Heresy Trial Is an Exercise in Control

Article excerpt

I was sitting at my kitchen table one day, sipping a tepid cup of java I felt too uninspired to heat up and mentally writing my acceptance speech for when I win the Nobel prize for anything, when the phone rang and startled me back to reality. It was a friend, an ex-Jesuit, who is both admired and despised for his radical Queer theology.a

"Did you hear about the heresy trial?" he asked.

Naturally, I thought it was something the Romans were up to since it was Bob calling and since the word "heresy" conjured up medieval images of enforced conformity, something at which the Roman Catholic Church used to be fairly accomplished.

Bob proceeded to explain that a group of bishops within the Episcopal Church had filed a presentment, which called for the retired bishop of Iowa, Walter Righter, to be tried for acting contrary to church doctrine.

To the minds of the nine traditionalists who brought the charge, Righter committed heresy in 1990 when he ordained "practicing" homosexual Barry Stopfel. I always indulge myself in a few yucks when I hear that term, "practicing." Of course, Stopfel was "practicing." We all practice being who we are, don't we? m Anyway, Righter contends that the church has no official doctrine on the matter of ordaining gays and lesbians. In point of fact, such ordinations, though hardly commonplace, are nothing new.

Bob's phone call came more than a year ago when the complaints were first filed. And guess what? The matter just went to an ecclesiastical hearing on Feb. 27. I can barely contain my glee in knowing that now the Episcopal Church is recognized for its scandals, namely the recent embezzlement of a cool $2.2 million by a former treasurer and now the Anglican version of the Inquisition.

The whole sordid affair offends me as a lesbian, an Episcopalian and an American. I take a dim view of invoking heresy to strongarm people into complicity, especially with a defunct status quo. I take an even dimmer view of any attempt - religious, political, or social - to marginalize pe ople who refuse to bow to the golden calf called "heterosexuality." The reason I am uncomfortable with both heresy and discrimination is that they are both about the same thing - control.

When a religious institution threatens to defrock, excommunicate or instigate charges of heresy against its clergy for acting in accordance with their consciences, the chances are pretty good that it is engaging some form of mind control. I find the use of tyranny as leverage to exact doctrinal conformity despicable, regardless of whether the conscience of the clergyperson is of a traditionalist or a progressive bent.

Likewise, when a religious institution refuses to ordain someone homosexual, declines to include sexual minority people as fully participating members in worship, or fails to recognize the need for lesbian and gay people to experience the full range of intimate and sexual expression deemed appropriate for heterosexual adherents, it is engaging in body control. …