Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walking on water

Proper 14A: Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
August 10, 2008 ~ All Saints Church, Pasadena

Well, I’m back from Lambeth.

Lambeth Conference 2008 – the every-ten-year gathering of Anglican bishops – is, as they say, “in the books.” (And the response to that versicle is “Thanks be to God!”) Louise and I are grateful to be back home in general and back at All Saints in specific – thankful for all your prayers and good wishes – emails and blog comments. We truly felt that we were surrounded by a cloud of All Saints witnesses during our three-week witness in Canterbury. And by the end of it, as I noted in the article I wrote from “across the pond” for this week’s Saints Alive, I was very ready to click my ruby slippers together because there really IS “no place like home.”

So what exactly happened at Lambeth? Like the old joke says, I’ve got good news … and I’ve got bad news.

Before we left for England, I told a PBS producer shooting a pre-Lambeth report here at All Saints that the headline I hoped we’d write when it was all over was “The Coup Has Failed: Anglicans Continue to Muddle Along.” And for what it’s worth, the good news is I got my headline.

For in spite of the dire predictions of a great coup d’état in the works that would vote the American and Canadian churches off the Anglican Island and might just throw the Archbishop of Canterbury out with the bathwater for good measure, the breaking news out of Canterbury was that there was no breaking news out of Canterbury.

Yes, sadly, a handful of the 38 Anglican provinces chose to boycott the Lambeth Conference, and 20% of the bishops chose to stay home rather than engage with those with whom they disagree. But for those who did show up – 670 of them, by one count – rather than an outbreak of schism they experienced an outbreak of civility. The interactions between the bishops over their two-week conference were marked by generosity and by a holy curiosity and genuine interest in learning from each other about mission and ministry in the various parts of the global communion. Building on those relationships – one-on-one, diocese by diocese, year by year – will continue to build up the bonds of affection that make up the fabric of this global communion which is our Anglican family of faith. And that is good news!

And I am both proud of and grateful for the work our Lambeth Witness of LGBT Anglicans offered toward building those relationships. Here’s how I answered the “why are you going to Lambeth” question before we left for England:

Because it is critical that the gay and lesbian faithful, who have seen their lives and vocations reduced to bargaining chips in a decade-long game of Anglican politics, speak out together and give voice to the hope and the faith their witness to the Anglican Communion represents. And so we are going to witness to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, in our vocations and in our relationships.

Although it didn’t occur to me at the time I could have saved some words and just referred questioners to today’s reading from Romans: How are they to hear if no one preaches to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?

It was in response to that sense of being called to proclaim – of being sent to witness – that our courageous, faithful, tireless corps of LGBT witnesses (and straight allies!) got to work. Our numbers included Anglicans from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and Uganda working with American, Canadian and UK activists – all part of an “Inclusive Communion Network: Proclaiming God’s Justice, Living God’s Love.”

And of course there was the Bishop of New Hampshire – a sitting, diocesan bishop denied participation in the official Lambeth Conference meetings – but willing to be sent, nevertheless, to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, who – he keeps reminding us all – “loves us beyond our wildest imaginings.”

It’s leap of faith work, this stuff … because at the end of the day there are no measurable goals, no quantifiable outcomes, no …what do they call them? … “metrics” to judge our work a success or a failure. We came. We prayed. We witnessed. And we may never know if hearts were touched or minds were changed.

Except for this one … a bishop from North India who sent an email of thanks to conference organizers, who passed it on to us. It’s from Bishop P. K. Samantaroy from Punjab, India:

“Coming from a conservative back-ground I was not even prepared to listen to any person who supported the gay and lesbian people. However, [I have] changed my opinion. I have become aware of the pain and agony people have bear because of our attitude towards each other.

Further, I am convinced that despite their different and often opposite positions all are committed to live and grow within the Anglican family. The binding force in a family is love. I have decided not to be hasty in judging the gay and the lesbians. I wish to learn more about their life and problems. I have also decided to regularly pray for them. I wish to encourage the other members of the Anglican Communion to do the same.”

One bishop. One email. One inch of the planet growing greener. And that is good news.

And now the bad news.
In the 11th hour -- during his final Presidential Address and at the Press Conference following -- +Rowan Williams managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of the victory of a conference what was on the verge of finding a new way forward in faith for those committed to walk together in spite of their differences.

Like Peter, who the gospel writer Matthew tells us, started walking on the water toward Jesus and only began to sink when overcome by doubt and fear, Rowan Williams – after two weeks of a miraculous “walking on water” Lambeth Conference – sank like a stone in the last two hours.

Williams had the chance last week in Canterbury to keep walking on water … to step out in faith and try something that some say is impossible: to find a way forward as a communion of faith refusing to be divided by the differences that challenge it. But by pushing his preference that the American and Canadian churches abide by the moratoria on blessings of same sex unions and the consecration of any more openly gay bishops, he undid in a two-hour span a good percentage of the good work that had been accomplished over the two-week conference.

For at the end of the day – and against all odds -- the mind of the bishops gathered was to live with the differences they had spent all that time discussing rather than let them be exploited into the divisions the schismatics have been insisting they must be. They offered a great whiff of hope to the end of the inclusion wars and a vision for the beginning of a new way of being communion together. And instead of embracing that nothing-less-than-a-miracle new way of being – instead of walking on the water toward Jesus – Williams retreated into fear and doubt and threw down a gauntlet to the Americans and Canadians – challenging them to make a “Sophie’s Choice” between the full inclusion of their provinces in the Anglican Communion or the full inclusion of their LGBT baptized in the Body of Christ.

And he should be ashamed of himself.

The sacrifice that will hold the Anglican Communion together is not the sacrifice of the gay and lesbian baptized but the sacrifice of a false unity based in dishonesty. It is nothing less than rank hypocrisy that the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to lay at the feet of Canadian and American Anglicans the blame for divisions in the Communion when the only difference between what's happening in our churches and in his is that we're telling the truth about it.

Scripture tells us what happened to the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. It's time for the Archbishop of Canterbury to act like the wise man he is and build the future of the Anglican Communion on the solid rock of honest differences and not on the shifting sands of global Anglican politics. Jesus promised us that "the truth will set you free." The Communion deserves nothing less than the truth -- and so does the Gospel.

There is, however, some good news in this part of the bad news.

+Marc Andrus, Bishop of California immediately said his diocese would not abide by the moratorium on same-sex blessings and our own Bishop Jon Bruno quickly went on record with, “I can only say that inclusion is a reality in our diocese and will continue to be. For people who think that this is going to lead us to disenfranchise any gay or lesbian person, they are sadly mistaken.”

For at the end of the day, there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Brother and sister Anglicans walking away from the table because they've been disagreed with is a painful thing. The church walking away from the gay and lesbian baptized is a sinful thing.

There was a cartoon in THE CHURCH TIMES. It was set in an automobile show room and the banner announced a new model for 2008: the Anglican Moritoria. Beneath the picture of the car – sitting on blocks, rather than tires, the cartoon said: It’s much safer than the other models. Doesn’t go forward and doesn’t reverse; just stays where it is.

And staying were we are may be "safer" -- but it will not bring about that Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we keep praying for -- it will not turn the human race into the human family --and it is not the Good News we have been called to proclaim.
So let's get back to the good news.
The good news is that -- as clever as my post-Lambeth headline was -- muddling along isn’t good enough.

The good news is “Not as bad as Lambeth 1998 does not the Kingdom make.”

The good news is we are not going to settle for the mission and ministry of this church – of this communion – of this Gospel being stuck on blocks in some show room because of a failure of nerve by those who’ve been charged with getting it in gear and moving forward in faith.
The good news is a bishop from North India and a bishop from New Hampshire are both committed to walking forward in that faith and in this communion.

And the good news is that next year when the Episcopal Church meets in its General Convention, we will be calling on it to say – once and for all -- that gay and lesbian Anglicans are not for sale as bargaining chips in this game of global church politics – that the sacrifice of their lives and vocations in this church is too high a price to pay for institutional unity – and that we are done having our mission and ministry held hostage to the dysfunction of our beloved Big Fat Anglican Family.

We’re ready to walk on water. We are ready to step out in faith in response to the one who says “Come” and to believe that miracles can happen. We’re ready to walk on water knowing that even if the strong winds blow and the naysayers nay we belong to the One who will catch us if we fall as we move forward in faith into God’s future.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is the good news that's better than all the bad news that's fit to print! Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.


Elaine C. said...

Thank you --

William H. said...

Well said! To see and hear Rowan Williams betray not only his personal beliefs but the vows he took at his consecration is a sad thing.

Equally sad is invisibility of our own Presiding Bishop. I recall the promise of her election with the greatest joy and enthusiasm. We anticipated a bright, courageous, forward-looking, justice-demanding leader. What we got was a platitudinous nonentity. Her silence and relative anonymity throughout Lambeth spoke louder than any words she might have said.

I find it remarkable that KJS seems to get a pass for her inaction, her unwillingness to step up to the plate. Why was she not standing beside Gene Robinson during his photo-ops and news conferences? Why was she not speaking truth to power?

The world wants to know.

WilliamK said... the end of the day, there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Brother and sister Anglicans walking away from the table because they've been disagreed with is a painful thing. The church walking away from the gay and lesbian baptized is a sinful thing.

Wonderful! Thanks for making this point so eloquently!

BaronVonServers said...

The 20 percent who stayed away didn't do so because they refused to engage with those with whom they disagree.

They stayed away because those who violated scripture, and took acts they knew in advance would ripe the fabric of the communion did come.

One doesn't take Eucharist with those who refuse to repent. (I Corinthians 5).

marcus of borg said...


Then why don't you repent? We welcome you to Christ's table.

uffda51 said...

"Repent" from what, exactly?

The scientific literature on human sexuality is readily available, as is the biblical scholarship. Likewise, the voices of witness of the LGBT community and those who support them. Staying away from Lambeth won’t change any of the above.

It’s tough to embrace those we find along our mutual journey of faith if we cover our ears with our hands.

David Thomas said...

Many of the Bishops who stayed away from Lambeth done so for self-serving, self-righteous reasons.

Their refusal to engage with those with whom they disagree shows a profound lack of Christian love, and a shameful level of spiritual immaturity.

Of course, it was just as bad to have the presence of 3 or 4 TEC Bishops at Lambeth who think they're too good to come to the Lord's table with some other TEC Bishops. I suppose that's what happens when someone places faith in their own righteousness instead of the "manifold and great mercies" of God.

Nathan Empsall said...

Reading the phrase "the good news" over and over again, I'm forced to remember that "the good news" is the Gospel. Was that your intention?

Because as far as that goes, no matter what happened at Lambeth, the good news is inclusion, and the good news will forever continue!

Jim said...

II see the pharisees like the poor are always with us. ;;sigh;;

I think William has a point. The archbishop led backwards and the primate led not at all. She is falling into the go along to get along trap and it is a shame. If that is the 'crucified place' idea working it is simply wrong. I wish I knew who had originated the valedictory for Lambeth but it is worth quoting if not attributing:

My ascending a cross is sacrifice, your sending me to it is murder.


Jim's Thoughts

john said...

"One doesn't take Eucharist with those who refuse to repent."

I guess that means I'd have to ask my priest not to serve you if you came to my church. You could get a blessing, though, and of course, we'd ask God to absolve you of the sin of hatred for those who are different.

J.T. said...

Thank you for this, Susan. Excellent preaching if I've ever seen it.

Eliza500 said...

Thanks you for your comments...which are agonizing to read. I submiited the following article to the Colorado Episcopalian, which rejected it. I thren sent it to every church in the diocese, along with the resolution passed by our church supporting full inclusion of GLBT people, and an offer to send copies of Gene Robinson's book and the BIBLE TELLS ME SO DVD for discussion, and to provide a GLBT speaker if they want one. I would appreciate advice on how to move a "stuck on blocks" diocese!

Elizabeth Bennett
Issues of Inclusion: One Episcopalian’s Response
By Elizabeth Bennett

The Lambeth Conference was a time of personal pain for many Colorado Episcopalians. Many of us read Bishop O’Neill’s blog, and also Bishop Gene Robinson’s. It is hard to realize that five years have passed since Bishop Gene Robinson’s election, which caused me to rejoin the Episcopal church. In 2004, I was married in Massachusetts to my female partner of 25 years…in the Episcopal church where I had grown up. Our multiracial children were there, and our families and close friends. I have a strange sense of time warp as Colorado continues periods of discernment, with tightly parsed half-a-loaf-acceptance for me and others like me.

My church, St. Thomas in Denver, which is celebrating its centennial this year, has a long tradition of work for social justice. St. Thomas has been an “open and affirming” church for years. Early meetings of Integrity were held in our parish hall; Charles Sparks has been at the vanguard of the fight for inclusion of GLBT people for more than 30 years. We have four gay and lesbian couples with a combined total of more than 65 years of commitment. The clergy, vestry, and congregation have struggled mightily with “the elephant in the room”: the issue of full inclusion of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) people in the Episcopal church.

St Thomas had classes about the first Bishop’s Task Force. The vestry and rector sent a letter to the Bishop in 2004 urging an end to the period of “passionate patience” he requested of us. Four more years have gone by since then.

So the Diocese breaks my heart, but the people at my church warm it… what should I do in this environment? I struggle to find the appropriate answer…but it must must surely be “DO SOMETHING!”

So here are some of the things I have done. Two other members of the congregation and I presented a Resolution to the annual meeting, a sort of Martin Luther “Here I Stand-I Can Do No Other.” (see sidebar.) Consideration of the resolution engendered enormous discussion, listening, tears, and warmth. And in the end, it passed almost unanimously.

I write…to the Bishop, the Priest in Charge, the Vestry.

Most Sundays, in Prayers of the People, I request prayers for GLBT people unable to be ordained, or unable to have their relationships blessed, or unable to be included with their Brother and Sister Bishops. I believe in every service, we should pray for the people being denied a seat at the welcome table.

I talk about it. In church, at coffee hour, in committees, in adult education.

I have gone to our vestry three times over the years, asking for action, asking personally, asking with tears.

I hosted a showing of THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO, the magnificent movie with Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Peter Gomes, Richard Gephardt, which debunks the biblical “imperative” to shun homosexuals, and humanizes us and out families.

I am sending a letter to every Colorado congregation offering to provide them with a copy of the movie if they will show it and discuss it.

And now, I am writing the Colorado Episcopalian, reaching out to every person who cares about full inclusion, and asking each of you…to do something.

Like many of your GLBT sisters and brothers, I find it an almost daily struggle to remain in the Colorado Episcopal Church. But I am here. I am a cradle Episcopalian. I waited, impatiently, for women to be ordained. And now I wonder whether if “in the fullness of time,” the Colorado Episcopal Church becomes a fully inclusive, welcoming diocese…will I even be alive to see it.

My children are African American. I have participated in many aspects of the Civil Rights movement in this country. I was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Bishop Desmond Tutu equates homophobia with apartheid. I know that God loves me. I want the church to love and value me as well. If you care, please do something.

We support full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) people in every aspect of the life of St. Thomas Church, and of this diocese.
We support offering ALL of the Sacraments, including Marriage/Blessing of a Relationship and Ordination, to all of God’s People, including, of course, GLBT people.
We agree with Nobel Peace Laureate and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who says, homophobia is “a crime against humanity” and “every bit as unjust” as apartheid.

We believe that our church, which offers Blessings to Animals, must no longer deny them to committed monogamous couples.
We believe that the GLBT members of this congregation are part of the Body of Christ.
We believe that silence can be interpreted as consent, and we can no longer be silent.
We believe that justice delayed is justice denied, and that the time for action has come.

Susan said...

After 54 years in the Episcopal Church, I left because our parish, which had blessed same sex unions, including my own, caved to the demands of an arrogant little priest who lied his way into the bishopric, pretending to be a supporter of LGBT inclusion when he was not.

My partner of almost two decades stayed. This has caused a major rift between us because I see her sacrificing justice to her desire for liturgy, music, stained glass, and eucharist...basic idolatry. She sees me as putting justice before God.

However, I have come to realize that I take Jesus too seriously to be a Christian. Instead, i joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation which is more Christ-like than any Episcopal Church I have ever attended.

Well done, Susan!