Br. David Dalton, Mercy of God Community, Pastoral Care Coordinator
St. Boniface Episcopal Church, Sarasota, Florida
I have received many requests for copies of an address that I gave at St.Boniface Episcopal Church, Sunday May 16, 1999. I have been reluctant to do this as I speak from notes, not a script, and the address was meant to be heard and not read. Having said that, I have done my best to recreate the words that I spoke that day but I doubt I can supply the emotions inprint that were behind them when I spoke.
I attended a conference called "Beyond Inclusion, Making the Justice Connection". It was held in New York City at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church April 15-18, 1999.
I am an extremely private person and I was in a heated debate with God all the way back from New York as to whether it was really necessary for me to stand before you today to discuss the conference. God won. I realize that we can not expect our clergy to stand alone to say and do the right thing. It is up to all of us.
The conference dealt with the struggle of Gay and Lesbian people in the Episcopal church for genuine equality, not condescending acceptance, and the connection of that struggle to other Peace and Justice issues. The two main topics of discussion were same sex unions and the ordaining of homosexual persons.
Many of you are saying, "How does this affect me?" or "Do we have to hear about this again?" It affects us because some of us here today are Gay or Lesbian, others of us have brothers, sisters, sons, daughters or friends that are Gay or Lesbian. St. Boniface can not be a place where we come together just to say we are inclusive we must BE inclusive.
The main speakers at Beyond inclusion were The Right Rev. Bennet Simms, former Bishop of Atlanta, The Rev Rene Hill, Senior Associate for Peace and Justice at All Saints Pasadena and Dr. Deidre Good, professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary. These were formidable presenters.
We were assigned tables for lunch to facilitate group discussion. My table consisted of Gay and Lesbian ordained clergy, a physiologist, an artist, A United Church of Christ minister and the mother of a Gay son. Fascinating, insightful, joy filled people.
The theme of the conference was best summed in a paragraph from their brochure:
"It is time for the church to grow beyond inclusion...no longer speaking of us and them. Some members of the Body of Christ cannot include other members of the Body of Christ"
For those of you who think that the discussions of same sex unions and ordaining clergy who are homosexual will split church, let me assure you the church is already split. It is split between those of us who believe the words that were spoken at our baptism, "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever" and those who wish to edit the list of those who were marked to suit themselves and their own agendas.
By our baptism vow we are all included in the Church. By our baptism we are the Church.
This was a gathering of responsible people brought together for equality for all God's people regardless of sexual affection, gender, economic status or race or any other exclusion. It was a group of people dedicated to Peace and Justice not hostility and anarchy.
Having said that, let me assure you that just like Rosa Parks we intend to take our seats at the front of the bus NOW. Enough talk, enough theology debate resulting in statements being issued that for all their inclusive language simply say the same old thing, love the sinner, hate the sin.
For people in pain every minute is an hour, every hour a day, every day a month. Don't ask us to be patient anymore. Let's put prayer into action!
In my life I have been spat on, struck and cursed for what I am rather than who I am but the first personal discrimination I encountered was at the hands of the Episcopal Church. Sad commentary. "For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God" says Peter (1Peter 4) or I say, perhaps judgement is to begin with the House of Bishops.
I find Biblical debate on these issues hopeless. To use the Bible to isolate or slander a group of people is absurd. It simply becomes a battle over words and the meaning of words can be so illusive and an interpretation often fails to say what is meant.
I think of the headline translated from an Italian newspaper that said "Prostitutes appeal to the bishop". I think the headline did not do justice to the article if we use the wrong definition of the word "appeal". I also think of the translation difficulty when a Chinese firm stamped, "Do not turn upside down", on the bottom of the container.
Dr. Good likened this kind of debate to using our Bibles to sandbag one another. She also suggested the Bishops of Lambeth need to read their Bibles more than once every ten years if they intend to use it to form consensus.
I think scriptural debate is best summed up by Bishop Robert Shahan of Arizona in the "Arizona Episcopalian". He wrote: "I Have never quite understood why the issue of homosexuality and related matters is of such great concern to certain people. It sometimes seems as if one's own salvation is only possible by keeping the church safe from people who differ from us in this way. It can not a reverence for scripture, because that reverence is very selective indeed. If it were not the case we would all be tithing and the church would be so involved in missionary activity that we wouldn't have time to argue about matters of sexuality." Amen
Alternative sexual affection is as much a Peace and Justice issue as you can think. Unfairness and lack of equality for any minority group fosters a society in which, James Baird Jr., Matthew Sheppard, Billy Jack Gather and 15 people in a Colorado high school die needlessly in senseless violent acts fueled by intolerance. Did you know that 15 teenagers commit suicide every month because they are, or believe themselves to be, homosexual? So sure are they that they will be hated and rejected by family, friends and church that they take their own lives.
Now if it is the word "sex" in same sex union bothers you change it: It bothers me too! It makes it sound like a medical procedure. Let's use: A service of Holy Covenant, A Celebration of the Act of Commitment, or simply the Blessing of a Relationship.
I personally don't care if you don't want to use the word marriage. Remember that Paul saw marriage as a way to sanctify the sin of lust and to procreate He saw celibacy as the elevated moral state of Christians. Don't misunderstand me, I don't believe that either a marriage or blessing of a relationship makes a couple morally superior to the rest of us. I have been in a relationship for 18 years without the desire to seek a formal acknowledgment but I defend to the death the right of anyone who wishes to have such ceremony. So few people today are getting married that you can be assured that only the most conservative of Gay and Lesbian couples would even be interested in such a public service. The issue is, that what is offered to some of the people of God must be offered to all of the people of God. We bless boats, animals, and wars but not loving, caring relationships.
Concerning the second major issue at Beyond Inclusion, the ordaining of homosexuals, General Convention in 1979 resolved that it was a person's sexual morality not their orientation that should be the factor in determining whether they should pursue ordination. At the same time they said that homosexuals seeking ordination must be celibate because they can't marry. Of course they can't marry. The church doesn't allow it!
Well, you might say, easy enough. If you really believe that you are called to the priesthood then become celibate. My friend, a Gay man, thought that would work for him as he had been celibate for several years, of his own choice, to better seek out God's mission for him. Promoted by his rector and congregation he believed that he had a real chance to attend seminary. Where he lived, the psychological profile was done first, and when it was discovered he was celibate they said that fact proved he was incapable of having a relationship. Rejected! We are patronized with a pat on the head with one hand and slapped in the face with the other.
The issues raised at Beyond Inclusion will make some people angry, frustrated and fearful. It is fear that is the most dangerous. It blinds us and makes us deaf to the words of our Savior: "Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they be one , as we are one." (John 17)
My message through all of this is a simple one. I believe in a forgiving God of the New Testament. I know that God loves me. I know that God loves you. I pray we can learn to love one another, as we are loved. In Jesus name + Amen.
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