Working for reconciliation: 'National conversation' airs varying views on same-gender unions

June 1, 2003

WORKING TO BUILD respect and reconciliation with one another and within the wider church, Episcopalians with differing views on liturgical blessings for same-gender unions joined a "national conversation" convened May 7-11 by Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno.

The presenters, addressing 70 participants from 12 states, were self-identified as "conservative, progressive or moderate reconcilers" trained in conflict resolution in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Bruno has offered teams of reconcilers to any diocese or congregation seeking help in addressing conflict issues. 

Bruno, whose episcopate began with an anti-violence "Hands in Healing" campaign that spread nationally, told participants that reconciliation was the most important work in which they could engage: "The work of reconciliation isn't that I want to grab you, drag you here and make you think the way I think. It takes understanding that we have a great work in the world, to be the hands of Christ in this world.

"As the reconciliation initiative continues, it is my fantasy that we will live in a world of understanding, nonviolence, justice and mercy for all and respect dignity of every human being," Bruno said. "Jesus Christ expressed it. Gandhi expressed it. Mother Teresa expressed it. If we believe we can love one another with that kind of energy, we will be that kind of love in the world in such a way that we will work for abundance rather than being obliterators of one another."

Core values identified

Key to the discussion was an exercise in which participants identified individual, group and Episcopal Church core values.

Reconciliation work has taken the Rev. Canon F. Brian Cox IV, rector of Christ the King, Santa Barbara reconciliation work to Kashmir and Eastern. He noted that, without exception, respect was listed as a core value for each group, but not for the church.

"It is interesting how much we reveal about ourselves," Cox said. "Respect is consistently listed as a group core value, but no one mentioned it for the church.

"At the heart of justice is respect. If we don't value respect we will never achieve justice," said Cox, one of three leaders of the diocesan reconciliation initiative. "And when we get to what values we share, conservatives and liberals, underneath it all, value a lot of the same things."

Participants included laity and clergy, gay and straight people, men and women, Anglos, Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Some spoke to the cost of publicly expressing conservative, progressive or moderate views about the efficacy of liturgical blessings for same-gender unions.

The Rev. Randolph Dales, a deputy from the Diocese of New Hampshire, questioned whether the gathering reached its goal of being a "national conversation," given the number of dioceses represented and the ratio of some seven conservative participants to 26 progressives, with the balance identifying themselves as moderates.

Dales said conversation would have been more diverse had other conservative leaders been present. "But this kind of conversation is not something we should do on occasion or in crisis," he said. "Reconciliation should be a way of life. It's what we're called to do, the primary goal of the baptismal covenant."

The conversation asked participants to "get into the mindset of reconciliation versus the mindset of 'my way at all costs,'" said the Rev. Barbara Cavin and a deputy from the Diocese of Michigan. "As people get to know gays and lesbians, then blessing of same-gender unions isn't just an issue; it's people you're talking about."

Pat McCaughan is senior correspondent for The Episcopal News in the Diocese of Los Angeles.