A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
A Modest Proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)
By Lisa Fox
Background: One priest posted thoughts and questions on the House of Bishops & Deputies listserv on July 11, including the following excerpt:
ordaining Gene Robinson. I have not thought that the Episcopal Church has
departed from the essential matters of faith set forth in the
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and further upheld in the Righter trial. But
the fact is that the vast majority of the Anglican Communion thinks we have.
We can argue until we are purple, but that is what people think we have done
and we have not changed their minds.
Hard Questions: 1) Do we acknowledge that we are in the distinct
minority on this one, and while being clear that we support ordaining people
who are of the same sex in faithful relationships and that we support
blessing such relationships, yet we impose a moratorium on blessing
same-sex relationships and ordaining people in same-sex relationships until
there is a new consensus in the Anglican Communion, as the Windsor Report
The following response was offered by Lisa Fox (Grace Episcopal Church, Jefferson City, Mo.), who is not a delegate to General Convention.
Brothers & sisters, I was quite moved by the Dean’s probing, soul-searching question as to whether those of us who proudly supported Bishop Robinson's consecration should take a gentle, Christian step backward for the sake of preserving the Anglican Communion. My heart sang on that weekend morning when I heard of his selection by the diocese of New Hampshire, and my heart soared when I heard that GC03 had approved that consecration. But so too has my heart wept with the nasty, divisive language that has come from the minority in TEC and the (apparent?) majority of the Anglican Communion in the past almost-two years.
Because I take my baptismal vows seriously, and because I value the unity of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, I am tempted to say "yes" to [the Dean’s] proposal. But as I thought further about it, I came to the conclusion that gay/lesbian folks should not be the only ones to "suffer" if we are to cave in to the biblical literalists. It makes no sense to be literal only about their reading of "sodomy" and "homosexuality." Therefore -- speaking as one who has no power in the decisions of GC06 -- I would suggest that his proposal be extended further.
To me, the decisions of GC03 were Spirit-filled and courageous as Jesus was courageous. I want our church to choose leaders, clergy, and bishops based on the fruits of the Spirit -- not on the gender of their mate. It pains me deeply to think my church might refuse to ordain/consecrate Spirit-filled, "fruitful" people who happen to be gay or lesbian. But … I might be willing to accept that "conservative" stance if "the other side" would agree to be equally literal on other parts of Scripture, such as these:
§ We will ordain no one who has divorced and remarried, as they are adulterers.
§ We will ordain no one who gossips or commits slander. We will consecrate no man whose wife commits these sins, either, in keeping with I Timothy
§ We will ordain no one who is fat, as they are gluttons. Yes, I know there's conflicting medical research on whether that's genetic or a result of personal choice ... but there's the same debate about homosexual orientation, and "the conservative side" discounts those arguments by saying the gay person should just "exercise more discipline" or "offer it up to Jesus." I propose that they apply the same stricture regarding fat people.
§ We will ordain no one who increases the sufferings of the poor. I think that would include those who benefit from high interest rates on loans, as they are obviously usurers. I suppose that would include those among us who hold stock in the major credit-card companies that charge such usurious interest rates. It should probably also include legislators or voters who act to reduce free lunches for school children, and those who reduce our societal support for the poor. Enforcing this requirement strictly could get pretty complicated, but I expect the literalists could come up with a system for ruling out these sinners.
§ We will ordain no one who has sued another Christian in a civil court. Sadly, I suspect there are many Christians who have sued other Christians in court, in clear contravention of St. Paul's teachings.
No matter how spiritual a postulant or candidate seems to be, we will not ordain/consecrate that person if he or she violates those clear teachings of Scripture, as well as the perceived teachings against homosexuality. Could we all agree to that?
And perhaps we should consider a further step as long as we're cleaning house: Inhibit every deacon, priest, and bishop who is gay. And to ensure the kind of purity the “conservatives” seem to want, perhaps we should also remove all gay Sunday School teachers, altar guild members, acolytes, Eucharistic Ministers, vergers, Eucharistic Visitors, organists, and choir members who are gay. After all, these people are exercising the “ministry of the baptized” which is not really so different (except in degree) from the ministry of the ordained.
Then we should do the same for all the "straight" deacons, priests, and bishops who are known to be guilty of sins such as those I have listed here. And clean-house of all the “straight” Sunday School teachers, altar guild members, acolytes, Eucharistic Ministers, vergers, Eucharistic Visitors, organists, and choir members who are also living in clear contravention of the Biblical dictates such as I have listed here.
The next logical step, of course, would be for our priests and bishops to be much more conscientious about whom they allow to receive communion – in keeping with these same guidelines. After all, we are not supposed to communicate “notorious sinners,” are we?
Admittedly, this would leave us with a grossly under-staffed church and a very few people at the altar rail at the Eucharist. But would it not be worth it, in order to achieve the kind of Purity that the conservatives in TEC and the Global South seem to desire?
Do you think these measures would placate the conservatives in TEC and the Global South? Or will we need to proceed to stonings to make them truly happy?
In a plan like this, EVERYONE would lose something -- would lose a lot, in fact -- in the compromise.
Lisa Fox, kibitzer
Grace Episcopal Church, Jefferson City
Diocese of Missouri
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