Knowing where one stands....or doesn't
It's always nice to know where one stands with one's
compatriots - or, perhaps, where one doesn't stand.
This past week on the discussion list for the Via Media
(the group opposing the schismatic direction of the
current leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Central
Florida, DIOCFL) , the following exchange occurred.
I found it particularly helpful in understanding where
the Via Media stands as well as where I and other LBGT
people stand with them:
We will at some point in the future gather to discuss these issues, and if the majority of theparishioners object to the idea of same-sex blessings in our church, then that won't happen…
I don't believe it will happen, at least not now, at (parish) or anywhere else in our diocese regardless of how parishioners think. The diocese has been very clear about what we will and won't do in Central Florida. That is what local option is about: it boils down to the bishop and the convention. I don't know what the future might bring, but this is where we are at present. Blessings…
I've wrestled with my conscience about whether to respond
to these posts on the list itself. After my contentious engagement
of a right wing authoritarian spy from DIOCFL which ended in
ad hominem attacks on my person last week, I have maintained
a low profile, waiting for the smoke to clear. If I felt I could be heard
in this very personal response to these comments, it might be
worth the waves it would no doubt cause. But I'm not sure
that is the case. And, I really don't have the stomach for being
on the receiving end of many more personal attacks.
So, in the end, what I decided was to simply post my response here
on my own turf and invite those who may wish to consider my
thoughts to do so here and to respond to me personally. I'm hardly
a coward as anyone who has ever heard me preach or practice law
knows. But I'm not sure this is the ditch I want to die in, as my
liturgics professor Louie Weil was prone to say, inevitably adding,
"Choose your battles." On this one, I'm punting.
My response to the comments above follows:
I think it's always easy to take strong stands on abstract
issues when one doesn't have to look too closely at the human
lives impacted by one's position. That is precisely why I feel it is
critical to put a human face on the issues we discuss here. In this
particular case, those who would take this "very clear" position
need to know what that really means for real live human beings,
one of whom has shared this list with you these past months and
who happens to be, among other things, an Episcopal priest.
My partner and I have been together 32 years. That's longer
than most people have been married, a fact particularly
noteworthy when one considers that there are none of the
societal supports seen as ordinary and expectable for
straight couples in place to sustain gay partnerships. Our
anniversary does not make the church bulletin nor are we
called to the front to have the priest offer G-d's blessing for
another year together. Indeed, if diocesan rules are strictly
observed, we can have no active role in the worship life of the
church at all. In many ways, we have been rendered invisible.
And were that the worst we faced, it might be tolerable.
But it's not. Should one of us become incapacitated,
the other cannot expect to be able to make decisions about
the medical treatment, funeral arrangements or estate settlement
without extraordinary legal arrangements, some of which may
not be honored by the state of Florida. Indeed, we are not even
guaranteed the ability to visit the other in the hospital should
he become ill. These are all expectations married couples
never think twice about which is why our General Convention
has voted to support these rights for all couples even as the local
diocese continues to oppose them.
Our partnership has endured well-funded efforts nationwide
by people who are perhaps well-intentioned but certainly
ill-informed to write legal discrimination into constitutions
targeting us. It has endured uncritical theologizing from the
pulpits of most churches in this country, churches which
simultaneously proclaim the Great Commandment to love
one's neighbor as oneself as their ultimate principle. And it
has endured the distorted caricatures proffered by demagogues
from the bully pulpits of state legislatures, Congress and the White
House itself - all of which simultaneously proclaim the
Declaration of Independence's assertion that "all men are
And yet we endure. And we do that despite an ongoing
discussion *about* us - but never *with* us - a discussion of
our relationships, our rights and our thus far unrealized
expectations of being treated equally under the law and
as fellow children of G-d in our houses of worship. In the
exchange I quote above, note who is talking - straight people
trying to decide what they should do about LBGT people.
Note also who is missing - the very people about whom the
discussion is focused.
I recognize that it is important for some people in the
DIOCFL to feel secure in the belief that they have made
their minds up about same sex blessings and can treat it
as a closed subject. They do not want to worry that such
might ever happen here so long as the majority of
heterosexuals - presuming to be in a parent/child
relationship with their LBGT brothers and sisters -
don't want to give their permission. But, folks, do not
delude yourselves with notions that it has to be this way.
Indeed, I can tell you it simply isn't this way in many other
quarters of the church.
When I was ordained transitional deacon in the parish of St.
Philips, San Jose, CA, my bishop called my partner out of
the audience to stand beside me at the altar. He said, "No
one gets through this process alone. Harry is here in great
part due to the support of his partner, Andy. Let's give him a
round of applause to recognize that support." The parish
rose to its feet in applause. We both wept. Indeed, tears
come to my eyes now as I recall that night that today seems
so very long ago.
In 1991 I had given up my home of five generations, a law
practice and a college teaching position, my family
and friends for the church. I moved across the country to
seminary in Berkeley, CA in pursuit of a calling by G-d to
the priesthood. I answered that calling without any diocesan
sponsorship, attending totally on my own dime (and I still
have nearly $50K in student loans to show for it). Even
though the odds were heavily stacked against me, I was
ordained priest in the Diocese of El Camino Real in June 1995.
But in 1997 when it came time to come home to be near a
mother who was battling cancer, I answered that
calling, too, without hesitation, knowing it would mean
the end of any possibility of an active clerical role in official
diocesan work under the current leadership of DIOCFL.
When the Via Media of DIOCFL was formed, I found
myself feeling hopeful for the first time in many years.
I supposed I had hoped against hope that with a group of
people who recognized the problems with the right wing
authoritarian direction of the current diocesan leadership, things
might be different. I have waited for the discussion to become
less self-focused, turning away from the "he said/she said"
obsession with the Network, diocesan politics and property
questions. I have patiently parsed the comments to find
some sense of distinction from the status quo. And I have
listened hard to find any hint of inclination to discuss a vision
of the future, a vision of what DIOCFL could become if it allowed
itself to dream once again.
When the exchange above was published, I realized that what I
was hearing was little more than business as usual. I need to
hasten to say that I have nothing but personal respect for the
posters themselves (whose identifying information I have
removed above for their anonymity). But I sense their comments
are more representative of this Via Media than not. The players
might be different from those currently holding power but the
playbook appears to be the same, differing from the status
quo perhaps in degree but not in substance.
I also realized as I read these comments that I had let wishful
thinking cloud my judgment. At a very basic level, I really knew
better. I had allowed myself to get my hopes up when very little
suggested such was warranted. In retrospect, I suppose that was
naïve. Optimists often tend to be.
The comment that we don't know what the future might
bring is at least a deference to the reality of change in human
cultures, a change we sometimes ascribe to the work of the
Holy Spirit. And, brothers and sisters, change is coming,
even to this remote backwater of the church. It's not a question
of if, only of when and how we will respond to it. I remain
a man of deep faith and optimism. And so I continue to hold
out hope that one day change will come at last, even to the
If and when the day does come that LBGT parishioners and
clergy are treated with the same dignity and respect their
straight fellow parishioners and clergy expect as a matter of
entitlement, I will be most interested to hear about it. I would
guess others may be as well. But until then, I fear that a
continued investment of limited time and energy engaging a
diocese which has no plans to treat me as a first class citizen
will do more violence to my soul than I am prepared to sustain.
We Christians may be called to the Way of the Cross, but we
should not have to endure our fellow Christians pounding
in the nails.
I wish you well in your struggle for power in this diocese.
I hope you will be victorious and that my fellow lawyers don't
end up eating the diocesan assets in the process. Should you
emerge from the rubble as the new DIOCFL, I will be watching
carefully from the margins, waiting patiently and hopefully
to see what happens then.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, Ph.D., J.D.
FOURFOLD FRANCISCAN BLESSING
MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH DISCOMFORT AT EASY ANSWERS, HALF TRUTHS, AND SUPERFICIAL RELATIONSHIPS, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE DEEP WITHIN YOUR HEART. AMEN
MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH ANGER AT INJUSTICE, OPPRESSION AND EXPLOITATION OF PEOPLE, SO THAT YOU MAY WORK FOR JUSTICE, FREEDOM AND PEACE. AMEN
MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH TEARS TO SHED FOR THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM PAIN, REJECTION, STARVATION AND WAR, SO THAT YOU MAY REACH OUT YOUR HAND TO COMFORT THEM AND TURN THEIR PAIN INTO JOY. AMEN
MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH ENOUGH FOOLISHNESS TO BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THIS WORLD, SO THAT YOU CAN DO WHAT OTHERS CLAIM CANNOT BE DONE.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.