Preached in 1998 at St. Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City
During the last several weeks, the Lambeth Conference's declaration on human sexuality has begun to have repercussions. A few days ago Jack gave me an article about a group of gay/lesbian people who met with the Bishop of Los Angeles to express to him their fears and concerns. The Bishop assured them that they would continue to be welcome in this Church and that the love of God is for all. But the article also mentions a fax which one priest received, "exhorting Episcopal clergy and [laity] to 'get rid' of [gay] priests and [to] keep homosexuals out of seminaries and parishes." There is no evidence that this fax had been written or sent by a member of this Church; still, these are the consequences which have begun to follow from the Lambeth Conference's resolution.
My father was pastor of the United Church of Christ in Guadalajara for almost 28 years. Four years ago, my mother died and after six months my father decided to remarry. His new wife was a "divorced woman." Much to our surprise, our church which we had believed to be liberal and progressive-adopted a literalist and conservative position towards my father's marriage. Since the Bible teaches that a man cannot marry a divorced woman, my father was obliged to renounce his ministry and leave the church.
I want to talk a little about the Church in Mexico and the grave consequences that the Lambeth resolution could have there. The Church in Mexico became an autonomous body just four years ago. It has five dioceses and five bishops, of whom only one consents to the ordination of women. The other four do not ordain women and have for many years, since long before the Lambeth resolution, persecuted gay clergy in their dioceses. This resolution will merely intensify that persecution, so that with Bible in hand, these bishops can humiliate and destroy the lives of their fellow human beings. Thus the Bible has come to be used against human dignity; the word of God has become distorted.
Why do we continue to search the Bible for answers that do not exist? The Bible is not a book of ethics and morals. It contains ethics and morals, as well as politics, economics, dreams, love, sex, laws, diplomacy, courtly intrigues, racial conflicts, conspiracies, etc. But let us hope that our national economists do not set about-mining the Bible for a "Christian economics," because who knows what they would come up with. There is no such thing as Christian morals or ethics, because Christianity is not a religion of precepts; it is the religion of a man who come to teach us a way of life that is for all, poor, rich, Asian, European, American. The fount of "Christian morals and ethics," if such a thing exists, is found in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in the love of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ must therefore be our point of departure, not the letters of St. Paul or the Book of Genesis.
Christ came to teach us that his message knows no borders or limits. He chose the most marginalized of his time to become his most faithful witnesses. The love of Jesus Christ does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in truth. His love leads us to desire for every man and woman that to which they are entitled. The Christian is a witness and an apostle of justice in the human family. The Christian cannot tolerate inequality, oppression, or tyranny. The Lambeth resolution is therefore an enormous contradiction. Each of us is entitled to agree or disagree with the homosexual lifestyle; but we are not entitled to continue to wield Scripture against our fellow human beings.
The Bible is without doubt the greatest Love story, with, like all such stories, its villains and its heroes. That story reaches its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus and offers us the opportunity to be faithful witnesses of his life and his work. Sometimes we forget that ours is the religion of a man, not the religion of a book-that we believe in Jesus Christ, not in a book. We are Christians, not bibliolaters. Perhaps this will sound overly drastic, but what this Church has done to help build up the kingdom of God through the ordination of women has been lost as of this resolution. But what this Church must not lose is all those who believe in the love of God and God's justice. As the saying goes, we have lost the battle, but not the war. Perhaps we came to believe that with the ordination of women, there remained nothing more for us to do. If so, we have been gravely mistaken. God is calling us to wake up from our complacent slumber and reaffirm our commitment to Christian education. We are being called to search for new forms and mechanisms so that the kingdom of God and God's justice can start to become a reality for all. This Church is called to be a model for other churches. Our baptismal covenant asks us, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" Perhaps we have forgotten this commitment which we assumed through our baptism, and now God, through this resolution, is calling us to launch a new era in the fight against injustice and discrimination-respecting the life that God has given us; praying and working for peace; rooting out of our hearts all malice, prejudice, and hate; and showing kindness to all God's creatures.
When the second Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1549, there arose violent opposition "due to the [rigid] conservativism of [people] who did not [want to change their habits].' Indeed, as the following commentary observes, similar reactions have followed every revision to the Prayer Book: "A characteristic of some Prayer Book worshippers seems to be that often their attachment to the services and ceremonies with which they are familiar is so great that they consider them the ultimate and final expression of ...worship, the end of liturgical history.' Something very similar has happened to the Bible: we have come to believe that therein is written the ultimate and final expression of God, the end of history and the interpretation of God's revelation.
The bishops of this Church are not infallible, and many of us -- I would like to believe the great majority of us -- believe they have made a mistake. The bishops are not the Church, they are part of the Church; now it falls to us to make our voice heard, a voice of Christian godliness.
Thanks be to God for rousing us from our slumber and opening our eyes to reality, for reminding us of our commitment as Christians. But let us also ask forgiveness of those whose human dignity this resolution has affronted. Jesus is the Word of God in the absolute sense; Scripture is so in a relative sense. Nevertheless, the means to know the Incarnate Word are found written in the words of Scripture. The Church is called to be the body of Christ, the body of which Christ is the head the mind. A continual, never-ending conversation with Scripture is a necessary aspect of our life in the Church. We understand the meaning of Scripture with the aid of the Holy Spirit, which guides the Church to true interpretation.
In his meeting with bishops and cardinals, the great physicist and astronomer Galileo asked them just to look through his telescope. They refused, because they believed that to look would indicate doubt in God's word: according to their interpretation of the Bible, it was the sun that went around the earth, and to doubt that was considered heresy. Let us not be afraid to look through the telescope in our on-going search for truth -- the Bible in one hand, the telescope in the other. Amen
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