Since I first began coming to General Convention in 2006, I have both witnessed and been involved with countless discussions about sexuality. But what happened this morning in committee was different than everything I have experienced thus far.
After the Blessings hearing on Saturday night, the Blessings sub-committee met to discuss changes and amendments to the resolution. As we were finishing up we reminded everyone how important it was to get the resolution through committee in one session, to make sure it would get to the legislative houses in time. At every General Convention there are dozens of resolutions that die simply because we ran out of time and everyone had to go home.
So this morning we introduced the proposed amendments to the committee, and we let our parliamentary-procedure-hair down just a bit in terms of how we organized the conversation. But something extraordinary happened during our meeting. For the first time, it felt like we were all genuinely putting the needs of others ahead of our own. We had stopped fighting about what to do, and started asking each other what the other side needed. Our most liberal members were working together with our most conservative ones to ensure that there were provisions in the text to suit everyone’s needs. For example, many in the church who oppose these blessings are very concerned about being forced to perform them. Our canons include rules specifically saying they would never be forced to do such a thing, but many said making that explicit in the resolution would be helpful for the people in their diocese who held those fears. So we did.
Possibly the greatest moment happened when the Susan Russell, arguably the most publicly liberal gay rights supporter on our committee, finished speaking about one of the proposed amendments. Once she was done, Bishop Martins of the Diocese of Springfield (one of the more conservative dioceses) raised his hand to speak. He said, “Alert the presses: I agree with Susan Russell.” With laughter and applause the question to end debate was immediately called, for fear that we might keep talking and ruin this perfect moment. Later on Susan had the chance to agree once again with Bishop Martins, and I knew we were doing something right.
We stayed 20 minutes passed our planned time because everyone wanted to get it done. After the vote was taken and the decision to recommend adoption was reported, one of the conservative members asked to file a minority report (which gets attached to the end of the committee’s report and can be requested by any deputy or bishop if their conscience leads them to do so). We were packing up to rush off to the worship service when someone asked if the minority report would slow down the legislative process. Our chair said it wouldn’t if the deputy could write the report right now. “I’ll have to miss church,” the deputy said with a smile. We all agreed that the Lord would forgive him, and he wrote it right then. This to me is the ultimate example of the difference between honest and dishonest disagreement. I can’t help but think that if such a thing happened in the U.S. congress, a congressman might take advantage of the opportunity to tie up legislation he didn’t like. But this deputy didn’t. Because we’re all at the table again.
You can’t simultaneously have and not have gay bishops, or same-sex blessings, or transgender clergy. The church is either doing things things or it’s not. Even when you allow different dioceses to make their own rules, it doesn’t matter. We are still one church, and as a church we either allow it or we don’t. And so we fought. And as the liberals started to win, the conservatives started to leave. And it was awful.
And so the remaining church is mostly liberal now, which means something like same-sex blessings stands a very good chance. And the conservatives know that. The ones who remain are not going anywhere. They are committed to keep trying, even though they know they are the minority. But in (somewhat) resigning to the idea that these things will happen, there is less anger. The liberal side has changed too. There is less anger there as well. So the conservatives can come to the liberals and say, “Look, we know this is going to happen. You know we don’t like it. But how can we turn it into something we can take back home with us?” And the liberals step up to that challenge.
I have gained such deep respect for the conservative members of our committee. They are in a difficult position that I don’t envy. But I’m so glad they’re here. I don’t want to become a church of the fundamentalist left. Diversity brings health. It’s easy to acknowledge that truth when you’re talking about including racial minorities or young people, it’s hard when you’re talking about including people you know will vote opposite you in every thing you can imagine.
I told Stephen Moore about my experience in committee. He said, “You know if you were a more theology inclined person, you might say it was ‘Spirit-filled’.” Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes with wind and fire. But perhaps more often, it’s with peace.