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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Politics of Spiritual Discernment

Well, the buzz of excitement that was part of the “Meet the Candidates” nights has now turned into a beehive of political campaigning and activity. My phone is ringing off the hook with clergy and laity – both here and around the country – who want to know my impressions of the nominees, or to share their own.

Small groups of clergy are gathering and sharing what they know about different nominees. I’m quite certain folks from the laity are doing the same thing. Next Thursday morning, the Newark Clergy Association is sponsoring a gathering of clergy to discuss the candidates. It ought to be interesting.

Some folk are campaigning – HARD – for the candidate of their choice. Rumors – pro and con – are being circulated as if solid fact. “Things done and left undone” by various candidates are being reported in miniscule detail – including what was known about the person (and/or spouse) in (gasp!) seminary.


I would hate to hear what some of my classmates have to say about me. And, I know some of my classmates would cringe to hear my memories of them, 20 years ago.

Let’s have a rousing chorus of that song from “Sweet Charity” (complete with kick-line, if you please): ”If . . . they . . . could . . . see me now, that little gang of mine . . . .”

Several clergy have reported that members of their lay delegation are eager to share their impressions – sometimes with humorous result. I love the story of the two delegates from the same congregation, both sitting side by each, who reported completely different reactions to the same candidate, who was speaking in the same room at the same time.

One said s/he felt, when this candidate was speaking, that s/he was surrounded by a “warm blanket of care and concern.” The other chided the same candidate for being “arrogant and autocratic.”

I know. Go figure.

It’s such a curious creature, this ‘spiritual election process’ we have in the Episcopal Church. It’s a bit like engaging both sides of the brain at once – left and right – as well as both sides of our souls – human and divine.

We are human, and of course we will try to promote the candidate we feel is best qualified. Meanwhile, we try to remain prayerfully open in the process of spiritual discernment and to listen to the Holy Spirit, that she might whisper the name of the candidate that God wants for us.

That may not mean that God’s candidate will win, necessarily – which is a fairly daunting result to consider – which is why we are called to prayer and discernment; to quiet our anxieties and allay our fears and listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Personally, I think there are four absolutely stellar candidates, one who is good and solid, and one whose agenda as a candidate has been known from the beginning.

Bottom line: I could work with any of the five, without any difficulty in the least. That is a very strong testimony to the work done by the Nominating Committee. They have presented us with a solid slate of worthy candidates.

Not perfect. Not by a long shot. But worthy to wear the E/episcopal mantle of leadership. That was not a typo. Yes, I wrote E/episcopal. By that I mean that I believe that there is a unique vocation to a bishop (the office, with a small ‘e’) in the Episcopal (religious denomination) church.

I have come to believe that the office of the bishop has much more in common with the office of the diaconate than that of the priesthood. The bishop, like the deacon, is called to a specific ministry which is needed in a specific place at a specific point in a specific diocesan life cycle.

When I was on the Search/Nominating Committee seven years ago, I interviewed many wonderful priests who were clearly gifted and skilled and talented and had, as near as I could see, a true vocation to the episcopacy. But, not here in this diocese. Or, not at this point in our life cycle. It’s a fascinating phenomenon.

Do I have my preferences? You bet. Three, in fact, and one in particular, who I think will win - on the 5th ballot. But, I’ll admit to the "favorite of my heart," and I am unashamedly tossing my hat into the political campaign trail.

This is, after all, my blog. “Caveat lector.” (“Let the reader beware.”)

It is, of course, Michael Barlowe. I have been slowly, quietly suggesting to all of my LGBT sister and brother clergy to caste their first ballot for him.

Hold on, hold on. I know what you are saying. No, I’m not being “heterophobic.” Neither am I “heterosexually challenged.”

And, I’m not talking about throwing the entire election. I’m talking about FIRST BALLOT. What anyone does after that is up to their own spiritual discernment.

Here’s my thinking:

First: I am restricting my suggestion (and, it is only a suggestion) to LGBT clergy – not laity. Neither am I talking to our straight allies. I have made a quick assessment of the number of LGBT priests in this diocese. I don’t know the deacons well enough to know who’s who, much less their sexual orientation. Besides, a person’s sexual orientation is just not that big a deal here anymore – except, of course, when it is.

I’m told that there are approximately 265 canonically resident priests, 80 of whom are non-residential. I could be wrong (but not my much), but by my count, there are approximately 30 LGBT priests in the diocese – seven of whom are canonical but non-residential, and four of whom are retired. Even if all thirty voted (and all will most likely not), that’s hardly enough to elect Barlowe on the first ballot. Indeed, that’s not even a solid voting block.

More importantly, I’m told that there are 495 total registrations for the election on September 23, with “a handful more expected.” Of that number, there are 12 deacons and 160 presbyters. I’m not Louie Crew, and I can’t pretend to walk in his gold lame pumps, so I don’t have the statistics on how many are people of color, LGBT or the gender of the clergy registered to vote. But, well, you do the math.

This is not a scheme to elect Barlowe on the first ballot. It’s a political and spiritual statement of solidarity.

Next: The first ballot is always considered a ‘test’ (well, there’s another word for it, but it is a rather vulgar term associated with throwing dice and this is a ‘family blog,’ after all). I can only think of one election in the past 20 years of someone being elected on the first ballot – that was Tom Shaw in Massachusetts.

Finally: “All things being equal” – and of course, they are not, but especially so after B0 (hold your nose and vote) 33 – I am asking that, if folk feel that Barlowe did as well as I believe (and, I’m hearing he did) in the “Meet the Candidates” events, to consider voting for him on the first ballot – someone who would “otherwise be a solid candidate.”

It is precisely that “all things are not equal” that I am asking LGBT clergy to consider voting for Michael on the first ballot. That didn’t happen in the Diocese of California, where there are far more LGBT clergy than there are here in Newark. In fact, the LGBT candidates (and there were three), did not do well at all.

Many California clergy have said to me that they wished they had agreed to vote for at least one of the three LGBT candidates on the first ballot.


I thought you’d never ask.

First: Because Resolution B033 is evil. Why? Here’s why:

It was crafted in a desperate attempt to “comply” with the “invitation” (anybody else see the incongruity of that?) of the Windsor Report to “consider” a moratorium on the election of LGBT people to the episcopacy – after, of course, we “repented” of having duly elected Gene Robinson as bishop of NH.

Because, while the wording of B033 is vague – for all bishops with jurisdiction and all standing committees to ‘consider’ (there’s that word again) withholding approval of anyone whose ‘manner of life’ would pose a ‘challenge’ to the wider communion – its intention is clear. And, it is decidedly in violation of our canons which prohibit discrimination.

Which is precisely why it had to be so vague.

Which is why it is evil.

Someone has to stand up against evil and take a stand for justice. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to? If we don’t respect one of our own who has taken a deep risk for us and for the church, why should anyone else give us even a modicum of respect?

We need to send a message – a loud and clear message – that the journey into holy obedience of the particular vocation of this diocese will not be stopped. We must continue to call ourselves and the rest of the church – kicking and screaming, if necessary – into the awesome and daunting reality, with all of its implications for mission and ministry – of the unconditional love of God.

I believe with all my heart that if we are so emboldened to take this risk, others around the Episcopal Church as well as the Anglican Communion in its entirety, will also be able to find the courage to take a stand against the evil of worshiping the false god of unity over the baptismal promise of justice.

Finally, I believe all LGBT clergy should vote for Michael on the first ballot because the truth is this: you never know what the Holy Spirit will do with that act of courageous witness to our faith. Perhaps not in this diocese, but somewhere else in the Anglican Communion. Sometime. Soon.

So, that’s my contribution to the political campaign trail in this diocese. I prayerfully “invite” my LGBT sisters and brothers to “consider” this request – under which you have no obligation to “comply.” Of course, I can live with any of the other four candidates. In fact, I would be absolutely deliriously joyful if one of my top three candidates is elected, but I will work with and love our next bishop, no matter who happens to be elected.

Here’s the good news: we are not electing a bishop for Elizabeth Kaeton. Neither are we electing a bishop for St. Paul’s, Chatham. In fact, we are not JUST electing the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Newark. We are electing another successor to walk in the shoes of the apostles, to take her/his place in the corridors of power and authority in the church catholic, and to lead us more nearly to Jesus, who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.

That being said, it is absolutely imperative that every single registered deputy - laity or clergy - caste their vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of gender, orientation, race, age, class status, or phyiscal ability.

I’ll tell you one thing, the politics of spiritual discernment is not for faint of heart. So, put on the armor of Christ, pack your prayer book and bible, don’t forget your (Anglican) prayer beads, and fasten your seat belt.

The Holy Spirit is about to take us on one heck of a ride.


DaveGolub said...

I would have bet money (and lost it) that you would have voted for the person you believed was the best qualified, regardless of gender, orientation, etc.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

When did I say that I wouldn't?

Encouraging LGBT clergy to vote for Barlowe on the first ballot (which everyone knows is simply a 'test' and a 'throw away' ballot), is not to say that I won't vote for him on every ballot.

It also doesn't mean that I will vote for him on every ballot.

I promise to vote for the person I believe is the best qualified, regardless of gender, orientation, etc.

And, I encourage everyone else to do that as well.