Moving the Church Forward, Part II– At My Own Risk…

January 22, 2007

Church SplitLast week, I gave my thoughts on moving the church forward.

The Spirit seems to be moving in interesting ways. Several others have had similar thoughts.

JM (what wonderful initials!) wrote about the same thing here using a wonderful dream he had which gave him the metaphor of Solomon and the baby claimed by two mothers.  Solomon’s solution:  cut the baby in half, and give each mother half.  The mother that cried out in horror and gave up the baby to let it live, even if it meant giving the baby to the other woman is the woman who Solomon determined was the rightful mother.

So, he concluded, perhaps is a lesson to be learned here for how we can proceed.

I’m not sure it is a completely accurate metaphor, but I think it is worth some time in prayer.

Lisa, at My Manner of Life, has also picked up on the same general ideas.  She talks about what justice really means, and the difference between the secular world and that of the sacred.

And from Rev. Susan Russell’s An Inch at a Time I got this Washington Post story, showing how fighting is causing real damage in real lives.

And again I ask:  Is that what the church is for?

Certainly the church is not for discrimination against GLBT persons, or against women, or any other people.  But when you read the Washington Post story and see the collateral damage of the way we, as a collective community, as the Body of Christ, are handling our differences, I wonder if we are going about this in the right way.

This fight for inclusion and equality– this necessary struggle for the democracy of the souls, to ensure that every human being is counted, treated, and loved equally– is absolutely important.  But if we treat “collateral” damage the same way US war generals treat lost Iraqi lives while we pursue our own domestic agendas in foreign countries, are we doing it the right way?  When lifelong friends stop speaking because of church theology, is that “acceptable collateral damage?”

Not for me.  That isn’t the purpose of the church.

Sometimes I wonder if we, rather than focusing on love have focused judgment based on a litmus test:  agree with me.  Be GLBT inclusive.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe we need to fight for inclusion.  But I think that all rules are constructs of our human limitations, and should be approached with humility; they need to be applied from a foundation of love.

A quote from William Sloan Coffin: Rules at best are signposts, never hitching posts.  Personally I doubt whether there is such a thing as a Christian rule.  There are probably only acts that are more or less Christian depending on the motives prompting them.  But if we say, ‘Down with rules,’ we must at the same time say, ‘Up with persons.’  And if we exalt freedom as Christians, we must remember that freedom is grounded in love.  ‘He who does not love remains in death.’  Though setting no outer rules, love exacts much from within.  As Paul Ramsay says, ‘If everything is permitted which Christian love permits, everything is demanded which Christian love required.’  So let others say, ‘Anything goes.’  The Christian asks, ‘What does love require?’

In short we have come up with love as an answer to legalism on the one hand and lawlessness on the other.  Love hallows individuality.  Love consecrates and never desecrates personality.  Love demands that all our actions reflect a movement toward and not away from nor against each other.  And love insists that all people assume their responsibility for all their relations.  Credo, p. 22.

So what does love require?  I believe it requires us to first ask ourselves to remember the humanity of those to whom we would apply our rules, and what the impact is.  To remember the little old lady in the Washington Post article, who had a funeral and wondered if anyone would show up because her friends all voted differently on the “schism issue” in her church– because that is directly an impact of how we approach this situation.  We cannot control how the other side approaches it.  Remember Solomon and the baby.  But we can take the high road.

We must keep moving towards equality.  We must march on towards inclusion.  But there is no “acceptable” collateral damage.  There is no “either/or” here.  We must find a “both/and” that allows the church to perform all of her functions.

This is not the civic arena.  This is the church.  If the march towards equality keeps moving forward, we must not be impatient and forget that we may not be called to see the destination of this journey, but only be with the march as it moves closer, one step at a time.  Remember there will always be another marginalized person, another “least of these,” another struggle.  If we cannot bear the burden of the journey– if our own personal struggles become so heavy that we cannot bear the cross of corporate sin– then there are other churches which have already gotten closer to the objective, and GLBT people are very welcome there.  I am not advocating that people leave TEC.  But I acknowledge that working towards inclusion in a Christian manner is different than working towards inclusion in a civil manner, and it requires much more personal strength– strength which may already be spent in those of us who have already suffered as a result of who we are, of who we were created to be; suffered at the very hands of those very people with whom, in the church, we return week after week, month after month, and year after year to share in the body and blood of our great Reconciler with whom ALL are equal.  We must have an ethical framework which allows us change strategies, or even to leave in peace when the corporate struggle becomes not about God’s work but our own personal needs.  Otherwise, we end up being no different from those who oppose us.

There is no doubt this is a hard journey.  There is no doubt that ethical decisions are hard.  If the cross was easy to bear, it wouldn’t make much of a cross.  Not everyone may be called to carry this particular cross.

But this cross, this journey is not without hope.

There is movement.

There are many places in this church which already offer healing.

Thirty years ago, women could hardly find a foothold from which to look for equality and inclusion.

Looking forward now, we must move to lay a foundation so that thirty years from now, the same fabric is weaved over this great church, slowly and carefully so that it is strong and cannot rip.  A fabric which does not ignore our differences when administering sacraments, but embraces them and celebrates them.

To move too fast towards this end weaves a weak fabric, subject to tears, holes, and punctures.  It fractures relationships, it cannot bear weight, it cannot warm the bodies which it enfolds.

But moving forward carefully and thoughtfully, taking into account the needs of all– both those who cannot at the present moment embrace change and those who push hard for it– it can be a strong fabric, binding us all together in Christ that we may all be one body.

The tools of judgement, exclusion, condemnation, excommunication, legalities, harsh doctrines, mob rule, and rushing to judgement– let them be for somebody else.

As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.

j

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