August 6, 2013

A View of the Sexuality Dialogue

I received an e-mail message the other day from  Jason Togyer, a parishioner at St. Stephen’s McKeesport. Jason had participated in one of the sexuality dialogues over the weekend and was eager to share this thoughts about the experience. We later had a long telephone conversation, and Jason subsequently sent me the reflection below, which largely repeats what he said over the telephone.

I think it fair to say that both Jason and I feel that our diocese has been inwardly focused for far too long. It is time to join the Episcopal Church mainstream and to begin focusing on the world beyond the parish doors.
I cannot say if Jason’s take on participating in the diocese’s sexuality dialogue is typical, but it may be. It is certainly similar to my own reaction to the experience.
I recently had the honor of participating in one of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s “dialogues on human sexuality.”

I went with some trepidation; I shouldn’t have worried. The discussion was free, friendly, and frank—with the only exception being that the tight format of these dialogues, at times, threatened to prevent a real exchange of ideas. More on that in a moment.

All participants in the dialogues are asked to agree to a confidentiality agreement about what was said by other people, and I think it’s important to uphold it. So I won’t quote any specifics, and I’ll try not to put words into anyone else’s mouth.

I can speak only for myself, and I came away with a feeling that all of us in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—conservative, liberal, somewhere in between—have a sincere interest in holding the diocese together and seeing it grow again.

I also came away with a feeling that—at least among the people in our session—we all want the diocese to come to some resolution, both on the issue of same-sex blessings and ordaining priests with same-sex partners, and then we want to move on!

I sensed that we are all tired of directing our energies inward, against one another, and that we would all like to turn to more positive work, out in the community. (I count myself among the progressives. I feel the Episcopal Church has a great message of inclusiveness—so why are we apologizing for that? It’s time for us to stop acting so defensive about wanting all people—straight, gay, bi, transgender—to come together to worship. But I digress.)

About the format: The sessions are highly structured—to keep any one person from dominating a session, to allow everyone a chance to speak, and to keep things moving. Depending on the question, respondents are allowed two or three minutes to answer. I felt like I was on a game show, and a few times, it seemed like a participant ran out of time while just getting to the most important point.

Even among those who are opposed to recognition of same-sex marriages, I sensed a reluctant acceptance that society at large has accepted same-sex partnerships as a fact of life, and that trying to oppose the growing consensus on this issue is—in the words of William F. Buckley, Jr.—like standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!”

I also detected a weariness among the participants about re-hashing the issue again. I sensed that all of us are aching for some leadership.

Given the recent turmoil in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, there is an understandable fear about even discussing the issue of same-sex relationships—it’s treated like an “elephant in the room” that everyone is desperately is trying to ignore.

Rather than an elephant, I would say the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s recent turmoil is more like an old wound that’s been hidden by a bandage. Now we’re all afraid to remove the bandage and peek underneath.

We might look under the bandage and find that this wound is still festering and has become worse than ever. On the other hand, we might peel it off and find the wound has healed.

Either way, we’re never going to know until we look, and my gut feeling—after participating in this session—is that, while the wounds have left scars, the scars have healed.


  1. I'm new to Pittsburgh so don't have the history with all of this but it does seem to be a long, drawn out process. accomplishing what? I doubt minds will be changed. Perhaps the best will be more open minds.

    1. Changing minds is not a stated purpose of the dialogue. Some have even argued that the subject of the dialogue is not important. (This seems a stretch to me.) Reputedly, this is all about learning how to deal with difficult issues in a civil manner. Since we Pittsburgh Episcopalians have limited visibility into the dialogue process, it is not hard to suspect that the whole enterprise is really about providing cover for a new bishop. But that may be cynical.


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