Observations from the Church's Last Orbital Ring
At the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC), the deputations and bishops, on their last day of convention, voted through a resolution vowing not to approve any new bishop whose lifestyle would prove problematic to others. In typical TEC fashion, the statement avoided the obvious elephant in the room: the reality of non-celibate gay bishops elected and confirmed to the House of Bishops, the first of whom was Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The last second resolution had been designed to appease third world conservatives in the Anglican Communion and, most importantly, preserve the invitation for the American presiding bishop to the decennial tea party of Anglican primates at Lambeth.
Many LBGT Episcopalians felt betrayed by the resolution. The joy we had felt from the election of Katharine Jeffert-Schori, a classmate of mine from seminary in Berkeley, evaporated overnight into bittersweet wondering about where we stood with our church the next day. Such wondering prompted the following comments on a list on which I occasionally participate:
"I don't want to be An Issue. But -- given the current climate in the
church -- I'm too afraid of that risk.
"I've been wrestling, as well, with my own personal response to its passage, asking myself, 'How can I remain a part of an institution that has an official policy to exclude a segment of God's children from one part of that institution?'"
I can certainly relate to these concerns. In a response to the list, I offered the following:
The older I get, the more I engage in a
sort of life cost-benefit analysis that
would have been unthinkable in my younger,
idealistic days. The questions I ask myself
include "What are the likely outcomes of this
action? What difference will it make if I
continue to fight?" And given the answers to
the first two questions, a third: "Is this
where I want to use my limited time and
A couple of principles have emerged for me
in this process. The first is well stated
above: I will not become an issue. Issues are
less than human. I refuse to be dehumanized.
I have suffered enough of that for one lifetime.
I will no longer play that game.
The second is recognizing the nature of the
problem. Homophobia is not the problem of
its targets. It's the problem of its holders.
Institutions which have historically treated
me as less than human are doing me no favor
by suddenly changing direction. They are saving
their own souls. I am not the recipient of their
largesse, I am the witness of their redemption.
The reality of the Episcopal Church nationally
is that it is suffering birth pangs in a process
that is destined to bring it ever so slightly
closer to the redemptive Way of Jesus than it has
been. I believe time is on our side. And I believe
the new PB is precisely the leader we need at this
moment to lead us. But all births are painful.
And for those of us here in DIOCFL, there's little
we can do but stand on the sidelines and watch.
Of course, for me that's not so difficult. I've
been on the sidelines since returning here nine
years ago knowing that as long as John Howe is
bishop, I'll never function here canonically.
I've come to feel some level of comfort, if not
relief from responsibility here. Whatever the
diocese does, it does without me, one way or the
I darken the door of a local parish from
time to time. And I continue to baptize babies,
marry couples both straight and same-sex, and I
continue to give extreme unction and bury the
dead. My parishioners are the folks on the margin,
the folks who are so alienated from institutional
religion that they feel they can't go ask
the clergy there to take care of their lives'
rites of passage. And so they come to me, the
priest standing on the last orbital ring, one
foot still inside the institution - at least
officially - for their ritual and pastoral needs,
needs I am happy to oblige.
So, at a basic level, the question about going
or staying is somewhat moot for me. Like many
of you, I was furious with B033 and felt betrayed.
But I also recognize it is both consistent with
the pattern observable in TEC and most institutional
churches historically and it is also, in the larger
scheme of things, a bump in the road. I have no
need to go anywhere. I observe there is at least
as much pathology in any other religious institution
as there is in the TEC. I see no point in moving
from one dysfunctional body to another.
But I also see no point in investing major amounts of
time and energy in the current struggles of TEC. The
church has had long enough to figure out that its
conduct is wrong, destructive and inconsistent with
the Gospel. I have given that struggle what I have
to give. When they finally do figure it out, I'll
still be here, one foot still inside the institution,
waiting and watching. In the meantime, I offer my
solidarity with those who stay, however you adapt,
as well as with those who feel they have no choice
in good conscience but to leave.
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.