The ‘they’ I’m referring to are D002 and D019, the resolutions passed at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Indianapolis in July 2012. D002 added “gender identity and expression” as a protected category to the non-discrimination canon for access to the discernment process for ordination in the Episcopal Church. D019 added “gender identity and expression” as a protected category to the canon that enables access for the laity to all levels of church participation and representation in the Episcopal Church.
So, the question is, was it these two changes, in particular, that proved the final straw for the Diocese of South Carolina which, following the Episcopal Church’s claim that it had abandoned its discipline, has in turn disassociated itself from the Episcopal Church?
It certainly appears that way in a letter written on July 15th 2012 by Mark Lawrence, the Bishop of South Carolina, who had left General Convention early with other delegates from his diocese, though leaving some representatives behind.
This is how he continued, having written, as was his prerogative, because it requires the authority of the bishop of each diocese, that he would not be authorising the rites for Same-Sex Blessings in South Carolina, made possible when General Convention passed resolution A049:
‘There is however an even more incoherent departure from the teaching of Holy Scripture and our Episcopal and Anglican Heritage to be found in the General Convention’s passage of D002 and D019. These changes to our Church’s canons mark an even further step into incoherency. They open the door to innumerable self-understandings of gender identity and gender expression within the Church; normalizing “transgender,” “bi-sexual,” “questioning,” and still yet to be named – self understandings of individualized eros.’
The last point was one that he had made when the House of Bishops debated the resolutions at General Convention:
‘We are entering into a time of individualised eros’ which he warned would lead to ‘the freedom of every individual to self-define every aspect of who they are in such a way that we no longer have any kind of norms. We are entering into the chaos of individuality. It’s an idol that will break us.’
I was present in the Convention Hall when the Bishop said that. It appeared to be a minority view in terms of bishops’ contributions to the debate. Keenly felt by the speaker, there was nothing to suggest that it was ‘a deal breaker’.
Indeed, if a seasoned observer of the Episcopal Church like Jim Naughton finds it difficult to fathom what is happening when conservatives leave the structures of that Church there is little hope for folk as remote as I am from its life:
One thing I do know, though, is that the rupture between this particular diocese and the Episcopal Church predates the meeting of General Convention, so the most that can be said is that the passing of D002 and D019, along with A049, may have acted as a catalyst to a process that was already underway.
What makes this especially sad and, to some extent, uncomfortable, is that it re-enacts a narrative that can even overshadow the movement for the equal treatment of LGB&T people, namely, that trans people are ‘a step too far’, ‘opening the door’ to something weird and unpleasant. It’s a narrative that can strain and disrupt LGB&T alliances. For example, it plagued an earlier stage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the United States, until trans people spoke up and insisted on their rights by rejecting the argument that their inclusion would make the legislation’s passage even more difficult.
The Bishop’s remarks, both at General Convention and in his letter, go beyond that though, implying that trans people are the victims of ‘individualized eros’, almost as if everyone else was somehow immune from that. Eros has developed a dubious reputation in modern Christianity having been compared unfavourably with self-giving divine love in Anders Nygren’s masterpiece Agape and Eros. In fact, Nygren is mainly concerned with eros as the desire for God, rather than with the popular notion of the erotic, but both are experienced by human beings, and neither can compare to God’s self-giving.
Sadly, Trans people often seem to be demonised in this way by the Church. The English House of Bishops document, Some issues in human sexuality of 2003, for example, repeats the theory that the transsexual person’s sense of gender identity is similar to the gnostic understanding of material reality. Thus Trans people are associated with an early heresy, a distorted perception of the world that the Church rejected. Some issues also quotes the claim that someone who is transsexual ‘is not adequately integrated to the minimum degree necessary to be capable of living out a married life’.
That’s quite enough examples, I think, to show that Trans people have been pilloried by the Church, just as they can be sidelined in LGBT organisations. This is why D002 and D019 needed to be passed, and it was incredibly moving to be there and witness (most of) the process, which had been carefully prepared.
Prior to the Convention, a Voices of Witness DVD entitled ‘Out of the Box’, produced by Integrity USA, telling the stories of six trans people of faith, and explaining, straightforwardly, the meaning of ‘gender identity and expression’ in the resolutions, had been sent to every member of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.
That made a huge difference. One could try to make it a debate about abstract concepts, but it was really about people; people who’d had a distinct kind of journey, yes, but also a faith journey, illuminated by Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.
At the Integrity Eucharist at General Convention – the resolutions by then safely passed by overwhelming majorities – truly, the last were first as the introit procession entered led by the trans people present at the Convention. That was a sign of agape, of God’s perfect love, and the Bible assures us that love like that casts out fear, including the anxiety that opening the church door to trans people is bound to usher in chaos rather than wholeness and healing.