Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts on Theology

Still knee-deep in Holy Week preparations and also needing to spend part of today in Not-so-Holy Income Tax preparations, so I'm still only whittling away at the HoB Theology Report in terms of coming up with my own impressions of the actual WORK ... as opposed to my already registered reactions to the whole PROCESS.

That said, I found this piece from theology committee member Deirdre Good's blog hopeful. It's from the introduction given by theologian Willis Jenkins to the presentation of the report to the House of Bishops -- which Good has posted with permission in its entirety on her blog -- but these were the two excerpts that "caught my eye:"

We do not plead for inclusion in marriage on the basis of rights, nor do we claim liberty for marriage on the basis of justice. Instead we show how all our marriages make sense within the church’s prayers and its proclamation of the gospel. Reading scripture in recognition of gifts of the Spirit evident in same- and other-sex couples, we present ourselves within the frame of an analogous debate: that of the earliest church wrestling with the question of Gentile inclusion.

By offering this frame of argument, those in same-sex marriages allow themselves and their relationships to become vulnerable to “our” interpretation. Our response, I contend, should be similar to how Peter, James, and Paul responded: by giving witness to gifts of the Spirit among these couples and making a way forward that respects tradition.

We argue that marrying same-sex couples, if done forthrightly as a matter of witness and proclamation, can help our church better explain itself to the whole Communion. It is “part of the Episcopal church’s mission,” we write, “to marry same-sex couples; that is, to discipline them and turn them to the service of the church, that by them redemption may reach further and the marriages of all may be strengthened.”

For the sake of mutual understanding and accountability with our companions in mission around the Communion, our argument elaborates how this mission makes sense within shared scriptures, shared liturgies and shared practices of moral formation. For we want our companions in mission to be able to understand us when we say that blessing same-sex marriages should not jeopardize the marriages or mission of churches that practice traditionalist marriage.

We think just the contrary: that same-sex marriage strengthens the meaning of all marriages and illustrates anew the mission of the church. “The question of same-sex marriage,” we write, “comes to the church not as an issue of extended rights and privileges, but as a pastoral occasion to proclaim the significance of the gospel for all who marry.”

Amidst similar dissension and debate in our church, we read our situation in light of the church council in Acts, and propose a similar compromise for a way forward: Traditionalist communities need not relinquish their traditions, but they must not break table fellowship. Inclusivist communities are not bound by those particular traditions, but they must avoid sexual immorality, which means that all couples, including same-sex couples, should marry.

So I still think there is much to process and much to ponder about this report, its content and the now DECADE long process that brought it into being.

AND I think the theological framing of the discussion of same-sex relationships described by Jenkins above can be an important contribution to the ongoing process of "doing the theology" of full inclusion.

It may all end up being more theology we've done that those on the other side of the aisle disagree-with-and-therefore-dismiss -- but what I'm wondering this morning is if maybe ... just maybe ... this work will help us turn an important corner.

Yes, I'm tired of my life and relationship being "studied." (But heck ... I was tired of that ten years ago in 2000 when the then House of Bishops' Theology Committee ... still chaired by Henry Parsley ... flew me and Michael Hopkins to Chicago so they could say they "consulted" with "live-in-captivity actual homosexual persons.") And I'm tired of being used as a wedge issue in this chess game of global Anglican politics that -- at its base level -- has nothing to do with either theology or sexuality and everything to do with power and control.

And God knows I'm tired of the arguments from "the other side" based on scripture through a literalist lens and pseudo-science -- and the portion of the report written by the self-described "traditionalists" doesn't appear to offer a single new thought, perspective or concept to the dialogue.

Of course it's a justice issue. And it is a pastoral issue ... as my calendar is already filling up with pastoral appointments with folks for whom this whole point-counterpoint debate on same-sex relationships has unearthed -- once again -- feelings of rejection, internalized homophobia and the deep pain of having to justify your life, your vocation and your relationship to your "tribe." I'm sick of it all.

But here's where the cost of discipleship part comes in for me. It's not about what I'm tired of. It's about the Gospel.

It's about the mission and ministry of a church that has SUCH good news to offer -- SUCH a powerful witness to provide to a world in such desperate need of it -- SUCH an opportunity in the weeks and months and years ahead to actually incarnate that Year of the Lord's Favor that's as old as Isaiah and Jesus ... in a nutshell it's about our foundational call as baptized people to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus by word AND example.

And we can't do that if we continue to allow a percentage of bigots to hold our mission and ministry hostage to their demands that we marginalize a percentage of the baptized.

And if it takes one more theology paper to get us over the schismatic speed bumps and back up to speed as a church moving forward into God's future then I say bring it on.

Let's read it. Let's challenge it. And then let's use it to put an end -- once and for all -- to the fiction that our differences have to be divisions and then let's get on with freeing captives, getting that good news to the poor and liberating the oppressed -- and bring the Good News of the God who loves absolutely everybody TO absolutely everybody!


Ann said...

WE have never done a theology of marriage for any sort of couple as far as I know -- that would be something to think about. The theology of the BCP is thin (we do marriage because Jesus went to one). Maybe this report will help us know what to think about what we are doing - although I doubt it will have any effect on what we as a church do- nor affect any couple who wants to get married.

Elaine C. said...

Thanks I needed that, I'm tired of the bigots in my own congregation spewing hate, and the other "good folk" telling me not to offend them ... Standing up for myself and other's against hateful offense is appropriate ... and I don't do it angrily ...

Deirdre said...

Thank you Susan for this helpful post: insightful and generous as well as brave.

Ann said...

Elaine C. absolutely.