Officials in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church have given homosexual and transgender activists two victories on the fifth day of their triennial denominational convention.
The House of Deputies passed legislation stating that “gender identity and expression” would not be barriers to ordained ministry, while also altering the church’s canons to include the transsexual categories alongside gender, race and sexual orientation as specially protected status.
Later the same afternoon, the House of Bishops voted 111-41 to authorize rites for same-sex blessings. The bishops had already signed off on the new language for transgender Episcopalians, while deputies are expected to easily authorize the new same-sex rites before the close of the convention on July 12.
“If the glory of the Lord hasn’t shown today, I don’t know when it did,” asserted an ebullient Gene Robinson, outgoing head of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the church’s first openly partnered homosexual bishop. Robinson’s 2003 consecration brought a debate over scriptural authority to the forefront of the Episcopal Church and set in motion a split in the 1.9 million-member church.
Robinson preached Wednesday night at a special communion service in the Indianapolis Convention Center hosted by Integrity USA, the church’s unofficial homosexual and transgender caucus. Joining Robinson were Los Angeles Suffragan (assisting) Bishop Mary Glasspool, the church’s first openly partnered lesbian bishop, and Carolyn Woodall, the first transgender deacon in the formerly conservative and Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. A majority of the diocese voted to leave the Episcopal Church in 2006.
“You have no idea what it is like to be on this platform with Mary Glasspool — it’s because of her that I can retire,” the New Hampshire bishop claimed to laughter from the hundreds of church activists gathered.
“Welcome on the day the Episcopal Church put its actions where it mouth is,” greeted Integrity USA President Caroline Hall at the opening of the service. Hall listed gay, straight, evangelical and catholic as all welcome at the service, briefly pausing for laughter from the assembled after saying evangelical. The Integrity president presented longtime Newark, New Jersey homosexual activist Louie Crew as recipient of an award from the caucus.
“Today is the result of Louie’s dream,” Hall declared.
Robinson preached on the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 11:8-12, in which the Apostle Paul writes of Abraham setting out for a foreign land, living in tents.
“I hate camping — I would make a lousy lesbian,” the New Hampshire Bishop confessed to more laughter. Describing the first fight of his earlier married life as centered upon chasing down a mosquito in a camping tent on his honeymoon, Robinson wondered aloud how Abraham felt about camping.
“Abraham dreamt of a city with foundations, but was asked to dwell in tents,” Robinson observed, adding that God meant everyone to “live in tents” by moving from place to place “and never settle down until we’re all in heaven.”
Saying that “by God’s grace we have been led to affirm gay and lesbian people,” the homosexual bishop said the church convention had “begun that process with our transgender brothers and sisters.”
Recalling a conversation earlier in the week with an unnamed “conservative bishop from a conservative diocese” who wanted to better understand transgenderism, Robinson named it a “remarkable” development.
“Tell your stories because it is the only way we change minds,” the activist bishop charged, encouraging the gathering to spread acceptance of transgender persons. “At the end of the day we will disperse with all the letters [LGBT], because there are as many sexualities as there are each one of us.”
While Robinson publically thanked a dozen transgender church members seated at the front of the gathering and asked for their patience, he asserted that their affirmation by the church had a message in it for everyone.
“This is about daring to believe in the goodness of the Lord,” Robinson summarized. “Where would we be today if we did not believe in the goodness of the Lord? Look what the Lord has done for us today.”
Following Robinson’s sermon, Glasspool celebrated communion with several transgender-themed prayers.
“Spirit of Life, we thank you for disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires as we prepare this feast of delight,” the offering prayer began. “Draw us out of hidden places and centers of conformity to feel your laughter and live in your pleasure.”