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Jefferts Schori for President

Jefferts Schori for President


She's among our most committed allies in the battle for LGBT inclusion and equality -- and she happens to wear a clerical collar.

It used to be that the gays merely caused popular disgust. Then in the Bush-Cheney era -- made possible by the Republicans' ability to capitalize on our potential to incite the aforementioned popular disgust -- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and their conservative Christian minions blamed us in quick succession for 9/11, the Southeast Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the U.S. military's mounting death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Accustomed as we are to being fingered by religious leaders for all manner of secular cataclysm, it seems an extraordinary turnabout that now, even as we figure prominently in an ecclesiastical crisis, Episcopal leaders, far from ringing us up for the damages, either downplay our role in the fight or stand up for our honor.

When its clergy and lay members voted on December 8 to secede from the U.S. Episcopal Church -- by a dizzying margin of 172-22 -- the diocese of San Joaquin in central California became the first entire diocese to leave the national church in its 200-year-plus history. (Over the last several years, more than 50 individual conservative congregations nationwide have also split, and three additional dioceses have taken initial steps toward secession but have not yet formally broken ties: Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and Pittsburgh.) Even during the Civil War, when congregations were bitterly divided along North-South lines, the Episcopal Church remained unified in dogma and practice -- whatever the animus between its Union and Confederate sympathizers.

Fissures leading to the current theological fault follow long-standing and less singular differences than those stirred by the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay -- and actively partnered -- priest to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. province of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. (The Episcopal Church stood up for us as early as 1976, when clergy at its General Convention affirmed gays and lesbians as "children of God" who deserve acceptance and equal treatment in spiritual as well as secular life. The church backed up the resolution by ordaining its first openly gay priest, Ellen Barrett, in 1977.) But even if it's foolish to think the gays could single-handedly trump slavery and states' rights as fodder for secessionist ire, we once again find ourselves the cause celebre in a war over "values" and who gets to delineate them.

The breakaway congregations and the 8,800-member San Joaquin diocese -- among whose 47 congregations only around a half dozen are expected to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church -- insist that their exit isn't all about the gay issue, which San Joaquin bishop John-David M. Schofield, who led the secession movement, likened to a newfangled fad within the national church, an "in thing" that the hierarchy will soon grow tired of and allow to go fallow as a child might a Chia Pet.

Yes, we gays are all the rage this holiday season. When I think about my place in current American culture, especially within religious circles, the first word that springs to mind is trendy.

But, remember, it's not all about us. According to conservative discontents, the rift originates in differing views of the Bible itself. Anglican traditionalists see the national church's acceptance of "abominations" like homosexuality as antithetical to Scripture and therefore as a rejection of the Bible as the literal word of God. The pro-abomination crowd, meanwhile, notes that the Bible's more important lessons lie in its advocacy of social justice and tolerance.

Traditionalists also prefer their priests male (of the U.S. Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses, San Joaquin is one of three that bars women from ordination, the other two being the aforementioned fledgling breakaway dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy), so it must have really rankled their sense of gendered righteousness when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected in June 2006 as presiding bishop of the national body, making her the first woman to so lead the church. Complicating matters further, Bishop Jefferts Schori supports ordaining partnered gays and lesbians. And if there are just a few things up with which Anglican traditionalists will not put, gay-consecrating upstart lady priests certainly make the short list.

See, even when we're talking about how it's not all about the gays, there we are, mucking about in the margins. But it is difficult to miss the fact that we gays seem to put a bit of a crinkle in Bishop Schofield's clerical collar. His diocese markedly stopped tithing to the national church after the consecration of Bishop Robinson. Meanwhile, his cathedral runs a ministry for those struggling with what Schofield calls "sexual brokenness," a term, he says, that very much includes homosexuality. In his address to the clergy before the secession vote, he attributed a recent marked drop in Episcopalian service attendance to the "sexual innovations of the church."

Bishop Schofield went on to tell the assembled clergy and lay members, "As bishops we have been able to provide a buffer for our people from the innovations that abound in dioceses all around us. A quick trip north, south, east, or west is all that it takes to wonder if we're in the same church with those folks."

I don't need to move from the chair I'm sitting in to wonder whether Bishop Schofield and I are on the same planet, especially when he says, in deference to those who would vote against his ecclesiastical revolution, that he "know[s] what it feels like to be a minority."

Admittedly, as a non-Christian lesbian, I can never fully appreciate the pain felt by a straight white Christian man in the United States. Given the discrimination Bishop Schofield must confront every day, it's fortunate that he's protected by a federal hate-crimes law so that he can't be attacked for his religious beliefs or his white race -- not like I can be attacked for my "sexual brokenness," as our Congress just freshly affirmed.

I firmly believe that within a generation the antigay hate speech Bishop Schofield so freely espouses will receive as little tolerance as we do today, and I look forward to a time when men like him will wish they had quietly harbored hatred rather than staking their reputations on it. Meanwhile, Bishop Jefferts Schori and other proponents of inclusion will be credited with having furthered the integrity of their faith institutions as dynamic, relevant forces in the 21st century.

Non-Episcopalian gays and lesbians might not think we have a dog in this fight, but we all have a vested interest in the outcome. We find ourselves in a very rare position here, one so unfamiliar to LGBT people we can scarcely grasp its significance: In the determination of the U.S. Episcopal Church to take a stand for our equality and inclusion, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose, while the folks fighting for us risk their political and financial footing in the Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian body in the world, which is far more sympathetic toward your Bishops Schofield than to the progressive platform embraced by Bishop Jefferts Schori and the majority of her church's 2.5 million members.

We never asked Episcopalians to take up our fight. Rather, it seems, their spiritual path has led them to believe that we aren't any less deserving of ministry or recognition or even consecration simply because we happen to be unpopular sexual minorities. I wish that weren't an extraordinary concept in 2007, but it is. And Bishop Jefferts Schori has hardly blinked in a year of denominational strife that has seen her character and her commitment to her religious office questioned, challenged, dismissed, and maligned.

In this age of gay bashing from all sides, it isn't often we encounter a religious leader -- or any leader -- willing to bulldog for our rights, especially when faced with such a potentially high cost to herself and the institution she represents. What I wouldn't give for such genuine representation in our elected officials.

The afterglow of the 2006 Democratic sweep has already grown so dim I can barely tell the 110th Congress from the 109th. Of the three explicit promises made to us by the Democratic Party -- practically characterizing as slam dunks passage of a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passage of hate-crimes protections, and the end of "don't ask, don't tell" -- our folks in Washington have already reneged on the first two, voluntarily withdrawing hate-crimes legislation from the Defense appropriations bill, and rendering ENDA impotent by deftly throwing the gender-nonconforming among us under the bus in the name of political expediency.

I suppose we should have seen it coming. When the Republican Party correctly gauged the general public's discomfort with our relationships and crassly set about employing us as a wedge issue, many Democrats, rather than reacting with outrage at the GOP's repeated attacks on our basic humanity, identified us as baggage and palpably began to distance themselves from our civil rights struggle. When Democratic presidential candidates, amid their docket of prayer breakfasts, agreed to debate LGBT issues on the Logo cable channel, they virtually came into our living rooms to tell us that in fact they do not think our relationships are equal to theirs, that the very most they deign to offer is the separate-but-equal patronage of civil unions.

When I consider the trail of broken promises left by those we helped to elect, Bishop Jefferts Schori's position becomes that much more remarkable. Reacting to the secession vote in San Joaquin, she not only refused to retreat from her position, she reiterated it: "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership."

I keep meaning to bake that woman a cake.

In my fruitless search for a presidential candidate who not only believes in my essential equality but is willing to say it out loud and stand by his or her position when the inevitable attacks come down, I wonder if any money I may have set aside to donate to that elusive candidate's campaign might not be better spent tithing to the Episcopal Church. At least there I know my support will go toward furthering my rights, not sending them to the back of the bus -- or throwing them under it.

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Teresa Morrison