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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"... Then You Have No Share With Me"

"I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
- AMOS 5:21-24

It's days like this that it's embarrassing to be a Christian.

How am I supposed to be a proud member of the institution whose ranks include a woman who compares waterboarding (a brutal form of torture), to baptism, our most sacred and widely-recognized sacrament? 

How am I supposed to seek unity or concord with a self-proclaimed archbishop in our own "civilized" country who -- when pressed -- refused to condemn the draconian new laws in Africa and Nigeria that not only make the simple condition of being gay (which is not something one chooses) a criminal offense punishable by arrest, abuse and (in some places) death, but compels the entire populace to take part in a witch hunt against the same, or face similar mob justice?  

How do I accept the leadership of the titular head of my own church, who would use very shaky evidence of a connection between mass murder in a country torn by civil war and the progress western churches have made on sexual and gender justice, as a rationale for keeping his own province in the past as the country around them moves forward, further cementing its increasing irrelevance?  

How do I explain this to the people I encounter (either LGBT themselves or just  believing in equal rights) who have a deep (and deserved) distrust of religious institutions in general and the church in particular?

The simple answer is, I can't.

I hereby declare myself "out of communion" with those who would use Christ and the Bible as a weapon against those around them. I concede that what is broken between us cannot be fixed. You can't be taken seriously when using "Biblical authority" as a rationale for endorsing continued persecution and murder.   If you don't see the defense of one vulnerable member of the human family as equally important to another, then -- frankly -- I'm not sure what Gospel you're reading, but it's not the one I know. 

Your "Christian cred" is hereby null and void here at the Church of Me if you think sinking to the level of torture is the way to make terrorism stop, and then glorify it by comparing it to the joyful initiation into the Body of Christ.  You cannot wash away another's sins while there is blood on your hands.

I cannot control what my denomination or the communion of which it is part does or says, or fails to.  Archbishop Welby claims that Christians might suffer at the hands of the intolerant if the church continues to move forward.  I fail to recall an instance where Christ promised the road of discipleship would be an easy one.  I am blessed to live in a place where we have grown so used to feeling included that we take it for granted, and a large part of the conversation is reminding those who "got theirs" that there is still work to be done.  I urge my similarly comfortable brothers and sisters to look at the world and the church outside your doors, pick up the rope and help us soldier on.

I only know that -- for me -- I can no longer be at peace with the notion that others identify me as part of an institution that is capable of what I've seen done in its name. I will continue to bore and annoy people by talking about it as long as I have a voice. I wish our leaders would put the radical inclusion that Christ preached ahead of politics and the facade of unity, an altar at which fairness and progress have been sacrificed so many times. I thank God for the opportunity to break bread with prophetic voices like the Rev. Winnie Varghese, the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, Louie Crew-Clay, and Jim Naughton, who have spoken truth to power many times when it was inconvenient or even dangerous to do so.  They are the reason I have found it possible to stay at the table when my head and my heart have told me to walk away.

We have much to be grateful for, and I know on one level that what we are seeing is the inevitable "growing paints" of progress.  But for today, I can't help but believe that the Almighty looks down at our folderol, especially at this time of year, and shakes his head, wondering, "when will they ever learn?"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Where is the Lamb for the Sacrifice?

Martin Luther King - Civil Rights Leader (1968)

I have had a volatile relationship with the See of Canterbury since I joined the Anglican fold some twelve years ago.  Those in my first congregation were no fans of Lord Carey, and thus the election of a Welsh poet to replace him filled this new adherent with enough hope to compose a Mass setting for the Sunday of his coronation.  It is probably terrible, has never been performed again, and -- as one whose "manner of life" apparently posed a challenge for His Grace -- my enthusiasm for Archbishop Williams' circuitous shepherding lasted just about as long, reaching a nadir when he appeared at our own church's convention to strong-arm us into a three-year moratorium on ordaining any further gay or lesbian bishops.  Thankfully, three years later, we remembered we don't actually have a Pope, and went about our business, electing Mary Glasspool.

Thus I greeted the Current Occupant, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, with no particular relish, especially given his corporate background and evangelical ties.  I watched his installation anyway (pleased that he eschewed the term "coronation") and learned a new hymn in the process.

While the Church of England struggles to come to grips with concepts we in the Episcopal Church have (for the most part) put to rest, society in the Kingdom is moving along without them.  Last week, civil marriage equality became the law of the land in England and Wales.  Even Her Majesty has gotten in on the fun, and the church -- somewhat grudgingly, I suspect -- issued a statement dropping resistance to the inevitable.

So I was somewhat knocked over today when I learned from the President of Integrity (the LGBT ministry of the Episcopal Church, of which I am a board member)  that his Grace, in the midst of a radio interview, basically said the CofE can't move ahead on LGBT issues because -- if they did -- African Christians would die.

"Scapegoat at Holy Trinity: Southport"

PHOTO CREDIT:  Julia (flickr.com/loscuadernosdejulia)
Used under Creative Commons License
In response to a listener's question about the Church of England's reluctance to allow its clergy to exercise their consciences on blessing same-sex relationships, the Archbishop cited the impact on the church's decisions on Christians in other parts of the world. He went on to describe standing at a mass grave in South Sudan earlier this year and being told that the victims were killed "because of something that happened in America."

While the Archbishop did not elaborate, in the context of the conversation it is difficult to imagine that "something" as anything besides the progress that American churches, and ours in particular, have made in the inclusion of LGBT people and recognizing their relationships.

In the absence of any clear evidence of a direct connection, it strikes me as irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst for a religious leader to link this tragedy and the actions of a relatively small church on the far side of the globe, amid a civil war, sectarian violence and other local perils, and use it as precedent to deny the church's blessing to the faithful same-gender couples who seek it. 

My particular mission is to minister to and protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both those within the church and those who need its care. Thus I feel compelled to remind the Archbishop and the church that – even if this vague correlation is based on fact – anti-LGBT violence directed at non-LGBT people is still anti-LGBT violence, and it is still wrong. If we capitulate to it by denying rights to LGBT people in other places, the violence will not go away. Instead, we send the message to the church and the world that if you bully us, we will back down, thus inviting more of the same.

This whole event comes shortly after two African countries in which the Anglicsn church has a strong presence (Nigeria and Uganda) passed draconian new laws  which criminalize those known or suspected to be gay, as well as those who fail to turn them in.  The Archbishop's alarmist statement today comes in the wake of a far more muted one when his peers in those countries expressed enthusiastic support of the new laws, despite reports that LGBT people were already being subjected to violence. 

I remembered -- guiltily -- well past cocktail time that today is the feast of Dr. King (we observe our "saints" principally on the anniversaries of their deaths).  If I know one thing about his work, it is this: When you take a stand against the status quo, someone -- generally the person who is benefiting from the status quo -- is going to make noise.  They may threaten, they may even harm.  But that risk cannot be enough to make us fail to stand up for what we believe in.

Dr. Welby would apparently have the LGBT members of his own church give up their own full participation therein at the altar of a great and unproven "what if." I learned there was only one sacrificial lamb in our theology, and that part has been spoken for.

In the 150 egg-faced  years since we -- by and large -- sat shamefully by and watched emancipation happen around us, it seems my church has learned a few things about justice and equality. I wish I could say the same for our friends across the pond.