John Lipscomb and Catherine Roskam
Homosexuality and the Divided Church
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has sharpened our culture’s intensifying focus on homosexuality. In a year of political and religious milestones for gays and lesbians, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man to be elected an Episcopal Bishop. There were 11th-hour allegations of impropriety. But in the end, the laity, clergy, and House of Bishops of the Church confirmed his election.
This week, we set aside the ins and outs of the Robinson controversy. The public furor over this event flows, in part, from our culture’s confusion over what it might mean to morally condone homosexual relationships. And Gene Robinson aside, this issue remains an ongoing source of bitter debate among Anglicans and in most of the mainline churches in this country.
How can people of faith reach radically different conclusions while living in the same tradition? Host Krista Tippett engages two Episcopal bishops on either side of the matter in a thoughtful conversation that aims to clarify our understanding of the religious issues at stake.
John Lipscomb is Bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida.
Catherine Roskam is Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith. Conversation on belief, meaning, issues and ideas. Today, “Homosexuality and the Divided Church.”
BISHOP FRANK GRISWOLD: Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the bishop-elect of the diocese of New Hampshire. The standing committee and the bishop of New Hampshire together with the bishop-elect, Canon Robinson, have asked that a thorough investigation be undertaken before… And I remind you that there is to be no demonstration of any kind as this is announced. Sixty-two of the 107 bishops with jurisdiction have given their consent to the ordination and consecration of the Reverend V. Eugene Robinson. That means that he has a sufficient number of consents, and I ask you all to be profoundly sensitive to one another at this time, knowing that for many this is a very, very difficult decision indeed.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There’s a lot of frustration and a lot of anger already in our churches as a result of yesterday’s vote, and I want to try to put out the hope for people: We might find the way to hold the family together.
MS. TIPPETT: The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has sharpened our culture’s intensifying focus on homosexuality. In a year of political and religious milestones for gays and lesbians, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man to be elected an Episcopal bishop. There were 11th hour allegations of impropriety, but in the end the laity, clergy and House of Bishops of the church confirmed his election. In this hour, we’ll set aside the ins and outs of the Robinson controversy. The public furor over this event flows in part from our culture’s confusion over what it might mean to morally condone homosexual relationship. And Gene Robinson aside, this issue remains an ongoing source of bitter debate among Anglicans and in most of the mainline churches in this country. As the convention got under way, President Bush weighed in.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I am mindful that we’re all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of a neighbor’s eye when they’ve got a log in their own. I think it’s very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country. On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage.
MS. TIPPETT: The Vatican also issued an extraordinary appeal directly to its laity, specifically, Roman Catholic lawmakers in North America, reiterating its stance that homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. So how can people of faith reach radically different conclusions while living in the same tradition? We brought two Episcopal bishops with differing views on homosexuality into the studios of Minnesota Public Radio for thoughtful conversation. We did not address the allegations which arose against Gene Robinson but the larger theological issues at the heart of our cultural ambivalence. My guests are the Right Reverend Catherine Roskam of New York and the Right Reverend John Lipscomb of southwest Florida. I began by asking how each of them came to care personally about homosexuality as an issue for the life of the church. First to respond was Bishop Catherine Roskam.
CATHERINE ROSKAM: Gay people have always been in my life in one capacity or another. But I think that the point that really deepened my understanding and kind of consolidated my advocacy for gay men and lesbians really came during the AIDS crisis when I was working at Holy Apostles. And I ministered to a great many men — some women, but mostly men — who were dying of AIDS, and it was before there were any of the kinds of medications that thankfully we have now. So the onset of death was rather swift, and I saw couples devoted to each other often both infected, although not in every case, living out `For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ And that’s what did it for me. I believe there is something there to be blessed. I believe that there is something there that is of God. One of the things that Scripture says is that where love is God is also. And so I think that deepened my commitment and my resolve.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. Bishop Lipscomb.
JOHN LIPSCOMB: Much like Bishop Roskam, throughout my ministry I’ve had the opportunity to know and to work with people who considered themselves to be of homosexual orientation. I’ve found a great deal of pain within that ministry and that community. I found that my openness about my own position allowed me to minister in ways that perhaps I otherwise might not have been able to. But I’ve struggled personally with the church blessing actions and life that may not be life-giving, that seemed in many cases to actually hasten an early death, that certainly has something of the nature of promiscuous behavior often about it — not in every case, but often. And I’ve struggled in my own soul, quite frankly, with how does the church respond in a loving and compassionate way to seek what it seeks for all people, which is the liberation of the human spirit.
MS. TIPPETT: And you have written to your diocese — you said, `I find no convincing argument that the church should change its teachings or practice in the matter.’ You also said, `I do not believe that the Spirit has spoken the final word regarding the matters that confront us.’
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And I think that would be a part of where I am. It may be hopeful to know a little bit about how I try to do theology. One of the most interesting moments in my journey to the episcopal was a phone call from our former presiding bishop the day after my election, offering his congratulations and saying, `John, there’s a book I think you ought to take a look at by Margaret Wheatley called “Leadership and the New Science.”‘ Well, I was never very good at the sciences, but I figured if the presiding bishop was recommending it that maybe it was worth looking at. And it sent me on a journey that’s been going on now for almost eight years of moving into contemporary physics to find a new hermeneutic …(unintelligible)…
MS. TIPPETT: And hermeneutic is one of those theological words…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Words — I know…
MS. TIPPETT: …that’s just — it’s about — it’s about…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …and that’s a bad thing to do.
MS. TIPPETT: …interpretation.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: How do we interpret? How do we make that which is 2,000, 4,000 years old contemporary and relevant to our life today? And I found in that new physics a new hermeneutic that has allowed me and has really deepened in many ways my own faith, but has also at the same time led me to ask the question: Has the church really fully and completely explored an issue of such incredible human compassion and concern where we should be looking at the issue of transformation rather than affirmation?
MS. TIPPETT: When you talk about transformation and conversion in the context of homosexual life…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: …I mean, be specific with me. What do you mean there?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I personally believe that the jury is still out on whether or not homosexuality is something that is not able through prayer, through the therapies that are available to us when applied and appropriate in a professional manner to help us move through that orientation of life to a different kind of orientation, to a different kind of understanding of who we are as human beings. One of the places where I think that the whole question has — continues to be a struggle for those of us in the church is the difference between do we bless that which is, quote, “by nature natural,” or do we live on this side of the fall and do we need to suggest that perhaps that everything, just because it is natural or comes to us even genetically is necessarily good and needs to be blessed and affirmed. Is it…
MS. TIPPETT: And that would be talking about — say that we’ve learned that homosexuality can have a genetic component…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Yeah, well, let me — let me…
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Yeah.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …put this in again that context and why I think the conversation is far from over.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Time magazine very recently published an article that suggested that human males are by nature promiscuous animals. And it had a whole host of reasons for that. I made a decision almost 40 years ago to marry and to be faithful to one woman, which if Time magazine and the scientists — at least at that level — are correct goes very much against my nature. So I am determined — I am not determined, if you will — I do not have to live necessarily into what is by nature mine because we live in a fallen world.
MS. TIPPETT: Bishop Roskam.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I guess that, you know, I am in agreement with you about that to the point that I don’t believe we should be just about affirmation. I think that’s a very sort of flabby Christianity…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: …that we are about conversion and an amendment of life and a deepening of discipleship. And that certainly applies to behaviors such as promiscuity and all of that. But where we differ is in matters of identity, I believe, and orientation, that for me it — that does not include a change of orientation.
MS. TIPPETT: Bishops Roskam, so when you had this experience with people with AIDS, which presented you with an experience which maybe contrasted what the church had taught traditional teachings on relationship, what did you then do with that experience theologically? Did you go back to what the Bible said?
BISHOP ROSKAM: Well, yes. Well, Scripture informs everything, I believe. And — but you also have to know that I’m from the Diocese of New York, so we have always been in recent history certainly that I’ve been conscious of supportive of gay men and lesbians. That doesn’t mean that everybody in the diocese is an absolute agreement, but overwhelmingly gays and lesbians are part of our church, a part of the leadership of our church, part of the ordained leadership of our church. So it wasn’t like a big culture thing. It was really shift or wasn’t pivotal. It was deepening. I do want to say that I do think that promiscuity in any of its incarnations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is not life-producing because look at the spread of AIDS among heterosexual populations in Africa. It’s not life-producing and there’s a lot that needs to be changed there in terms of behavior. And I think that for me there are several passages in Scripture that I turn to. One of them is Acts 10 and 11 where Peter is on — you know, falls asleep on the roof and he has a dream of the unclean animals and the voice of God saying, `Eat.’ And Peter saying, `No, no, I can’t. I can’t. I’ve nev…
MS. TIPPETT: Which for him would be a departure from the Jewish tradition in issue…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Not only from the Jewish tradition, but from the Jewish Scripture. So Peter even at that early time was called by the Spirit to do something contrary to his own Scripture, and that, of course, was to be among the Gentiles and to allow them to come into the church. And there are a couple of phrases in that whole story — one is `What God has made clean let no one call profane,’ which I feel like it’s part of my witness to say that I believe truly that God has called these relationships clean. Not relationships of promiscuity but relationships of commitment, of lifelong commitment, of monogamy, that’s characterized by the — the signs of the gifts of the Spirit — gentleness and kindness and all of that. I have seen relationships — same-sex relationships being enormously life-giving. So that’s one of the — the other phrase that’s used is `Not hindering God.’ And I think one of the things that I believe so profoundly is that God’s action was not completed by the time of the end of the canon of Scripture was — was completed, that God continues to act and the Spirit continues to lead us into new things. And so for me, I have to be careful about not hindering God, because if people have a relationship with Christ I have to trust the Christ at work in them, and it’s not so much all the scientific studies, but all the committed Christians who take the sacrament regularly, read Scripture and have literally given themselves to Christ, many of whom who have had a very, almost visceral experience of Christ saying, `I accept you the way you are and I love you the way you are,’ that who am I to say, `Oh, but this rule in this…
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: …very ancient Scripture says no. I have to be very careful, and I think we as a church have to be very careful about hindering God.
MS. TIPPETT: So you’re saying there’s sort of personal revelation that the church then should listen to.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yes, because it’s not individual. I mean, it’s not simply individuals. It’s not — I mean, we always have to test something against the tradition of the church. But what we’re finding is a whole body of very committed gay and lesbian Christians who are living out their life and their identity within the church and within the transforming word and sacrament of the church and are telling us that this is of God. This is where the Spirit is leading them. I think we want to be very careful about saying, `No, we know better. Sorry.’
MS. TIPPETT: Bishop Catherine Roskam. I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith. I’m in theological conversation today with two Episcopal bishops. Catherine Roskam of New York favors the blessing of same-sex unions. Bishop John Lipscomb of southwest Florida does not. I asked Bishop Lipscomb how he responds to the suggestion that committed homosexual relationship is a new phenomenon, one not known or directly addressed by Jesus or the other biblical writers such as the apostle Paul.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I’m very, very concerned that we not take any one passage, any one word out of Scripture and try to interpolate from that what Scripture is saying. Heisenberg, when he talked about particle physics, said you could part a particle’s position or its trajectory; you can’t do both at the same time. And I think so often what we do is we take a passage and we get it locked into position. For me it’s been a matter of taking the trajectory of Scripture. What does Scripture seem to be saying from the very story of creation itself through the revelation that we have in Jesus Christ about the meaning of human life? So for me, in some ways whether or not there was such an understanding of someone being constitutionally homosexual is almost irrelevant to the debate.
However, I’m not so sure that the New Testament authors at least — I don’t know about Old Testament authors — but certainly Paul had something of an understanding with the behavior of homosexuality as acted out in the New Testament period — was in part constitutional. He talks about it being an inflaming of our inner nature, and so I’m not so sure that we’re necessarily all that advanced or have all that different understanding of the world about us. I think we may put it in somewhat different terminology, but I think were Paul sitting here today with us he would say, `Oh, yes, that is part of our human nature,’ but then there are a lot of things that are part of our human nature that the church does not necessarily feel that it should or could or will bless.
MS. TIPPETT: I think I want to bring this to where I’m living with it, and I think a lot of listeners are living with it. I was talking to my nine-year-old daughter this week. I have two children. And they have grown up from day care age with all kinds of varieties of families around them, including families where there are two mothers or two fathers, and for them this is a reality. And my kids are also aware that some of these children have been adopted out of terrifying situations. And that’s how they’re approaching this phenomenon. And so I think sometimes I think the debate in the church feels very removed from life.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think it does from the average person in the pew…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, and…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …quite frankly.
MS. TIPPETT: …I think maybe the question is raised, you know, is this really how they should be spending their time.
BISHOP ROSKAM: It’s a good question.
MS. TIPPETT: Is it?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: And I think it actually gets to John’s concern and my concern also that this takes so much focus that so much of what we are doing at convention doesn’t get reported. But we’re engaged in what we feel are global and emergent issues that really do have some impact on people at…
MS. TIPPETT: You mean, aside from the — the subject of homosexuality? You mentioned…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Aside from — yes, you know…
MS. TIPPETT: …Bishop Lipscomb, that you’re on several other committees…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I’m — I’m on the national and international concerns cognate committee for the convention, and we’ve had a series of things come to us that are heart-wrenching of the civil war in Liberia, what it’s doing to human lives in that situation, the problem with HIV/AIDS south of the Sahara, the incredible poverty in our own nation of people who are working 12- and 14-hour days and yet cannot even maintain a decent living wage or living standard because of the way our economy shares the economic resources that are available to us. And in some ways, these issues, I think, are much more compelling for the life of the church. The issues of human sexuality are ones that we have had with us for two millennium. I’m almost willing to bet they’ll be with us two millennium from now.
MS. TIPPETT: All right. So the question becomes why is this the thing that galvanizes. Why does this even seem to be the issue among all of them which could threaten to split the church, right?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I — I’d like to say something about that because…
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Yeah.
BISHOP ROSKAM: …although I think the people in the pew have a variety of viewpoints on this, I don’t think it occupies them with the same fervor that it does — and one of my real concerns about Gene Robinson’s election has been that it’s been a media event. New Hampshire did not elect a gay bishop. They elected a man, a priest who has served that diocese for 28 years. I wore a button all week long that said, `Ask me about Gene ’cause I’ve worked with Gene,’ and I got to tell you: Nobody asked me about Gene. Nobody really wanted to know about his ministry and all of that.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: And I think that media plays a part in this, that the day after his election the headlines were, `Gay bishop elected.’ Well, you know, I’ll tell you dioceses, I don’t believe, elect people for political — to take political stands ’cause you live with that person a long time. They elected a man that they knew and they loved, and they wanted to be their bishop. And I think one of the challenges of the church in this day and age of too much information is that the church is responding to media conceptions…
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP ROSKAM: …of our work, and it then forces us to emphasize it. So that this gets so skewed in terms of weight.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m glad we’re naming this.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: I think it’s important to name it.
BISHOP ROSKAM: And it’s very distressing because these other things are really at a critical point, I think, both globally and domestically.
MS. TIPPETT: I want to name something else, which is that the Anglican church, the Catholic Church, the churches have in fact been ordaining homosexual priests and clergy and bishops for the last 2,000 years. I mean, that has happened…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: …and the church has survived.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: So I’m not suggesting then that it’s not important to wrestle with it. Bishop Lipscomb, as someone who really is struggling with…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Oh, sure.
MS. TIPPETT: …is it right for the church to consecrate such elections. You know, tell me why it matters for the church to wrestle even with something that has de facto always been with us.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think that there is a difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior. And what the church is being asked to do now is to do something very, very different than it’s ever done before, and that’s being asked to bless a behavior that at least in my understanding of the trajectory of our Scriptures, our tradition, and without the aid of reason because we really don’t have, I think, the studies that we need to say, `We need to move beyond this point.’ We don’t have the sociological, we don’t have the medical, the psychiatric/psychological.
MS. TIPPETT: Are you feeling that you’re sort of waiting on those things…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I feel like almost…
MS. TIPPETT: …and you want to incorporate that…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …a third of what we as Anglicans hold as important to the whole process of interpretation and listening to the Spirit has not yet been made available to the church.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And I hate to make decisions in the dark.
MS. TIPPETT: And this — you’re referring to Anglicans’ emphasis on reason — is that what you’re saying?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Exactly.
MS. TIPPETT: The studies that you want to inform an intellectual and scholarly analysis of…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think that has to be there as well.
MS. TIPPETT: So just to clarify that Anglicans emphasize Scripture, tradition and reason.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right, since the Reformation we — we’ve often talked about a three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition and reason being what forms the basis of the Anglican discernment process. And by reason, we don’t mean just anecdotal experience. I think we really do mean bringing the full weight of what God has given us and what we can know to the table as part of the mix in our conversation.
MS. TIPPETT: And just to jump off something you said. Tell me if this is correct. I think the issue with consecrating the election of a homosexual bishop is that there is an idea that a bishop should, as the phrase, exhibit a wholesome example, in particular with consecrating…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think it’s part of the issue.
MS. TIPPETT: …a bishop — OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I don’t think it’s the whole issue.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think in part one of the things the Episcopal Church in this country has done for the last 20 or 30 years is we have often acted and then tried to find a theology to inform our actions. For myself, and I’ll speak only for myself, my concern is that in the confirmation of Canon Robinson’s election what we would actually be doing is changing the church’s theological and ethical stance almost through the back door without doing the hard work of the ethical and moral reasoning that we need to do on the front end so that the church can come together and say that as we move forward, this is where we are as a church. I know that this is something Bishop Roskam and I would probably disagree on.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Definitely.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: But I think that very honestly what happened with the ordination of the first woman in our church should have received the censure of the church. I want to celebrate what happened…
MS. TIPPETT: And that was that — that women…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: They were ordained outside…
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …the canonical process in what was called…
MS. TIPPETT: Outside — right. Sort of an illegal…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …a prophetic action.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And for those who did it, I understand the passion that was behind that. But at the same time, we’re a church that does live under a certain sense of discipline and order, and I want to celebrate with every fiber of my being the ministry of women within the life of our church. Quite frankly, I think it’s something that was about 1,700 years too late in coming. But I think we also have to be very careful to act in an orderly process, so that the faithful do have a chance to enter into the conversation, to be part of the conversation.
MS. TIPPETT: And I want to come back to the suggestion Bishop Lipscomb is not finding quite the foundation in this — this Episcopal emphasis on reason to make a judgment on this at this time.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: I want to know how you, Bishop Roskam, come at that.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I — I would say I would not come at that in quite as linear a fashion as my colleague. I think that very often the church acts first and does theology later. I think that’s actually how marriage really developed as a sacrament. We were doing that for a long time before we developed some theology about it.
MS. TIPPETT: There came a religious ceremony later, didn’t it?
BISHOP ROSKAM: It kept — right. It did. And so I think that that’s true. But I also think that action informs thought informs action informs thought, because I don’t think we move ahead by reason really. I think that there’s so much unconscious resistance to change of any kind that it takes a more radical break to move us ahead. I think if we look at it, it took a hundred years for women to become deputies at convention. After women were deputies at convention, it took six years before women were ordained. So change — it seems like it happens radically, but it actually when you look historically, it builds over a long period of time. And I would probably give this issue maybe more than a century because we really didn’t think of homosexuality conceptually. I don’t know that we really even had a word for it until the 19th century.
MS. TIPPETT: You’d give it a century from — from what starting point? Where did the century begin?
BISHOP ROSKAM: Probably — probably the trials of Oscar Wilde.
MS. TIPPETT: That’s not a religious milestone. It’s — it’s a societal event.
BISHOP ROSKAM: It’s a societal milestone, but — but we’re in dialogue with those things. We must be. How else do we do theology but in relation to our own time? I mean, we have to pay attention. That doesn’t mean the context governs it in every sense, certainly not. But we need to be in dialogue with our context in order to do our theology. Otherwise it’s dead, and our tradition is dead. And I believe in a living tradition.
MS. TIPPETT: Catherine Roskam is Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. I’m in conversation with her, together with Bishop John Lipscomb of the Diocese of Southwest Florida. The Episcopal Church is only the latest Christian denomination to engage in bitter debate over homosexuality. While on different sides of this issue, Bishops Lipscomb and Roskam are seeking dialogue and healing. After a short break, you’ll hear more of our conversation. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us.
Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, Conversation on belief, meaning, issues and ideas. Today, Homosexuality and the Divided Church. I’m in conversation with two Episcopal bishops, the Right Reverend Catherine Roskam of New York and the Right Reverend John Lipscomb of southwest Florida. We’re setting aside the turmoil that rocked the Episcopal General Convention as it voted to confirm an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire. Instead, we’re exploring the long-term religious principles at stake. Beyond the headlines, why is the subject of homosexuality so divisive, not only in the Episcopal Church but in most of the mainline churches in this country? Bishop Lipscomb informed his diocese before the convention that he could not in good conscience endorse Gene Robinson as bishop. He said at this time he is not ready to endorse a radical departure from the received moral, ethical and sacramental teachings of the church. But he acknowledges that the church’s ambivalence has alienated many gays and lesbians and he insists that viewing homosexuality as a sin does not exclude homosexual persons from the life of the church.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think this for me is probably part of the most painful part of the continuing conversation because at this point I think the church has an absolute moral responsibility to honor the dignity of every human being, no matter their race, their economic status, their sexual orientation, religion, whatever. I know when I come to the Lord’s table on Sunday as a bishop of the church I know myself to probably be the first of sinners at the table. And I don’t want to sit in judgment on other people’s sinfulness. At the same time, I have not yet been able to say that I can bless something that by the whole movement of the Spirit within the life of the history of the church seems to be something that really is of the nature of sin rather than of the nature of salvation. And so I find that very hard, because I want the church to be a place where no matter what the brokenness of our lives we can find a place there and we can find a place of acceptance. That does not ask, however, that I bless or that God blesses who I am; it’s that God asks to transform who I am. And that’s really what I struggle with.
MS. TIPPETT: What do you think about sin, Bishop Roskam?
BISHOP ROSKAM: Well, you know, sin is all around us and in us. I don’t disagree about that. I don’t even disagree about that we’re called to transformation. But I can bear witness to the transforming power of Christ in gay and lesbian persons, lives that in some cases — not in every case. I don’t want to reinforce that stereotype, but in some cases the commitment to relationship, the peace, the joy, the signs of the presence of the Spirit that we find in Galatians 5:22, for instance, are all evident in their lives. To me that’s conversion, that’s transformation. And to demand that their orientation changed or be acted out in a different way seems really to go against nature actually.
MS. TIPPETT: You mentioned Galatians. Why don’t you read some of your passages?
BISHOP ROSKAM: OK. It’s really quite amusing that I who support the blessing of gay unions is quoting the Bible and you are talking about the trajectory. Usually people who are in those positions have that — that switched.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I’ve had to answer so often…
MS. TIPPETT: Yes.
BISHOP ROSKAM: OK. Galatians — this is a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Chapter 5 beginning at the 22nd verse. `By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.’
MS. TIPPETT: And for you, regarding this whole furor over homosexuality, what that says is…
BISHOP ROSKAM: The New Testament points us to — to an understanding of the Spirit at work. And that bearing witness is in Scripture, and bearing witness to the Spirit at work, and these are the signs of the presence of the Spirit. This is a longer exegesis than you probably want to have on this program, but the part in Romans where Paul talks about, you know, women not lying with women and then it names all these sinful things like division and envy and all of these things that follow from that act. So what if we have a relationship between two women and instead of that terrible list, we get that list? I mean, how do we bear witness to the life-giving quality of that relationship when it’s there in our midst?
MS. TIPPETT: OK. And Bishop Lipscomb, now has the Bible.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: The fuller part of that passage that Bishop Roskam quoted, if you look at the context of this chapter and the words she just read, the context beginning in verse 13 is a little broader. It says, `For you are called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For the whole law’s summed up in a single commandment that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh, for what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh. For these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you want.’
MS. TIPPETT: You know what? I think I want to come back to my nine-year-old daughter who is listening to all of this being reported this week, and she said, `What can be wrong if two people love each other?’ She said, `Don’t all people fall in love?’ So what would you say to her?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: What would I — what would I say to her?
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Again, I think there are many different kinds of love, and in human life love can sometimes be very confusing. I think that part of the issue becomes, again, what kind of love is the church going to bless, not is love necessarily present. One of the things that I’ve struggled with with this question, quite frankly, is that we have in the issue raised constantly why should two consenting adults not be allowed to live out and express their love for one another, which may have of it sometimes the nature of more than just erotic passionate love. It really may have something else there. There is a range of human behaviors that the church has said we cannot at least at this point, have not been willing to bless, and for me personally homosexual behavior falls within that range, as I know for Bishop Roskam it falls outside that range.
MS. TIPPETT: OK, yeah.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: But I think that would be — and I don’t know that that would be a very satisfying answer to a nine-year-old.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I have to say I would tell your daughter that I think that she’s right. And then I’d remind us all that Jesus said, `We’re supposed to become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.’
MS. TIPPETT: There’s so many ins and outs of this, we could talk about. I mean, there’s so many things people debate, whether our increasing medical knowledge will inform this, whether we should say, well — well, de — de facto the church blesses — Right? — or divorce is accepted and we’re holding homosexuals to a different standard.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: But again, the church still recognizes divorce as a sin.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes. I mean, I — I also see that that argument doesn’t go very far. However, one might ask with divorce being so much more present in Scripture really explicitly condemned by Jesus than homosexuality, for example, and for this being something that affects so many people, one might say, `Why isn’t this the issue that’s tearing the Episcopal convention apart?’
BISHOP ROSKAM: Well, I suppose it did at one time.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I don’t know that it actually tore it apart. I think that, again, for me personally, as I go back and read the history of how we moved through the whole issue of divorce and remarriage, one of the things that we did was to take a very, very long time. The first time I think this came before our convention was in the late 1940s.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. And was the question then can the church remarry people who are divorced?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And there — we had been through what I think is a very honest and open debate, conversation, movement. It wasn’t until 1973 that we changed the canons, and I think that’s again part of why for me I’m looking for the church not to rush to judgment by action but to really find a way forward in which Bishop Roskam and I can in integrity and conscience maintain our role as shepherds within the life of the church, and to do that with great integrity and great honesty. And I think that again part of the struggle that we’ve had within the contemporary Episcopal Church is that we have talked a lot about inclusion but our actions have often said that we really don’t want to include the one who disagrees with me. And it’s why for me I keep trying to find ways of how do we enlarge this circle so the person with whom I am in absolute disagreement — 180 degrees — and — and Cathy and I, I don’t think, are at 180 degrees…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yeah, I don’t think so.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …(unintelligible) of each other. But I do think that the church has to find ways because that’s, again, of the essence of the Gospel. A presiding bishop has from the very first moment of his primacy in this church constantly reminded us that I cannot say to another within the church, `I have no need of you,’ and that this is a church for all people.
MS. TIPPETT: And when you state it that way, the irony is apparent also because I think this debate is about fully embracing…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Exactly.
MS. TIPPETT: …human beings who are homosexual, and you’re also saying that if the debate is not held correctly there will be other members of the communion who feel that they have been shut out.
BISHOP ROSKAM: I have to tell you I think we will lose people, no matter what happens. I think there will be people who will go. I think that if we come to decisions, I think that’s the consequence of many decisions, even ones that aren’t as controversial as this one. I don’t see how we’re going to avoid it — certainly from my point of view.
MS. TIPPETT: Bishop Roskam, you are part of a very interesting process that led to a rich document called the Gift of Sexuality…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: …which was an 18-month process. I believe there were 13 of you working on it, which the House of Bishops as a whole approved in the early part of 2003.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think we have to be careful…
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: …it did not approve it; it accepted it.
MS. TIPPETT: Accepted it. All right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Which is quite different.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And there is a difference.
MS. TIPPETT: All right.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think it’s something that we saw as a working document in front of us.
MS. TIPPETT: All right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: And, I mean, what I think is interesting about reading that document and we’ll put that on our Web site, too, for our listeners.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Good.
MS. TIPPETT: Is that it really lays out the — I don’t want to say the breadth of disagreement — the — range of places people come out on this.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And I think just in this conversation between — you know, you can read the same passages in Scripture and each of you read them with deep faith and learning and not be reading the same thing…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: …and — and then, you know, the other issues about what science is saying on the many issues, so, you know, that was an 18-month process of discernment where you said…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: …the range of people working on it was — really represented this breath, this spectrum…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Quite. Yes, quite.
MS. TIPPETT: Wonder what you learned out of that process that you — that you carry with you now as you see, you know, what really has been a struggle that the world has watched through the media. I mean, how do you think about the way forward? Is there any resolution of this?
BISHOP ROSKAM: One lives in hope. I — I — I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not very good at predictions really…
MS. TIPPETT: Well, do you come…
BISHOP ROSKAM: But I know that working on the document was — was very rich and I think what made it rich for us was being in relationship, and I think it goes back to what our presiding bishop says, that we have to stay in relationship, we have to stay in communion one with another and keep talking. That may not happen in every case, but I think that’s what — I think that’s what we can agree on is that we have to hang in there, although it’s very tempting to leave sometimes if things don’t go a certain way to hang in there and — and to keep in conversation and to keep in relationship.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith. I’m in conversation with Bishop Catherine Roskam together with Bishop John Lipscomb of southwest Florida. At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, they represented different positions on the matter of homosexuality. We’re discussing the religious dimension of this issue. The rancor of past weeks aside, Bishop Roskam suggests that homosexual Christians may be affecting the life of the church in unexpected positive ways.
BISHOP ROSKAM: There’s a kind of irony to me in that the gay couples who come to us — I should say gay and lesbian couples…
MS. TIPPETT: You mean, come to the church?
BISHOP ROSKAM: Come to the church, want to be married in the church. They want very much to have the blessing of the church within the walls of the structure of the church building in the middle of the community of faith. Where so many heterosexual couples now come and they would prefer to be married on the beach or somewhere else, and I guess it’s analogous to the — you know, I was so struck with the — when they finally had elections in South Africa and people were walking for miles and for hours in order to get to a polling place, and at the same time we were having an election and there was something like less than 30 percent. And I — I think there’s some of that at work now that — that in a sense it almost renews us in our renewal of the sense of the depth of that commitment that we make one to another in intimate relationship that is I think salutary actually.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: And I think, again, I would want to find a place of agreement with Bishop Roskam because I think that part of it leaves us an open conversation and something that asks us not to close off prayerful debate and prayerful reflection is the fact that we are watching people who do want to come to the church, who are asking the church to bless a life that is different than one the church has blessed in the past.
MS. TIPPETT: Is there a tension between suggesting that — that gays and lesbians — that you would like to see transformation and conversion for gays and lesbians and also insisting that they are members of the body of Christ? Is there a tension in that? Is there a contradiction in that?
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: It may well be a contradiction. What I see is that we are in a process? It’s not a process of saying where I am; it’s a process of being called into a deeper transformed image of Christ, as Paul said, `Living in me,’ rather than me being just me. And I think that for me that helps me struggle with what, yes, I think may seem like a contradiction. But then I know that Christ calls me in my sinfulness to be at the same table, and that when I’m at that table I’m not asking Christ to bless my sin. I’m asking for forgiveness, for a conversion of heart, for a transformation of life and to be at a different place when I come out of that.
MS. TIPPETT: And you’re saying that every Christian…
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I think every Christian knows that.
MS. TIPPETT: …is in that position at — at the table.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I would hope so, because if there’s someone who feels that they’re not, they haven’t paid attention to the Gospel.
MS. TIPPETT: Some might say that you’re asking transformation and conversion of something that people feel is fundamental to them — sinful or not — in a way that the church is not asking for conversion of those of us who are too connected to our money or are divorced…
BISHOP ROSKAM: Yes. I — I think we would agree with that. I mean, that is…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, right.
BISHOP ROSKAM: …exactly the point, that this has gotten out of proportion. If you look at what Jesus spoke about, he was not very concerned about sexuality, and though we certainly have to include this, you know, in our moral discussion and concern, Jesus was really concerned and got really worked up about two things: the money — the treatment of the poor — and hypocrisy. So I think sometimes I feel like this is a smoke screen for us not to have to deal with our deeper sins.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: I wish that the media personally would be as concerned with the fact that we as a House of Bishops have been struggling with the sin of racism for well over a decade, and I — I would agree. I think in some ways we have allowed the sexualization of life that has been part of the American social scene and the Western social scene for probably the postwar period to really put us into a place where the church has not been able to speak as it should on issues of deeper justice, on issues that really are, as much as sexuality and in some ways at times even more so, those issues that need transformation, that need transformation of the heart. I need to know that when I go to bed tonight I will be sleeping in a room at a convention that my room and my meals today have been the living annual wage of a person in Haiti, and what I want to call our convention to, as much as its debate on human sexuality, is our own enormous waste of resources in coming together for 10 days, spending the money that we’re spending at a convention such as this when those resources might well be used in other ways, and the church might find others ways to continue this kind of conversation rather than through a legislative process. And maybe — it’s part of our national history. I’m not so sure it’s part of our spiritual history. So that for me would be a place where I would hope our own house would get its own house in order and be asking those kinds of questions as well.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, thank you so much, Bishop John Lipscomb and Bishop Catherine Roskam.
BISHOP ROSKAM: Thank you for this opportunity.
BISHOP LIPSCOMB: Mm-hmm.
MS. TIPPETT: The Right Reverend Catherine Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; the Right Reverend John Lipscomb is bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida. Their dialogue brings to the floor some of the serious discernment by which Episcopalians of different opinion, like people of many other faiths, are struggling to integrate modern sexual realities with the received teachings of the church. Such discernment, as both bishops pointed out, is rarely reflected in final votes or in media coverage of debates. News reporting highlights polarized positions, but not the complex and often splintered middle ground where differing views meet. It has been possible to watch coverage of the Episcopal Convention and see a church hopelessly divided or hopelessly behind the times. But in the end, these bishops suggest that however imperfect the process of the church’s deliberation is itself an ethical challenge, one that our culture might heed as closely as it heeds the topic of homosexuality. That is, endeavoring to stay in relationship with those with whom one most passionately disagrees, to work painfully toward fuller communion.
Please let us know what you think of this conversation. Write to us at [email protected]. You can also reach us through our Web site at speakingoffaith.org. While you’re there, you’ll find complete audio of this program as well as selected links to the Episcopal Convention and other religious responses to the homosexuality debate.
I’m Krista Tippett. Please join us again next week.