A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
101 Brattle St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
April 11, 2004
The Rt. Rev. Tom Shaw
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
138 Tremont St.
Boston, MA 02111
Greetings to you and God’s peace in this Eastertide. I am writing to let you know where I am in relation to “gay marriage” and our role as clergy or perhaps, I should say, my role as a priest.
Like you, dear brother, I’ll be 59 this summer. As some of the younger EDS students refer to us, we are now “the elders,” older than their parents, almost old enough to be their grandparents! How can it be that, just yesterday, you and I were the youngsters, monk and teacher, recently minted priests? Indeed, this summer will be the 30th anniversary of my ordination, along with my ten sisters, to the priesthood. It is also my last year in residence on the EDS faculty. In this context, I’ve been mulling prayerfully over the matter of vocation.
As a child in the 1950s and a teenager in the 60s, my Christian education was shaped around the Civil Rights movement and a spiritual intuition, bred through this movement, that God always calls us to the work of justice. A decade later, one of the tasks to which God called me was to share the lead in various related movements for gender and sexual justice in and beyond the church. Early in these efforts, I came to realize that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender struggles cannot be understood except as connected with historic efforts for women’s liberation. I also realized that these political processes could not be adequately comprehended apart from the Civil Rights movement, which provided their strategies and, more importantly, their moral grounding. For many Christians, the Civil Rights movement also helped us realize the doctrinal grounding for justice work -- summarized beautifully in the words of The Baptismal Covenant: that we will persevere in resisting evil and whenever we sin, return to God; that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
This is the vocational – and doctrinal -- context, Tom, in which I find now that I cannot, in good faith, refuse to solemnize the marriage of lesbian sisters and gay brothers. As a priest of the church a priest of God, for me to refuse to publicly “sign and seal” what God is doing in the life of the people would be, I believe, a betrayal not only of my lesbian and gay sisters and brothers but also of the vows I have taken to be faithful to God. How can I not, at this critical juncture, dear Tom, express gratitude to God for Her faithfulness to us and for Her revolutionary patience with us, we who come around so slowly?
In this matter as in so many, I have turned not only to friends and colleagues for collaboration and counsel, but also to a “heavenly council” (Bishop DeWitt, Sue Hiatt, Sister Angela, among others!). These friends, those with us on the earth and those gone on before, all warn against making “unity” a goal at the expense of justice. But the clearest directional signal to me in this matter, Tom, has come from several couples who have asked me to solemnize their marriages. In one case, the women have been together for more than 20 years. In each case, they have spoken of how important it is to them that the church which they have loved and served, not the state, solemnize their marriage at this particular moment in our history.
Tom, I’d be glad to discuss this further with you and to contribute anything that might be helpful to the diocese as we all struggle to act in faith. You and I are scheduled to meet in June, but I can be available earlier if you’d like. In any case, I felt it was important, here and now, to let you know where I am.
Your sister in the Spirit,
The Rev. Carter Heyward
cc: The Rt. Rev. Roy F. “Bud” Cederholm
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston
The Rt. Rev. Bennett J. Sims
The Most Rev. Rowan Williams
The Most Rev. Frank Griswold
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