Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Question for the Episcopal Church:
Is Your Homophobia Worth Dying For?

[N.B. - On the Episcopal Voices of Central Florida list (a list devoted to those resisting the seemingly pending fundamentalist led schism of the diocese from the national church), the unavoidable issues surrounding the place of gay and lesbians in the church have arisen. I've attempted to dialogue with the list on these issues with little success. Frankly, I sense that the chances of the Diocese of Central Florida joining the late 20th CE - much less the 21st CE - anytime soon are remote, even in a faithful remnant diocese that might result from schism of the more rabid conservatives here.This posting and the next couple to follow are modified versions of an exchange on the list with a very nice and I believe well intentioned Episcopalian here in Central Florida.]

RE: Straight people need time to become comfortable with the idea of same sex marriages; they simply need "love, prayer and time."

Perhaps the specific issue of same sex marriage is new. But the larger
underlying issue of first class citizenship of LBGT members of the church is
hardly new. The General Convention in 1976 declared that "homosexual
persons are children of God and have a full and equal claim with all other
persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the
Church…[and] entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other
citizens…" It also "call[ed] upon our society to see that such protection
is provided in actuality."

Since then, the church has studied, engaged in dialogue, resolved, wrung its
hands, threatened schism and sold its soul - and its LBGT members in the
process - to insure a ticket to the Lambeth tea party. But the bottom line is
simply this: LBGT persons do NOT have a full and equal claim with all other
persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the
Church. Ironically, while the rest of society has made noticeable, though
slow, progress toward removing discrimination in our society at large, it
has become the church generally and, in places like this diocese, the
Episcopal Church specifically which has proven the most vociferous
opponent of equal protection of the laws, both within and outside the

The argument that people just need time to get comfortable with these
new ideas is hardly anything new. Those of us who grew up in segregated
Central Florida are very familiar with this argument. White people just
need time to get used to the idea that black people will be treated
equally in our society. Indeed, it was precisely that argument that
prompted Martin Luther King, Jr. to observe, "Justice delayed is justice

What reveals the lie in this plea is simply this: there is no timetable for
getting comfortable. There is no end point on this process of "love, prayer and
time." To test this theory one only has to ask: How much time do you need?
Give us a date when your process will be completed. We will wait patiently.
But the reality is, we all know one will not be forthcoming.

The reality is, acceptance of peoples historically treated unjustly does not
precede the institution of just social relations. White people did not get
comfortable with black people prior to integration. It only occurred in
retrospect when the caricatures and stereotypes began to be punctured
by experience of real live human beings who proved not much different
from us. Male priests and bishops did not get comfortable with women
priests prior to their entry into pulpits where they proved themselves
equally adept as their male colleagues. A million years will not prove
sufficient to a people ommitted to the comfort of their inherited,
unexamined understandings.

But, as the poster noted, attitudes are fairly generationally related. If the attitudes of our young people are any indication, the changes in attitudes regarding same sex relationships will be a fait accompli in only a few years.

My observation is that this is already happening. With the breakdown of taboos
on LBGT relationships in our media and the changes in the laws of states and
the practices of many corporations, the children coming to adulthood today
will have lived in a culture where discrimination against LBGTs is rightly seen
as the product of the social disease of homophobia that it is. In the last election,
amendments which singled out LBGT relationships for discrimination,
prohibiting legal marriages, passed in six of the seven states in which they
were proposed. But in looking at the exit poll data, a striking demographic
jumps off the page - the group with the lowest level of support for these
amendments was the 18-25 year old voters and in six of the seven states,
that demographic group voted against the amendments. The group with
the highest support was those over 65. Thus, I observe that in another
10-20 years, it is likely that much of this dispute will be over and resolved
in favor of equality for LBGT persons.

The questions that this raises for the church, however, are significant:
If the church continues to define itself by its opposition to LBGT persons,
what is going to draw keep people who have long since recognized the
injustice in such positions? If our elderly who support the status quo die
off and our young who cannot reconcile such positions with fundamental
theological principles of indiscriminate love of neighbor opt out, whither
the church ?

Bottom line: Is our homophobia, our reluctance to grow and change,
worth dying for?


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.


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