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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Our Unbloody Sacrifice: A Way Forward Together Through The Via Negativa

Our Unbloody Sacrifice: A Way Forward Together Through The Via Negativa

by W. Christopher Evans

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, `Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, `Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the m embers in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, `I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, `I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

Anglo-catholic sorts and folks concerned with unity have called for tighter structures to hold us together, understandably concerned for of a catholic and visible unity. They have also counseled patience on the part of queer persons at this time. Most such calls have focused on moratoria in ECUSA on consecration of bishops in same sex relationships and on the blessing of said relationships.

I share with them this concern because I think keeping us together may have positive long-term outcomes for queer Christians in other parts of the world. And of course, for straight Christians as well. We all suffer when one of us is oppressed. Paul makes this explicit in his conception of the Body in his first letter to the Corinthian church. We all become sick by not discerning the Body in our sisters and brothers and treating "those people" according to our failure to discern.

But I am a queer Christian, and I also recognize that many of the calls for unity subtly but surely ask for queer Christians to bear the brunt of that unity while "we" work this all out about "you". The "we" of catholicity in such discussions does not include "we" who are queer. If it did, "we" would all be willing to bear the burden together, recognizing that "we" are all made ill by this failure to discern the Body.

In short, many of these visions are subtly heterosexist even when expressed by well-meaning and supportive fellow Christians. And these visions are not fully catholic because they do not count the loss of catholicity that the Church incurs as queer Christians are lost in the process of any proposed structurings that mute our lives or remove our presence covertly and overtly from the conversation. These visions promote a visible, institutional unity across nations and peoples, but not within nations and peoples where a rather small minority nation, the queer tribe, is asked to bear the weight to keep the cross-ties together during a most unsettling time. Were we to ask this of any other people at this time, we would rightly be chewed out and perhaps even pu nched in the face. Such institutional thinking while laudable does not promote relationships and bonds of affection.

These proposals for tighter structures are well and good as long as these well-intentioned folks of their own sort and condition are willing to bear with their lgbt brothers and sisters the suffering as a Body while we who are lgbt await assessment of our faithful lives. In fact, I would say that the lives of heterosexual Christians are also up for assessment at this time (more on that in a moment). The matter of Truth before us is human sexuality, and this calls into question matters of vocation and lifestyle all around.

By bearing, I mean relinquishing heterosexual privileges afforded by our institutional Church structures for the sake of unity, not just an institutional unity with other parts of the worldwide Communion threatening to walk away or boot us out, but unity with the queer Christians in our midst and in the midst of other member Churches, queer Christians who seem always to be shunted out of this discussion as inessential to catholicity or are told in not so many words to just grin and bear it to the point most walk away never to darken the door of a parish again. Not good enough. And not catholic enough. Those concerned with catholicity must do better if they wish to be more proficient rather than deficient catholic Christians.

What I sense is that most straight Christians want a unity if needs be at the expense of queer Christians for the sake of their own peace of mind. As such, "we" can only have an "us" and "them" because our matter of being together in such a "peace" is inherently not catholic, setting up a "them" who bears "our" peace for us. And queer Christians rightly resist such a failure of catholicity, loudly if necessary. Catholic is "we" all around or not at all.

Many diocesan convention proposals around the nation ratifying Windsor in its moratoriums express this perspective quite visibly and in the face of queer Christians: We want to continue with our privileges of marriage, blessings, ceremonials, celebrations while you look on, while we slap you people in the face, while we ignore your faithful lives in such important matters as marriage, blessings, ceremonials, and celebrations, we flaunt ours before you. "Someday, things will be different for you people, but now is not the time, be patient."

Now most of this is quite well-intentioned, and really doesn't want to oppress, but it does, and talk of continued listening and solidarity of this sort should rightly fall on deaf ears for the cop-out it is. And it oppresses and suppresses the spirit of queer Christians and reduces possibilities for evangelization quite radically at a time when many young people are coming into their own as queer with little or no hesitation, and not just in the West as some would have it, but around the globe despite grave dangers to their persons in many cases.

We may likely lose entire generations of queer persons with their gifts and their talents as we languish in our privileges. That need not mean they won't build up catholicity in the world or pour out their lives in love and service without being Christians, but our catholicity as a Church will languish in the meantime and so will our ability to make faithful witness to that to which we point, a catholic world-this world completed and fulfilled.

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. rebuked from the Birmingham Jail the lukewarm (many being Episcopalian bishops) white Christian leaders who called for African-American Christians to suck it up because a liberty now would destroy the nation, queer Christians rightly rebuke a lukewarm unity of the Church catholic that chooses to suffer with us in word but not in deed. If the only need the Body has for queer Christians is as a scapegoat, we rightly say "no". If we want a catholic unity during this time of discernment, we cannot simply ask one group to suck it up; we all must enter into the suffering of the Body not merely in word, but in deed. We must all share in the ambiguity of having our faithful lives examined, poked, prodded.

I am mindful, however, that for the Episcopal Church, USA, to forge ahead with same sex blessings and consecrations of bishops in same sex unions at this time will likely bring great chaos to our internal affairs through schism, will likely destroy the Anglican Communion as we fly apart from one another, and frankly, may likely harm the long-term liberation of us all, queer and straight, as some parts of the world give up these conversations for decades.

So creative responses to The Windsor Report are called for that bring an end to the scapegoating in our midst and that prevent schism. At least we must try. Responses that meet the minimum obligations to prevent schism and foster further conversations, while not sending queer folk off into the wilderness to bear our sins. Responses that remove harm to queer Christians in our midst-harm which we do not wish to continue, that encourage living sacrifice and mutual upbuilding across orientation/gender lines as we continue to break down the dividing walls between us, and that live into the Church catholic we believe G-d is calling us to beyond a scapegoating unity based on the continued sacrifices of queer persons, indeed, beyond the rhetoric of queer and straight at all as we embrace one another as brothers and sisters across our various identities to find ourselves one in Christ:

One Response

We value the listening process as an essential mark of our Trinitarian, relational, and thus, catholic polity as we discern the Truth the Holy Spirit is leading us to at this time. Our process neither allows for a singular entity, nor a gathering of bishops to finally close a matter of concern for Truth by all of G-d's holy people. Rather, we depend on the coming together of disparate groupings and persons to discern truth together over time at the Table of the Lamb who was slain through measured and careful study, ongoing conversations, and access to all resources on Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, including scientific, biological, psychological, sociological evidence, which cannot be divorced from a truly catholic approach to anthropology rooted in the Christology of that august and holy Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

By reassertion of a tradition now under question, Lambeth 1998 chose to "create facts on the ground" essentially closing the case on a matter of import for all of G-d's holy people at a time when faithful listening has been called for repeatedly for three decades beginning with Lambeth 1978, continuing with Lambeth 1988, and alluded to in the "listening process" called for in the second portion of Lambeth 1.10 in 1998, The Windsor Report, and at Nottingham. These "facts on the ground", be they rooted in readings of Scripture, Tradition, or Reason, are up for dispute at this time, and therefore, simple reassertions of past teaching or interpretations on the matter do not reconcile us with the Truth on a matter that has until this moment in history never been up for dispassionate ongoing and genuine discernment and discussion. As the history of the Church catholic clearly demonstrates, what once may have been held as fact and revelation may not in fact be fact at all, but a terrible misapprehension of the Truth that inflicts grave harm on the lives of fellow human beings in the name of G-d. We wish to avoid continuing in that spirit, a spirit that has often involved the language and practice of scapegoating.

Rather than opening up spacious and gracious settings for genuine holy conversation, holy listening, ample opportunities for holy silence, faithful discernment through common prayer and meal fellowship, Lambeth 1.10 sought through appeal to Scripture alone to close this matter prematurely in a clear and emotional display of passions in sharp contradiction to the call for dispassionate study at Lambeth 1978.

Our disordered passions expressed through sharp emotions and premature dismissals of this matter, however, do not serve all Truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us. And in many instances have led to faithful Christians both homosexual and heterosexual falling away from the Church because of our lack of charity and grace and our adamant reassertions of a fact in dispute. We began walking apart the moment our passions "created facts on the ground" by appeal to Scripture alone, disrupting a genuine, open, ongoing, and budding process of discernment involving all of our G-d-given faculties and all of G-d's holy people, a process to which Christians concerned for Truth from all persuasions were willing to embrace should charity and graciousness, bonds of affection be maintained across our divides and disagreements.

Instead of continued listening, some chose to treat Lambeth 1998 on this matter (and this matter only) as an oecumenical council, something it was not, nor was it ever intended to be. Sharpened disagreement and moving forward in opposite directions could hardly be a surprise during a time of discernment given the creation of "facts on the ground" by a majority of bishops who wished to close the matter once-for-all (shown up in the last minute changes to an otherwise much more august and deliberative statement on the matter at the 1998 conference) and given this long-term failure on the part of the Communion to live into its promises to faithful lgbt Christians, especially when some member Churches have engaged in this process for many years and have come to a conclusion on same sex unions through careful study, reflection, and experience that i s seemingly opposite of long-standing tradition, but may indeed reflect a deeper movement within catholic thought and practice as well as the Truth the Holy Spirit is leading us into at this time.

Actions on the part of the ECUSA and the ACofC partially reflect a response, given our own hard work of discernment, to this premature close on an important matter at Lambeth 1998 -the moment when we began to walk apart-a closure that affects all of G-d's holy people, and asks persons of one sort and condition to carry the weight of our continued communion often through their silence or worse.

We, however, recognize that such actions have exacerbated our divisions and have created quite serious inhibitions if not dangers to Anglican Christians in other parts of the world who find themselves ridiculed by Christians of other traditions and by Muslims for the decisions that ECUSA and the AcofC have made regarding homosexuality.

We, however, also recognize that one group of persons among us, faithful lgbt Chrisitans longsuffering and patient, still persecuted by prison sentences, beatings, even death in many parts of the world in which Anglican Christians reside without protest and sometimes with encouragement from Anglican leaders or lay, have come to inordinately bear our unity.

And that the Church has too often failed to speak out against abuses of lgbt Christians in their "Christ-touched dignity". To the degree that this is the case, we have failed to participate in catholicity, the eschatological gift to which we point and in which we participate as the gift of Christ to us by the Spirit for the sake of the world, not merely for ourselves. To the degree that we have failed to be catholic, we have become a scandal to the world, and rightly a cause for ridicule rather than the harbinger of Good News, and we should not therefore be surprised when we find a greater degree of catholicity emerging in the secular sphere than within the Church catholic, for the catholicity to which we point and participate in is ultimately the telos of all of Creation, not merely the preserve and prerogative of the Church.

We who are heterosexual have lorded our privileges over our lgbt sisters and brothers in Church blessings, celebrations, ceremonial, and often condemned their faithful lives and important seasons to silence, invisibility, or worse, knowingly and unknowingly, within the confines of our gatherings in service to Christ for the sake of the world. Our structures have not fostered a careful and faithful attendance to the lives of our lgbt brothers and sisters so as to make a catholic determination of their couplings, households, vows, commitments, and concerns. Indeed, in ecclesial and civil society, structures have often prevented and do prevent such an assessment through real and even deadly threats on the lives of lgbt sisters and brothers. We humbly repent o f this unity based in scapegoating as not of G-d and in direct opposition to the Truth shown to us in Christ on the Cross.

We who are lgbt recognize that while the wider Church catholic as subsisting and expressed in the Anglican Communion has not yet concluded positively on same sex unions or their blessings, we would point out that the Church catholic has also not fully and positively concluded on opposite sex unions or their blessings despite their official approval and status by the majority: We who are lgbt, members of the Body have not concluded positively on opposite sex unions, noting patterns of domination and possession and property rights in heterosexual unions that have long formed women and men in such relationships in ways that appear to us as members of the Body to be contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than friendship and mutual care, formation and vocation in Gospel service, property rights over women and in matters of paternal issue hav e defined heterosexual pairings and theologies of marriage to this day. Indeed to the extent that this is changing, at least in part, we owe this to the insights of faithful Christians in same sex unions and to the scholarship of women.

Similarly, it is not self-evident that monastic, celibate living has always and everywhere been a fruitful way to live. Lgbt Christians have long been forced into the back alleys of life or into celibacy to simply survive in the midst of a heterosexual world. In ages past, celibacy afforded a rare option for women to exercise their G-d-given talents and gifts with a greater minimization of male domination over their lives. Celibacy, rather than being lifegiving always and everywhere, has also been a way simply to survive, and for many lgbt or heterosexual persons, a way of escape from a Christlike engagement in the messiness and complexities of life, showing itself in negative fruits such as bitterness, hardened hearts, immaturity, even the vicious treatme nt of others. Where celibacy has been positive, we note that such has been a joyous response to G-d's call on a particular person's life often with a particular charism given in joyful service and mutual upbuilding, which is our holy and living sacrifice regardless of our state in life.

For those heterosexual Christians regardless of their state of life or office who commend, even demand, celibacy for us irrespective of personal call, we recommend for your consideration the venerable opportunity to join us in solidarity in the burden you would lay upon us. We commend to you the ancient patristic Christian practice and goal of full abstinence from sex in marriage and celibacy in singleness as a sign of solidarity with us, joining in the suffering which you would wish to impose upon us, rather than continuing to rejoice and delight while we languish. In this manner, you can truly say to us that you are in solidarity with us rather than condescending to us in your recommendations, showing us in your own lives the life of struggle and suffering and even torture which you wish to commend to us as holy for us, but not for you. More to that end, we commend to you the common practice and overall trajectory of catholic Church teaching on sexuality through most of history, irrespective of innovations recommended at Lambeth 1930 with regard to artificial contraception. We can no longer afford piecemeal approaches to human sexuality that benefit heterosexuals in contradiction to the Tradition because of societal changes and majority status on such matters where the Tradition is clear that all sexual activity must be open to procreation and as far as possible, dispassionate. Such a disconnection and increase in pleasure should be more thoroughly studied to ascertain if many societal woes with regard to marriage (including increased fornication, adultery, and divorce) are not tied in part to this innovation.& nbsp;

We have all fallen short of the glory of G-d, and none of us sees clearly at this time. A time of discernment of the spirit and ascertaining of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is needed. Even our officially approved modes of living have as likely born bad as well as good fruits. Direct appeals to automatic participation in the divine life of marriage and celibate life without the ardour and ascesis of Christian living on the part of married and religious persons are suspect. Too much bad fruit has been born in the midst of good fruit for us to make linear and absolutely positive claims to these ways of life as direct and full participations in the life of G-d. We who find our selves in such states of life too stand under the judgment of G-d. We too fail to live into our eschatological fulfillment made in such promises as marriage and religious vows. Lest we fail to see the good fruit being born by those in other states of life because of our presumed and inherent righteousness because of official status and approval, we openly and honestly admit our own sin. None of us sees clearly what G-d is now calling us to.

We as a catholic Church, in which "here comes everybody", humbly determine that everybody includes lgbt persons and heterosexual persons who are all living in a time of reassessment: We recognize, therefore, that we are all in a discernment process at this time with regard to the nature of marriage, vocations, vows, promises, and our lively participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity expressed in our various life choices in response to our baptismal covenant and G-d's call in our lives be we married or in a same sex union, single and consecrated, single and searching for a helpmate, sexually active or abstinent and celibate, cenobitic or eremitic religious.

Given that the Communion is not of one mind on the matter of human sexuality generally or homosexuality specifically at this time, that this matter is not only a theological issue as ++Williams recently commented, but is an urgent matter of pastoral and personal care and a matter worthy of consideration by all of G-d's holy people in a deliberate manner of discernment,

Let it be resolved that the Episcopal Church, USA, a member Church of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, that having committed itself to the listening process called for in Lambeth 1978, 1988, and 1998 and having undertaken faithfully this process in this Church body for three decades, and therefore, come to a positive assessment of same sex unions, recognizes that throughout many members Churches of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, neither has the listening process begun, nor has a positive assessment been made of same sex unions. This member church, therefore, recommit itself to this listening process globally throughout the wider Church catholic subsisting and expressed in the Anglican Communion for the sake of discerning the Truth on this matter of concern for all of G-d's holy people.

Toward this end, we insist upon formal structures for listening and discernment to be put in place throughout the Anglican Communion not beholden to the minds of bishops within national churches or in Panels of Reference alone, but answerable to a wide degree of participation by all of G-d's holy people through processes involving all orders and member Churches. We commit our resources, financial and otherwise, to this end.

To foster this process of listening and discernment on matters of human sexuality and to prevent dissolution of the Communion at this crucial moment in history, we will honor the request of The Windsor Report for moratoria with a mind for all of G-d's holy people for whom we have pastoral responsibility. We will neither consecrate bishops, nor bless persons taking monastic or other vows, nor bless relationships regardless of configuration that all of us might bear our sufferings together in living sacrifice and mutual service and so that we all might be one as the Father and Jesus Christ are one.

As we here choose to be faithful in preparing a time of listening, coming together to foster covenants among us, and place moratoria on disputed matters as The Windsor Report advises, in accord with The Windsor Report and the august and venerable Oecumenical Council of Nicaea, we insist that bishops from other member Churches within the Worldwide Anglican Communion immediately cease and desist from any further interference in the life of this member Church through annexation of parishes, irregular ordinations, and usurpation of episcopal oversight.

To ensure ongoing pastoral care for all of G-d's holy people in our midst who find themselves under religious vows or vows of commitment in relationship, we express our support through ongoing and regular access to pastoral care and listening, and by encouraging commitment to the blessing of G-d with their lives principally through regular participation in Holy Eucharist and faithful service for the sake of the world in the rites of their everyday lives.

To those who find themselves beginning a process of entering religious life or relational commitment, we commit ourselves to offering pastoral counseling as well as resources and expertise in shaping services of vows between persons and before G-d though blessings and weddings are under moratorium, and deacons, presbyters, and bishops are forbidden from leading said services. However, we recognize that all true and faithful service begins and ends in Christ, principally expressed through our entrance into the Body in Holy Baptism and ongoing participation in Holy Eucharist. We therefore encourage all to offer themselves, their lives, and their commitments by blessing G-d in self-offering following the Prayers of the People and before the Peace. Though no pronouncements or blessings by the laity, deacons, presbyters, or bishops may be made, those renewing their commitment to bless G-d through vow and life are encouraged to share their particular intention in their self-offering.

We will continue to encourage all to seek the adequate civil protection of rights, benefits, and responsibilities afforded to them depending on their state of life, especially for the securing of adequate safeguards for our children. And we also will seek to prevent scapegoating of lgbt persons in the civil sphere, calling for adequate civil protection for the same sex couples in our midst, especially at a time in our nation when lgbt persons find themselves attacked by political parties and leadership in the name of family values, a family values that is often at odds with the embrace of Christ, a family values that is not only detrimental to our sisters and brothers, but is destructive to any children in their care.

To prevent a collapse of pastoral oversight in dioceses that find themselves without a bishop, we authorize the Executive Committee to seek appropriate solutions during this period of moratoria, including limited lifting of this moratorium, perhaps every ten years, should dwindling access to continued pastoral oversight become acute Churchwide and the episcopal nature of our Church be in danger of disappearing. However, no candidate in a same sex relationship will be considered for any limited lifting of this moratorium.

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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