Monday, January 25, 2016

Here Comes Trouble

In January 2002 a group of Episcopal activists gathered in Washington DC in the shadow of the Nat'l Cathedral at the then "College of Preachers" to brainstorm combining the resources of their various organizations and constituencies (Integrity; Episcopal Women's Caucus; Witness Magazine; Oasis; Beyond Inclusion; etc) toward the "achievable goal" of securing liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships by the Episcopal Church.

By the time we left that meeting we had a new name -- "Claiming the Blessing" -- and a renewed sense of optimism, collaboration and confidence that together we could make a difference in this church we love and serve and in a world so in need of the Good News of God's inclusive love available to absolutely everybody.

In January 2016 some of those same Episcopal activists -- Michael Hopkins, John Clinton Bradley, Ed Bacon, Elizabeth Kaeton, Kim Byham, Jim White, Christine Mackey-Mason, Katie Sherrod, Cynthia Black and Bishop Gene Robinson -- gathered in Pasadena CA at All Saints Church to celebrate the work of the last 14 years: to tell stories, to capture some narrative history, to give thanks and to imagine what the next "achievable goal" might be -- and how what we've learned together could be applied to help achieve it.

The quote that kept coming to me throughout the weekend was from the Gospel According to Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Which is not to say we're done changing the world that still has so much changing needed. What is true that the "achievable goal" we gathered in 2002 to organize to achieve has been achieved -- and then some -- by the actions of the 78th General Convention. And so this was a chance to celebrate the achievement of that incremental victory as we continue to work toward the audacious goal of that kingdom come on Earth as it is heaven ... for absolutely everybody.

So ... celebrate with us for a few minutes. Check out the photos of a spectacular Sunday at All Saints Church in Pasadena ... and then watch Bishop Robinson's sermon: "Act as if ..." Trust me: you don't want to miss it!
"It's funny isn't it that you can preach a judgmental, and vengeful, and angry God, and nobody will mind. But if you start preaching about a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind -- you are in trouble!"
Here comes trouble:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Eighteen Years Ago This Happened

The day after being ordained a "presbyter in the Church of God" by Bishop Fred Borsch I celebrated my first Eucharist at Saint Mark's in Altadena in the company of this great cloud of witnesses: Lindsey Nelson; CofE priest Colin Brown; Lutheran Pastor Lawrence Biaetti; and Bruce Linsenmayer.

And that afternoon Kay Sylvester and I celebrated by going to the Xena Warrior Princess Convention in Burbank. And the NEXT day I started my new job as Associate Rector at Saint Peter's, San Pedro working with and for the amazing Alan Richardson. "A full measure — pressed down, shaken together and running over" quite literally poured into my lap. Then and now. ‪#‎Grateful‬

That Was Then AND This Is Now

There has been quite a kerfuffle this week about what the Anglican Primates did or didn't do or say with whatever power they have or don't have to censure, sanction or otherwise discipline the Episcopal Church for treating its LGBT members as full fledged members of the Body of Christ.

If it all sounds sadly familiar to longtime Anglican Communion watchers that's because it is. We not only seem to be in some kind of time warp/back to the futuresque syndrome of letting our history repeat itself -- our archives prove the point.

An initial case in point is this Episcopal Life article on the June 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) wherein the agenda included deciding whether or not the Primates had the authority to vote the Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island.

No, I'm not making this up. From the article:
A concerted effort to isolate the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada further from the Anglican Communion was rejected by members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) during its 10-day triennial meeting in Nottingham, England, which concluded June 28.

By a vote of 30 to 28, with four abstentions, council members endorsed the primates’ request that the six representatives from North America withdraw as full members of the council until 2008 -- and expanded that to include its standing committee and finance and administration committee. But it was a significantly weaker measure than the original one proposed.
That vote was preceded by a presentation from an official delegation from The Episcopal Church -- a delegation I was honored to be part of, along with PB Frank Griswold, Bishops Neil Alexander, Charles Jenkins, and Cathy Roskam and colleagues Michael Battle and Jane Tully.(This is us -- minus Bishop Roskam -- arriving at the meeting.)

I guess because I still remember that Fredrica Harris Thompsett taught us that the reason we study our past is to get a running start on our future, I think it's worth revisiting what happened when this happened last time. And so this morning I dug out the text of the statement I made to the ACC that June day in Nottingham over a decade ago. Partly because I went to the trouble to find it to see how much might have changed over that decade and what I would say if I had the chance to speak again today. And mostly because I realized I wouldn't change a word.

That was then AND this is now:

Nottingham Presentation: June 2005

It is a deeply humbling thing to be called to speak to you today as part of this delegation charged with the historic opportunity to witness to our larger Anglican family what we in the American Episcopal Church understand to be the Holy Spirit working in our midst. I recognize that, because I am the only gay member of this presentation team, I am to some degree charged with speaking not only for myself but also for countless gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is an honor and a privilege to do so.

I carry many of their stories with me today, and my deepest hope is that our conversations at this meeting of the Consultative Council will be but the beginning of a genuine listening process which will make the witness of the powerful work being done on behalf of the Gospel in the lives of the gay and lesbian faithful more widely available to the church and to the world. I recognize that the very idea of “the gay and lesbian faithful” will be received as alien to many – as incomprehensible perhaps as the idea of Gentile Christians was to Saint Peter. Yet our conviction is that the same Holy Spirit who first brooded over the waters of creation continues to work in and through us today. We believe it is that Spirit who is the source of the vision we believe God has given us of the full inclusion of the gay and lesbian baptized into the Body of Christ, just as Peter was given the surprising vision that Cornelius and his company – those who he had been taught to believe were “unclean” – were as beloved of God and as welcome in the church as he was.

Those of us who support the actions of our General Convention – who advocate for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into all orders of ministry and for equity between same-gender partnerships and heterosexual marriage – do so out of our deep conviction that these actions are our response to the Gospel as we receive it.

I have lived my whole life in this church. 
I am a cradle Episcopalian, and was raised to think both faithfully and critically. At the ripe old age of 51, I remember a Church where girls couldn’t be acolytes, racial segregation was widely accepted and women were not allowed to serve as deputies to our governing boards, much less aspire to ordination. I remember well the pain and conflict – the threat of schism and the accusations that we were “abandoning the church’s tradition” – that surrounded each one of those painfully chosen and bravely taken changes. And yet, in retrospect, I count the turmoil engendered as the cost of discipleship.

For I believe the church I love has been immeasurably enriched by the ministries of women who in earlier generations would have had no place to live out their vocations. I recognize how multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi- racial congregations have broadened our experience of God and brought us closer to experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom. Noted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann said in a recent interview: “American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King famously said that ‘the arc of history is bent toward justice.’ And the parallel statement I want to make is that the arc of the Gospel is bent toward inclusiveness.”

Just as I can no longer imagine a Church that does not strive to celebrate women and people of color for all of who they are, I cannot imagine a Church where that same arc of history – of inclusion – does not include the gay and lesbian faithful.

Scripture tells us that what is of the Spirit will flourish – and what is not will wither away. The witness and wisdom of the women of the church have flourished since our General Convention acted courageously and faithfully – and just a little behind the Holy Spirit – with fear and trembling by opening to them all orders of ministry. We believe the same will prove true with the inclusion of gay and lesbian people more fully into the Body of Christ – in fact, for many of us, that is already our lived experience. I have the privilege to serve a parish – All Saints Church in Pasadena, California – that has grown by leaps and bounds in not only numbers but in mission and in ministry in the fourteen years since it began blessing same sex unions. We are not withering at All Saints; we are flourishing.

The Gospel tells us that in our Father’s house are many mansions. St. Paul tells us that essential to the Body of Christ are its many members. And our historic tradition as Anglicans tells us that when we live into the true via media we CAN hold in tension perspectives that others find “mutually exclusive.” -- Catholic and Protestant come to mind.

To set our hope on Christ is to hope for a better way. Our deepest hope is that the differences that presently challenge us will not result in divisions that will hamper our ability to address together the clarion call of our Lord to minister to “the least of these” among us.

You have heard and will hear stories of those who understand themselves to have been “healed of their homosexuality” – those who tell moving and compelling stories of God healing them of unhealthy lifestyles, freeing them to become fully and wholly the person God created them to be. I do not doubt the sincerity of their witness, and I praise God if they have found a place of healing and health.

I do not question their healing; I question what it is that has been healed. It is not possible to be healed of something that is not an illness; and we are convinced that sexual orientation itself is morally neutral, that what matters to God is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation, and when we turn to God and ask to be healed of patterns of behavior that are destructive to ourselves or others, God in God’s grace will heal us whether we are homosexual or heterosexual.

Those who have left behind lives of sexual abuse, addiction and exploitation through God’s healing grace have every right to rejoice and witness to that healing. They do not however, have any right to project their experience onto the lives of committed, same-gender couples who are striving to live lives faithful to each other and to the Gospel. As a point in fact, God’s love changes all of us – but what changes is not our sexual orientation. It is our ability to give and receive love as Christ loved us – to our partners, our families and the world.

One question I often hear is “What kind of values are we teaching our children?” We are teaching our children that, no matter what their sexual orientation, we expect a high standard of relationship that includes fidelity, monogamy, mutual respect and life-long commitment.

We are challenging all couples – gay and straight – to live their lives in relationship within the context of Christian community, both supported by and accountable to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And we are modeling to gay and lesbian young people – those so tragically at risk for self-loathing and suicide – that there is a place where they can be loved by God, embraced by a community of faith, and where Jesus loves them just as they are as they grow up to be all that they can be.

Our deepest hope is that the differences that challenge us might be overcome by the power of the Gospel that unites us – that the bonds of affection that have historically linked us as members of this worldwide Anglican family will prove stronger than the temptation to say “I have no need of you” when faced with the very real challenges in front of us. Classic Anglicanism has historically focused not on having a detailed and certain knowledge of the mind of God, but on maintaining life and conversation in the faithful community. We believe that no one may ever know it all, but that the Sprit will work with us to achieve a unity that transcends uniformity, and bring us toward truth.

Verna Dozier, one of the great American Biblical scholars, wrote this: “The Christian church succumbs to the temptation to know absolutely when it calls doubt the opposite of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

We set our hope on the One who is the light of world, and we move forward by the light He has given us. We do so in the hope that these new possibilities include many more opportunities to share with you, our Anglican family, our witness to the hope that is in us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

#Primates2016 Round Up

So the Primates (the head bishops of all the constituent member churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion) have finished their meeting in Canterbury. The meeting was preceded by much speculation on what they would, could and might do -- including who would manage to stay through the whole meeting without walking out in protest of either the presence or actions of a fellow Primate.

[And yes, at this point the reader can certainly be excused for wondering what about any of that makes [a] Jesus look good or [b] the church seem attractive. But I digress.]

At the end of the day, a summary of their words and actions looks something like this: [from their meeting ending Communiqué]
Words:The Primates "condemn homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation."

Actions: A majority of the Primates recommend -- in response to The Episcopal Church making marriage equally available to same and opposite sex couples -- that "for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity."
Headlines screamed things like "Anglican Communion Suspends Episcopal Church" -- which makes a great headline but isn't exactly true. A majority of Primates recommending anything is exactly that: a majority of Primates recommending something. As the brilliant Tobias Haller summarized it:
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has its own constitution -- in fact, it is the only legally constituted "instrument" of the whole Communion. As far as I know, the Primates have no authority to remove the representatives of TEC who were elected to that body, short of an action by that body itself through amending the Schedule of Membership. The Primates Meeting has no authority to amend the structure and membership of the ACC. In this regard their action is ultra vires. ["beyond one's legal power or authority"]
Of course the recommendation of a majority of the Primates will have an impact about just how fully or partially The Episcopal Church will participate in the councils of governance of the wider Anglican Communion. And all of that is yet to play out.

But for the moment, here's a round up of some responses to this latest episode of "As The Anglican World Turns." I'll start with mine.

My piece on the Huffington Post -- On Becoming Second Class Anglicans for Treating LGBT People Like First Class Christians -- included this quote:
"What does it mean to Episcopalians to be "sanctioned" by a majority of the Primates of the Anglican Communion for refusing to treat our LGBT members as second class Christians? It means we're willing to pay "the cost of discipleship" as we follow the Jesus who welcomed, blessed, included, empowered and loved absolutely everybody. It means we take seriously our call to be part of the Jesus Movement -- proclaiming the Good News of God's inclusive love to the world. It means we choose inclusion over exclusion, compassion over condemnation, and justice over judgment. And I'm proud and grateful that being considered second class Anglicans is a price we are willing to pay to treat God's beloved LGBT people as first class Christians."
I also offered this comment on Facebook:
So how do I feel about the final "communique" from the Primates meeting wherein they sanction the Episcopal Church for taking steps to fully include the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments and then say they "condemn homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation?" I just told a reporter it was "rank hypocrisy" that does nothing but feed, water and fertilize the narrative of why the institutional church is increasingly and understandably irrelevant.
But enough about me. Here are links to other folks from around the church who weighed in over the last couple of days. Starting with Presiding Bishop Curry (who has been utterly STELLAR!)

This was the quote that turned into a meme making its rounds on social media:

President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings wrote a brilliant response you can find here ... a response that includes these important words:
I want to assure you that nothing about what the primates have said will change the actions of General Convention that have, over the past four decades, moved us toward full inclusion and equal marriage. And regardless of the primates’ vote, we Episcopalians will continue working with Anglicans across the globe to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate children, and heal the world. Nothing that happens at a primates’ meeting will change our love for one another or our commitment to serving God together.
The people most likely to suffer from this news are faithful LGBTI Anglicans and their allies, especially in Africa. I count many of them as my friends and colleagues, and today I am especially praying that this new message of exclusion does not fuel more hatred and homophobia and make them even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than they already are. In their communiqué, the primates: “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence” and “reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.” I was heartened to read these words, but mindful that I have read a similar statement from a previous primates meeting. I hope that this time, the primates mean what they have said.
Other voices of note have included ...

Bishop Tom Ely -- Vermont
Bishop Andy Dietsche -- New York
Bishop Mariann Budde -- Washington
Ed Bacon -- All Saints Church, Pasadena

... just to name and link to a few.

Finally, I want to note this quite amazing piece written by Ruth Gledhill -- longtime Anglican journalist now writing for Christian Today. Ruth has been deep in the thick of the Anglican Inclusion Wars for many, many years now and her observations come from a deep faith and from the evangelical end of the theological spectrum.

It's entitled: The Sacrificial Grace of Bishop Michael Curry.
The holiness in him and in his words is tangible. It is a genuine turning of the other cheek. He is not threatening to walk away, he is pledging his Church to walk together with all the Primates of the Anglican Communion. It is his grace in the face of terrible rejection that shines out from this whole sorry episode.
The only thing left to say is "Amen."

Monday, January 11, 2016

As the Anglican World Turns: Season ??

I've lost track of which season we're in of the ongoing soap opera, but do know that a new chapter is beginning as the Anglican Primates meet in Canterbury beginning today.

I've written about it here on the Huffington Post in a piece that begins:
While its viewership won't come close to that other famous British drama Downton Abbey, we are about to begin a new season of the real life soap opera we've come to think of As the Anglican World Turns.

The new season is being launched with the January 11-16 meeting of the Anglican Primates -- an unfortunate term for the heads of the 38 autonomous churches that make up the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has called the meeting to bring together leaders from around the world-wide communion to prayerfully consider critical issues including religiously motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment, and human sexuality.

And therein -- as they say -- lies the rub.

A recurring theme in the ongoing storyline of As the Anglican World Turns has been threats by some members of the wider Anglican family not to show up at events if other members of the family are on the guest list -- in particular the gay members, the lesbian members and the transgender members: or any members who support the full inclusion of any of the above in the Body of Christ.
But after I wrote that an extraordinary thing happened.

There appears to be some actual leadership coming from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said in an interview yesterday:
"It would not be good if the Church is unable to set an example to the world of showing how we can love one another and disagree profoundly, because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice."

"Certainly I want reconciliation, but reconciliation doesn't always mean agreement - in fact, it very seldom does. It means finding ways to disagree well and that's what we've got to do this week.

"There's nothing I can do if people decide that they want to leave the room. It won't split the communion." He added: "The Church is a family and you remain a family even if you go your separate ways."
Exactly. And -- at the risk of being encouraged -- these do not sound like the words of a man who is going to blackmailed into booting some members of his Big Fat Anglican Family out of that family because others are threatening to leave if he doesn't.

Rather, this sounds like the words of a man who is differentiated enough to be willing to take the schism card out of the hands of those holding the rest of us hostage to their demands that agreeing with them is the sole criterion for being a member of the Anglican Communion.

We shall see what we shall see -- but, for the moment, I like the way this season -- even if I can't remember what number it is -- is shaping up.

As Rachel would say: Watch this space.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Another World Is Not Only Possible

"We are bearers of more hope than the world thinks is reasonable: the hope of a world that is not only possible, but on her way."
I preached this homily on the Fourth Evening of Advent ... but it seems to me it still works as we move into the New Year and the Season of Epiphany ... of the "aha's" of God ... of making God's love manifest in the world.