Monday, January 24, 2011

Movement in Dio Virginia: will TEC be a force for change?

I call Virginia the State of Hate. That's because a number of years ago, the State Government passed a law that not only outlaws same sex marriage, but explicitly states that any contract between two parties that gives any of the benefits of marriage, is invalid. I don't know whether this has been enforced, but this was specifically directed at the LGBT people who try to use trusts, powers of attorney, etc. to give each other some scrap of protection that a straight couple takes for granted. Virginia even states that private companies can't of their own will provide benefits to same sex couples. It is simply mean.

Then, under its current Republican governor and Attorney General, Viriginia has gone after the limited protections that LGBT people have, for example partner benefits, or non-discrimination based on orientation, at the University of Virginia. This sort of policy not only affects LGBT people, but disadvantages the state and the university generally as well. Bright people of the sort who drive economies, even if straight, typically are attracted by open, gay-friendly communities and turned off by bigotry.

And of course, it's in Virginia that the schism, or perhaps I should say, the splinter, of the Episcopal church has a deep foundation. Last year, we discussed the rather insulting language proposed in the Diocese of Virginia as part of their study process to determine whether LGBT couples were suitable candidates for ecclesiastical recognition.

So what a great surprise to hear from our friend Margaret that the Bishop of Virginia is moving ahead with a policy to allow same-sex blessings in the church! He said,
... I have always affirmed that committed, monogamous same-gender relationships can indeed be faithful in the Christian life. Therefore, I plan also to begin working immediately with those congregations that want to establish the parameters for the “generous pastoral response” that the 2009 General Convention called for with respect to same-gender couples in Episcopal churches.

Personally, it is my hope that the 2012 General Convention will authorize the formal blessing of same-gender unions for those clergy in places that want to celebrate them. Until then, we might not be able to do all that we would want to do but, in my judgment, it is right to do something and it is time to do what we can.
The limits of the "generous pastoral response" remain to be seen, of course. But just for comparison, the Bishop of San Diego last summer approved the formal blessing of same sex unions. Individual parishes must undergo a self-study before they may begin. Then, candidates must go through a typical counseling process, write letters to the Bishop explaining why they want a blessing, and develop an appropriate liturgy with the clergy. It's not very different from a straight couple marrying, although the Bishop must explicitly approve. The Cathedral performed its first blessing service last November. BP and I will have our civil marriage blessed next month. For us of course it's not a wedding, since we are already married, so it's a much more sedate affair, and the process and liturgy have been tailored accordingly. (I think there are 5 or 6 couples "in the pipeline").

So, if something like this begins in Virginia, what then? Unlike California, where LGBT couples have some protections in Domestic Partnerships (2nd class though this may be), Virginia fully disenfranchises its LGBT citizens. Yet their church will recognize them. As we've discussed before, The Episcopal church has a substantial weight and influence far beyond its numerical size. I can't help but hope that a mainline church community that recognizes faithful LGBT couples will provide at least some counterweight to the anti-gay bias demonstrated by the conservative government there. Or will there be an explicit conflict? Regardless, it's a very symbolic chip in the wall of hate.


Jim Trigg said...

Not only did the Bishop say that, the Council as a whole passed a resolution 'urging the Bishop to “provide a generous pastoral
response" by moving forward with guidelines with regard to public blessings of same gender unions.'

it's margaret said...

By overwhelming majorities, I might add Jim. The conservatives tried to stymie the vote by making it a vote by orders which then means not just a simple majority of all present, but a majority of clergy and a majority of laity in separate votes.

We are working --slowly. But this was a wonderful blessing for us all.

I will keep you posted as to the line "might not be able to do all that we would want to do" means....

Paul said...

If I may point out an interesting bit of trivia: I met this bishop shortly before he was announced as a candidate for his present position. He was rector of Christ Church in Tupelo Mississippi. I was very impressed with him, and apparently I was not the only one.

God continues to surprise us.

JCF said...


Jim Pratt said...

Episcopalians in Virginia make up a larger percentage of the population than in most other parts of the country, so indeed the potential for influence beyond the church is strong. (Even though the Dio. of Virginia is one of 3 dioceses in the state).
It's good to see a diocese forging a path forward, instead of playing catch-up.

Prior Aelred said...

I met Fr. Johnston @ GenCon in Columbus & visited as a fellow postulant of mine was from his parish. When he was elected, I wrote him a brief note of congratulations. He was surprised that I remembered him. I spoke with Bishop Johnston @ GenCon Disneyland, where he expressed his preference for the HoB to the HoD. I would consider him a moderate, inclined toward conservatism, but with a strong sense of justice. He is, IMHO, a person of integrity.

Counterlight said...

Miracles can still happen. We just have to watch for them.

I like to think that our Margaret had a hand in bringing this all to fruition by her brave and patient witness there.

Anonymous said...

The pace of change in the diocese can be frustrating. How many decades must we wait before the promises of full equality are realized in the Episcopal church?