[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] In a busy legislative day, the House of Bishops on July 7 adopted legislation that would amend two canons to prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity or expression” in the lay and ordained ministry discernment process and in the overall life, worship and governance of the Episcopal Church. The House of Deputies would need to concur for the legislation to pass at General Convention.
“I am pleased that these resolutions did pass in that they have the very significant effect of validating, in the eyes of the church, the humanity of those who are transgender,” said Woodall after the bishops’ actions. “We are greatly misunderstood and there is a widespread lack of knowledge about what it means to be transgender.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist, agreed.
“The resolutions passed today in the House of Bishops bring us another step closer to making all the sacraments available to all the baptized,” Russell said in an email to ENS.
“The courageous witness of our transgender brothers and sisters has been an extraordinary gift to the church as we continue to grow in understanding and appreciation of the diversity of God’s beloved human family. I look forward to the House of Deputies concurring on these resolutions and empowering our witness to the world, that when we say ‘the Episcopal Church welcomes you’ we really mean it.”
Bishop Chet Talton of San Joaquin, who ordained Woodall to the vocational diaconate a few months ago, addressed the house during deliberations. The ordination, he said, “was wonderfully received. The person entered the ordination process and proceeded through that process without any regard really for her gender, but because she obviously possessed the qualities that lent themselves to the ministry of the diaconate to which she was ordained,” he said.
“There are such people in our church. I certainly see them when I move around our congregations,” Talton said. “Their presence and access to the ordination process ought to be affirmed in a way that this proposed change indicates.”
Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire reminded bishops to view “Out of the Box, a moving and compelling story” about five transgender people, including Woodall.
“This resolution talks about access to the ordination process. It does not command anyone to affirm anyone in the ordination process but does say that all members of this church, including those whose gender identity and expression are perhaps different from the norm, have that access,” he said.
Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina opposed D019, seeking clarification of “gender expression … to get a sense of how the people in my diocese who have a poor understanding of what transgender means.
“I believe we need to have more discussion in the church, in our congregations, in order to be able to speak in a way that is theologically sound, that gives a deeper understanding of what it means to be a transgender person,” he said.
Robinson said, “I’m still learning about this as well. My understanding is that gender identity has to do with the gender that a particular individual identifies with and in some cases it does not agree with the physical manifestations of sexuality that that person has been born with. Some make the very courageous choice of choosing to take on the expression of that gender identity.
“And some of them, although not all of them, choose to have changes made in their physical bodies to match that gender identity. What we are saying in this resolution is that such gender identity and gender expressions should not stand in the way of someone having access to an equal place in the life and worship and governance of this church.”
Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina also opposed the measure, saying “we are entering into a time of individualized eros … the freedom of every individual to self-define every aspect of who they are in such a way that we no longer have any kinds of norms. We are entering into the chaos of individuality. It’s an idol that will break us.”
Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California said the confusion about gender expression “to me is an excellent reason to pass this resolution. This resolution is meant to protect people when there is confusion around a minority in our culture – that is precisely the time we put protection around them.”
The bishops also adopted an amended version of Resolution A144, an anti-racism measure that authorizes the Office of Pastoral Development to monitor the episcopal process and report to Executive Council the ratio of ethnic and female to male bishop nominees and electees.
Bishop George Councell of New Jersey supported the legislation, amended to include the word ‘nominees’ as well as ‘electees.’ “The sign says ‘the Episcopal Church welcomes you,’ but I think too often it means, if you look like us and sound like us and care to become like us, you’d be welcome here,” he said. “I am worried about the distortions, of what creeps in for me as a member of the majority culture.”
In other action, the bishops approved legislation to: establish a church-wide development office (D025); reaffirm their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (A011); adopt a substitute resolution asking Program Budget and Finance (PBF) to consider allocating $40,000 to continue a task force and resources for older adult ministries (A153); establish the church as a moral voice of health care (A040); and adopted an amended resolution calling for a churchwide response to bullying.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori called Resolution D020, which asks the church to recognize and encourage the elders of Christ Episcopal Church, Red Shirt Table and the Tribal Council in the Oglala Lakota District in the Diocese of South Dakota in their preparation and planning of an ecumenical reconciliation event planned for 2014.
“It is phenomenal reality that a number of Taize brothers are going to come from France to the Oglala band for a reconciliation event on a reservation. It is a very profound event.”
Bishop John Tarrant of South Dakota told the house that two young people from the diocese currently are serving as interns within the Taize community. “We are in the process of profoundly changing not the culture from a native standpoint but the culture of the diocese as it focuses more and more on youth and young adult ministry. We really put this forth as a way of putting this in front of the Episcopal Church.”
There was passionate debate about Resolution D003 that calls for “gun-free zones.”
Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland thanked the house for their support after a diocesan priest and parish administrator died in gun violence May 3, when a disturbed homeless man shot them and took his own life.
“This is the society in which we live and we have to figure out a way to protect those who are on the front lines of ministry … who receive and help people whom our government thinks of increasingly as throwaway people.”
Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago said the measure may seem like a token gesture “but it’s a token of something profoundly important. We are living in Chicago with an undeclared epidemic of gun violence. In the last three days 20 people have been shot, three children have died. Since 2008, 650 children and teenagers have died on the streets of Chicago from gun violence. We have to pass this and do anything we can do to end the glamor of gun violence in this country.”
Bishops also supported legislation expressing solidarity with indigenous people (A131) and endorsing statehood for the District of Columbia (C033); restoring the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (C078); and an amended version of A076, strengthening small congregations.
Also, Bishop David Bailey of Navajoland was elected to serve on Executive Council.
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.