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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

A Second Letter to the Presiding Bishop

A Second Letter to the Presiding Bishop

By the Rev. Warner Traynham

The Rev. Warner R. Traynham
6125 Alviso Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca. 90043
February 23, 2007

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
815 Second Ave, New York
New York 10017

Dear Bishop,

When I wrote my Ash Wednesday letter, it was based on news reports. Now I have read your Reflections on the Primates Meeting and I would like to respond specifically, though, having read them, I find no reason to alter anything said previously.

It is interesting that you refer to the parallels some note between slavery and the current controversy. I too believe those parallels exist. In the U.S. slavery was abolished after a war. Freed slaves soon needed the protection of the congress to guarantee that freedom because their former masters were determine to return the slaves to a state as near the former as was then possible. Congress intervened and the freedmen began to take their place as equal citizens in the US. They voted, held property, married whomever they wished, were elected to public office etc.

But after a time, and as the result of a political deal, the congress withdrew its forces and the situation reverted to the status quo ante. The era of segregation began and prevailed for just short of a century. It began to crumble in the 1950‚~@~Ys and 60‚~@~Y. I participated in a small way in the destruction of that system, designed to remind black people that while they shared a country with white people, they were not their equals, politically, or socially. The system came down, not because the white majority changed its mind or suddenly saw the light, but because black people and their allies had had enough and made the life of whites sufficiently uncomfortable that they had to ask themselves whether segregation was worth the social disruption it had engendered.

The parallel I see with the current controversy begins when this church was moved, by gay pressure as well as theological insight, to declare that homosexuals were full members of the church and deserving of its ministrations. This declaration pretended to end gay people‚~@~Ys exclusion from the church, just as the Emancipation Proclamation and the laws that followed pretended to end slavery. I say, pretended, in both instances because as I have observed in the case of blacks, a reversion occurred in the form of segregation. Essentially the country said we didn‚~@~Yt really mean it. We are not prepared to see it through.

The controversy the church has been engaged in for a several decades reflects this second stage. Our arguments over same sex blessings and the ordination of sexually active gays is the analogue to the period of segregation. We admit gays and tolerate them as the country tolerated blacks during that time, but we were not ready for them to enter into full membership because that would require the majority of straights to change, as integration required the majority of whites to change. Indeed we have been having this debate only because gays in this church have said ‚~@~Xenough‚~@~Y and pressured the majority to accord the minority its rights under the gospel.

Our situation has been further complicated because those outside this province deny that we have the right to address this issue in our community, insisting that they suffer injury as a result of the way we order our internal life. ( Parenthetically, it should be noted that if the british gunboats you refer to had not shut down the slave trade in Zanzibar in might continue today as I understand it does in some places in africa and elsewhere. We however, have not embarked upon such an intrusion in th e lives of others.) I believe that we must reject that intrusion in the affairs of this church. My understanding however, is that the Archbishop of Nigeria supports national legislation in his country that would further criminalize gay sex. Ought he not to be called to account if intrusion into other jurisdictions is the order of the day?

Your central argument for a season of fasting however, does not rest on the parallels to which you refer, but on St. Paul‚~@~Ys discussion of refraining from eating meat sacrificed to idols. No analogy is a perfect fit, but I think you are using an inadequate and inappropriate analogy. We are not discussing the inclusion or non inclusion of meat or any similar analogue in part of our life. We are discussing the full inclusion of some people in the community. To my mind there is a better and more appropriate biblical analogue in the Book of Acts, where the Jewish church has to decide whether or not to admit gentiles into its community. I am sure there were people on both sides and although the text does not say so, I am equally sure some did not agree with the conclusion and probably separated from those that did. As you know Jewish christians regarded the gentiles as unclean and contaminating . This, I think has more to say to the relations of gays and straights than Paul‚~@~Ys words about meat. For one thing , as I said, it is about real people. Secondly, they made a decision because they did not compromise or temporize and they stuck to it. Your fast is not a fast of food, but a fast of exclusion. On this analogy, you settle the matter by a fast that excludes the gentiles...until somebody comes around .

The real problem with your fast proposal as I said previously, is that you are not joining the fasting. To mix metaphors, You are proposing that another‚~@~Ys ox be gored. Gay people are to go without full participation. Back to the status quo ante. I think the fast you should propose for the whole province is a fast of the company of the Anglican communion. That is the fast in which we would all participate and where we would all go without something so that the brethren be not offended.

I began my former letter with a reference to the murder of Matthew Shepherd because this issue is a matter not of diet, but of life and death. I have worked for much of my life for the full inclusion of gays in the society as I have worked all my life for the full inclusion of blacks in the nation and in this church, because I am part of both and because I know what exclusion does to people. The hatred of society and of the church which reinforces it, by its actions if not by its rhetoric, is internalized by many, blacks and gays. Self hatred is a terrible thing and leads to much of the anti social behavior of which both groups are accused. If you want people to behave in accordance with the good order of society, society must except them and treat them as it treats all its members. Shut people out and they will behave as outcasts who have no stake in your society. Yet people need the society of others to be built up, to understand who they are and to become who they are. If the church does not understand this who does?

It is also true that the exclusion of the church labels people as second class if not as outcasts and justifies prejudice, hatred and even violence against them. We got rid of the last of the laws against miscegenation just a little while ago . Now we are passing laws to prohibit the marriage of gays. Our President wants a constitutional amendment to enshrine prejudice in the constitution once again. How can we speak against that when we have declared a fast from justice ourselves?

When I was young, black men in particular were regularly lynched in this country because segregation authorized it in the minds of many. Every now and again it still happens. Matthew Shepherd was a white man lynched because he was gay. We have coined the term, ‚~@~Xgay bashing‚~@~Y which describes what the prejudices of church and state have and continue to authorize. It will not be rooted out until we accord human beings the equal treatment that both church and state, say we believe in. People, both the majority and the minority respond, not to what we say, but to what we do.

This is not a matter of meat or no meat. If this was a matter of simple justice, then your season of fasting would still delay justice and justice delayed is justice denied. But in the final analysis this is a matter of inclusion or exclusion from the community. It is therefore, for human beings, a matter of life and death. At my gym the other day, I saw a surprising T shirt. The legend said, ‚~@~\Organized religion makes people hateful and stupid.‚~@~] I was surprised to see that on a T shirt. The sentiment itself did not surprise me, but it did make me sad.

This issue will not go away for the church or for the country, or the world, any more than the black issue has gone away. You will have no peace. It will not go away because it is an issue of life and death for those excluded. We will struggle with it in this country and in this church and in the Anglican Communion until we get it right.

I pray that you will provide the leadership this church needs to be true to its actions and declarations. That will be heartening not only to gay people in this province, but in those where the Primates have rejected our counsel, because they will see that if it can happen in one place it can happen in another. I believe it is in fact the work of the gospel


Warner R Traynham

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