A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003 and beyond
St. Mary's House Greensboro
August 24, 2003
From one of today's readings:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In the Name of God: Who made us and saves us and will not leave us alone. Amen.
The Gospel just read says many who first thought they were Jesus' followers had growing problems swallowing his teaching.
"This lesson is hard: who can accept it?" they reportedly said. Because it went against the grain of their usual thinking. So because of this they turned around and stopped following him.
Which left Jesus to ask his inner circle, "How about you? Do you want to go away too?" And of course they didn't.
Until maybe now.
Joshua in his day in our first reading posed a choice like the one Jesus did to his friends. Speaking to Israel, to all of its tribes and people and leaders, he said "Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the alien gods of your ancestors or the national gods of the country where you live; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." And of course the people chose to serve the Lord.
Until maybe now.
I say "maybe now" because a mess of Episcopalians who've thought all along they were following Jesus and serving the Lord are now talking about going away. Going away because they're put off by what the Church is saying, how it's all right for a gay man who's joined with a gay man to be a bishop and for individual dioceses to bless the blessing of same sex unions.
In fairness to those who are talking of "walking," they really believe it's the rest of the Church that's left Jesus behind. Which makes me shrug in the sharp recognition it's been this way always: The Church gets together and votes on something. The Spirit is prayed to as the Church gets together and the will of God, or so the Church teaches, is found in the voting, in how it turns out. Which holds up as orthodoxy, as churchly right-thinking, for as long as it take to have losers in elections. When the losers announce that the winners are heretics, the losers are orthodox, the winners have left Jesus while the losers are faithful. And so it continues down through the ages, between Judaizers and Gentiles, Arians and Athanasians, between Rome and Constantinople, Rome and the Reformers, slavery's defenders and abolitionists, the yeas and nays on women's ordination, and now between those who think sex between gays is a sin and a scandal, and those who think sex between partners of any kind pledged to each other is a blessing and cause for celebration.
Will the real orthodox, the real heretics please stand up?
Or sit down, as the case may be. Because it seems plain there aren't any winners in this kind of battle. Only accusers, like those in the game that I played in my childhood: "Bang" You're dead. No I'm not. Yes you are. No I'm not. Yes you are."
And who cares once one's older than ten?
The truth is some Episcopalians are having trouble swallowing Jesus' teachings these days because as most of the Church now understands these teachings they go against the grain of their usual thinking. Some Episcopalians are finding they prefer the gods of their fathers' easy biases, the gods of their own rekindled national fervor, who up to now they've always been able to mistake for the Lord.
I read a fascinating letter to the editor this week. Under the heading "Bush provides nation with Godly leadership," in part it runs:
"To water down the Gospel with a policy of tolerance and inclusiveness is to imperil its integrity. It may bring multitudes rushing through the doors of the church building, but it will never lead them into a right relationship with Jesus Christ."
Here is someone who follows an intolerant savior, worships an exclusionary God, believes that to some extent a right relation with God requires her to be intolerant and exclusionary too. Her candor both astonishes and gratifies. She has framed for me exactly what I've come to believe.
Not that one of us is right and one of us is wrong, but that we follow different saviors she and I. We worship different gods. We share no common ground of following and worshipping at all. We both call ourselves Christians, but what's in a name? We're different. We live by and for different visions of heaven. There's no dishonor in her finally seeing this and going away. It's only honest. That she ever confused her god and savior with mine is her mistake to be briefly regretted and quickly corrected.
By her going away.
Or else she must stay and figure out with the rest of us the riddle of this morning's Epistle. Where we're told, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." But then we're given examples where wives are made subjects and husbands are made rulers and mutual love between partners is nowhere to be seen.
And where is the reverence for Christ in this?
Unless...unless maybe both partners are the beneficiaries of all of St. Paul's advice so that it's not just wives who should be subject to their husbands but also husbands to their husbands. And it's not just husbands who should be heads of their wives, but also wives of their wives. And husbands should love their wives or their husbands just as Christ loved the Church. And husbands should love their wives or their husbands as they love their own bodies. And "For this reason a man, a woman will leave father and mother and be joined to a wife or a husband and the two will become one flesh."
The mutuality of right relationship that is love, as it was intended by St. Paul in his teaching, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ", can best be seen where same-sex unions exist side by side with opposite-sex unions. But in order to see it a Christian must be in a Church where a gay man can be a bishop.
See it and not go away.
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