Thursday, April 06, 2006

Whose Agenda?

Speculation abounds in the recent media about who will be elected the Eighth Bishop of California. Human sexuality is a big hot-button issues these days, and since we have three out of seven nominees living in committed, life-long same-sex relationships, we're seen as next on the hit list for provoking schism in the Anglican Communion.

Segments of the British Press have been particularly sensational. There was early speculation that a (lesbian) front-runner had already been declared. Another article accused the Diocese of having a "liberal-dominated" convention. . .that might be true, although I must say I very much doubt there was anything even remotely resembling a fair assessment made of all the delegates and clergy of the Diocese behind either assertion. Meanwhile, speculation abounds, too, about whether or not the House of Bishops will approve a gay or lesbian bishop-elect at General Convention this summer. Cries of foul are already coming out of various places in the Anglican Communion.

The implication, it seems to me, is that there is some kind of ecclesiastical-political agenda afoot in this Diocese: an agenda to somehow dismiss the controversy in the rest of the church. . . an agenda to raise up a "gay" or "lesbian" Bishop to prove some kind of a point. Accusations can be found all over the place, particularly in some of the more reactionary (or "conservative", if you prefer that term) Anglican sites, that the whole slate is a stacked deck. The accusations seem to claim that we in the Diocese should admit, if we were being honest, that we have every intention of electing a gay or lesbian bishop in May.

To be fair, I can understand a little how it might look that way from the outside. Not every Diocese in the Episcopal Church could come up with a slate including three openly gay or lesbian nominees and keep a straight face (if you'll forgive the expression) about it. But we are one of the few dioceses in the country where openly gay and lesbian clergy and laity serve at almost every leadership level of the church. And we are one of the only dioceses in episcopal process right now where a gay or lesbian nominee for bishop would have a serious chance at election. It seems to me then, from the beginning, the mutual selection naturally involved in the search process would make the slate what it is.

Still, parts of the media and those who declare us apostate would like to think that we've craftily "guaranteed" the election of a gay or lesbian bishop. . .if only to thumb our collective noses at the rest of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. If I may be so bold, it's as if to say we've had a very simple process with two questions: "What is your sexuality?" and "Do you have a life partner?" Were that the case, the Search Committee's job would have lasted less than one day.

As often as I have been rubbing shoulders with members of the Bishop's Search Committee, leaders at the Diocesan Office, and colleagues and friends, I find no such agenda. There are indeed seven nominees: five from the search committee, two by petition. All seven were raised up because people of this Diocese over many months and countless hours prayerfully discerned in them distinct gifts for the episcopate. Not simply because they were gay or lesbian or straight.

The agenda we are attempting to follow in this Diocese is God's agenda. We have been discerning, praying, and seeking the Spirit's movement at every step to this point. That includes prayerfully taking into account the continuing strife in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. And we have pledged to continue doing so up to the very last ballot cast at the election in May. If this is not true, then heaven help us all.

The tough thing is prayerfully taking into account the pain on all sides of this issue, marking the centuries of discrimination and hatred that has been the experience of gay and lesbian people, and recognizing in our hearts the continuing hurt that the ongoing controversy in the greater Church has engendered. At stake across the Anglican Communion are many centuries of tradition and deep cultural values about the nature of human sexuality.

I haven't decided yet whom I'm voting for on the first ballot. But I, for one, have already discerned that my first choice will not boil anyone down to mere sexuality. I've spent a great deal of time with friends, mentors, and colleagues who have experienced terrible injustices simply because of their sexual orientation.

I've learned through prayer and hours of listening that covenanted relationships, be they "gay" or "straight" have so much less to do with gender or orientation. If that were the case, I would look at my wife simply as a concubine. I couldn't live with that. She would not. No, all these relationships, gay or straight, are about covenant in the end, and an expression of our joyful commitment to Christ in another human being. And that seems to me to have a great deal more to it than sex or gender. Maybe that makes me a "liberal." It probably makes me a heretic in the eyes of many. Maybe not. But, at least in my own heart and mind, it levels the playing field as far as the nominees are concerned.

I also wonder a little bit about history. A few decades ago, there would have been a fight because two of the nominees are women. A few more decades ago, there would have been a fight because one of the nominees is African-American. In both cases in history, dioceses made decisions like New Hampshire did in 2003: to elect faithfully and trust that God would lead their bishop-elect and the Diocese and greater Church through the repercussions.

But this doesn't make my first choice for bishop a foregone conclusion by any means. We may not take the controversial step of electing a gay or lesbian bishop here in California this year. But whether we do or don't matters less to me than the agenda we're following when we elect.

Regardless of whom we send for confirmation to General Convention, I only want one thing: a sense that our election will have been completed in the Spirit. . .the satisfaction of feeling that we as a Diocese have met this pledge to prayerfully take into account our own needs as a Diocese and the greater needs of the Church. And then we will have faith that we have done our best to follow the only agenda to which we are ultimately called: God's agenda. We can then count on God's grace to make up the difference, whether by bringing correction or blessing. . .or both.

That will be a blessed day. And I believe it is very possible.

God's peace,


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