Episcopalians packed the hearing room for testimony on A085 and B012. Bishops sat on the floor side by side with all the other orders of ministry in the church. Speaker after speaker came to the microphone to be politely and efficiently heard.
And I just felt the pain of fear. It didn’t matter what side of the marriage equality debate people fell on, they were afraid. We heard stories of LGBTQ members and parents of LGBTQ members who had been hurt and found refuge only in our church, and each one was afraid to lose that refuge. We heard from people who joined the church because of our acceptance of all who were afraid of finding themselves in a church they didn’t recognize. A remarkably long line of young adult speakers from St. John the Divine in Houston* – those folks can organize – expressed fear that changes to the BCP to universalize the availability of same-sex marriage would push them out of the church. Various people feared the loss of ecumenical partnerships. And everyone feared that we would lose members, regardless of the position they held on marriage.
As if the tension was not high enough in the room, insufficient translation services impaired the full participation of non-English speaking members of the church, and for many, this became a symbol of their standing, or lack thereof, in this debate. Nonetheless, multiple speakers from the Diocese of Honduras were able to express their opposition to A085 and their fear of division and alienation.
Now, we all love to say that God tells us not to fear. It’s one of the most common sermon tropes out there. But I was afraid. Our process of debate – where it is hard to avoid producing winners and losers – seems, unintentionally, to generate fear. The crowd gathers to see who’s going to win and who’s going to lose.
The hearing room felt like the great arena of the Coliseum. At the center, the fighters stand. The crowd around the margins is transfixed, simultaneously drawn in by the spectacle and repulsed, conscious of the pit of fear in the middle. And everyone knows, someone in the arena is going to get hurt.
*We were mistaken. At least 4 young adults were from the Diocese of Texas, but not St. John the Divine. Three came from Christ Church in Tyler, one from St. Michael’s in Austin.