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The Episcopal Church took a step toward fuller inclusion of transgendered individuals in the life and mission of the church when the House of Bishops voted in favor of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
Resolution D002 states that no one can be refused access to the ordination process because of their gender identity, while Resolution D019 prohibits anyone from being denied a place in the “life, worship, and governance of the church” due to their gender identity.
“I am pleased that these resolutions did pass in that they have the very significant effect of validating, in the eyes of the church, the humanity of those who are transgender,” Rev. Carolyn Woodall of the Diocese of San Jaoquin told Episcopal News Service after the bishops’ vote.
“We are greatly misunderstood and there is a widespread lack of knowledge about what it means to be transgender,” she continued.
During the debate, the bishop who ordained Woodall to the vocational diaconate, Chet Talton of San Jaoquin, told the House that her ordination had been “wonderfully received. 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.”
“Their presence and access to the ordination process ought to be affirmed in a way that this proposed change indicates,” Talton continued.
Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who became the denomination’s first openly gay bishop when he was elected in 2003, encouraged his fellow bishops to vote for the resolution, saying that it “talks about access to the ordination process. 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.”
But the resolutions did have their opponents. Andrew Waldo, Bishop of Upper South Carolina, advocated a slower approach. “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.”
He was joined in opposition by fellow Palmetto State Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina, who warned that “we are entering into a time of individualized eros.” He went on to express his concern that this would lead to “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.”
Meanwhile, the House of Deputies passed two significant pieces of structural legislation. Resolution B013 would permit the Presiding Bishop to remain a diocesan bishop after their election. The Presiding Bishop presides over the House of Bishops, serves as chief pastor, and has a range of executive and ecumenical functions. Since 1938, he or she has had to resign their diocesan responsibilities upon election in order to concentrate on their national role.
During the debate on Resolution B013, deputies expressed concern that they were being asked to put the proverbial cart before the horse, since the church is currently engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about its political structure.
“We have no idea what we’re getting into. We have not even begun to talk about re-understanding the office of the presiding bishop and whether or not a move of this sort is appropriate,” said the Rev. Bill Ellis, a deputy from the Diocese of Spokane.
But Dr. Fredrica Thompsett, a deputy from the Diocese of Massachusetts and member of the Committee on Structure, argued that the resolution was a suitable first step in the wider program of structural renewal. “This gives us a creative and permissive possibility to allow wise decision making and options in a period in which we are considering and will be considering the nomination of a next presiding bishop,” she said.
Deputies also voted to give a second reading to a proposed change to the church’s constitution that would abolish the requirement for bishops elected within 120 days of a General Convention to have their elections confirmed by the House of Deputies. In all other cases, a bishop’s election is confirmed by a majority of the diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. The Deputies’ vote was the final step needed to make the change official. The amendment was approved by both Houses at the 2009 General Convention and the House of Bishops voted in favor of it earlier in the Convention.