On Gays, the Vatican and the Episcopal Church

"It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." -- Resolution of the Episcopal Church, 1976

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" -- Working document from the Vatican, 2014

Two statements -- issued decades apart -- by church councils struggling to respond to the conflict between ancient doctrines and new understandings: each case greeted by some as "too little, too late" and by others as "the end of the world as we know it."

As an Episcopalian busily ministering in a church on the cusp of finishing the work of fully including the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments it would be easy to dismiss the recent news from the Vatican as the former -- especially as the final version "walked back" the more revolutionary language under pressure from conservative prelates.

And yet -- as my brilliant friend Diana Butler Bass said in response -- "When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late."

We are told that the very arc of history bends toward justice. And so the sound you heard from Rome was that arc bending a little further with this document moving (ever so slightly) the Catholic Church away from its traditional insistence that even if a gay orientation is not sinful, gay sex is "intrinsically disordered." And it was followed by the sound of the "one step back" in the proverbial "two steps forward, one step back" journey to justice.

Steps like Pope Francis' response, "Who am I to judge?" when he was asked last year about his views on homosexuality. In the words of the National Catholic Reporter's Tom Reese, "This marks a new pastoral style that is more compassionate and affirming." And HRC's Chad Griffin applauded "a dramatic new tone from a church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnerships."

In my church -- the Episcopal Church -- our 1976 resolution promising "full and equal claim" to our homosexual members was followed in 1979 by a resolution stating it was "not appropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual." So much for "full and equal."

Like the Vatican in 2014, the 1979 "one step back" in response to our 1976 resolution came from conservative elements within our polity pushing back on the tide of equal love, justice and compassion for all God's beloved human family. But the good news is that the tide kept turning. The arc kept bending. And year after year -- General Convention after General Convention -- resolution after resolution -- we kept coming back and pressing forward.

In terms of God's justice we may have moved too slow and too late but we kept moving. And last week when I stood with the rest of a packed-full church to applaud as Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool -- the first openly lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion -- introduced a suburban congregation to their new rector and his husband I thought, "we may not be 'there' yet but we're sure getting there!"

And it's taken us nearly 40 years. Forty years of steps forward and steps back. Of threats of schism and amended resolutions and legislative compromises. And of the collateral damage of broken hearts and wounded souls along the way. But we've kept on moving ... and after nearly 40 years in the wilderness I do believe we can see the Promised Land of full inclusion on the horizon.

And because I believe it is indeed the Holy Spirit that has sustained, inspired and equipped us along this journey, I pray for the same gifts of resolve and persistence to keep our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters moving forward as well. And I pray that 40 years from now, someone will be able to look back on 2014 -- as we look back on 1976 -- and say: "It started then. When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late. But that's when we started moving. And we never gave up."

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