Monday, May 28, 2007

Rev. Susan Russell on State of Belief

From the May 26-27 edition of State of Belief

Welton Gaddy: Our long time listeners know that we've been following with great interest the conflict within the U.S. Episcopal church. The disagreement about gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex marriages has reached critical mass in recent months, with a handful of congregations leaving the U.S. church to join the Anglican Church of Nigeria. So it caught our attention last week when invitations were sent out for a once-in-a-decade gathering of bishops from the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

Now curiously, among those invitations, there were two significant omissions: Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, who was elected in 2003, and Bishop Martin Minns, the man who led the group *out* of the Episcopal church, were not invited to the Lambeth Conference, which is scheduled for next year. This decision by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the worldwide Anglican leader, has prompted a string of protests from both liberal and conservative members alike. Adding its voice to the chorus of complaints that shows a church on the brink of a permenant split is a group called Integrity, a coalition of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians. We're joined right now by the President of Integrity, the Rev. Susan Russell. She's speaking with us by phone from Pasadena, California--Susan, thanks for being with us on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity.

Welton Gaddy: I have read Archbishop Rowan Williams through the years, and, unless I am completely off-base, he has expressed some very liberal views on homosexuality. Writing that condemnation of homosexuality is ambiguous, problematic, nonscriptural. Why wouldn't he invite Bishop Robinson to the conference?

Susan Russell: I think at this point, the Archbishop of Canterbury is frankly in a very unenviable position of believing he has to choose between his own theological position and deeply held belief and the unity of the communion. I personally think that's a false dichotomy--one that's being represented by those that are determined to continue the conflict brewing, and to, in many ways, blackmail the Archbishop into bigotry as the price for unity. I don't believe it's a price that we should pay, or, in the end, that we have to pay.

Welton Gaddy: Archbishop Williams openly criticized Martin Minns for splitting from the Episcopal church, and being installed, in fact as a bishop by the Archbishop of Nigeria. Since Bishop Minns and Bishop Robinson are the two ministers *not* invited, is Archbishop Williams equating the two as troublemakers for the worldwide communion?

Susan Russell: You know, I'm afraid that's exactly how that's being interpreted, whether that was the Archbishop's intent or not, that's certainly the impact. And again, Martin Minns, who actually is a delightful chap, and one I've known for many years, has chosen to put himself outside the bounds of Anglican authority, by being consecrated as a bishop and then deployed back by Nigeria, into the United States, across diocesan and provincial boundaries, with the stated goal of evangelizing the "apostate, heretic Episcopal church". His standing is discretely different from the duly elected, consecrated, sitting, serving Bishop of New Hampshire, who even the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes is appropriately representive of his diocese.

And so in many ways, we've said it in our press releases and will continue to say it in the days and weeks ahead. This isn't just a snub of the Bishop of New Hampshire, or of gay and lesbian people. It really is an affront to the *whole* Episcopal Church, and I'm looking for the leadership of the whole church to come up around this, and to stand in solidarity with Gene and with the LBGT faithful in the Episcopal Church.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, I'm not sure this is a fair question, but it's difficult for me sometimes to tell the difference between appeasement and reconciliation and sheer politics when it comes to a church. Can you make a distinction between those?

Susan Russell: I think that's a crucial question. I don't think it's an unfair one--I think it's a hard one. And I think that's exactly the hard work we're engaged in right now as the leadership of this Episcopal church. What I've asked, what Integrity has asked--we have not called for a boycott of Lambeth, which some of our constituency would like to hear at this point. Instead, what we've called for is for our bishops to think long and hard about whether their prescence there is in fact complicity with discrimination. Is there a way for us to have our voices at the table in a way that moves the conversation forward and doesn't allow Gene Robinson and the LGBT faithful to be scapegoated. I'm not convinced there isn't a way--I don't know what it is yet. But we do have 14 months until Lambeth 2008, so we'll see what the days and weeks hold.

Welton Gaddy: Has Integrity ruled out a boycott of the Lambeth conference completely, or is it a "wait and see".

Susan Russell: I'd be very clear at this point all of the options are on the table. I haven't ruled out the Archbishop of Canterbury coming to his senses and inviting the Bishop of New Hampshire. But I think at this point, the faithful choice is to have all of the options on the table, and to get to work together with a broad constituency, committed to, not just unity, but unity within the Body of Christ, which, when I look at my scriptures, when asked What does the Lord require?, "to do justice" is very very high on the list, and I think that's something we need not to forget in these conversations.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, will Integrity be at the table talking as a vital part of this conversation, or will you also be ignored and others have to talk for you?

Susan Russell: That's another important question, and it's been an ongoing challenge in the Anglican Communion. Since 1978, the communion has committed *officially* to a process of listening to the voices of gay and lesbian people. Until very recently, absolutely nothing has been done to do anything other than talk *about* us rather than *to* us. We'll certainly be present at Lambeth next June, and we'll certainly be vocal. As to where we'll be included officially, again, I think that's still subject to some negotiation.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, you're a good spokesperson. Reverend Susan Russell is the president of Integrity, a grassroots organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. Thank you for being with us today and helping us better understand the situation here on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks again so much for giving me the opportunity.