Monday, January 18, 2016

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.

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