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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Giants and Ancestors

 There is so much to celebrate.

SCOTUS has upheld the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.

The President gave a stirring eulogy for Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, a victim of the mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., which provided a sound theological context in which the oppressed - especially, but all of us - could find hope.

Then... THEN . . . there was SCOTUS on Marriage equality.  Obergefell v Hodges. The vote was 5-4.

And, just like that, there was no longer "marriage equality" or "gay marriage" or "traditional marriage". There was just marriage.

I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around that. Seriously.

So then, The Episcopal Church, meeting at General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, made history by electing the very first African American man as Presiding Bishop.

Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina - the self same diocese that flew the Episcopal flag at half mast upon the election of Barbara Clementine Harris, an African American woman who was elected the first woman bishop in The Episcopal Church - was elected on an unprecedented first ballot by a landslide.

Here's a video interview of him here.  (

I had just dried my eyes when General Convention did yet anther amazing thing. Something more than 40 years in the makings. Something which has framed my entire adult life and fueled most of my ordained ministry. Something which I really didn't think I'd live long enough to see.

On July 1, in the year of our Lord 2015, The Episcopal Church once again made history, by making marriage for same-sex couples available throughout the church.

Okay, so this is me, taking a deep breath here, clearing my throat and wiping my eyes.

Let me say that again: Marriage for same sex couples is now available throughout The Episcopal Church.  

We did provide conservatives the same "pastoral generosity" which liberals asked of them six years ago. Bishops who voted against the canonical change as well as the liturgies for marriage may refrain from offering the sacramental rite of marriage in their dioceses, but . . but . .  BUT . . . they must make provision for the couple to be provided with that sacramental rite elsewhere.

Fair is fair and that will be fair enough for some but not fair enough for the seven dioceses where bishops have said they will not allow LGBT people access to the sacrament of marriage, even if they have been granted that civil right by the highest court in the land. 

Score one for the Traditional Anglican Via Media

As Susan Russell wrote
Carefully and prayerfully crafted, the changes provide as wide a tent as possible for the historic diversity that characterizes the Episcopal Church — guaranteeing access to marriage liturgies to all couples while protecting the conscience of clergy and bishops who dissent theologically.

The genius of these actions by the Episcopal Church is that the conscience of a dissenting bishop is protected but not at the price of denying same-sex couples access to the sacramental rite of marriage.
We did what some asked us to do. We "waited at the asterisk" (like the one at the psalm) so that others could catch up with the rest of the church. 

I suspect it will take another six years for some bishops to retire and others to "evolve" but I don't think it's going to take that long for full sacramental equality in our church.

In 2015 the challenge from the Queer community (LGBT people and our allies) to the church was framed in Jesus’ words from the Gospel according to Matthew (5:37) “Let your yes be yes.”

I know one thing: My 'yes' is most definitely 'YESSSSSSSS!'

So, I've been thinking these past few days, about how far we've come by faith and all the shoulders of all the Giants on which we've stood to walk above the madding, homophobic crowd to get to this day and this time and this place of celebration.  Especially in The Episcopal Church.

Oh, there are the obvious ones: Louie Crew Clay who started Integrity in 1976 when he and his Beloved, Ernest Clay, moved to San Francisco - the gayest city in the U.S. of A. - and were excited to call the Episcopal Cathedral to ask if they, as a gay couple, might find welcome as new members. 

They got passed along to several different people who apparently thought it was an absolutely HYSTERICAL question and took turns laughing uproariously each time it was asked. 

It wasn't a laughing matter then. It isn't now. But, that derisive laughter sparked a movement in The Episcopal Church that, forty years later, has reached a significant, historic, sacramental moment, but is far from completed. 

And, of late, Susan Russell has been front and center, providing important sound bites in an age of 24 hour news cycle as well as sound, accessible liberation theology, all the while being an enthusiastic, seemingly indefatigable evangelist of the Really Good News for absolutely everyone. 

Both Susan and Louie would rush to tell you that this movement is more than its stars. Of course they would look to Bishop Gene Robinson as well as Bishop Mary Glasspool as two of our major spiritual leaders, but there are more. 

So many, many more. 

There are those who sacrificed jobs and the possibility for 'upward mobility' by coming out and being authentically, honestly who God made them to be. They are articulate, intelligent, well educated people who laid the foundation for this journey on their very backs. 

It's always a very dangerous thing to start naming names but I have to call the name of Kim Byham, who probably authored 80% of the legislation which paved the way in previous General Conventions for us to travel this road. 

I have to call the name of Michael Hopkins, who was the major architect of the theological statement "Claiming The Blessing" of the group by the same name. I should know. I was a member. 

Michael listened deeply, took all our thoughts and put them into a magnificent statement that not only provided an articulation of the theological foundation of our work, it sent a message to the conservative/orthodox that there was more than a "nice liberal feeling" to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. There was, in fact, a cogent theology.

You didn't have to agree with it. You could pick it apart. But, you couldn't deny its theology. 

It also sent a message - loud and clear - that LGBT people were not going to leave the church, as so many had hoped would happen. We were no longer helpless, hopeless victims who needed to be pitied and taken care of because they "just couldn't help being gay". No. 

Avoiding entanglement in that dead end "nature or nurture" conundrum, we were going to keep on walking forward, just like our baptism prayer, in the full stature of Christ.

His was not the first articulated theology of being LGBT - many authors had done that well before him and to whom we also owe a huge debt of gratitude - but it was the first time a theology was written with The Episcopal Church as its primary audience and it was made available to every bishop and deputy attending General Convention.

John Clinton Bradley also set the bar for the Integrity Nerve Center at General Convention - a technological marvel that allowed us to be in communication by riding the beginnings of the wave of electronics and exploration of the architecture of cyberspace. 

Sending emails and text messages by smart phones between the visitors gallery, the Nerve Center and the various deputations proved to be absolutely invaluable in terms of developing on-your-toes legislative pivots and shifting strategies. 

Even before all of that were folks like Robert Williams , an openly gay man who was ordained by Bishop Jack Spong in a ceremony at All Saint's Church in Hoboken, NJ that was, I have absolutely no doubt - attended by more international press than Episcopalians. 

Bishop Spong was also dissociated by his colleagues for his efforts. And, one of his assisting bishops, Walter Righter, was brought up on heresy charges for ordaining Barry Stopfel to the priesthood. 

And then there are other straight allies like George Regas who started allowing the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships at All Saints, Pasadena more than 25 years ago. And, Ed Bacon who said on Oprah, "Being gay is a gift from God." And, Bishop Barbara Harris who preached, "How can you initiate someone and then treat them like half-assed baptized?"

There have been so many, many more Giants of Justice, some of whom are not theologians or even leaders - elected or assumed - in the church. I'm thinking of people like Chris Mackey-Mason whose organizational skills are so superior as to have absolutely no comparison. She has organized more group meetings - from Beyond Inclusion to Integrity to Episcopal Women's Caucus to General Convention presence - that it makes my head spin. 

And then there are the blessed most chaste spouses of those of us who have trekked all over God's vineyard to labor in the Fields of Justice. 

They have made sure the bills were paid on time and done the laundry and mowed the lawn and gone grocery shopping while we were being interviewed on CNN or writing pity Letters to the Editor or on a Conference Call developing a strategy with colleagues or just listening patiently as we ranted about the latest horrible exchange we had with yet another homophobe. 

You can get a much better picture of the past 40 years by looking at this wonderful video put together by IntegritTV. It's here

While you're there, check out the tribute to Louie Crew Clay. That's here

And, don't miss Bishop Mary Glasspool's sermon at the Integrity Eucharist. I really think her discussion of "home" and "family" begin to build on the liberation theology already articulated and form the foundation for a spiritual life after SCOTUS. You can find that here.

As grateful as I am for all of these amazing Giants of Justice - and, I am, deeply, and there are so many, many more - I can not shake the sense that we would not have come this far by faith without "a great cloud of witnesses" who have been "behind the scenes" but at the soul center of the Spirituality of this Movement. 

I'm talking about all those amazing, blazing, shining souls we lost to AIDS in the 80s.  

I remember clearly holding the hands of so many who were taking their last breaths and promising them that their death would not be in vain.  That their deaths may have been hastened by beurcratic red tape, but their legacy would live on. 

Some how. Some way. I said. Not knowing what I was talking about but speaking from a place of absolute truth within me.

I think this is it. I really do.

There's a scene "A Call to the Ancestors" in the movie Amistad.  Singbe, the slave, and John Adams, the former President who is defending the slaves of the ship Amistad, are talking just before the trial. Adams is trying to prepare Singbe for what he's about to experience in court. 

Singbe says, "We won't be going into there alone." 

Adams says, "No, of course not. We have justice and righteousness on our side."

Singbe says, 
"I have my ancestors. I am calling to the past. Back to the beginning of time. I am begging them to come and help me with this judgment.  I will reach back and draw them into me. And, they must come. For at this moment, I am the whole reason they have existed at all."
I do believe all those martyrs to the early days of the AIDS pandemic have been with us every step of the way. We may not be 'the whole reason they existed at all', but their young, senseless deaths to a pandemic that could have been avoided have provided the heart and soul of this movement.

So, I want to end by encouraging us to call their name in words of prayer and thanksgiving. They who have brought us to this day.

We are going to need them to walk with us even further, to raise up new leaders, to take on the deeper issues of justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people like housing and employment.

I call their names often. The ones whose names I remember. The ones whose names I never knew.

If "all we need is love" they'd be with us today:
D.J Jimmy Mac (one of the first but far from the only)
Mark Clarke
The Rev. Dennis Dellamalva
Garry Lambert
Bill Urban
Joe Horan
Bob Meili
Lisa Tisti and her daughter Anasthasia
Jay Schaeffer
Dennis O'Keefe
The Rev Bill Lowry
The Rev Bernie Healy
Avon Johnson
Bertha "Birdie" Thompson
"Just call me Madam" Jim Ramp
Paul Risi
"Tall Paul" Wallace
Bob Applegate
and the amazing, the unforgettable, the large and lovely Ms. Beula Lamont, who said,

"We're all born naked, honey; everything after that is all drag."
May their memories always be a blessing and continue to inspire us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. 

Giants and Ancestors. We celebrate their memories and their continued presence with us as we continue to move forward in faith, stopping just now to celebrate all that has been during most this amazing week.


Matthew Cadwell said...

Some names we might add:

Malcom Boyd, who never stopped running with Jesus
Norman Pittenger, perhaps the first openly gay Anglican theologian
Sue Hiatt, who never stopped standing up to earthly power in favor of God's power
Hayden McCallum and Carter Heyward, first openly gay and lesbian and members of the EDS faculty in the 70s, when it wasn't yet safe
Ellen Barrett, first openly lesbian priest
Bishop Otis Charles, who took a brave risk when no one else would
Desmond Tutu, who has inspired the world
and beyond the Anglican world, there's the foundational and still inspirational work of John J. McNeill, silenced by Rome but not by God.

JCF said...

For the Giants and Ancestors (I've had this---Inspiration---stuck in my head all day):

8thday said...

Congratulations to you, your church and your fellow parishioners!

An Episcopalian once told me that you use the phase “Welcoming and Inclusive” as code words that gays are welcome. Let’s hope that this brings a final end to the need for secret codes.

"Being gay is a gift from God."

Amen to that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Yes, yes, YESSS! And there are, no doubt, even more. I'm thinking about waiting until the flow of comments slow down and then adding them as a list at the end.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Can you tell me the title of that clip? When I put it in my browser, all sorts of things come up.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - I am under no illusion that the need for "code" will end any time soon. I think those places that are constricted by the "ick" factor will stay stuck in place. It's going to take a few generations to change hearts. As long as no one can deny me my rights until then, it's much easier to deal with.

Rev. Kurt Huber said...

I would add William Stringfellow to the list of names...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew, there will be more, but I have to add:

Episcopal Priests who were 'out', fighting the good fight in suburban NJ

Tracey Lind
Cynthia Black
Bonnie Perry

My "adopted mothers" Sheri and Lois
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Lesbian Theologian Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and her straight ally Letha Scanzoni (Virginia continues to take leadership in the work for Trans rights)

Bishops who actively assisted the call of LGBT clergy in their dioceses (and not just "allowed" one or two 'token' clergy or just looked the other way):

Doug Theuner
John Chane
Quinton Primo
Mary Adelia Rosamund McCloud
Jane Holmes Dixon
Tom Shaw (who finally came out Queer)

There's more but that's who came to mind during my morning prayer.

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

The only talk I heard about the supreme court decision was that this would lead to the government forcing churches to accept gays and if they didn't they would lose their tax-exempt status. It always goes back to the money for some people.

I am happy that the time has come to let people live their own lives without judging them. In the church you are suppose to find love. Christ was about love it is simple "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This is how I was raised and have never understood how the church could justify rejecting anyone.

Great post. Congrats on your church being one of the first to opening accept everyone. Real christians maybe.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Grace. The Episcopal Church has many miles left to travel before we even come close to the Realm of God - there are still seven dioceses where LGBT people don't have access to the Sacramental Rite of Marriage - but there is no doubt that we took a Giant Step on July 1. GIANT step.

Doris Mote said...

The Rev. Ricardo Palomores Diocese of Maryland

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, yes. I was at Ricardo's funeral. A magnificent celebration of his life and the first real, authentic, heartfelt diocesan acknowledgment that "Our Church Has AIDS".

JCF said...

Elizabeth, the (YouTube) link is to John Tavener's "Song for Athene" (made world-famous when it was sung at the close of Princess Diana's funeral. This is a version I particularly like by the choral group Tenebrae).

Try this link instead:

IIRC, Tavener wrote it for the daughter (her name was Athene) of friends of his, who had died. It mixes various passages of Scripture (and even Shakespeare!) w/ an Eastern Orthodox Allelujah, building to a crescendo (really, a climax---in the full sense of the word) of TRUST in the Resurrection---as I believe our "Giants and Ancestors" will rise. Allelujah!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I do remember this from Diana's funeral. This version is absolutely gorgeous. And yes, yes, yes, this is what it will sound like when our ancestors arise. This is the musical belief in the resurrection. Thank you for reminding me of it and for this delicious arrangement.

Phoebe Mcfarlin said...

Unfortunately same-sex marriages will NOT take place in every the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. We received a copy of the Salt Lake letter from our Diocesan Office with our Bishop's signature. This backs up the comment he made at a clergy meeting in May.. you may discuss the same-sex issue, but do not expect any change.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm so sorry, Phoebe. There are seven dioceses in TEC where LGBT people won't have equal access to the sacramental rite of marriage. This is cold comfort but I'm predicting that this will be reduced by half in three years. And, in six years, we won't be having this conversation. Bishops will evolve or retire. It's a brave new world and the church has got to be brave to be in the world, where the Holy Spirit is leading.

janinsanfran said...

Wonderful post, as yours often are. Thank you.

SCG said...

What Phoebe says is correct about the bishop of FL. The day after that historic vote in the HoD, he sends his first message back to the diocese from convention: "Bishop Michael Curry elected as our next Presiding Bishop." I guess the "Salt Lake City Statement" hadn't been drafted yet. There's a reason I am no longer in the diocese of FL. Please pray for the many LGBTQ+ people in those seven dioceses. The stumbling blocks are much smaller now, but they are still there, and past history tells me some of these guys are going to keep throwing tacks in the road. Pray for the priests and laity in those dioceses who are so ready to follow TEC forward and "Go!" as our PB-elect charged. We will all, one day, get there to the place of no more caveats, and some exceptions. I know we will.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks Jan

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SCG. Please know that I will join you in prayer. We will get there. We've come this far by faith.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous Michael - I do not wish to engage you in any conversation concerning the brave men and women and children who were martyrs to a government that killed them with bureaucratic red tape. You have proven yourself, over time, to be an inordinately cruel human being. I pray God has mercy on your soul.

unkmonk1 said...

Church is boring.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You have a choice. You don't have to go to church. You also don't have to come here. Indeed, you're welcome back. We can help you grow and mature.

Grant 508 @ Fall River Ma. said...

I agree with some things I did not read it all skimmed through it. There is nothing wrong with Positive criticism and debate or ones opinion. I am 100% for gay Marriage, I personally think we should have had a national vote, well really each state votes. After seeing so many young people taking there lives because they were taught being gay is wrong, thank god people are becoming more tolerant. There also is a gay love story in the ( OLD KING JAMES) bible, I can not think of the chapter but ask me and I will find it. I am personally not catholic I believe in Jesus and he died on the cross for me and go by the oldest bible on print. I hope nobody takes this wrong but the Catholic church is just religion to me and not enough faith, and I was born in a Catholic city with churches everywhere, Fall River Ma. ( Thhe churches are beautiful. I also lived in The bible belt as 13 and I felt like out of place living in a house long skirts hair, no tv or even Christmas tree. Who cares if someone is gay, and what if your son or bestfriend ended up being gay wouls you hate them. Personal opinion if you would like to positively give me your view ( no hate speeches) I do not mind, good artice from what I was reading.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I was also born and brought up Roman Catholic in Fall River. I know many of the churches quite well. Just something you should know: The "gay love story" you may be talking about could be one of several: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, or the Centurian. And, it's not just "Old King James" version. Oh, and one last thing - The putting Marriage equality to a national vote should only have happened if we put ALL marriage to a vote. A little referendum. If we believe in the separation of church and state, should we ban ALL marriages from being performed in churches? Or does that mean that all weddings happen only in Temples and Mosques and NOT in churches? Of course, it's silly. But, this whole thing about "Gay Marriage" is pretty silly in my estimation. Marriage is marriage. Love is love. And, love makes a family.