Monday, 10 July 2000
Committee 25 hears testimony and mulls action
More than 700 people packed the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel Friday evening to attend the open hearing of the special legislative Committee 25, also known as the Committee on the Church and Human Sexuality. The committee heard more than two hours of testimony before the standing-room-only crowd.
The committee has been charged with receiving all resolutions that concernmatters of human sexuality. They received responses in three categories: the blessing of same-sex unions; Christian values and human sexuality; and the possibility of dioceses exercising "local option" to bless same-sex unions and ordain non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood. Within those categories, people were free to testify on any or all of the pertinent resolutions.
With a few notable exceptions, most of the people testifying before the committee shared personal stories. Clergy told of serving in growing parishes that welcomed gays and lesbians. The Rev. Mariann Budd, rector of St. John's, Minneapolis, said her parish had "an extraordinary story of resurrection" that she attributed to the decision to begin blessing same-sex unions after "a process of prayer and discernment." Other clergy told contradictory tales of broken lives. The Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, said that he served as a pastoral counselor 20 ago in San Francisco. He said his experience with homosexuals consisted of ministering to "lonely, despairing, unsatisfied men. I don't want to be flippant," he continued, "but these men were `looking for love in all the wrong places."' He warned the committee, "we must never bless what God is ready to heal."
Several laypeople testified to what they variously called their "healing" or "recovery" from homosexual impulses and activity. Gert Walter (Los Angeles) told the committee he spent "seven years pursuing men [in search of] intimacy." He said he later attempted suicide because of failed liaisons and subsequently met a woman whomhe eventually married. "Please don't abandon people in a situation similar to mine."
On the other hand, Jack Finlaw (Colorado) insisted that he'd been able to "live out God's call in my life because of a wonderful, supportive relationship.... We are able to show the world that God loves us."
Jeff Bowser, a young person from Virginia, accused the committee of having "ignored the Bible." He said, "The foundation of my faith is being destroyed. It is being replaced by human desire." He accused General Convention of "taking human knowledge and holding it higher than the truth."
Even the experts weighed into the fray. The Rev. Rebecca Ferrel-Nickel (Colorado) told the committee that "sexual orientation is not neurotic. There is no need to heal ones sexual orientation." Similarly, psychiatrist Gordon Gritter (El Camino Real) told the committee he had "more authority than anyone else in the room" after 44 years of practice. He asserted that human beings "are not neatly divided into males and females, homosexuals and heterosexuals." Finally, after over two hours of testimony, many were left reeling and inclined to agree with the speaker who said, "I'm getting sick of hearing about experience."
Saturday morning, the committee struggled to sort out the conflicting testimony it had heard the night before. The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick, bishop of Indianapolis, spoke for several members of the committee when she said, "There seems to have been described two different kinds of experience. On the one hand, we heard from people who describe themselves as having known from an early age that they were different from the people around them and who felt released and freed when they accepted themselves. The other experience describes people who were caught up in behavior or a way of life that ultimately turned out not to be authentic."
The Very Rev. Michael Barlowe, dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Des Moines, agreed, noting that a concern for pastoral care might be a fruitful way for the committee to spend it's time. "There's a lot the church has not done."
A "working paper" the committee drafted and circulated earlier in the week became the lynchpin for the discussion. Consisting of five resolves, it acknowledges that people live in marriage and in "other committed relationships; that regardless of the sort of relationship, it must be characterized by `fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and... holy love."' The third resolve denounced "promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness" among church members. The fourth committed the church to holding its members "accountable to these values" and to "provide them the prayerful support, encouragement and pastoral care necessary to live faithfully in them." The final resolve directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare rites for inclusion in the BOS [Book of Occasional Services] by means of which the church may bless and express support for the persons involved.
The committee quickly focused on a problem in the first resolve, which affirmed "that the grace of God is mediated through such mutual and loving relationships." The Rt. Rev. John Howe, bishop of Central Florida, said that the idea of God's grace being "mediated" through a relationship implied a sacramental activity. Howe further could not accept language that "affirmed" a committed relationship because affirmation implied approval. He was willing, however, to accept language that would offer the "support" of the church to those living in such relationships.
The committee also struggled to honor the stories of people who insist they have been healed of unhealthy behavior. The Rt. Rev.James Krotz, bishop of Nebraska, told colleagues, "It's agonizing to listen to those stories, because obviously people are caught up in relationships that are not healthy."
Rebecca Snow, chair of the committee for the House of Deputies, agreed. "I would hope that if there had been a process available to them through the church, that counseling would have helped them learn that it was not a healthy relationship." Toward the end of the meeting, the committee broke into two drafting committees in order to wordsmith the working paper into a resolution or resolutions. The committee will likely conclude its work today.
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