Listen to all voices

July 27, 2009

Could anyone venture a guess at the number of words spoken in public forums during General Convention? One would count testimony at dozens of committee hearings, debate in open legislative sessions in the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, sermons at the daily Eucharists, speeches and talks at dozens of events.

Surely it is in the hundreds of thousands. In fact, there are usually so many opportunities to be heard at convention that the good old marriage ceremony phrase, "Speak now, or else forever hold your peace," might equally apply there.

The desire to listen to many voices – and a structure that enables it, such as the open nature of committee hearings – is an essential and beloved aspect of this church. Guests from abroad remarked on it. It is a concept that even is written into the articles of General Convention, which say that "in all deliberations freedom of debate shall be allowed."

It is also a bedrock ethos of Episcopal Life Media, which includes this newspaper and the online news service. And it is why it is worth noting that there were some conservative voices who were present at the last convention but not at this one. It is worth noting not because they departed or why, in many cases with unchristian rancor and bitterness, but because the body was diminished. As the Presiding Bishop said last year, the church "laments" the departure of those who leave and stands "ready to welcome the return of any who wish to rejoin this part of the body of Christ."

The loss of some of the most intransigent members means that there was, undeniably, a less-contentious atmosphere at convention, a point noted by bishops and deputies at a media briefing.

It also is worth noting that there were new and vigorous voices present from the four dioceses most affected, eager to engage with fellow Episcopalians, and that many of those voices had been suppressed before.

Nevertheless, said Deputy Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine (Virgin Islands), "I missed hearing some of those [conservative] voices – not that I agreed with them – and the passion that often came behind the sentiments they expressed."

One cannot deny that the majority of the church is speaking clearly on the issue of including gays and lesbians at all levels. If the church is to include "all," however, then it also must consider how it includes the approximately one-quarter of the whole that did not vote for the particular resolutions addressing these issues. There are hopeful examples.

At a convention media briefing, the Rev. Lowell Grisham (Arkansas) spoke of how well bishops and deputies of different views worked together on the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee as they brought a resolution to convention concerning the collection and development of resources for blessing same-gender couples. The work, he said, "felt like what the church ought to be as it works together."

Maybe it also is worth reflecting that there is an operation underway, sponsored by the Anglican Communion, called the Listening Process, designed to hear all sides of the issues concerning homosexuality. Among all the words, let's also take time to listen.

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