist interpretation of Article 8 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church is clearly in violation of at least the spirit of General Convention resolutions and is an embarrassment to progressive Episcopalians who recognize it as a desperate and eventually futile rear-guard action against the full-inclusion of LGBT persons. Since the Camp Allen Forum on same-sex unions and the ordination of non-celibate LGBT persons, many of us are convinced that a one-person-one-vote referendum on these issues today in the Diocese of Texas would reflect the vote in the House of Deputies more than the lock-step negative unanimity of the Texas deputation.
Claiming the Blessing, Integrity, Oasis, and our Consultation friends supported a modest resolution to include a blessing for same-sex unions in the Book of Occasional Services. When it seemed that this might not pass because the "moderates" did not want to further upset the religious right after consent was given to Canon Robinson, the resolution was watered down to have the blessing included in the even more optional Enriching our Worship. The "moderates" in the House of Bishops, still fearful of their conservative constituents and colleagues, insisted on watering this down even further resulting in resolution C051 which eventually passed. Weak as it is, resolution C051 at least legitimizes the current situation of "local option," recognizing "that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." As you say in your letter, even this modest, twice watered-down resolution, still "angers" the religious right of the Episcopal Church. You should not be surprised, their rules are "no compromise," "all or nothing." In the spirit of C051, we would hope you would permit "local option" in our diocese. Permit local congregations to celebrate and bless same-sex unions when this is approved by the Rector and at least two-thirds of the Vestry and the couple's relationship is as described in the 2000 General Convention resolution D039.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, who like Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has bent over backwards trying to appease the religious right, is no doubt sincere in calling for "an extraordinary meeting of the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion" to address these "recent developments." No doubt you are also sincere in seeking "a meeting with Archbishop Williams to seek his guidance and wisdom." But may we ask three questions about these meetings: 1) May they not be "self-fulfilling prophesies," making a tempest in an American teacup into an international "crisis," 2) a stated goal of the partner organization of the American Anglican Counsel, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, is: "supporting initiatives fostering international Anglican intervention in the U.S. church." These meetings may be the "slippery slope" leading to such intervention. Nearly 500 years ago intervention by a foreign prelate into the affairs of the English Church resulted in schism! and 3) Who is going to pay for these meetings and travel? A member of the Executive Council, Kim Byham, assured us that most of the travels and meetings we read about in Anglican World are underwritten by the Episcopal Church U.S.A. [See Anglican Consultative Council Requests for 1999-2002 -- Louie Crew] That means all of us, progressives as well as conservatives. Might we not better use our limited funds to address the great issues: Evangelism, Youth, HIV/AIDS, Women, Economic exploitation of the poor, etc., rather than more and more navel-gazing?
We, some of the Progressive Episcopalians of the Diocese of Texas, both LGBT and not LGBT, are ministering to and with our LGBT sisters and brothers, in our congregations and in the larger community, but it is difficult when we are impeded and limited by discriminatory canons, policies, and pronouncements and when we have to apologize for the actions of our bishops, deputies, and leadership. It is difficult to preach the liberating and inclusive gospel of Jesus when it is seen by many to be compromised to the point of betrayal by these "authorities." It is hard for us to believe, "we are clearly committed to be a missionary church engaged in the transformation of lives," when we have to add the codicil, "but we are not allowed to bless the godly unions of LGBT people nor to offer the wholesome example of out-of-the-closet LGBT Bishops, Priests, and Deacons." We believe "the transformation of lives" needs to start at the top with the transformation of the minds of the Bishops and leadership of this diocese in faithful obedience to the gospel of Christ as received by this Church - not in obedience to the fear of the religious right, fundamentalism, and bigotry.
We favor the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of qualified candidates, regardless of their sexual orientation or private relations. More generally, we want the Church in this diocese and at all levels to desist in the attempt to regulate by canon or policy the expression of love between its adult members. This is invasive and immoral. In many times and places, the Church, usually as the handmaid of the State, has attempted to regulate the politics, the economics, the social status, and the sexual activity of its members. One by one these regulative powers have been (usually reluctantly) given up - except for the regulation of sexual activity and this is now primarily limited to the ordained. Is it not time to affirm that no consensual, loving, joyful, non-exploitative, non-harmful, sexual activity between single adults is "bad" or "sinful." If value laden terms are to be used, they should be "good," better," and "best." Married heterosexuals can be assured that they are among the"best." If the leadership of this diocese and other dioceses continue to support a status quo which is discriminatory and punitive towards LGBT people, it is certain that unchurched people of moderate and tolerant views will consider the Episcopal Church to be an archaic, puritanical, and prurient sect which they should wisely avoid. Already, we are seeing new visitors and friends (most not LGBT persons) coming to our worship who congratulate us on the actions of General Convention. The "controversial decisions" made in Minneapolis should be seen as what they are: opportunities for evangelism.
We share your belief "that God will ultimately bring us to wholeness and joy," but we fear that many who sign this letter and who read it may not see it in our lifetimes. In the meantime, we intend to continue our share in the mission and ministry of Christ's Church, whatever limitations, old or new, are imposed upon us. We intend "to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world," especially in the church where it is divided by fear, prejudice, and intolerance. We intend to continue to recognize and observe the traditional constitutional and canonical authority of the Bishop and Diocese. We also intend to hold that authority to account when it appears to fail to be exercised in justice and love, respecting "the dignity of every human being."
Many of us have had "heavy hearts" for decades as the church discussed LGBT people as "them" and as "issues" and as "problems" and assumed "we" were "of one mind. . .on matters of human sexuality." We can understand and sympathize with much of the anger and bewilderment of conservative Episcopalians who have been "kept in the dark" by their leadership who did not expose them to modern biblical scholarship, contemporary theological thought, and the changing attitudes in the Church regarding sexuality. We remember a failure of leadership in the 1970's when very few congregations of this diocese were exposed to the "Trial Liturgies" which preceded the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. When the Book was authorized and appeared in the pew racks, many felt it was imposed arbitrarily without their having an opportunity to see it. The truth was that the Bishop and many clergy did not let the people see the Trial Liturgies. The present lack of leadership may be traced to the failure in this and other dioceses to implement the resolutions of several General Conventions. These include D-61a from 1985: That GC "urge each diocese of this Church to find an effective way to foster a better understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality, to provide pastoral support, and to give life to the claim of homosexual persons "upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care and concern of the Church. . ." and D049s of GC 1991: "That all dioceses be requested to have continuing education courses in the area of human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, and make these available to the clergy and laity of this Church. . . ," and C008 of GC 2000: "Commits the Church to the continuation of the process of mutual sharing, study, and discernment concerning human sexuality." The implementation of these resolutions would not have guaranteed we would be "of one mind in the church on matters of human sexuality. . .," but at least our friends of a conservative attitude would not have felt they were blind-sided and betrayed.
We do rejoice for the small but significant steps the church has taken toward inclusion and honesty, and we regret that others now feel a weight of grief on their hearts. We are willing to share that burden with them as members of a conflicted church, but we are not willing to bear it alone again. We pray the Holy Spirit will strengthen you in your difficult ministry to those who are angry and who feel betrayed. We want to be "a part of the solution" and we offer ourselves to assist you as we can. We begin by assuring you that we who have struggled and continue to struggle for full inclusion do not intend to exclude anyone. We will continue to pray for you and for those who may threaten schism or withholding of funds. We pray daily that your heart and theirs and ours may be lightened and enlightened in praise of God's glory and in a renewed sense of mission to bring the gospel of Christ's life and love to all people.
The Rev'd David B. Tarbet, Trinity, Houston
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of