The Coming out of the Church
March 29, 2007
It is quiet day here at the seminary, and I’ve been thinking about a few things. Susan Russell+ wrote a similarly titled piece a few days ago, but I’m going in a different direction.
The meditation that was offered to start us off this morning was John Donne’s Meditation XVII. You know, “No man is an island,” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
I love that piece, and I always have. Donne describes community and the overwhelming ties that we have to another in a language that resonates for me.
What bothered me today, though, was the way in which ties to community have been manipulated in the Communion. This view, expressed by many conservative Anglicans, somehow manipulates community to be something which requires blind obedience; something which must completely shape us. Instead, I believe there is a tension between allowing ourselves to be shaped by community and shaping the community by our own experience, faith, and participation.
I think of it much like a family responding to the coming out of a gay son. There are cultures which place a much higher emphasis on blind loyalty to the family community than we are accustomed to in the United States. In such cases the family responds to the gay son as being “selfish” for “burdening the family” with his “problem.”
Of course, hopefully most (but not enough) families in the United States put more focus on “no person being an island” to lean more towards justice for the son than for the son’s obedience to the family. We believe, due to our cultural heritage and cultural identity in the U.S., that we should identify with “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of the teaming shores– send us the homeless and we will lift our golden lamp beside the golden door!” (Of course whether we actually do it or not is another question, but the green lady with the torch in the harbor outside the city that never sleeps certainly beckons to those who come to us with this invitation.)
So our cultural context puts us in a frame of reference to become a part of community not by giving over to blind loyalty, but instead to follow the Christian gospel: to identify with the “least of these” and put ourselves in their shoes to determine how the community can best be changed to make the last become first.
In Christ there is no separation between us (Gal 3:28) and the walls that separate us are torn down so that true community can exist with those who have been far off being brought near (Eph 2:13-14). Just as Paul realized that the gentiles were strangers to the Jews but were reconciled in one body on the Cross, so now the Episcopal church is realizing that we gays and lesbians who have been strangers to Christians are also reconciled in that one Body.
So in the best of worlds in our hypothetical family, the family responds to the gay son not by asking “why are you doing this to us?” but by asking “how can we best help you my child?”
Similarly, the Episcopal church has now identified with the gay son in its proclamation that gay and lesbian people are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s church. The Anglican Communion’s reaction? “Why are you doing this to us? You are tearing us apart!! You are so selfish!!”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the great-uncle of the Communion, has had reactions ranging from “Not in this house!! That is not what we do here!! It goes against Lambeth 1.10!!” to “But what will the neighbors think!! The churches in Africa don’t understand! Those churches that also have “Episcopal” in their name will be confused and think we are morally loose!! It will mean the end of the church as we know it!!”
When have the Primates or +++Rowan said, “Peace. What can we do for you, my child?”
Where is the identification with the “least of these?”
That makes my heart ache.
Blind loyalty to community?
No. I’m not interested in being blindly loyal to a community that has no interest in justice.
A community that only has interest in self-preservation seems too much to me like the Sanhedrin, or the Roman Empire, both of whom worked hard to rid themselves of a little problem they had called “Jesus of Nazareth.”
No, we must all be other-focused, focused on the ones who are the “least of these.” That is the true road to community.
And that is why our House of Bishops did not choose to walk apart, but instead said “we affirm once again the deep longing of our hearts for The Episcopal Church to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion.” They also said they would “meet any decision to exclude us from gatherings of all Anglican Churches with great sorrow.”
The Episcopal Church won’t leave the family willingly, although the family may choose to kick her out.
Now she knows what it is like to come out of the closet to a family member.
Let us hope that the family remembers what the call of the Christian family is before that time. And if not, we’ll do what all self-respecting gay and lesbian folks do. We’ll pick ourselves off, accept their decision to exclude us (hurt as it does), and carry on with our lives in the Mission of Christ.