I'm a member of the Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC), so I'm of the Christian brand called Anglican. I guess it's even official, since TEC is the only church in the United States that is also a constituent member of the Anglican Communion (AC). The AC is a rather loose group of churches and peoples who share a common liturgy, usually pretend to be fond of each other, and consider the Archbishop of Canterbury as their titular leader and spokesperson. Of course, there are many people who call themselves Anglican, and even fuss over who is a Real Anglican. This isn't anything new; just ask anyone who's active in the Church of England. We have a rich and contentious history.
If you've been skimming the news in recent years, you might have picked up that TEC is having some internal struggles about accepting openly gay, lesbian and transgendered (LGBT) people in our church. Yes, they're everywhere now, and they don't even hide it any longer. Your maiden Auntie might have told the family that nice lady isn't just her roommate. That dapper bachelor in your office just brought a man as his date to the office Christmas party. If you live in a fairly liberal area, your neighbor Mary may now look, well - manly, call herself Martin these days, and didn't even have to move.
Some Christians don't like this behavior much, calling it sinful and unnatural. They're pretty outraged that TEC is willing to ordain LGBTs as priests, and even as bishops. Until recently, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was the focus of their hypocrisy and anger. I have trusted friends who know Bishop Gene; it seems he's a man of great faith, and he was elected by Episcopalians in New Hampshire because he had proven himself in other leadership positions in their diocese. It's really too bad he wasn't smart enough to call his long-time partner his roommate. It would be even better if they kept it all quiet, and met in secret for you-know-what instead of shacking up.
I'll have you know that Bishop Robinson and his election stirred the black kettle something fierce, and there are plenty of Anglicans who can't understand why TEC just won't apologize about the whole thing, and undo the damage by deposing him. Others sought a compromise, suggesting we exercise "gracious restraint," and not be naughty again, at least not until everyone gives us permission.
But damn the rebel Yanks, we've done it again. TEC members in Los Angeles, California have selected an openly-partnered lesbian as their suffragan bishop-elect. Her name is Mary Glasspool, she's highly qualified, and she'll be a junior bishop if she can clear the national church's approval process. If not for that pesky lesbian problem, her final election would be almost automatic.
Within 12 hours of Glasspool's election, The Archbishop of Canterbury - Rowan Williams - registered his official statement of condemnation. Since Canterbury moves at the pace of a dying slug, no doubt he was just waiting for the Americans to toss tea into the harbor. Thank goodness he mentioned how we can avoid causing more fuss - the national church doesn't have to approve Glasspool's election and make her a bishop.
Some of us think he's interfering in the matters of an independent church in the Anglican Communion. But he couldn't have that in mind, because he says he can't, and doesn't do such things. He told us so not long ago, refusing to criticize the Church of Uganda.
Stay with me.
There is a piece of particularly nasty anti-homosexual legislation floating in Uganda. It includes death penalties for some really outrageous behavior, such as a gay man buying another a drink, then having sex with him. HIV-positive gays can also be executed, though that punishment isn't extended to heterosexuals. People who know gays are supposed to report them to the police, or risk being jailed themselves. Yes, everyone is supposed to rat on da gays - parents, doctors, and even priests. One of Uganda's bishops, Joseph Abura of Karamoja, is an outspoken supporter of this legislation. The big cheese Anglican Archbishop in Uganda, Henry Orombi, has been silent.
Fortunately, the Uganda anti-homosexuality bill has gained international attention, and sane government and religious leaders are condemning it. There are reports that some of the worst sections could be changed, and even that it might not become law. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has now hinted he disapproves; but it took him about two months - the early word was that he couldn't interfere in any policies of the Anglican Church of Uganda.
A lot of nice Episcopalians are wondering why it's worse to elect gays as bishops than target them for genocide. Even those that find gays embarrassing don't usually want to kill them, or report them to the police. Some of us know most of the politics behind all this, but are still incredulous. There's a fine line between diplomacy and hypocrisy; the Archbishop of Canterbury has crossed it, holding hand high as he dashes over the finish line.
Most Christians don't think LGBTs are scum, and just generally go about church life in a private way. Their faith is quiet, and that's why it isn't in the news. They go to Sunday services, maybe do some community service, and pray for those in trouble. They don't need to condemn others to feel better, and they aren't on street corners telling people to get saved to avoid burning in hell. Some even think Jesus said that was what God wants, and will prove that with bible verses if you ask about it.
I'm one of those Christians. I don't care if you want to sleep with men, or women, or both, though do be nice about it. It's probably a good idea not to poach any man of mine, but that's a personal problem. And I have an unspoken agreement with my Rector: I don't interfere in his bedroom, and he's not allowed in mine except to use the master bath.
This treatise won't make some Christians happy, and no doubt I'll get some messages urging me to get saved. So I'll leave you with a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944: "Madam, I was saved as a wee lad when I was baptized, I am being saved right now, and I will be saved when my good Lord comes again. Now, leave me alone!"
Some interesting books to read, if you're of a mind:
Tobias Stanislaus Haller, Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality. Seabury Books 2009.
Richard Giles, Always Open: On Being An Anglican Today. Cowley Publications 2005.
Diana Butler-Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith. HarperOne 2007.
Update, March 10, 2010: The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool has received the required consents from the "standing committees" of USA Episcopalian dioceses - these are elected church leaders, both lay and ordained. The corresponding diocesean bishops must also approve her nomination and election, but there is hope in the air that this fine woman will be ordained as one of two bishops suffragan in Los Angeles, California. If you are of a mind, pray for her and her life partner.
Update, March 17, 2010: Mary Douglas Glasspool has now received the second, required set of consents from the TEC House of Bishops. This makes it a lock; the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop will proceed, with joy, at Mary Glasspool's consecration on May 15, 1010. One small step for Christianity, and society. Go world.
Update, May 15, 2010: Mary Glasspool was consecrated Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, California.