Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"The Fiction of the Fringe"

Integrity has launched a new "Integrity Classics" series, revisiting words of faithful witness from its now 30+ year history and beginning with this 2002 piece -- "Finding A Way Forward" -- by Michael Hopkins.

It is so very clear to me in re-reading Michael's clear words of faithful inspiration that we must redouble our efforts in these perilous-to-the-church-we-love-times to expose the false construct that seems to be dominating the discourse du jour: that somehow the mission and ministry of the church is being held hostage by a Battle Royal between (for lack of better stereotypical language) its liberal and conservative fringes. That both "sides" are insisting on their way-or-the-highway and there is no hope or interest in compromise, cooperation or reconciliation. It makes a great story but like many great stories it falls into the fiction category: the fiction of the fringe.

The truth is we -- those of us committed to the full inclusion of all the baptized into the Body of Christ -- remain committed to unity and to justice, to doctrine and discipline, to faith and order, to word and sacrament. And we remain committed to finding a way forward. Toward that end, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words of our brother, Michael (circa 2002).

Remember them, recall them and recount them the next time the "fiction of the fringe" rears its ugly head. And pray for the union of this church -- this communion: that it might find its way back to this Lambeth 1920 commitment to a unity that preserves integrity: "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one anothers consciences." (Resolution 9:VIII)

An edited version of a speech first given
by the Reverend Michael Hopkins
at the Claiming the Blessing Conference, St. Louis, Missouri
November 8, 2002

What is this movement about?
It is about being clear. It is about being transparent. It is about witnessing. It is about how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit compels us. It is about our love for the Church. This is my message to the Church at large and, in particular, certain portions of it who wonder if this movement is such a good idea. My purpose is to be crystal clear and utterly transparent.

First to the church in general. We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the continuance of as broad a diversity -- including theological diversity -- as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration. We understand this to be true even if the General Convention passes the resolution that we are advocating, to formulate a Book of Occasional Services rite for the blessing of faithful, monogamous unions other than heterosexual marriage. We know and accept that such a rite will not be used or even allowed to be used universally. We are quite deliberately advocating for a rite whose use would be optional for the sake of the unity of the Church we love.

We believe in our heart of hearts that our relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships, whether or not the term "marriage" is appropriate for them, and so, in our heart of hearts, we believe the rite used to publicly celebrate them should be equal. But that is not what we are asking for.

We are compromising, moderating our position, for the sake of the Church. We do so in the spirit of a resolution from the 1920 Lambeth Conference (Resolution 9:VIII): "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one anothers consciences." We offer compromise in the spirit of that same resolution, which said, "We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united church."

These words were said in the context of ecumenical dialogue, but they are appropriate for our current internal dialogue, which looks far more like ecumenical dialogue -- dialogue across deep and serious divisions -- did in the 1920s. Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which any of us can live. But learning to live together must mean "mutual deference" not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being "moderates."

My second message to the church at large. We are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.

Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.

First, we do not desire for you to go away.

Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to threaten these outcomes.

Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone.

We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each others efforts on that level.

Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion. You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.

This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Churchs moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church.

We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.

The Reverend Michael Hopkins is currently rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Episcopal Cyrene in Rochester, New York, and the immediate past president of Integrity USA.


Suzer said...

I have to admit I have a very difficult time wanting to remain in communion with those who oppose my having equality with my hetero peers. And perhaps I have something that is blocking my understanding -- anger, fear, I don't know.

The whole hullabaloo over gays and same-sex marriage reminds me of what I learned in history class about the days of slavery, when blacks were considered "less than" persons and were given a "jump over the broom" sham marriage ceremony, but were still able to be torn from their families and sold. There are parallels, I think, to the situation of GLBT people in the church and in society at large.

So, I ask myself, would I work to remain in communion with the slaveholders? Or would I simply have let them go their own way, and continue my work to create equality, peace and the Kingdom of God the best way that I could?

Try as I might, I cannot understand the desire to hold the communion together -- it seems futile and a waste of time. I know many would disagree.

Just my two cents....


RMF said...

Thanks for reminding us of what many have been saying and living for many years now.

The problem with remaining in communion with those who disagree on some point or other is not the matter of disagreement per se; disagreement is inevitable anywhere. The problem is

1. That when someone says they disagree, a material element of their disagreement is excluding others from the life and work of the church, and even casting them as sinful and wicked. This is unacceptable.

2. A related issue, those who disagree, then based on this urge to exclude, work and otherwise strive to undermine the integrity, order, and faith of the Church. This is unacceptable.

Both conditions have been the case with many Network clergy and congregants for some time now; especially in how they demand ALPO and otherwise distort, malign and impede the greater Church.

With those, we should have no second thoughts about parting ways because they are a millstone to the church and an impediment to the faithful. They do not display or operate in good faith.

I think TEC can walk (do its work) and chew gum (deal with the Network properly) at the same time.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

All I can say to this post, is AMEN.

I have for so long believed that the discussion of WHETHER to reconcile OR include is such a false choice.

The discussion ALWAYS has to be about BOTH reconciliation AND inclusion. Even if we're the only ones focused on both points. Jesus was the only one focused on both points, and that didn't stop him.