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Charlie Smith sent the following to friends on November 13, 2012, four days prior to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina's voting to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. It is used here with his permission.


A Little History Lesson for My LGBT Friends

By Charlie Smith

If past is truly prologue, then here's what you can expect from our Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina secessionists at their upcoming convention. I came across an interesting article today and decided to use it to make a point. In reading this article, if one replaces the word “negro” with the word “gay” in this 1887 New York Times article you just might find yourself caught in a time warp. The only major difference between the racist events described in this 1887 article and the homophobic machinations of the same church in 2012 is that, in 1887, then SC Bishop Howe actually understood the importance of inclusion in the context of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Howe and all but two clergymen in the diocese agreed in 1887 that “colored” priests should be admitted to the “privileges of the floor” of the Diocesan Convention. Imagine that…a Bishop in South Carolina supporting the rights of black clergy to have seat, voice and vote at a diocesan convention in 1887! Needless to say…most of the Laity got up and walked out…led by former Confederate Treasurer Christopher Memminger and several local politicians.

Miraculously, at some point in the years since the walk-out of the 1887 convention, faith, coupled with a more evolved understanding of scripture and perhaps even a victory of reason led to black clergy being admitted to the diocesan convention as equals. Hope springs eternal… It had only taken 300 years of servitude, 600,000 civil war military casualties and twenty years of post war unrest for this issue to be brought to the floor of the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Unlike our present situation with its LGBT focus, then-Bishop Howe and his followers actually embraced the future with a new understanding that black priests were in fact equal to their white counterparts and insisted that this new understanding be put into practice in this diocese.

Eventually Bishop Howe’s idea of diversity came to be officially celebrated at a later Episcopal Diocesan Convention…in the year 2000. It only took 113 years for that to happen! Let us also not forget that in 1928, almost forty years after the 1887 walkout, Bishop William Alexander Guerry was assassinated in his office on Church Street because he shared Bishop Howe’s beliefs and felt that this diocese should also have a black Suffragan Bishop. The “Celebrating Diversity” Convention of 2000 like its 1887 counterpart was a watershed moment for this diocese; but it was most notable not for any inclusion of formerly excluded groups, but for its outrageous display of hypocrisy…regarding gay and lesbian Christians who were quite obviously not included in the diocesan definition of diversity. This point was not lost on Dave Munday, the reporter from the Post and Courier, who was condemned openly from the podium by Bishop Edward Salmon for writing an article the day before that did not show the bishop in a favorable light on the subject of LGBT inclusion. I personally witnessed the hypocrisy of the 2000 convention as an alternate delegate and then as a full delegate from St. Stephen’s Charleston. The theme of the convention may have been “Celebrating Diversity in the Diocese of South Carolina” but diversity in this diocese in the year 2000 was strictly a matter of black and white.

At that convention and on behalf of all LGBT people in the Diocese of South Carolina I recorded as a delegate my objections to this narrow interpretation of diversity at the convention. I insisted from the floor that the LGBT people of the diocese and their supporters were entitled to some clarity from the Bishop as to just what this “diversity” included in the year 2000 and just who was to be excluded. So I asked the question of then Bishop Salmon from the microphone SIX times if the diocesan definition of “diversity” included LGBT Christians before the bishop finally gave a direct answer. He may have answered in the affirmative that LGBT people were included in the diversity of the diocese, but his stubborn resistance to simply answering yes to this question speaks volumes as to the veracity of his response then and the reality for LGBT people in the Diocese of South Carolina now…we were not a part of Bishop Salmon’s definition of diversity then and we are not a part of Bishop Lawrence’s definition of diversity now.

But the substantive questions for LGBT people in this diocese going forward are reserved for when the diocesan breakup is finally complete…Will LGBT people have any more of a role in this diocese than they did in 2000? Will they be included in the reorganizational documents of the diocese by name or will they be swept under the rug again by those who rise to power? If LGBT people are not going to be listed as “named insureds” in the reorganizational documents of this diocese, then I am suggesting to you that we have accomplished nothing in this struggle with the church and that we are just trading open hostility toward LGBT Christians for a newly acceptable unspoken contempt.

It troubles me when I see people whom I know understand the realities of this situation who still cannot bring themselves to even speak the words “gay” or “lesbian”. These are folks, lay and clergy, who understand exactly who it is that has been in the crosshairs of the Diocese of SC for decades and yet they still speak in euphemisms about the reality of the situation and about those who have been victimized by it. Let me assure you that you will find no organization affiliated with the old guard or the new in this Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that speaks loudly and clearly for LGBT justice and for the specific inclusion of LGBT people BY NAME in the full life and worship of this church and diocese. None. Those whom we believe support the LGBT community in this diocese are not exempt from this criticism. I do not know of a single congregation in this diocese, after all that we have been through that actually prays for those LGBT people who are being discriminated against and who continue to be excluded. Our allies do not call out this bad behavior. They do not name it. They simply pray for unity. I ask you…is unity really what you as an LGBT person think this is about? There is much more to this struggle than just unity; yet all anyone seems to want to talk about publicly these days when asked about the breakup is unity…not the ongoing institutionalized anti-gay hatred and exclusion fomented by the Diocese of South Carolina. This must change. If we value lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, then we must PRAY for them by name, SUPPORT them in deed and MAKE IT SAFE for all LGBT people and their families to worship and receive the all the sacraments in this and every diocese.

At one time the Vestry of St. Stephen’s Charleston spoke loudly and clearly for LGBT equality with their amazing position statement on the inclusion of LGBT people in the life and worship of the church. But where is that statement now? It hasn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. You’d be hard pressed to find the words “Gay or “lesbian” on the website of even the Episcopal Forum. They speak only of unity and of not allowing “differences of opinion” to split the church. When this is all said and done, with whom will LGBT Christians in this diocese decide to stand…with those who said what they meant and meant what they said in support of inclusion or with those who used our struggle for some other purpose and then pretended that the discord was about some abstract concept of unity “that we really don’t need to talk about in detail anymore”? I don’t know about you, but I want to stand with those who said “We are sick to death of our LGBT friends and family being subjected to second class standing in the eyes of our community and the eyes of our God and we will not tolerate it anymore!” If the Episcopal Forum is to be the incubator of this new diocese (and I hope that it will be) then it needs to adopt language that is unambiguously inclusive of LGBT people. It must defend itself and all in its care against those who want to take us back to the year 2000.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that what is happening in this diocese today is about orthodoxy, traditional teachings or even some ancient biblical standard that supports their prejudices. The perpetrators of this divisiveness are people who when government refused to continue supporting their prejudices ran for cover in the church and have dared their detractors to touch them ever since. As you can see from the attached article this has been going on for at least 125 years in the Diocese of South Carolina.

There will be much said and written in the next few months about the breakup of the Diocese of South Carolina. If you intend to be a part of the new diocese then you MUST be present and you must speak your truth as LGBT people of faith in these formational meetings. Do not allow yourself to be used or misled in this process and most of all do not EVER allow any new diocese of the Episcopal Church to come into being in South Carolina that allows LGBT people to be left out again! It’s NOT just about unity…it’s about you…and the people you love!


Charlie Smith is a native of South Carolina and a community planner by education. He is an expert in both residential and commercial sales and founded CSA Real Estate Services in Charleston, South Carolina, in January 1997. The first ten years of his success in Charleston have been largely due to the incredible support of the city's gay and lesbian community. Charlie pioneered the targeted marketing of Charleston real estate to gay and lesbian clients and opened the door for many who have followed in his footsteps. He is a active member of Alliance for Full Acceptance, a social justice organization achieving equality and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

 

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