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NRLR calls on House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

Date: 
September 20, 2007

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“Bishops of the Episcopal Church meeting in New Orleans this week will be considering nothing less than the future shape of the Anglican Communion. The presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at this gathering clearly indicates what’s at stake — and the stakes are high.”
— Rev. Jay Johnson, Associate Clergy, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Berkeley, Calif.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 — National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR) members today called on the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to continue to embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in their church. The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Communion, will attend the semiannual meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans on Sept. 20–25. The bishops will discuss a directive issued by the leaders of the Anglican Communion to stop consecrating openly gay and lesbian bishops and to ban blessings of same-sex unions. In anticipation of this meeting the NRLR members sent out a call for inclusion.

Response from the Rev. Jay E. Johnson, Ph.D., of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry of the Pacific School of Religion and NRLR member

“Bishops of the Episcopal Church meeting in New Orleans this week will be considering nothing less than the future shape of the Anglican Communion. The presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at this gathering clearly indicates what’s at stake — and the stakes are high.

“Is church unity the same as uniformity? Can some provinces of the Communion freely threaten and coerce others? Can Anglicans respect and learn from our differences and embrace the richness of our diversity? Will the Episcopal Church continue to speak prophetically about the human dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and of our relationships? And will that prophetic voice cost the Episcopal Church its membership among worldwide Anglican Christians?

“As an Episcopal priest who also happens to be gay, my prayers are certainly with these bishops of the church I love and have served in ordained ministry for nearly 20 years. As they deliberate together, I hope they will remember that injustice can never be the price of Christian unity, nor can it be bought at the expense of the marginalized and oppressed — the very ones Jesus welcomed to his own table.

“I hope they will remember the history of the church they now serve, which debated the benefits of church unity at the cost of African slaves in the 19th century and at the cost of women’s ordination in the 20th century.

“I hope they will remember the hundreds of gay and lesbian clergy and many more gay and lesbian lay people who have given decades of faithful service to this church.

“I hope they will remember the words of the Hebrew prophet Micah and that the Lord requires of them only that they ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with their God’ (6:8).

“Perhaps they will remember how fervently Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers, a unity rooted in nothing else but the love of God (John 17:21-23). Bearing witness to the radical inclusion of that love cost Jesus his own life. I’m sure they will consider that today such witness might cost the Episcopal Church its official status as a province of the Anglican Communion.

“I am confident that my bishops will consider all of these things carefully and prayerfully. I am also hopeful that they will not abandon their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers to the machinations of church politics. If they do, the cost will be far too high, for it’s not merely the Anglican Communion that’s at stake in New Orleans this week. What’s at stake is the witness of the Episcopal Church to the extravagant welcome of the Gospel.”

Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members

“We stand at an important moment in history. At such times there is always the temptation to act out of fear, out of a sense of scarcity; and certainly the climate in our country and across the world exacerbates this temptation.

“But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, our call is always to find the place of love, of justice, of courage rooted in faithfulness. ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ 

“Those of us in the ecumenical community are looking to the Episcopal bishops to stand for justice, to stand for love, to act with courage and continue to affirm the full humanity of all of God’s children, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks.”

— Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
Program Director
Institute for Welcoming Resources

“Christ invites all. The Episcopal Church acted upon Christ’s invitation and included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The Holy Spirit blesses LGBT families and pastors. The Episcopal Church responded to the Spirit’s movement by ordaining qualified priests, consecrating an exceptional bishop and by blessing loving families. By following Christ and the Holy Spirit, the church has become prophetic both to the larger church and the world beyond the church walls. May God strengthen the bishops to withstand the arrows of oppression and continue to proclaim the truth they already know and have already testified to about the lives of faithful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. Rejection, if it comes, in truth is far better than acceptance with the truth newly closeted. What did someone say about a light and a bushel?”

— Rev. Troy Plummer
Executive Director
Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist Church

“Blessings on the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church as they gather to discern what justice means in the 21st century. While their focus is on same-sex marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bishops, the bigger issue is whether Christian churches will lead the way or bring up the rear on one of the signal justice issues of our day. Christians around the world look to them for leadership and courage, hoping that they will simply do the right thing which is to err always on the side of inclusion and welcome. Regardless of the potential consequences of schism or the bogus promises of ecumenical cooperation if they collude with those who would exclude and bar LGBT people, the bishops can rest assured that history will smile on them.”

— Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.
Co-Director
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

“For Jews, this is the time of year, our High Holy Days, when we reflect on our lives, ask forgiveness for where we have missed the mark and try to make positive social change to make up for it. That time is now upon the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Will they embrace God’s ‘extravagant welcome’ for all or will they push away the disenfranchised? As we know from our lives and the Scriptures, choosing the right and just path is usually the more difficult road but in the end, God rewards that choice. My wish for this coming meeting of the House of Bishops, in a sense, their opportunity for new path, is the strength to discern God’s will, the arms to embrace God’s love for all human beings and the centered peace to firmly weather the storm that will come by taking this prophetic and God-inspired stance.”

 Joel L. Kushner, Psy.D.
Director
Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion

“We Lutherans have been going through some of the same struggles as our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church. I pray that the House of Bishops will continue to affirm the gifts of all people as they meet to make these important decisions about openly gay or lesbian priests and blessing of same-sex relationships. I feel certain that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will continue to embrace our full communion status with the Episcopal Church even if their courageous actions should lead to being removed from the Anglican Communion. So don’t let the fear of feeling isolated keep you from doing the right thing for justice and gospel centered ministry.”

— Bob Gibeling
Lutheran
Member of the Roundtable Steering Committee

“The Religious Affairs Program of the National Black Justice Coalition supports the consecration of openly gay and lesbian bishops and endorses the blessings of same-sex unions. There is a moral imperative to do justice here, and we implore the House of Bishops to heed the call to ‘God’s magnificent welcome.’ Exclusion theology demotes others to the status of lesser beings which brings great spiritual harm and fosters injustice.”

— Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.
Director of Religious Affairs
National Black Justice Coalition
 

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