Sunday, July 8, 2012

Halfway There

Bishop Marc Andrus congratulated Rev. Vicki Gray
Yesterday was an historic day, as theHouse of Bishops voted in favor of all three of the resolutions that take upgender identity and expression.

As yesterday’s blog post left off, we were on the edge ofour seats as the bishops began their afternoon session. 

At the conclusion of the morning session, Rev. StephanieSpellers, a priest from my diocese (though soon to be of the Diocese of LongIsland) and one of the chaplains to the Bishops, had preached on one of the textsassigned for the day: Romans 8:18-27. From the lectern at the front of the room, she read it out deliberately:

I consider that thesufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about tobe revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealingof the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of itsown will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creationitself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedomof the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has beengroaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but weourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while wewait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Nowhope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hopefor what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

She paused for several seconds before continuing:

Likewise the Spirithelps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but thatvery Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches theheart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes forthe saints according to the will of God.

She went on to talk about our groaning as a church.  We should not mistake this groaningsimply for suffering, though it does indeed signal pain. Yet it signalssomething much larger: rebirth.  We should not losehope in the midst of our process, our transition, our rebirth.  As I tweeted:

#GC77 StephanieSpellers 'this groaning that you hear' is church being reborn. 'You would notbe sitting here now unless u believed it.'

We would not have been sitting there, would not still beworking here now, unless we believed it.

And, again:

#GC77 StephanieSpellers: 'we are walking together in the space between.'#TransEpiscopal 

Walking together in the space between—she could not havespoken more directly to my experience as a transperson had she beentrying.  And yet the beauty ofthese words were that they spoke bothto my experience and to that of thechurch in its liminal, in-between location right now.  That’s a connection I tried to name in the panel after Integrity’sshowing of Out of the Box severaldays ago—as a trans person I feel like the place in which the church standspoised, forging its way forward into uncharted terrain, is familiarterritory.  It was so powerful tohear it from my friend Stephanie, and to hear it shared with the bishops I knowshe is so honored to support.

What amazing, nourishing preaching we have heard these lastseveral days.  Truly food for thejourney, for all of us.

So, after posting the “Edge of Our Seats” blog entry, I headedto the House of Bishops and took a seat in the gallery.  It took about a half hour for D002 tocome up.  The text is the same asthe 2009 resolution (C061).  I had told my spouse and a friend I would text them as soonas debate began so they could watch comments on the GC#77 Twitter feed.  So at 3:35pm when Bishop Mary GrayReeves of the Ministry Committee presented D002 with a recommendation ofpassage, I texted a single word: “Now!!”

At 3:36 I then tweeted:  

#GC77 D002 Bp Douglasspeaking re: transgender res

At 3:38:

#GC77 Gene Robinsonspeaking in favor of D002 Trans nondiscrimination res

At 3:39:

#GC77 Mark Andrusspeaking in favor of D002

At 3:41:

#GC77 Chet Talton ofSan Joaquin speaking in favor of D002, referencing ordination of a transwomanthat he recently did

At 3:43:

#GC77 Bishop Love ofAlbany wants to know what 'gender expression' means. PB responds, how gender isexpressed in world. Thank you PB!

And again at 3:43:

#GC77 Texas seeks toend debate

And then:

#GC77 it passed!!!D002

I turned around in my seat and locked eyes with myTransEpiscopal colleagues seated behind me.  Big smiles and weepy eyes.

Several things struck me right off the bat.  First, that those in favor of theresolution were clearly ready to speak. Bishop Ian Douglas referenced the hard educating work he engaged inthree years ago on the World Mission committee, to which C061 was sent lasttime.  He explained what genderidentity and expression meant, and how his daughter’s generation seemed morefamiliar and comfortable with transgender people than perhaps people of oldergenerations knew.  Bishop Robinsonreiterated the strong support for the trans community that I have heard himshare in numerous venues recently. Bishop Andrus spoke of how his diocese has ordained a transwoman to thediaconate who is passionate in her work for peace and justice (Vicki Gray, whohas posted in this space before and is here as an alternate Deputy from DioCal).  Bishop Chet Talton shared how hisdiocese has recently ordained a highly qualified Deacon (Carolyn Woodall, whois also here at GC, volunteering with IntegrityUSA) and how he sees othertransgender people in congregations around the diocese of San Joaquin.  When Bishop Love of Albany spoke, I wasstruck that he asked the same question I recall him asking three years ago,namely what “gender expression” is. There seemed to be some concern that it might be code for sexual activity.  After Bishop Love’s question, the PresidingBishop asked if someone would like to respond.  A long pause ensued. Just as I started to worry that no one would respond, the PresidingBishop herself leaned forward into the mike and explained that genderexpression is simply how your gender is expressed in the world.  I was so grateful that Bishop KatharineJefferts Schori was willing to offer that simple, straightforwarddefinition.  Right afterward, thebishop of Texas called the question and the vote was taken.

Discussion had taken eight minutes, and D002 passed on avoice vote by a large margin—I would put it at 3/4 or perhaps 2/3 in favor.

The D019 debate then followed directly.  Once more, starting at 3:45pm Itweeted:

#GC77 now onto D019.Beckwith speaking of his experience in All Saints Worcester. Bishop Shawspeaking in favor

At 3:46:

#GC77 South Carolinaspeaking against D019. Referencing 'gender expression', says Wikipedia definedgender expression as all over the map

At 3:49:

#GC77 Rochester,Bishop Singh, speaking of experience of living in liminal space; opportunity toengage liminal embodiment as a church

Again, at 3:49:

#GC77 Gene Robinsonspeaking in support if D019; addressing 'gender expression'

At 3:50:

#GC77 Lawrence ofSouth Carolina speaking against

At 3:52:

#GC77 Bishop Andrus'when we have confusion about a group' that is precisely a reason to protectthem

And then at 3:53:

#GC77 bishops passD019!!

Once again, debate and passage had taken eight minutes.

What immediately struck me was how there was more resistanceto this resolution about access of the laity to the life of the church thanthere had been to the resolution about access to the ordination process.  Perhaps that is because there is lessopportunity to regulate the laity, as a colleague here pointed out—people inthe ordination process have to pass through many steps (including psychologicaltesting).  My own sense, however,is that the conversation about D019 was a continuation of the earlier one onD002.  Bishop Lawrence of SouthCarolina, for instance, continued to push on the question about “genderexpression.”  And I didn’t tweetit, but here again the Presiding Bishop intervened when Bishop Lawrence made astatement about gender expression relating to same sex relationships andsexuality more broadly.  “we aren’ttalking about relationships at all,” she said.  “We’re talking about individuals here.” 

Bishop Gene Robinson with TransEpiscopal
members after HoB vote
My bishop, Tom Shaw, spoke in favor, referencing the way inwhich we in the Diocese of Massachusetts have been able to reach out to thetrans community and advocate in favor of transgender nondiscriminationlegislation at the state level.  Itmeant so much to hear him say that, as I’ve been walking with him in this workfor a number of years now.

Bishop Beckwith of Newark spoke of his experience as arector at All Saints in Worcester, in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts,where the transition of a transman was moving not only for him but for thecongregation as a whole.  I knowthe folks to whom he was referring, and I was moved to hear this witness.

Bishop Singh of the Diocese of Rochester made a strongconnection between trans embodiment and his experience of liminality—of beingperceived as an American in India and an Indian in America—of beingbi-cultural.  He asked us toconsider how the church’s own multiple identities, its threshold identity,could be deepened through our conversation about trans embodiment.  This comment spoke so directly to themesclose to my heart, my ministry and teaching, that I was essentially sittingthere in an excited vibrational state.  That this conversation could point toward the deeptheological significance of this vote, and this conversation, not simply fortrans people but for the church more braodly, left me truly excited and full ofhope.

When the vote was taken, once more it passed by asignificant majority.

TransEpiscopal members and our allies gathered outside thegallery after the House went into recess and gave each other huge hugs.  This was a major step.

As we stood in the hallways, we learned that D022, the resolution calling for a Churchwide Response to Bullying, had passed the House of Bishops.  I was surprised that it had come up so quickly, since the hearings had been a day apart. But there it was, another major step forward.

Now we wait for the House of Deputies to take up all three resolutions.  It could happen latetoday, but most likely tomorrow (July 9). We are halfway there.


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