Comments on Moving Forward in the Church

January 16, 2007

There’s a lot going on in the blogosphere in the last few days, and I’m going to get myself into hot water by mentioning and commenting on it.  As always, these comments are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of any organization with which I am affliliated.

In a post on The Episcopal Majority, the Rev. Paul Woodrum says the following:

This is what I long for in our present leadership when it comes to discrimination against women and LGBT people: for the Presiding Bishop and other bishops to say simply that we will not tolerate any more discrimination and bigotry and challenge the church to live into this, not because it is politic or impolitic, acceptable to some but not to others, but because it is right. No more of this namby pamby hiding behind commissions, committees, conventions and policy directives. No more tolerating seasons, years, decades or centuries of waiting for justice. 

Heaven knows Bishops Akinola and Iker and Duncan and their ilk are not shy about making pronouncements that are wrong, immoral, and unjust. Presiding Bishop Browning called for no more outcasts but took six of his nine years to begin to live into that himself where gay people were concerned. Presiding Bishop Griswold was genetically too nuanced to make a direct statement. It’s a new day. I hope we will hear loud and clear the old prophetic call for justice to run down like rivers and integrity like an everlasting stream. Shalom. Shalom.

I couldn’t agree more that the church needs to be on the front lines of justice.  We spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing.I have been struggling, though, to sort out what I think living into this call means.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what this might look like, and I hope it doesn’t look like fighting, court battles, and so forth:  when the breakdown of the relationships within the church comes to such a point that we must start to think about things like using the church’s ecclesiastical canons and courts to administer justice, I think something is terribly wrong (note that Rev. Woodrum’s article does not specifically mention courts, that is my insertion).

I believe church, in addition to working for peace and justice, is for finding God through spirituality and through community.  When the community becomes so broken with conflict that neither the community functions properly nor the necessary spiritual components for finding God exist, I think we have to ask ourselves whose goals we are pursuing:  ours our God’s.  The three things (Peace and Justice, Community, and Spirituality) must work together.

Now that is bound to stir up a bunch of heated anger from my GLBT brothers and sisters, and I am a staunch advocate of GLBT rights.  I do not for one minute think we should sit back and yield any of our equality. I just wonder whether or not the church is the right place to be talking about it in such black and white terms.  The conversation has to be much more nuanced– not nuanced because we should yield our rights (and not nuanced in the way Rev. Woodrum means it about ++Griswold), but nuanced because we are called to be compassionate to those who are our “enemies,” those who don’t get it yet.

In my post yesterday, I talked about the developmental scale of accepting differences.  Since we are called in the Christian tradition to community, we must understand that those who are against us have a lot of work ahead of them.  In order for them to accept us, rather than fight with divisive legal proceedings or other action we should spend time laying a framework that helps to move people up the developmental scale of understanding and embracing differences.  Fighting only keeps people where they are– it does not help move our agenda forward over the long term, even though it may yield short-term advances.

The civil arena?  That’s a different matter.  It’s not the church.  It has a different function.  It works through the courts, largely, because we don’t have the same bonds of affection holding us together in the civil arena (although maybe we should).  Court cases work more effectively there.  The civil arena is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot of his work with the racial equality movement, although he was sorry so many people did not see him as a pastor.

But the church is a place to build relationships, not tear them down.  The next logical question, of course, is how we, as GLBT people, can build up our own relationships when we do not have full equality.  What is our recourse when the church that is supposed to work for justice doesn’t do that.

Again, I think it is to work relationally.  It is working for the long-term, laying the foundation for change and trusting the Holy Spirit to work within our enemies to embrace those changes over the long-term.  Perhaps the PB could call for small groups to talk about differences (gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, religion, theological differences– everything), programs in our parishes to explain who and what we are, how we are the same, and how we are different; how our differences can be a gift.

Look at the progress we’ve already made- most people I run into in the church– people from conservative and progressive dioceses– are “pro-gay.”  Lots of this can be attributed to “short-term” victories, as I’ve characterized them.  But more of it, I believe, is because of the growing emergence of “out” people– the growing understanding that being a gay or lesbian person does not mean being a pervert; that we are no different from straight people, with many of the same dreams, goals, and spiritual needs; and that where we are different that the difference is not a threat but a blessing.

Will everyone make this journey?  Of course not.  But my experience is that GLBT people do not come to parishes where they are not welcome, therefore they cannot be discriminated against in such places because they self-select out.  Welcome by ecclesiastical mandate will not make a GLBT person welcome in a parish.  Diocesan discrimination against postulancy, episcopacy, and marriage rites is a serious matter– but not one that will be solved by presentment (I considered such a move myself at one point and discarded it as divisive).  Presentment will only solidify and galvanize our opposition, further deteriorating the community of the church and breaching her purpose.  The true solution will be slow.  It is truly our only choice, and until the next wave of priests and bishops come through the ranks who have inclusive theologies more in-line with the rest of the church it is our only option.  This is a short-term problem so long as we lay the proper groundwork, especially with our seminaries and our young people.  The conservatives know this, and have been openly talking about it for some time.  That is why they are so worried.  The march towards equality is rapidly approaching a new stage of the race, and we must not lose our patience and diligence– slow and steady wins the race.

The church has a responsibility to work for justice.  We as humans so often only see things from our very tiny vantage point.  That is why it is so gratifying for us to take the quick road working for short-term victories that come at extremely high relational cost.

Yield equality?  Never.  God created all of us, and the church has a responsibility to work to ensure that we are all treated with justice.  End the discussion and start acting?  Not if it means that the foundation for the church– community and spiritual development for all, even those whom it is painful or inconvenient for us to accept– is diminished.  But absolutely if it means acting in a Christian manner and finding a solution which can provide both community and justice– I believe that is the prophetic framework of the church that God intends for us to seek.  We just haven’t worked hard enough at finding it.



8 Responses to “Comments on Moving Forward in the Church”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Just a post-note– someone emailed me and saw this as an argument in conflict with Rev. Woodrum’s original post. That is not my intent. I am exploring ways of being called to action; I do not dispute the notion that we are called to action. I agree with just about everything that Rev. Woodrum has said about the effectiveness of what can be done in a committee and so forth. Committees and Councils are not where minds change. Grassroots are. That should be our focus.


  2. John Says:

    Please refer me to one thing that +Duncan has said that is “wrong, immoral, and unjust.” I have followed the man, and the controversy, fairly closely. And have never heard him say, or heard of him saying, anything close to this. Yes, he disagrees with your position and policy on sexual activity, but I have never seen him speak with anger, without great compassion, or in a way that is demeaning to others. Ever. Maybe I missed something, some address, some writing, or some encounter that you know about that I don’t. Of course, if everyone who disagrees with your policy and what it means for the church is worthy of excoriation, well . . .

    Again, to what statement(s) do you refer?

  3. Jeff Says:

    I am in Mexico at the moment on a class trip and will respond when I return.


  4. Lisa Says:

    Jeff, thanks for having the courage to raise this question. You’ve inspired me to raise my own version of the question over at my own blog.

  5. Jeff Says:

    Click on Lisa’s post, above, for some more insight on this topic, and some of my own comments as well.


  6. Jeff Says:

    John –

    You refer to a quote; it is not my own writing.

    However, I would say that +Duncan’s position is wrong, immoral, and unjust because it is based on exclusion and spiritual violence against those with whom he does not agree.

    There is plenty of psychological evidence of how religious dogma that places judgement against one’s nature is severely damaging to one’s sexual and psychological formation, no matter how good the intentions are behind that dogma.

    However, the point of this post is that the solution will not be to sacrifice the dignity, integrity, nor full inclusion of all of the baptized in the church as a part of that process.

    This is a discussion of the method for moving forward, not the destination. The Episcopal Church has already canonically defined that it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation– that is a matter of canon law and defined theology for our church.

    What is at issue is how to turn the theoretical theology and canon into applied practical life and work in the church, given that the job of the conservative is to resist change to ensure that only the valid changes are fully embraced (while the progressive’s job is to be the prophetic voice introducing lots of change), and we must allow time and process for the conservatives to be convinced that this is a valid change while minimizing the spiritual damage in the meantime.


  7. John Says:

    Sorry, Jeff, not at all convincing. Duncan is not guilty of the charges. Now you slide your argument to say he is guilty of an oppressive opinion. But his opinion has been held by countless people down through the ages. So guess who you’ll have to include in this, then? The Dalai Lama, ML King Jr, virtually every Christian saint . .. and the list goes on. The Archbishop himself has said that one can hold the conservative position and in no way necessarily be called the things you allege of Duncan. Why not just admit that the criticism of Duncan is overstated? Surely it is.

    Additionally, I don’t buy the way self-labeled progressives in our church call themselves prophetic. The instruments of unity all calling for Robinson (who hid his alcoholism, among other things, from the search committee) not to go ahead . . now that was prophetic. Look at the mess one narcisstic individual has caused.

  8. Jeff Says:


    Thank you for posting.

    You are free to act as judge and jury for yourself, but of course the Episcopal Church has already made its decision, and that decision is that the Spirit has revealed to us that GLBT persons are loved and valued by God. That is the reason why +Duncan has decided to leave, the reason for dissention in the church, and the call for reconciliation to find a way to allow people to have time to heal from the wounds that change inevitably causes as it has time and time again throughout the history of the church. It is so hard for us to remember that things we take for granted today were the schisms of yesterday. It is how we respond to those changes that will leave a legacy for the church of tomorrow.

    God’s peace to you in your journey.


    PS – I have intentionally ignored your comments about +Robinson’s withholding of information during the search process for his episcopacy. There is no evidence that he was aware of his problem during that time, and the pressure, both abroad and domestic, including death threats, by people opposed to this change as the Spirit moved towards love that is bigger than some would like was immense for one person to handle. That is a big load and I am sure that it heightened any issues which may have already been present. Your lack of compassion for your fellow human being breaks my heart.

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