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Gender identity and canons

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By Joe Thoma

The House of Bishops approved Resolution D002 that would amend two canons to say that “gender identity (one’s inner sense of being male or female) and expression (the way in which one manifests that gender identity in the world)” should not be bases for exclusion from consideration for ordained ministry.

Meeting July 7, bishops also approved Resolution D019, which rewords Title I, Canon 17, Sec. 5 of the canons of the Episcopal Church to say: “No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.”

The House of Deputies needs to concur for the legislation to pass at General Convention.

Debate at one point centered on differences between “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The Rt. Rev. Chester Talton, Bishop of San Joaquin, spoke of ordaining a transgendered person earlier this year: “The person entered the ordination process and proceeded through that process without any regard really for her gender, but because she obviously possessed the qualities that lent themselves to the ministry of the diaconate to which she was ordained.”

“There are such people in our church. I certainly see them when I move around our congregations,” Talton said. “Their presence and access to the ordination process ought to be affirmed in a way that this proposed change indicates.”

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, said the amended canon would not compel any bishop or diocese to ordain anyone in a same-sex relationship.

“This resolution talks about access to the ordination process,” Bishop Robinson said. “It does not command anyone to affirm anyone in the ordination process but does say that all members of this church, including those whose gender identity and expression are perhaps different from the norm, have that access.”

The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, opposed the change in canon language.

“We have entered into a time of individualized eros, with a wide variety of self-perceptions,” Bishop Lawrence said. “We are condemning ourselves to freedom — the freedom of every individual to self-define every aspect of who they are in such a way that we no longer have any kinds of norms. We are entering into the chaos of individuality. It’s an idol that will break us.”

Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina opposed D019, saying that people in his diocese need clarification of the terms relating to gender identity.

“The definition is all over the map,” he said. “I believe we need to have more discussion in the church, in our congregations, in order to be able to speak in a way that is theologically sound, that gives a deeper understanding of what it means to be a transgender person.”

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh, Bishop of Rochester, supported the resolutions, saying he knows what it feels like to be “the other.”

“When I am in India, people think I’m an American. Here, people think I’m from somewhere else,” he said. The resolutions encourage healthy self-examination, he said.

Holy Women, Holy Men

Also on July 7, the House of Bishops voted to refer several potential saints from Episcopal Church history to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for consideration for commemoration in the liturgical calendar and Holy Women, Holy Men.

They include:

  • Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander, the first black deaconess in the Episcopal Church, teacher and minister in southern Georgia.
  • William “Bowtie Bill” White, who was instrumental in starting Holy Family House in Harford County, Maryland, in 1988 as a place where homeless families could have shelter, training, a safe environment, and a way out of poverty.
  • The Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano (1889-1986), an Episcopal priest known by some as the “Saint of Nebraska and Colorado,” was an agricultural missionary among Japanese Americans in western Nebraska and a pastor to American soldiers imprisoned for having been AWOL while he himself was a prisoner during the Japanese internment of World War II.
  • Virginia Dare and Manteo. Virginia Dare was the first child of English parents born in the New World, days after the establishment of the Roanoke Colony, on August 18, 1587. Her baptism was held a few days after the colony’s first baptism — that of Algonquian Native American Manteo on August 13. On that same day, Sir Walter Raleigh had proclaimed the chief “Lord of Roanoke.” Manteo traveled to England with Raleigh several times, helped convert some of his people to Christianity, assisted the settlers during harsh winters, and proved an invaluable mediator between cultures.

Other Matters

The bishops also voted to:

  • Adopt an amended version of Resolution A144, an anti-racism measure that authorizes the Office of Pastoral Development to monitor the episcopal process and report to Executive Council the ratio of ethnic and female to male bishop nominees and bishops-elect.
  • Establish a church-wide development office (D025).
  • Reaffirm their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (A011).
  • Adopt a substitute resolution asking Program Budget and Finance to consider allocating $40,000 to continue a task force and resources for older adult ministries (A153).
  • Adopt an amended resolution calling for a churchwide response to bullying (D022).
  • Recognize and encourage the elders of Christ Episcopal Church, Red Shirt Table, and the Tribal Council in the Oglala Lakota District in the Diocese of South Dakota in their preparation and planning of an ecumenical reconciliation event in 2014. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke on behalf of Resolution D020: “It is a phenomenal reality that a number of Taizé brothers are going to come from France to the Oglala band for a reconciliation event on a reservation.”
  • Express solidarity with indigenous people (A131).
  • Endorse statehood for the District of Columbia (C033).
  • Restore the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (C078).

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