For months, our attention here in Pittsburgh has been given to one of the nation's most outspoken mongerers of Christo-intolerance, Episcopal Bishop Duncan. Even as Pittsburgh's Episcopal diocese moves increasingly to the conservative right with a threat to leave the Episcopal body and seek refuge in the worldwide Anglican union, there are voices in the wildnerness calling for justice — biblically based justice.
Today's Post-Gazette delves into the interesting story of Dr. Harold T. Lewis, pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside. Dr. Lewis and his flock have stood up against the “uncharitable, misguided and wrong” conservatism of just about everyone else in the local Episcopal diocese.
“The thing that bothers me about the immutability [of the Bible] argument is that people point to the seven or eight verses that people like to point to that say that homosexuality is off the charts,” he said. “But in the holiness codes, there are all kinds of statements and all kinds of justifications for putting people to death, like sassing your parents or not trimming your beard properly or wearing two kinds of cloth.”
The church's views change, he said, citing divorce and race as examples. Interpretations by Europeans or wealthy scholars or the Roman Catholic Church are being challenged now by what Dr. Lewis calls, “the eyes of the oppressed.” It's the same Bible, he says, but different eyes are now interpreting it.
In return for his stance on a social justice issue, Dr. Lewis has been booed at diocesan events and roundly criticized for legal battles over church properties. In the face of this hostility, he remains unwaveringly committed to actingin what he perceives to be most consistent with canon and justice, even if it puts him in direct opposition to his bishop.
A parallel article covers the return of Bishop Duncan from the recent bishopal conference in Africa.
Bishop Duncan led a delegation of the network to a meeting of church leaders in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, earlier this month where they successfully pushed for a church declaration setting a deadline of Sept. 30 for the American bishops to state unequivocally that they will not approve same-sex unions or consecrate any gays as bishops.
A lone voice of quiet dissent, Sue Boulden questioned the Bishop on his group's role in oppressing gays throughout the world.
“It seems to me the meeting has accomplished what the conservative movement wants to do, which is throw my people — the gays and lesbians of the world — under the bus again,” Mrs. Boulden said.
The remark, which drew some gasps, received a quiet reply from Bishop Duncan that “orientation is not the issue. Activity is,” and that he opposes the oppression of gays.
Boulden refers to recent legislation in Nigeria that would make any “activity” related to homosexuality illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Not just 'gay sex' mind you, but two gay people being in the same public place, distributing condoms, meetings of groups like PFLAG and so forth. For Bishop Duncan to parse activity from orientation with regard to this legislation is the height of hypocrisy, given his own press release accusing opponents of the legislation of being “colonialists.”
Apparently, the individual rights of gays and lesbians in Nigeria shouldn't be subject to the same scrutiny as Nigerian Christians being persecuted by “Islamic extremists.” Apparently, international standards of human rights only apply to people who deserve refuge.
Take heart, Pittsburgh, for in the face of the institutional sponsored oppression that is the local Episcopal church, two differents kinds of voices cry out — voices like Ms. Boulden's who speak from the pews and voices like Dr. Lewis' from the pulpit. That's a mighty combination and one, I think, that will prove formidable as the church continues to wrestle these matters.