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General Convention Committee Wins Approval in Debate on Transgender Inclusion

INDIANAPOLIS, IN: General Convention Committee Wins Approval in Early Debate on Transgender Inclusion

By David W. Virtue in Indianapolis
July 6, 2012

A coterie of liberal deputies to GC2012 won their first round in the ongoing pansexual Episcopal culture wars Thursday when a committee approved a proposal to expand the Episcopal Church's nondiscrimination canons for the ordained ministry to include "gender identity and expression."

For the first time in ecclesiastical history, the Episcopal Church will take the issue of ordination to the priesthood beyond gays and lesbians (Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool) to boldly go where no one has gone before - hitherto unexplored sexual territory - for persons who have had sex change operations (man to woman and woman to man).

The proposal comes nine years after the consecration of an avowed non-celibate homosexual to the episcopacy in the person of V. Gene Robinson Bishop of New Hampshire and later to activist lesbian Mary Glasspool Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles who was consecrated in 2010.

The move to consecrate Robinson was the catalyst for a mass exodus from the Episcopal Church resulting in the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

The resolution on same gender, or is it same sex (the lines are getting blurred), which would prohibit the exclusion of transgender Episcopalians from the lay or ordained ministry, will next be considered by the House of Bishops, which could come as soon as Saturday, a church spokeswoman said.

If it is approved by the bishops, it will go to the House of Deputies for final approval.

The church already bars discrimination against anyone who wants to enter the priesthood on the basis of race, color, ethnic and national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities and age. (The Episcopal Church still stands solidly against adultery.)

At its last convention (2009), a similar resolution was passed that bans "all" discrimination, but the relevant church canon was not changed. Supporters of the change said it was time to go further.

"Please don't focus on us as an abstract issue," said Rev. Vicki Gray, a deacon at Christ the Lord Episcopal Church in Pinole, California, who identifies as transgender. "We are flesh-and-blood human beings."

"The resolution is important so transgender people can have access to our church. 'All' is not sufficient," said Gray.

Rev. Carolyn Woodall, a Deacon at St. Mary in the Mountain Episcopal Church of Jamestown, California, who also identifies as a transgender, said transgender individuals are the "least understood people in society."

Sue Ellen Ruetsch of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, New York, was the only witness to speak against the change.

"I understand the Bible doesn't specifically mention transgender," she said. "If God does not make mistakes, why do you need to change?"

A young woman at the Canon Law committee hearing stepped up to a microphone and gave an animated description which contained an anatomy review, stating that gays and transgendered people have the same skin and bones, the same heart and brain, the same vocal chords and ability to convert, as straight people. "They have the same facial features, the same genitalia, the same everything except for the way that they enjoy sexual relations." That is what is different from the straight population, she declared.

With wild gestures, she claimed that this sameness was sufficient reason to ordain them all. She concluded with a statement that they are "the same and should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else." She did not have a visible name tag. She was later seen videotaping her claims.

At the hearing, The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers chairman of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM), reminded the commission that of all the entries in "Holy Men and Holy Women," less than 15% were about women. All the rest were about men, she said. She concluded that this Commission had the opportunity to equalize the numbers and give women their due. The resolution was finalized that "Holy Men and Holy Women" will take another three years for revision.

The Right Rev. Cate Waynick, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, said for Episcopalians in Indiana, "This is an unparalleled opportunity to see what the church does here and around the world."

The two main issues to be discussed at the convention go back to the sexuality issue, said Peter Theusen, chair of the department of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. These topics include consideration of a proposed liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions, as well as the recommendation by the Executive Council not to adopt the Anglican Covenant, which aims to unite the global Anglican Communion.

Although many denominations throughout the country have been struggling with issues related to homosexuality, liturgies blessing any kind of same-sex union are rare. Such liturgies have been created and used unofficially by individual parishes in several denominations.

"Liturgy is about consecrating daily life, and it's about consecrating daily relationships," Theusen said. "And that's why I think there's this ongoing need to have new liturgies because there will always be a need to make present-day relationships holy." It is expected that this convention will approve a liturgy for same-sex weddings. If approved, it will be on a trial basis.


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