The Mission to the GLBT Church

February 14, 2007

I am convinced that those who oppose us in the church believe that they are “right”- that the church is dedicated to the pursuit of the “pure faith” as revealed through the apostolic teachers through history.

I agree with this approach partially.  I agree that we need to look to history to gain insight from those who came before us.  But I do not believe in any “pure faith.”  Religion has always been in conversation with the culture of the time.  The conservative postition, though, tends to ignore the fact that change has always been and will always be present in all religious traditions.

It also ignores the strong social justice voice in scripture preferring to look to other voices in scripture, but that story is for another time… 

What is interesting to me is that the “pure faith” folks ignore the facets of the tradition which denegrate the marginalized, a value which is in conflict with traditional teaching.  This is ignored when it does not affirm the institution itself– when the mission of the church has been in conflict with the church, institutional memory has favored memory of its values over the historical facts of its oppression in many cases.  We even find this to be true in the framers and authors of scripture, prior to the institution of the Christian Church.

This is particularly relevant for us as gay men and lesbians, because we are in such a period now, when the Church chooses to pursue its institutional identity over its core values of hospitality and justice.  Rather than be willing to reach out in hospitality to those who are different– to the stranger– and then being open to the changes that occur in relationship as the Spirit moves with both the subject and object of hospitality, the “orthodox” wish to remain vigilant in closing their doors.  In fact, they wish not only to close their doors to us, but to build walls and leave the proverbial town– leave the body of TEC if that’s what it takes, as long as they don’t have to be hospitable to gay and lesbian folks.

A few quotes that I find particularly interesting, poignant, and relevant from a book in my Missiology course, Mission, An Essential Guide, by Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi:

“Many Christians assume that their Christianity is normative and pure; they are blind to the interplay between the gospel and their culture(s), the ways in which their faith shapes and is shaped by the context where they live.  There is no “pure” faith, and mission is always shaped by the context.” (p. 18).

I often am amazed when I hear folks of the so-called “orthodox” persuasion say that they are following the “true apostolic tradition” of the church.  They, as much as anyone else, are subjects of their culture, pursuing those parts of the tradition which highlight the cultural components of their time which are important to them– just like we do.  The only difference is that they fail to realize that they are doing it and insist that their experience of culture and tradition is applicable to all of us.

“The contextualized nature of the gospel is based on God’s incarnation in Christ.” p. 18.

Incarnation in Christ, and we are the body.  We all are different parts of the body, with different experiences.  Paul’s metaphor is so overused, but so applicable.  A hand is not a foot, so why do the conservative orthodox want us all to look, feel, act, and believe as if we are uniform parts?  There is no inconsistency with having different experiences as different parts of the body of Christ.

[In discussing the need for a ‘mirror’ for our mission…] “We need the assessment of the cultural other because…the gospel we communicate is either open and congruent with God’s missional work or under cultural captivity, bound to human values and interests distant from the values of the Reign of God… [when the work is unhealthy it needs] renewal that usually begins with a critical evaluation of our mission work from those who have been missionized.  As a result, contextualization is not discerned in isolation from the people who live in the context where mission is being done.”  p.18-19

In looking at the gay and lesbian context, the church must be in conversation with us about how it missionizes us.  In other words, the church gotta talk to us about our experience!  Who else here is sick of other people telling us about our experience– about how much deeper our spiritual lives would be if we would be celibate, or turn ex-gay, or whatever?  Without being in conversation with us– all of us as a community– for a critical evaluation of how that mission is carried out the renewal Cardoza-Orlandi discusses cannot happen.  Their work falls into cultural captivity of the straight white man– as Cardoza-Orlandi says “bound to his human values and interests which are distant from the values of the Reign of God.”

One paradigm of mission in such communities, according to Cardoza-Orlandi, is their need to “go out and make things right!  It is part of an insider/outsider frame of reference where the insider has solutions and the outsider has problems…  This model of mission is the act of imposing restoring, or establishing a notion of order perceived as vital by the missionary community or Christian experience.” He calls this the efficiency model of mission.  p. 21

Hmmmm.  Sounds so familiar.  “I’m straight, white, male, and Christian, and I know what’s best for you- I’m on the inside.  You, on the other hand, are gay, and therefore an outsider.  I know how to fix you– let me solve your problems with the healing power of Jesus Christ, which I, as an insider, happen to know all about!  You, as an outsider, couldn’t possibly know anything about it so let me give you the keys to success!”  [my own hypothetical, angry, bitter quote, not Cardoza-Orlandi’s!]

Contrast this with a model that respects differences– but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I think there is more identification, though, in our so-called “orthodox” friends with what Cardozo-Orlandi calls the nostaligc model of mission:  “To approve of [the formulas which recall and romanticize past memories of a perceived time of glory and triumph] is to be a legitimate Christian; to disapprove of them is to relinquesh the faith.  Furthermore, in many circles the nostalgic model of mission is a fundamental criterion for evaluating one’s commitment to the Christian faith.” p. 23.

This sounds remarkably like a covenant that one must sign in order to be a member of the Anglican Communion…

There are some responses that rightly address the changes we face in this changing world.  Some of the challenges as presented in responses that Cardoza-Orlandi thinks are good but incomplete (note: Christendom is defined roughly as the Christian state/empire):  [paraphrasing] 1) damaging legacy of Chrstendom in congregational and denominational life; 2) the end of Christendom in this century drives the need to reinvent congregational life; 3) the need for biblical and theological language to assist in this shift; and 4) some go so far as to develop a prophetic voice naming the idolatry of the North American churches with capitalism, wealth, and consumption. p. 26.

For Cardoza-Orlandi, that isn’t far enough.  We must do more to 1) stop perpetuating injustice and repression; 2) develop awareness in our mission of a diverse Christian community and a pluralistic religious context; 3) differentiate between these new models and previous models in Christendom:  “From my perspective, as a missionized person, the proposals seem to keep Christian communities as the main protagonists of mission and to attempt to recover the religious and political influence lost in the postmodern era.” p. 26.

Amen, brother.

He realizes, though, that all in the church have two things in common:  1) “the urgency of sharing the gospel with the world, and 2) the dream of a Christian and better world.”  p. 27.

Going on to talk about the realities of doing mission, he comments:  “Reality is much more complicated than we may wish to believe.”  How unfortunate for those who do not wish to be transformed by doing mission, but instead wish to “inflict transformation” on their subjects.  That is the way I feel when being preached to by one who wants me to change, but is not willing to be open to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their encounter with me when talking about what the Church means to them.  If we are one body then we live in a symbiotic relationship.  No exchange can be one-sided.

Calls to change approach?  Cardoza-Orlandi uses some wonderful pairings to demonstrate opportunities for better mission:

efficiency or transformation
membership and lifestyles or conversion and discipleship
denial of accountability (by missioner) or facing ambiguity and reconciliation (by missioner)
triviality or responsibility

———- 

discernment and liberation or efficiency
newness of life and faith or nostalgic past
repentance (by missioner, not missionized) or denial (by missioner, not missionized)
dialogue or isolationism
superficiality or integrity
politeness or reconciliation

He calls on American Christian leaders to face these challenges with “integrity of faith” and “openness of heart.”

How have/will we answer?

j

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11 Responses to “The Mission to the GLBT Church”

  1. *Christopher Says:

    Jeff, are we not also the Church. It may be that in such colonial and patronizing circumstances, we are the evangelizers to lgbt folk. If Christ is our center and circumference, there is no insiders or outsiders and we need not play to that game.

    It’s time we move past straight folks setting the Gospel agenda in our lives with all that attends that and attend to lgbt folk even as we remain within the larger Body.

  2. John Says:

    I side with the lgbt folk (if that’s the in word now) who have seen the wisdom of celibacy and its rightness. I am happy to support them in what is admittedly a hard often lonely road and wish upon the others who share their condition healing, esp from the deep-seated anger that seems so obvious.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Christopher-

    Thanks for posting.

    First let me say that I hear what you’re saying. I used to think along those lines too, and there’s nothing wrong with being in that place. We’re all where we are, and our positions and theologies change as the spirit moves us down our paths towards whatever ends we are meant for. Maybe to expand on that it would be helpful to read this post, which describes different levels of embracing change. I used to believe that it was important to try to impress upon people that we are all the same. I now realize that we are all the same, but we are all different, too.

    Right now, I am thinking more corporately than you, at least for a moment, and I’m working to bring the church to value differences instead of glossing over them. We can’t do that when we’re not valued fully within the institutional church. And I don’t think that we (GLBT) are a full part of the institution of the church (as differentiated from the body of Christ). One gay bishop doesn’t bring us into full participation.

    So yes, I would say that we are still outsiders, and no, I do not think it is a game. Yes– we are part of the Body of Christ but that voice cannot be evangelized through the institution of the Church when the church is not ready to receive us yet.

    (True enough, there are places in the Episcopal church where we are accepted more fully than others. Again, I am speaking corporately. If we speak corporately in the fullest picture– the church catholic; the worldwide institution of the church in its most ecumenical, even interfaith form, the picture only gets worse.)

    What kind of evangelization can we do? Say come to the Church corporate, who will tell you to be celibate and reject the authenticity of your divinely created wholeness in your sexual orientation?

    I don’t think so. We can work for change within the institution of the Church so that all are welcome and so that at some point in the future there will be no insiders and no outsiders– where those on the edges of society are brought to the center. That is the kingdom of heaven– the reign of God. To pretend that we are at that point now is unrealistic.

    j

  4. Jeff Says:

    John –

    Thank you for posting.

    I believe you have missed the point. You are working from a position of judgment.

    Let me quote St. John Chrysostom, from his Homily 11 on Hebrews: “We have not been made judges into other’s lives, because then we would have compassion on no one… Stop this unhealthy fondness for meddling, which is Satanic, which is destructive…” [translation by Amy G. Oden]

    The point here is to ask US what our perception of the church is. The majority position of gays and lesbians is that the church is not effective in its mission. As an example, from my perspective in your post: unnecessary comments that can give the appearance that you think our community “changes its name too often” can give the appearance, whether or not it is accurate, that you come from a place of condescension and judgment instead of hospitality and grace.

    The church as it should be is an institution of Christ, not of any man. Am I angry when man takes over and judges, using the church as an instrument in that endeavor? Absolutely. And I’m not apologetic about that.

    I’m also willing to sit down and dialogue about how to move forward in reconciliation and forgiveness. I’m just very clear in my position that the dialogue has to come from a willingness on BOTH sides to be open to where the spirit leads. You’ve already defined qualifiers on your side. That preempts certain outcomes already. It prejudges the ending of the discussion. It leaves no room for forward movement, for the Holy Spirit to work.

    That’s not openness. That closed-ness.

    j

  5. John Says:

    We’re called, all the time, to make discerning judgements about what we do with our bodies, about what the best way to raise children is, and so on, without being judgemental. As part of my process of discernment I see the peaceful fruit of righteousness in those who choose to embrace the wisdom of celibacy outside of marriage. You never really deal with this, Jeff. Have you every been ‘gracious’ and ‘hospitable’ to that view and given it a long listening to (as I have BTW for over 20+ years to the view of your side)? I wonder . . .

  6. Jeff Says:

    John,

    I’m not going to take an apologetic position. My journey is fairly well documented on this site. The folks over on the conservative blogs, of which you may be one, ask me questions and then when I refuse to answer take that for a lack of ability to answer. That is not the case. I am simply not going to capitulate to the hetero-normative point of view, and I could care less how that makes me look to a bunch of folks who aren’t going to have a positive view of me anyway.

    If you are genuinely interested, browse this site and seek the information you desire. Evidence of my listening is there. My story is here.

    Good luck to you in your journey, and I pray that your heart will open to the Christ that dwells in all of us.

    j

  7. *Christopher Says:

    Jeff,

    I think I wasn’t clear enough. I think that yes we are not fully a part of the institutional structures, that’s obvious, my partner’s a Lutheran pastor, we’ve been through hell and back. Under such circumstances where we are both insider and outsider within the institutions, not so in Christ, we have a complex situation in which we can both share Christ’s Good News and work for change within the structures beyond a hegemonic understanding which the AC is presently operating under which is as you mentioned in your other article strangely unAnglican, but we have a long history with such approaches nonetheless. It doesn’t have to be either/or, as we need to be ministering with one another and to those interested even as we work for change–but this often happens interpersonally.

    If we start with the Church as institution not valuing differences in our sameness, which I think is accurate though sadly not Pauline, trying again and again to ask for that valuing as the necessary precondition for change leaves way to much upon those who may in fact never change and doesn’t begin to open space where change occurs simply by the presence of lgbt folk at prayer in the common. I see the process differently, that’s all, that we share the Good News far and wide and it is lgbt folk living into that Good News that shifts institutions often person by person, parish by parish. If what you say is true that lgbt folk can’t be evangelized through the Church institutions, why is it that I’m here? It seems to me that in such cases, I find the histories of other folks in the Church like Native folks and folks of African descent instructive, they often manuevered through complexities sometimes part of larger churches and communities while also providing support to one another within that through networking, alternative rites, etc.

  8. scott Says:

    Well said, Jeff. So many of your posts give me valuable food for thought.

    i think i see (& am sympathetic to) Christopher’s points as well.

    i’m only recently returning to some relationship with the church. It was largely witnessing the examples of glbt friends who actively participate in the corporate lives of their chosen churches that led me back. Their living witness was probably the only evangelizing that would have worked with me. Their unspoken witness got me back in the door; the welcoming & affirming parish i found once there has made the greatest difference since.

  9. Jeff Says:

    Christopher and Scott–

    Thanks for posting, and just to be clear disagreement is welcome.

    I had a comment written, but I’ve just deleted it and in favor of this more… direct one.

    What is the percentage of African-Americans, Native Americans, and other ethnic minorities within the Episcopal Church?

    I don’t know the exact answer but I do know that it is very low.

    The % of GLBT people in the Episcopal Church nationally is also low.

    Alternative rites is one piece, but not the only piece, of the solution.

    There is a school of thought that says that the oppressed need to forgive the oppressor and wait for the powerful to let the powerless into the circle; that sharing of power is destined to come into effect through the transformational power of Christ Jesus.

    There is also a school of thought that says that we must work for social justice, always carefully looking to find the Christ in our neighbor is and whether or not we are adequately taking care of him or her. The Old Testament dedicates more space to those who held the minority view of social justice at the time (the prophets) then it does the majority view (the temple). In the daily office today, Jesus says when we realize the love of God and the love of neighbor as self we realize the kingdom of God.

    I think it is both. Those is power have to work for justice, and those who are under oppression have to work towards welcoming the oppressor.

    This article speaks to the latter. That does not mean I rule out the former. But ignoring the differential does not make it go away.

    j

    j

  10. *Christopher Says:

    Jeff what you have written in your last few words is largely not what your post itself seems to be about. I agree with what you have said here at the end, but it seems somewhat disjointed from what reads as a post on missiology.

  11. Jeff Says:

    For a view of the other side of the same coin from which I write, see this post.

    I wonder what the African-American civil rights movement would have looked like if Rosa Parks only looked at forgiveness, forgiving the requestor of her seat for asking for it while graciously yielding it? I can’t imagine things would have moved as positively nor as quickly.

    j


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