Episcopal church appoints first lesbian bishop

Mary Glasspool

Via the NY Times:

A majority of bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church have approved the election of the church’s second openly gay bishop, the Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, a decision likely to increase the tension with fellow Anglican churches around the world that do not approve of homosexuality. The worldwide Anglican Communion, the network of churches connected to the Church of England, has been in turmoil since the Americans elected their first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire in 2003. Theological conservatives in the Communion say the Bible condemns homosexuality, while liberals say the Scripture is open to interpretation.

Bishop Glasspool, 56, is to be consecrated as one of two new assistant bishops, known as suffragan bishops, in Los Angeles on May 15. Both elected suffragan bishops are women — the first ever to serve in the diocese. Both were elected at a convention of the diocese in December, but according to church rules had to win the approval of a majority of the bishops and standing committees (made up of clergy and laypeople) of the church’s 110 dioceses. Bishop Glasspool’s confirmation was never certain.

Bishop Glasspool, who has been serving in Maryland as an adviser to the bishops for nine years, said Wednesday in an interview: “I feel overjoyed. I feel relieved. I’m breathing again.”

She and her partner, Becki Sander, a postgraduate student in social work, have been together for 22 years.

The bishop said she intended to reach out to those who opposed her. Asked whether she anticipated that her election would have repercussions in the Anglican Communion, she said, “While I understand that not everyone rejoices, I don’t understand what will functionally be different tomorrow than today with respect to our relationships around the world.”


120 NJ clergy sign open letter in support of LGBT marriage enfranchisement

(A full list of signers and represented denominations below the fold.)

This Thursday, the New Jersey State Senate will vote on the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act, which would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Today, 120 NJ clergy from 19 denominations signed a letter of support for the bill:

We are 120 clergy members across New Jersey from 19 faiths and denominations.  We are but a sample of New Jersey clergy who support marriage equality and wish to marry same-sex couples legally…We 120 clergy members ask you to put the marriage equality bill to a vote in your respective houses – without precondition – before the end of the current legislative session. In our nation founded on the separation of church and state, the State of New Jersey should not be in the business of telling faiths and clergy whom we can or cannot legally marry.   We take issue with the State’s current marriage law, which is not religiously neutral but reflects the beliefs of leaders of a particular faith community which opposes marriage equality.  

We 120 clergy members support the freedom of religion embodied by the U.S. Constitution, the New Jersey Constitution and the marriage equality bill now before the New Jersey legislature, the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act.  Language in the bill underscores the right of every religion and every clergy member to decide whom to marry and not to marry.  Furthermore, an amendment to the bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month would codify the nation’s strongest protections for religious freedom in matters of marriage.  The amendment ensures that no religious organization or religious facility in New Jersey can be sued because it has followed its conscience in which marriages it chooses to accommodate, or not accommodate.    There cannot be a better guarantor of religious freedom than the version of the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act now before you.  

We are proud that our nation has never allowed any one religious doctrine to determine secular law.  New Jersey law provides for divorce, for example, though some find divorce religiously impermissible.  Indeed, the idea of New Jersey’s banning civil divorce would be unthinkable.  Our state would not stand for favoring the convictions of any one religion over another.

Unfortunately, the representative denominations are very predictable: Metropolitan Community Churches, Unitarian Universalism, Episcopalianism, United Church of Christ, Buddhism, and Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative Judaism. Numerous Lutherans–I’m guessing ELCA–also signed. 

Surprisingly, there is one Catholic bishop–George Lucey. But he is not a Roman Catholic bishop. His parish, or rather his community, The St. Francis of Assissi Catholic Church of Essex County, NJ, is independently governed “in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church,” but  unaffiliated with the Orthodoxy, or any external magesterium or other infastructure.

Also, Ethical Culture is listed. How a humanist organization can count as a denomination is something of a mystery to me. I mean, something like half of the contemporary members of the Unitarian Universalist Church identify as humanists, but they at least inherited a continuity of infrastructure from once-theistic Unitarian Church. Ethical Culture has only ever been a humanist community. Granted, (in spite of my personal qualms with them) I believe we need more humanist communities. (I even put Greg Epstein’s bulletin in this website’s links column even though I disagree with some of his methods and goals.) But I think they should distinguish themselves from religious organization-methods. That is, humanists should not present humanism as a godless religion, but nothing more or less than an ethical orientation which recognizes the fulfilling of human needs–material, psychological, social, aesthetic, political–as the ends of all meaningful moral action.

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Rowan Williams denounces Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act

The head of the Anglican church, the second largest sect in Uganda, on the proposed bill:

“Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades,” says Dr Williams. “Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers.” He adds that the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty but, tellingly, he notes that its archbishop, Henry Orombi, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference last year, “has not taken a position on this bill”.

Not sure how much difference it will make, though. Williams has the same clout with his international followers to the same extent Ratzinger holds sway over his congregations. Relations between the church’s outlets in the West and Africa have been chilly over questions of women’s ordination and LGBT inclusion. A couple years back, there was not unserious talk of a schism. It’s a mistake to think

Ebert: Darwin biopic misses the point

Roger Ebert has seen, but not reviewed the film Creation, which I winced about here:

I ask myself, do we really need to watch the Darwins edging around the substance of their disagreement? The film maker, Jon Amiel, obviously has great respect and affection for the scientist–for them both, really. Did he restrain himself in fear of provoking controversy? Has it gotten to that point? “Creation” dares not state relevant ideas that were acceptable nearly 50 years ago, when “Inherit the Wind” was nominated for four Academy Awards. There’s no such shyness in the anti-Darwin faction.

85 Sharia courts already operational in Britain

After getting official government sanction last year, with or without Rowan William’s help:

The illiberality of religious courts endures once it is abstracted from the illiberal content of the given religion’s law, as it dissolves the single law before which all citizens are equal and bound to. In the end, it must be admitted some degree of cultural chauvinism is necessary to cohere even a liberal society, viz. unashamed assertion of the utility of secularism, equality before the law, respect for the autonomy of individuals rather than identifiable groups they comprise, the rights guaranteed in the people’s contract with the state, &c.

Two independent reports on UK traditionalist Pakistani populations

Via the Times of London:

We are all too familiar with the persecution of Christians in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet sitting in front of me is a British woman whose life has been threatened in this country solely because she is a Christian. Indeed, so real is the threat that the book she has written about her experiences has had to appear under an assumed name.

The book is called The Imam’s Daughter because “Hannah Shah” is just that: the daughter of an imam in one of the tight-knit Deobandi Muslim Pakistani communities in the north of England. Her father emigrated to this country from rural Pakistan some time in the 1960s and is, apparently, a highly respected local figure.

He is also an incestuous child abuser, repeatedly raping his daughter from the age of five until she was 15, ostensibly as part of her punishment for being “disobedient”. At the age of 16 she fled her family to avoid the forced marriage they had planned for her in Pakistan. A much, much greater affront to “honour” in her family’s eyes, however, was the fact that she then became a Christian – an apostate. The Koran is explicit that apostasy is punishable by death; thus it was that her father the imam led a 40-strong gang – in the middle of a British city – to find and kill her.

Hannah Shah says her story is not unique – that there are many other girls in British Muslim families who are oppressed and married off against their will, or who have secretly become Christians but are too afraid to speak out. She wants their voices to be heard and for Britain, the land of her birth, to realise the hidden misery of these women.

Hannah’s own voice is quiet and emerges from a tiny frame. She is clearly nervous about talking to a journalist and the stress she has been under is betrayed by a bald patch on the left side of her head. Yet she has a lovely natural smile, especially when she reveals that she got married a year ago; her husband works in the Church of England, “though not as a vicar”.

I tell Hannah that the passages in her memoir about her sexual abuse are almost impossible to read – but I also found it hard to understand why, now that she is in her early thirties, independent and married, she has not reported her father’s horrific assaults on her to the police.

“What has stopped me is that if my dad went to prison, the shame that would be brought upon the rest of the family would be horrific. My mum would not be able to . . . I mean, it’s bad enough having a daughter who’s left, is not agreeing to her marriage and is now a Christian. Then to have my dad in prison would be the end for her.”

I tell Hannah, perhaps a little cruelly, that in her use of the word “shame” she is echoing the sort of arguments that her own family had used against her.

“I understand that, but what I’m saying is that if I do that, then there will never be a door open to me to have contact with my family ever again. I’m still hoping that there will be some opportunity for that.” Of course, by writing this book, albeit under an assumed name and with all the places and characters disguised, there is a chance that her family and community will identify themselves in it. What does she think they would do, then?

“To be honest, I don’t even want to think about that. Either they will decide between them that they are not going to say anything because it will bring shame on all the community, or they will decide that they want to take action. Then my life will become even more difficult, because they’ll all be looking for me.”

Hannah’s description in the book of the moment when her “community” discovered the “safe” home where she had fled after becoming an apostate is terrifying. A mob with her father at its head pounded and hammered at the door as she cowered upstairs hoping she could not be seen or heard. She heard her father shout through the letter box: “Filthy traitor! Betrayer of your faith! Cursed traitor! We’re going to rip your throat out! We’ll burn you alive!”

Does she still believe they would have killed her? “Yes, without a doubt. They had hammers and knives and axes.”

Why didn’t you call the police after-wards? “First, I didn’t think the police would believe me. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen in this country – or that’s what they’d think. Second, I didn’t believe I would get help or protection from the authorities.”

Hannah had good reason for this doubt. When, at school, she had finally summoned the courage to tell a teacher that her father had been beating her (she couldn’t bring herself to reveal the sexual abuse), the social services sent out a social worker from her own community. He chose not to believe Hannah and, in effect, shopped her to her father, who gave her the most brutal beating of her life. When she later confronted the social worker, he said: “It’s not right to betray your community.”

…“My teachers had thought they were doing the right thing, they thought it showed ‘cultural sensitivity’ by bringing in someone from my own community to ‘help’, but it was the worst thing they could have done to me. This happens a lot.

“When I’ve been working with girls who were trying to get out of an arranged marriage, or want to convert to Christianity, and they have contacted social services as they need to get out of their homes, the reaction has been ‘we’ll send someone from your community to talk to your parents’. I know why they are doing this, they are trying to be understanding, but it’s the last thing that the authorities should do in such situations.”

This is the sort of cultural sensitivity displayed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last year when he suggested that problems within the British Muslim community such as financial or marital disputes could be dealt with under sharia, Islamic law, rather than British civil law. What did Hannah, now an Anglican, think on hearing these remarks?

“I was horrified.” If you could speak to him now, what would you say to the archbishop? “I would say: have you actually spoken to any ordinary Muslim women about the situation that they live in, in their communities? By putting in place these Muslim arbitration tribunals, where a woman’s witness is half that of a man, you are silencing women even more.”

Below the fold are some cherry-picked passages from a decidedly un-newsy feature in Newsweek.

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Great step forward in marriage equality–for inbred aristocrats named “Windsor”

Via Newsweek:

The British royal family is all about tradition. But even this august institution has to confront the realities of the 21st century. For more than 300 years, it has been an inviolable rule that neither monarchs nor their spouses can be Roman Catholic.

The rules of succession also require that a first-born son gets the top job, bypassing any older sisters. Those restrictions could finally be history, according to a report today in London‘s Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian, which often advocates anti-monarchist positions, says advisers to Prime Minister Gordon Brown are currently reviewing proposals to abolish both these long-held rules. A Brown spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the report, explaining only that “changes to the law on succession would be a complex undertaking … requiring the consent of legislatures of member nations of the Commonwealth.”

Why even bother changing the law?

According to archaic statutes, sex outside of marriage is illegal in Wyoming, and all men are required to bring a firearm to church in Massachusetts. But no one is prosecuted when these offenses are breached constantly. Does Gordon Brown really have to divert time from issues that effect more taxpayers than the national playboy when everyone could just look the other way on an Edwardian statute? Let it rot and be done with it.

In all seriousness, what [could/would] British law enforcement possibly do to the royals? Granted, should the royals violate marriage laws, the bobbies wouldan obligation to prosecute them to the full extent of the law as any other citizen. But of course, they wouldn’t live up to that obligation. The royals sell too many tabloids, and provide…integral?…necessary?…meaningful? Okay, they produce nothing valuable for soceity but gossip, and jam up the governing process by going through the motions of Medeival court ritual at the taxpayer’s expense. All the more reason to bring them down back to reality. There is nothing more illiberal than a dichotomy of law systems, one to which mere mortals are subject, and ‘tother recieves Humanity Platinum PlusMembership because their anscestors just-so-happened to [conquer/marry] the right people.