Integrity, the organization working for full inclusion of LGBT Episcopalians in the life of the church is celebrating a “virtual clean sweep” at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, CA. Bishops and Deputies (which includes clergy and lay delegates) agreed on resolutions supporting transgender civil rights, ending a three-year policy of “restraint” with regard to the consecration of openly gay or lesbian bishops, “generous pastoral support” for blessing same-sex marriages and unions, and developing liturgical resources for same-sex ceremonies to be considered in 2012.
All in all, it was a great convention for LGBT Episcopalians. Now, the fallout.
I’m guessing that’s what the press will be looking for. Ever since Gene Robinson was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, the media angle on the Episcopal Church has been impending doom – schism, defections, a communion in disarray. Critics of the resolutions passed at General Convention are predicting more of the same now that the church has taken affirmative action on behalf of its LGBT members.
But let’s allow this story to play out. If the arc of history truly does bend toward justice, then perhaps the Episcopal leadership has not so much gambled the church's immediate future as invested in its long-term vitality.
There is an upside to progressive action in our faith communities that too rarely gets reported. Some congregations that have taken deliberate steps to welcome LGBT persons and families have suffered temporary declines in membership. But many find they attract new members over time, including same-sex and heterosexual couples who want to raise their children in an inclusive community. So rather than counting how many people march out of Episcopal parishes, what if we watch for how many march in?
I get that controversy drives news cycles; unfortunately, we tend to allow reporters’ questions to shape our own. In the coming weeks, I expect to read about fallout from the Episcopal convention. But as an Episcopalian myself, I will also be listening for what’s being said inside my church. I am hopeful that the anxiety we have endured for the last six years or longer will finally give way to rejoicing. Not because membership is up – that won’t happen overnight, and justice is not a numbers game, in any case. Rejoicing, because church leaders decided no longer to allow threats of schism to preclude prophetic action.
In an interview with the New York Times, Bishop Robinson described the moment when his fellow bishops voted to affirm same-sex relationships in the church:
We took the vote, there were closing prayers, and usually somebody says amen and we’re up and out of there. But last night not a person moved, for 10 minutes. There was absolute silence. I think we realized the momentousness of what we’d done. People just sat their quietly praying. It was amazing. It was almost as if we didn’t want to leave each other.Imagine that. And let the rejoicing begin.