A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 16: DioCal as a leader in the national church

Posted on June 6, 2017

Up until this point in the series, the author has gathered a majority of their facts from two boxes of diocesan archives that include newsletters, meeting minutes, brochures, photographs, letters, and more. Where Part 15 ends in 2001 is also where those written archives end. The Oasis/CA blog on the Diocese of California’s website has posts from 2012 to 2014. In the spring of 2016, Oasis/CA set up a new website. On it, you can find that there are now twelve Covenant Congregations and some 36 others have asked to be listed as welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community in the Diocese of California. It notes, of course, that LGBTQ+ people would find that they are welcomed in Episcopal congregations not listed as well.

To wrap up this portion of the project, Part 16 will focus on the Diocese of California’s leadership in General Convention from 2000 to 2006, and Part 17 will cover the last eleven years. All information going forward has been gathered through interviews and searching General Convention archives.

In 2000, Resolution D039 was passed at General Convention. It acknowledged that there were life-long, committed relationships other than marriage (which was still defined as a union between a man and a woman by canon law) that members of the body of Christ were a part of, and that those relationships were “characterized by…the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.” Sarah Lawton was part of the diocese of California’s deputation to General Convention (and has been at every General Convention since), and she remembers that the declaration of same-sex relationships as holy was “a breakthrough in the way we talked about same-sex relationships.”

Also passed that year were resolutions A009 and C031. A009 called on called on the Executive Council to “establish a formal process for congregations to identify themselves as “safe spaces” for lesbians and gays and others who understand themselves to be part of a sexual minority”, and C031 asked clergy to engage with local Boy Scout leaders on issues of human sexuality given the Boy Scouts’ (now former) ban on gay members and adult leaders.

2003, of course, was largely characterized by the election and confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop to be elected in the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of California’s own Bishop Swing was on the confirmation committee for Bishop Robinson and was in favor of Robinson’s election and consecration. Resolution C045 was passed and officially consented to his election. Lest it be forgotten, despite his official stamp of approval from the governing body of the Episcopal Church, being gay and a bishop was hotly contested. The Westboro Baptist Church protested outside, and there was security set up that people had to go through in order to go inside for Bishop Robinson’s consecration. Due to numerous threats, Bishop Robinson and his partner had to wear bullet-proof vests to the celebratory event.

2006 was another big year for the Episcopal Church. The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop and was the first woman to hold that position. Resolution A095 reaffirmed the Episcopal Church’s commitment of support to the gay and lesbian community, and it rejected a proposed resolution to express regret for putting a strain on the Anglican Communion by electing and consecrating Bishop Robinson three years prior. However, the passing of resolution A165 tells a different story. This resolution applauded the Windsor report, which offered “a way forward for the mutual life of our Communion” by placing a restriction on the election of bishops during the next triennium — gay and lesbian bishops were not to be elected during that time. Lawton recalls that the Diocese of California’s deputation was “very united” against this resolution. “It seemed wildly unfair” to discriminate against people qualified to be bishops based on their sexual orientation, and it was proposed that, instead of limiting elections to straight bishops, the Episcopal Church could cease all bishop elections during the next three years. Unfortunately, for various reasons and pressures, this resolution passed, and no gay or lesbian bishops were to be elected in the 2007 to 2009 triennium.

After the defeat, Lawton remembers standing out in the hallway with the rest of the deputation. While still feeling distraught with the results, she remembers the newly elected Bishop Marc Andrus walking up to the group and “really comforting” them. One month later, he would be invested in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.