Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Keaton: Civil rights and liturgical rites are not special rights

The Rev. Elizabeth Keaton, Rector of the The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, New Jersey, posted the following reflection on the House of Bishops & Deputies list. It will also be published as a column in her local newspaper. I feel it important enough to share here.

Let me tell you what it spoke to me. She connects very well the cynical posturing in secular politics about banning "gay marriage" and the fearful and sometimes desparate call to wait (stop!) so that the "rest of the communion" can catch up.

Her wrtiting reminds SWMP (ie straight white male priests) like me, on the verge of General Convention, to beware of talking about the real lives of GLBT folks as if they were an "issue" in theory only. I am called to remember people who share our churches, our workplaces, our schools and our homes. People who have learned to endure the sting of being spoken about but not being engaged with respect and dignity.

There is a fundemental issues of dignity at work, which most of the media and most of the people who have a dog in this fight seem to have forgotten. I find it astounding how much of the conversation goes on as if our GLBT sisters and brothers are not even in the room.

We who have the privilege of privilege that our society and church commends for reasons neither earned nor always in our control have a double responsibility to listen, and to speak truth to power. This column helps me hear, and I hope it will do the same for you. - atg+

Civil Rights and Liturgical Rites are not Special Rights

Elizabeth Kaeton

I've been mulling over the present administration’s transparent if not pathetic attempt to bolster poll ratings by dragging the so-called gay amendment out of the political closet.

We all know the arguments. It's to "protect the sanctity of marriage." (See the new stereotype: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people as the 'boogie-man' lurking on the church steps.) LGBT people should not have "special rights." (See the stereotype: LGBT people as petulant, misbehaving children who do very bad things.)

Former Supreme Court nominee Bork has written that the progressives have a logical if not strong argument against the conservative case. If LGBT people didn't already have those civil rights guaranteed in the constitution, he says, it begs the question as to why we need an amendment to take them away.


While he agrees with the political cause, even Bork has enough professional integrity to worry that a constitutional amendment to deny civil rights might be bad precedent.

How bad does it have to get that in order to regain popularity in the polls you must fan the flames of prejudice and hatred by writing an amendment to the constitution that proposes to continue to deny and then take away the rights of one group of citizens?

How pathetic do you have to be that in order to create unity in the party, you must feed the fires of injustice and build a sense of unity - even if it is just an illusion - at the expense of others?

Oh, wait a minute. I think I know the answer to that.

The Episcopal Church will be meeting in Columbus, Ohio, from June 12 – 22 for our triennial gathering known as General Convention. I’ll be there as an elected deputy from the Diocese of Newark. There is a great deal on our ecclesiastical plate, none the least of which is the task of electing a new Presiding Bishop. Among the candidates and for the first time in our history is a woman, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, presently bishop of Nevada.

The second task, which will induce a veritable media frenzy, will be how Convention handles the recommendations of The Windsor Report – a study commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury after the election, in 2003, of an honesty gay man as the bishop of New Hampshire – which asks the Episcopal Church to have a moratorium on electing or consecrating a gay or lesbian person as bishop as well as a moratorium on blessing same sex relationships.

The ‘buzz’ in religious circles is that, if General Convention does not “comply” with these two requests, we will be “kicked out” of the 77 million member world wide Anglican Communion.

Someone is saying; hold on, no one is talking about denying or taking away anyone's rights (or rites). We're talking “moratorium.” Just “for a season.” Just to create a place and a time to slow down and let the rest of the communion catch up with us.

If we comply with this recommendation our popularity with the Archbishop of Canterbury, our spiritual leader, will improve. We'll be certain to be invited to tea at Lambeth Palace and we'll be able to sit at the "in" table with the rest of the "cool" kids - just like High School.

Never mind that it's a dangerous precedent.

Who will be next?

What other group might we ask to wait until "the rest of the communion" catches up with us? (Does the colonialist superiority and arrogance of that statement escape everyone?)

Anglicans saw this happen in Lambeth 1988 – when Anglican Primates around the world wide Anglican communion last gathered with the Archbishop of Canterbury. I was there. The next day, the very next day after the resolution was passed about the ‘scriptural norm’ condemning homosexuality (and right after the ecclesiastical 'tail gate party, when corpulent clerics in purple shirts emerged from their meeting chanting "V-I-C-T-O-R-Y,") there came that resolution which scolded those who were ‘impatient’ concerning the acceptance of the ordination of women.

Indeed, there remain three dioceses in The Episcopal Church which are not in compliance – indeed, they are in direct defiance – with canon law in our church and steadfastly refuse to ordain women. There are also many diocese throughout the Anglican Communion which will not ordain women. In fact, they do not recognize and will not permit ordained women to function in any way when we are in their country. And, no one is holding them accountable.

No matter. The important thing is that if we comply with the request for these two moratoria, some fervently believe that unity will be restored to the entire communion (except, of course, in those places where it doesn't on account of those uppity women).

The reasoning goes that if we restore unity to the communion (no matter that it is at the expense of one group of people), all will be well in the world. There will be great rejoicing in heaven and harmony and peace in the world wide Anglican Communion. Church attendance will go up. Church membership will increase.

Indeed, gas prices may even drop, the war in Iraq will end, terrorism will cease, and the galloping national debt and runaway inflation will immediately come under control.


It's still every bit as transparent and pathetic as what is going on it our country right now.

And, it's a very, very bad precedent. (Don't say that I didn't warn you.)

So, will someone please explain to me again how we, as Christians, are “in the world but not of the world”? Would someone review again with me the part about how the church needs to be different - stand apart -from the evils of the world and perils of culture?

(the Rev'd) Elizabeth Kaeton
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
Chatham, New Jersey

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