By Lauren Anderson
The House of Deputies passed resolutions protecting church members from discrimination based on “gender identity and expression” in amendments to two non-discrimination canons July 9.
The House spent considerable time discussing Resolution D019, affirming all people’s access to “the life, worship, and governance” of the church, hearing mostly from deputies testifying in support of the resolution.
Proponents of the resolution said it helps define “the Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” Sarah Lawton of California opened discussion, saying that it is important that the Episcopal Church specifically lists gender identity and expression in the canon to welcome the transgender community.
“Believe me, we are being watched for this vote,” Lawton said. “We will be richly blessed to add transgendered people to our church.”
The Rev. Carla Robinson, a transgender priest in the Diocese of Olympia, also spoke of the importance of recognizing transgendered people in the canon.
“By including gender identity and gender expression in this canon, you will rightly name us,” Robinson said. “You will show respect for our humanity.”
Sam Gould of Massachusetts said this is an important issue for young adults, adding that it will help dispel the idea that Christians are hypocritical.
“This is a statement that I think is very important for my generation,” Gould said. “We need to not be a hypocritical church. We need to live by that statement that the Episcopal Church welcomes you.”
The Rev. Eric Turner of Central Florida spoke against the resolution, proposing an amendment that would eliminate the list in the non-discrimination canon, which includes “race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age.”
“We need to stop this process of adding a new minority every time one becomes vogue or politically correct,” Turner said.
The Rev. Charles Holt of Central Florida supported the amendment, saying adding more categories to the canon may be counter-productive.
“One thing I can is we are the most welcoming Christian organization on this planet. We do not discriminate anyone,” Holt said. “Laying down the law to force someone not to discriminate will only harden hearts. The law doesn’t soften hearts. The only way to soften hearts is to speak the truth in love.”
The Rev. Canon James Lewis of South Carolina also opposed the resolution, saying he needed more clarity on the definition of “gender identity and expression.”
“For some here that terminology may be perfectly clear, but to be honest, if I have to go back to my congregations in South Carolina I will be hard-pressed to define for them exactly where the boundary is,” Lewis said.
“Is there in fact anything that is out of bounds? Nowhere have I seen the explanation of these terms or a theological understanding justification for this expansion of category,” Lewis added.
Turner’s proposed amendment was ultimately dismissed, allowing for the passage of the main resolution.
Discussion on Resolution D002, which adds gender identity and expression to the categories of non-discrimination in “access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained,” was significantly shorter than on D019. The resolution passed in a vote by orders.
The House also passed Resolution A050, which would assemble a task force to study “biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage” during the next triennium.
Many of the deputies who spoke agreed that a study of marriage was overdue. They disagreed, however, on what the scope of the study should be.
Deputy Lewis of South Carolina proposed an amendment to delete the portion of the resolution that calls the task force to “address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such” and “consider issues raised by changing societal and cultural norms and legal structures.”
Others said that all of the resolution was needed because of the resources it will provide the church. The Rev. Martha Macgill of Maryland said church members need more resources to to articulate a theology behind marriage and same-sex blessings to ecumenical partners and the world. The resolution passed in a vote by orders.