Sunday, August 06, 2006

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
created equal."

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.

Godspeed, folks.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, Ph.D., J.D.







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.

Friday, August 04, 2006

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
life energies"

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.