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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.

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