Monday, June 30, 2008
It must seem to those nations represented by Gafcon bishops that the Anglican Communion is a terribly inequitable place. Those African bishops represent a distinct majority of Anglicans in the world. And yet it is the white, western bishops who still run the Communion.
The GAFCON Statement, (Global Anglican Future Conference meeting in Jerusalem as a protest to Lambeth) is a desperate declaration that the Thirty-nine Articles should be the standard by which the Anglican Communion should be run. And yet, that is not the story. The whole effort is still a demand for power. The proposed Primatial Council concept is not a call for equality in the Communion. It is a desire to wrest control of the Communion from the Western hegemony that still calls the shots. It is a clear rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a sign of unity for the Communion.
This may be the first real threat to the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury in recent centuries, but it is certainly not going to be its last. If the “liberal” church agenda is what is being attacked by GAFCON, it must be remembered that it is the “liberal” agenda that has given the African or Latin American Church much credence at all.
The use of the Global South by the unwieldy fringe elements of neo-evangelical and the uber anglo-catholic elements in the American church has been disgraceful. It has flamed anti-American/Western sentiment through out the Communion in order to attempt a power coup on TEC. This coup has been thwarted by the last General Convention, the House of Bishops and the election of ++Katharine Jefferts-Schori as Presiding Bishop in the US. But it has not cooled the issue in other countries. It has just opened Pandora’s Box.
Lambeth will not be able to do anything to assuage the brittleness of the emerging countries’ testiness. GAFCON will never be able to garner enough support in the wealthier countries to make their desires known. A breech between the two parties has formed, not because of sexuality or moral lassitude. It has been created by policies deeply engrained in colonialism, in imperialistic economy, and educational opportunities denied.
Should there be a legislative body for the Anglican Communion? I don’t think so at the present time. The standards by which an elective body operates are not the same from one country to the next. Even elected bishops are not seen as essential in the UK and certainly not seen so in much of the Global South. Those western nations would not accept such heavy handed authority in their churches as proposed by GAFCON.
There is a tendency to ignore the GAFCON bishops for their short-sightedness. We tend to belittle their efforts to voice their anger at nations who keep them from being able to deal with such immense issues of economics, AIDS, national development, literacy, etc. The only thing that they can really do is voice their fear at the loss of local culture in the face of western consumerism. And ultimately are we not afraid of the same thing? Are we in the West not also afraid of losing our autonomy in the face of globalism?
The manipulation of the bishops of poor countries by big right-wing money elements in the Church will go down in the history as one of the most shameful acts of Western Christianity. But what it has done is amplified the voice of Africa and Latin America in ways that they have never been heard. And when the right-wing money goes away, those countries will still have voices.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
June 29, 2008
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Today we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Unlike my own Episcopal tradition, when a major saint’s day falls on a Sunday, Lutherans celebrate the feast day, so the readings are different, the tone is different and the subject of the sermon is different.
The feast of saints Peter and Paul is an interesting one because these two saints were paragons—the absolute authorities in the Jesus movement of the first century.
Peter was the leader of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles—those who were not from Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus, began as a persecutor of the Christians because he was a good rabbinic Jew who thought his faith was being attacked from within by the Jesus movement. Then in an dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, Saul comes to believe in the risen Christ and become its most celebrated apostle to the Gentiles.
The early Christian movement—you can’t call it a Church yet. It was merely a movement in the years between the death of Jesus and the death of the apostles—about the year 67. It was a time of tremendous evangelism. It was a time when people heard the stories of Jesus, his life, his message that God cared for us, his death and resurrection and it brought people to a new understanding of what it meant to be faithful to a single God. It was a faith that was not determined about what you were to eat or wear. It was a faith about transformation of one’s life. It was a faith about achieving shalom—that sense of balance in one’s life and community. In some places the followers of Jesus’ Way lived together in community. In some places they met in synagogues. And in others, they met in peoples’ homes.
But it was these two saints that directed the movement at its very beginning --Peter, the staunch Jew following the Jewish customs and Paul, the virulent Pharisee who found that the message of Jesus crossed cultural bounds and opened the Way of Jesus to those who had not been born Jewish.
Judaism at the time of Jesus was one which was really solely for those who were ethnically Jews—those whose mother had be of the lineage of one of the tribes of Israel. And depending upon which party one belonged to, the tribal aspect of one’s faith colored how you observed your faith. But in the few generations preceding Jesus, there were those from the various nations around the Mediterranean who had come to follow the ways of the Jews without becoming circumcised. These followers of the ways of Judaism were called Proselytes.
Following the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus, many were drawn to this new way taught by Jesus. Many who were not Jewish flocked to the communities that worshipped God according to the teachings of the Christ. And the spread of this religion throughout the Empire was rapid. Even in Jerusalem the early Christians had to appoint deacons to serve those who were unable to attend the prayers of the worshipping community. It is interesting that some of those deacons have remarkably un-Jewish names, hinting that the early community was both of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
In the book of Acts, we hear of a growing dissension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Evidently the Jerusalem Christian community was sending missionaries to the churches that Paul was starting in Galatia, Rome, Corinth and Thessalonica telling those churches that they had to be circumcised if they really were to be followers of Jesus. It isn’t surprising because even among the Jews of Jesus’ day, the difference of how one observed the rules of kosher were problematic.
Paul ministered and preached to those who were not Jewish. He traveled through Asia minor and Greece sharing the Gospel. He called those who were not Jewish to submit to baptism as a sign of their embracing the teaching of Jesus. He did not require that they become Jewish first, or observe the whole of Mosaic law.
Finally sometime around the year 50, Paul went to Jerusalem because there were concerns that Gentiles who had become Christians were not observing the same customs as the Jewish Christians. Paul confronted Peter and the Jerusalem leaders with the issue—especially the one of the eating of non-kosher food. Peter capitulated to Paul’s understanding of what righteousness meant and accepted baptism as the sign of one’s faith in Jesus rather than circumcision and observance of Mosaic Law.
Now this long history lesson has very little meaning to us today because we are long past recognizing Mosaic Law as the measure of one’s faith. Peter and Paul were the ones who worked out what it meant to be Christian and it changed the character of Christianity from being a sect of Judaism to being a different faith altogether. But we still celebrate these two saints together not only because they were great followers of Jesus, but because they taught us how to agree to disagree. The sad part is all too often, we don’t pay attention to the hard work that these two saints must have done to come to a compromise so that all could worship in the same Church.
And I believe that it was the work of these two devout followers of Jesus—two Jesus called to minister to those who wanted to worship God in holiness and truth.
Peter was a fisherman, a devout Jew, an early lover of Jesus, perhaps impetuous, and one who like us, allowed his fear to get the better of him in the face of Jesus’ death until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. From that point onward, we find that Peter was an important and courageous leader of the faith. Paul, who never knew Jesus in this world, was like all those who had come to know the Christ from others. He taught with the fervor of the twice born. These very different men, these men who came to know Jesus found their commonality was in their love of Jesus. They did not stand on personal privilege or ego. For the sake of the Church they found that they could compromise.
It is a lesson we need to hear today. We need to hear that two great men, great lovers of Jesus, with great talent and great abilities could come together and say yes to ways that could lead the Church out of confusion that could have killed the Church before it was really born. We need to hear of a faith in Jesus that bridged the gaps of culture and the wisdom of those who could lead the neophyte religion into a new place.
I am thankful that we have this feast today. Peter and Paul teach us much. Those with ears, let them hear. Amen
Sunday, June 22, 2008
June 21, 2008
In the reading from Jeremiah today is a passage that many preachers identify with. The translation as it was read this morning is a bit more elegant that the Hebrew actually intends. The word enticed really has a more earthy sense to it. It would be better translated seduced. Jeremiah feels that he has been seduced into being a prophet by God. He has had to proclaim the doom that God will bring down on Judah to the scorn of those who laugh at him. Jeremiah in this passage laments his lot. He complains that he has to cry out to the people that the Babylonians will come and take Judah captive, but he cannot do otherwise. He tries to keep silent, but the truth burns in him until it must come out.
I understand Jeremiah’s lament. I know what it means to be seduced by God’s truth and love and to almost naively point out flaws or lack of integrity. Folks do not really like whistle blowers. The majority of folks do not appreciate those who find the chinks in the constructs of their businesses, political systems, organizations or churches. We like our world to be comfortable. And even though it doesn’t work quite the way that we want, we are willing to put up with the chinks if we don’t have to look at them too hard.
When I was a child living in Jim Crow South, there were two different colored water fountains in stores—one for white folks and one for “colored people”. For most white folks in Ft. Worth, those 2 drinking fountains were just part of the construction of society. For me, even when I was young, those 2 drinking fountains were signs that there was something radically wrong with society. Even as an 8 year old, I would drink from the “colored” fountain much to my mother’s embarrassment. As I grew older, that construct of society became more and more a sign of what was wrong about my society rather than something that I could ignore. I got kicked out of a high school history class because I was not outraged that white women didn’t get to vote before black men did. My radically southern and bigoted world history teacher was horrified that I might believe that black folk should be equal. After all she was a good Christian woman who went to church every Sunday! Something burned in me—it was not just orneriness. It wasn’t just a matter of being different. Something inside of me claimed a priority of Truth with a capital T.
Truth is a mysterious thing. We sometimes think that we know the truth of something because we recognize the facts about something. But the kind of Truth that Jeremiah had to deal with—the kind of proclamation that he had to make was not something that he could explain. It was something that burned inside of him. It allowed him to speak the truth that no one wanted to hear—that the leaders of his country were selling his nation down the primrose path. He had to proclaim like Jonah that if the people of Judah continued in the path that it would be to their destruction. He could not be silent even when he wanted to be.
One of the major criticisms of mainline Protestantism these days by the younger generations is that we don’t practice what we preach. We preach love and kindness, but often time our churches quarrel viciously. We say we are welcoming and big happy family, but we tend to include only those who look or act like us. I am not talking of St. Luke’s or even the Lutheran Church. But I am quoting what I am hearing from surveys of the 40 and younger crowd by various organizations about mainline churches throughout the country.
Part of the problem is that we are not familiarizing young people with what Truth is. We are not teaching people of all ages that what is honest is part of their own relationship with God. When we are baptized we enter into God’s understanding, God’s holiness and we will forever struggle with what is Truth, what is Holy, what is Right.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear those words that give us all pause:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
Jesus understood the call to integrity. He knew the call to be a whistle blower in the name of God. Jesus knew his disciples when they went out to spread the Gospel would not have to know exactly what to say or how to preach. But he did know that if they could be true to the voice inside them—be true to what was honest and true, that they would serve God as did he, as had Jeremiah, as had Moses or whatever saint that had preceded them.
We have all been seduced into believing that we can walk the Christian path simply by being good. But that is not what Jesus teaches us in this passage. Sometimes we have to color outside the lines. Sometimes we have to step outside of what is acceptable behavior to follow the Lord of Life. We must demand of ourselves a willingness to pay attention to the holiness that God has opened up within us. We have to be willing to not accept a lesser form of living than the integrity that Christ holds out to us.
For those of us who have embraced Christianity we must be willing to practice what we preach—we must be willing to look at how we respond to the Truth we find within us and how we live it out in out lives. The cost of discipleship can be severe. It may mean rejection by those we love the most. Peer pressure is not just a phenomenon of the young, you know. Peer pressure is “keeping up with the Jones”, “being part of the team”, “fitting in”, “go along to get along” or “just being one of the guys.” It is as much a problem for adults as it is for kids.
Paul reminds us in Romans that in our baptism we have died to all that is not of God. We have been renewed by God’s love in baptism. We have opened that space so that we can know what Truth is and we can live in the promise of that baptism here and now. Yes, it may cost us, but the reality of God’s promise is much greater.
I serve here at St. Luke’s because I spoke the Truth to my bishop. He did not like the Truth that I spoke and has forbidden me work in my own church. The cost of that truth telling almost broke my heart. And the loss of access to my beloved denominational home is painful to me still.
At the same time, God has called me here. God has opened new truths to me in a way that I could not have imagined 10 months ago. God has promised that his eye is on the sparrow. We need not fear what comes from being a disciple. The Gospel is the promise of new life every day—it may not be the life you were planning, but it is the life of living with integrity the life that God has given us in baptism.
I would charge you to look at the places in your lives where you are just “fitting in”. I would invite you to challenge yourselves to live the lives that God has opened for you in your baptism—lives that are drawn to the Truth that resonates within you. And I would invite you to live those lives with integrity, boldness and love. Our world needs to hear that Truth —the truth of our beings, the truth of our baptism, the truth of the Gospel. AMEN
Monday, June 16, 2008
Written by The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Monday, 09 June 2008
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry. I am writing to you now to recommend a path to use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers, and our continued witness to God’s inclusive love.
Clergy and lay leaders in the diocese have been working for the rights of LGBT people and for their full inclusion in our Church for more than forty years. Today, we continue to walk a journey that includes:
• Bringing the witness of our LGBT sisters and brothers to this summer’s Lambeth Conference,
• Combating a ballot initiative this November that will attempt to take away the rights recently recognized by the California Supreme Court,
• Providing leadership at next summer's General Convention to bring our marriage practices and theology in line with our fundamental baptismal theology.
For far too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state’s Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field.
To that end, the Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction. Although The Episcopal Church does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God.
I therefore provide you with the following pastoral guidelines:
• I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in The Episcopal Church. I will publicly urge all couples to follow this pattern.
• For now, the three rites approved for trial use under the pastoral direction of the bishop, adopted by resolution at the 2007 Diocesan Convention (see appendix), should be commended to all couples (again, regardless of orientation) to bless secular marriages.
• All marriages should be performed by someone in one of the secular categories set forth in California Family Code, section 400 (see appendix), noting that any person in the state of California can be deputized to perform civil marriages. The proper sphere for Episcopal clergy is the blessing portion of the marriage.
• The understanding of The Episcopal Church currently is that blessings are an extension of the pastoral office of the bishop. I ask that you continue to inform me of all same-sex blessings.
• Couples who have been married under the auspices of the California Supreme Court ruling must have the same pre-marriage counseling as that required of any couple seeking marriage or blessing of marriage in The Episcopal Church. This should be understood as an offering of the Church’s support for marriage.
• I urge Episcopalians, clergy and lay, to volunteer as Deputy Marriage Commissioners. There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand. I intend to volunteer for this at my earliest opportunity. This would be one sign of affirmation for the Supreme Court ruling from our diocese. By city requirement, clergy will not be allowed to wear collars when presiding at secular marriages. (For more information about how to be deputized, see the attached appendix.)
• All people receiving blessings of civil marriages in the Diocese of California are free to use the same degree of publicity (e.g., newspaper notices).
These are interim measures as the Diocese of California and The Episcopal Church continue our journey in the context of this prophetic opportunity provided by the California Supreme Court’s ruling. I have already initiated a process to arrive at a more studied, permanent answer for Episcopal clergy presiding at same-sex marriages in this diocese. That process includes the formation of a panel of diocesan clergy to make recommendations about how to move toward equality of marriage rites for all people. These recommendations will be discussed across the diocese resulting in an official diocesan policy.
In the coming days, I will publicly state my opposition to the initiative to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. The Diocese of California will publish advertising around June 17 celebrating the Supreme Court ruling and inviting same-sex couples to our churches for pre-marital counseling and nourishment in communities of faith.
As always, I welcome your wisdom, your insights and your input on these matters, and I continue in my commitment to work for a Church that sees all of God’s children through the same eyes that God does.
The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I have spent the past week at two rather bracing events. One was the ELCA Upstate Synod Assembly. If there is anyone that Episcopalian dioceses could learn from, it is this Synod’s efforts of what a gathering of Church can mean for the faithful. I was impressed in how it went about electing a new bishop. It was done with such respect and grace that my breath was taken away. Granted, the Lutherans elect their bishops for a six-year term. A sitting bishop must then run again if s/he wishes to continue as bishop. In this case, Bishop Marie Jerge was re-elected. But it is a process that perhaps we Episcopalians could entertain in the future. It would mean that there would never be situations such has happened in the dioceses of San Joachin, Ft. Worth, Pittsburgh where “bully bishops” have besmirched the Church by trying to lead their churches out of the community of the faithful.
The theme for the Upstate Synod’s annual meeting was “We are called.” Throughout the three days of meeting we heard people from all over the synod and beyond about their understanding of call. They were pastors, and lay folk, young and old, who understood their baptism to be their ordination to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I was especially thrilled with the young people: high-school and young adults (post-high school to 35) who spoke of their faith with a unique humility and situated in the reality of their lives. The hope that they communicated enriched my own faith.
The liturgy was truly “the work of the people.” And while I have always been proud of Episcopal liturgy, the Lutheran ethos of music enfolded the liturgies in four-part sound that filled up the whole convention center and wafted to heaven. An African-American United Methodist bishop preached a sermon that moved people to applause and cheers. I came away from this meeting of NY Christians renewed and enthused—what I believe that church-wide gatherings are supposed to do.
Friday and Saturday I spent at a workshop by the Rev. Dr. Diana Butler Bass. Dr. Bass spoke about her recent book Christianity for the Rest of Us. An Episcopal priest who teaches at Virginia Theological School in Alexandria, VA, Bass writes from a moderate position about the directions of the future of the Church. She is fundamentally a church historian who because of a Lilly Grant reached into mainline Protestant churches to see what congregations were growing and why. She earmarked Ten Signposts of Renewal in churches of thriving mainline congregations. She focused on the practice of faith rather than on belief or denominational tenets. She found that churches that practiced hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty with intentionality were congregations that were thriving. They were not caught up with the conservative-progressive dichotomy that is destroying many churches. They had a diversity of young and older congregants and they served their communities.
During her talks, Dr. Bass talked about the coming generation—not the Gen Xers, not even the Millennials. She talked about the sea change that is going on in the world—in science, commerce, communications. The same kind of sea change that was going on in which Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to discuss, or that Jesus addressed to the Jewish establishment and the Roman Empire. She says that in the light of this “New Reformation” we will see the gradual changes in denominationalism—not the end of denominationalism but broader boundaries given for those of us from the reformed traditions.
In the light of the move from Established churches to Emergent churches she says that the polarity of conservative and liberal will fall away. Doctrinal authority for the coming generations is not going to be about a single truth—but truth as it is encapsulated in culture.
A master story teller, Bass shared a story in which Phyllis Tickle was caught up in a Q & A session in a diocese in which there was much Conservative/Progressive dissention. Someone asked her if she believed in the Virgin Birth. Before she had a chance to even respond to the question, someone shouted, “that’s Spong’s question—he should be put out of the Church, he is a heretic”. Someone else jumped in at that point from an equally liberal position and the fight was on. She watched as a teen-age boy tried to ask a question. Finally when the boy asked his question, he said, “I don’t know what the adults are arguing about. I believe in the Virgin Birth. It is so beautiful; it is bound to be true, even if it didn’t happen that way.”
The movement from my modernist upbringing in which one truth was sought after to an era in which truth is something that is viewed from its context and truth is more likely to be multiple is a difficult jump to make. And yet it is the kind of understanding of faith that I have always tried to teach. But if anything can get us out of the push-pull dialectic that we have been in for the past 10 years, then perhaps centering on post-modernism may be the salvation of the Church.
Bass likened the next 100 years to a river out of its banks. We do not know what Church is going to be in the future. She says that denominations will doubtlessly change radically in the next 50 years but not go away totally. But it will be the practice of Christianity that will remain. So it is important that we practice what we say that we are. Younger people are critical of those who cannot be who they say they are and I must admit, so am I.
‘Walking one’s talk’ has been at the center of Christianity since the time of Jesus. Jesus chastised the Jewish establishment of his day to not be like the Pharisee or the Priest who passed by the beaten brother in the ditch. He lauded the Samaritan who had no responsibility to the injured man but who because of his love of humanity tended to him. Jesus continues to charge us to a practice of faith that demands of us transformation of our lives and our world. If Christianity is to be known to future generations, it will be because there are those of us who practice what Jesus taught us—not merely spout biblical passages or thump their prayer books.
But the love of Jesus Christ will be lived out if we but take the time to do so. Maybe my living out of Christ’s love will not look like someone else’s. And that is not going to matter much as long as we are willing to recognize that what we are trying to do is live out Christ’ love. If we are not willing to recognize that attempt, then we don’t deserve to last.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
My sister in Christ has posted this and I share it with you because it is an important action for Episcopalians everywhere. I would recommed not only contributing to the safe visitation of +Gene Robinson's visit to the outskirts of the Lambeth Conference. And even more I would recomment writing your story for the Listening Program. We must be willing to speak the Gospel to those who would silence us.
By day two of the "Christmas in July" Fundraising Campaign for Gene's Safety at Lambeth, we've already gotten $500 in donations from PayPal alone (too early for checks to arrive at the church). Thank you and bless you!
Here's another way you can participate at Lambeth.
Please join in Letters to Lambeth, a web based way for Anglicans around the world to tell their faith story as part of the Communion's Listening Process.
From the Windsor Report forward we have heard calls for what is called "The Listening Process," a process is intended to invoke a deep, Communion-wide attentiveness to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Moving the listening process forward requires opening the process to participation by individual Anglicans around the world. To this end, we invite you to tell this faith story through the Letters to Lambeth website. Now we have a web based way for LGBT people, their allies, friends and families to tell these faith stories. Through Letters to Lambeth, you can tell your unique and important story of how your life and faith have been enriched by being LGBT or by having LGBT people in your family, as a friend, or in your church.
Each author can choose to send either:
• a public letter which will be posted at the Letters to Lambeth website and may be read aloud during an evening program of the Lambeth Fringe Festival during the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury England; or
• A private letter which will be sent directly to the Director of the Listening Program at the Anglican Communion.
Either a public or private letter may be signed with a "pen name" to protect the safety of the author.
Those who can safely do so may send a photograph me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include the photo with their letter. This photo could be of themselves or of their neighborhood or town or of a scene that helps explain their faith story.
We will also accept photographs of artwork, poetry, a selection from a play, audio or video for use in Letters to Lambeth. These contributions might be especially useful in the Lambeth Fringe Festival event we are developing to help tell the stories of LGBT Anglicans around the world.
Please help circulate this invitation so we can reach out and include as many people as possible in the Letters to Lambeth Listening Process.
Thanks for your consideration and assistance.
Posted by Elizabeth Kaeton
Monday, June 2, 2008
After I wrote the article of May 26th, the Governor of New York agreed that he would work for the acceptance of same-sex unions in the state. It makes marriage for Gay and Lesbian persons a reality in this state—something that I did not expect for some years. I am sure that the ultra-right will file injunctions and other legal efforts to continue putting their heads in the sand.
The lives of LGBT folks are now beginning to make an impact on communities all over the nation. It is not surprising that much of the LGBT energy has happened in the cities to which many gay folks fled in the 50’s and 60’s. In the early 80’s I remember Bishop William Swing, then the newly consecrated bishop of California, spoke at a Clergy Conference in CNY about why San Francisco had become such a haven for gay folks. “It is because those in the small towns all over the country are not doing their ministry to and with gay folks that San Francisco has become the center for gays.”
I had not been to San Francisco at that time and supposed it to be the Sodom or Gomorrah that religious leaders said it was at the time. Some years later when I did live in the Bay area, I found San Francisco to be the same kind of city as Dallas, St. Louis, or Chicago. There was, however, a better acceptance of LGBT people and the violence toward gay folk was not tolerated by the populace and therefore, not tolerated by the officials.
Bishop Swing’s words have echoed in my mind ever since. If the Church in upstate NY is doing its job by accepting people according to the Gospel, then the congregation of LGBT folk in large cities such as San Francisco, Dallas, NYC, etc. is not necessary.
One of the things I am seeing in the small communities in the Southern Tier is the beginning of accommodation of LGBT couples and families. We see, if the churches are doing their jobs, gay folk being welcomed in our communities of faith, using their considerable talents for the furtherance of the message of God’s love for the world.
I was surprised, then, when at a recent clergy meeting that one of the local pastors asked if there were any churches that would accept a gay couple who had come to speak to her. Only I was able to speak up and say yes. “My church is too old” said one pastor. “I think it is an abomination” said another. “My parish isn’t ready to deal with that issue,” said another. I felt like the little red hen!
One thing that current strife in the Episcopal Church has done is make us address the issue of gay folk in our midst. Some have rejected us. Some are welcoming and others still others say “We don’t have people like that in OUR church, town, or community!”
Now, I don’t know of any parish of any denomination in the upstate area that can afford to be choosy about who presents themselves to worship among them. Part of the charm of small church ministry is that we have to accept who comes to us, with all their foibles and faults and make community with them. It is this kind of hospitality that is essential to small town –small parish ministry.
If any change has taken place since Bishop Swing spoke to the CNY clergy is that country and small town gays are not scurrying to San Francisco to live. More and more, LGBT folk who are from small communities are staying in their areas, or like many down-state folk are recognizing, that you can’t take the small town values out of folks. Gay folks are staying put in their communities or moving back to small towns and want to be accepted in their churches just as surely as they were in the cities.
Churches need to be ready to welcome LGBT folks. And by that I mean, straight Christians need to have worked through the “ick factor”—that feeling of fear of the different that gives rise to the prejudice that so characterizes relationships between straight folk and LGBT folk. Gay folk, too, need to tone down some of the ‘in your face’ exaggerations of gay life that makes straight folk uncomfortable. It is time for us all to be about making life real and caring for one another.
Gay marriage is upon us. As yet neither the Lutherans nor the Episcopalian leadership knows what they are going to do when gay folks present themselves for marriage. We must be prepared if we are going to stand for justice in the present age.