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Katharine
Jefferts Schori for President

Katharine
            Jefferts Schori for President

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.

Katharine Jefferts Schori x395 (Getty) | Advocate.com

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 célèbre 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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