In the wake of the Primates’ meeting and the subsequent decision by the Primates to ask the Episcopal Church to withdraw from voting in international bodies for three years, there has been no shortage of commentary. From Facebook to Twitter to blogs, the Anglican social sphere has been awash in opinion. My concern at this point is less about the decision itself than our reaction to it.
We have taken an action that runs contrary to the deeply held convictions of Anglicans worldwide and is a frankly dramatic shift in an understanding of marriage that was embedded in human social relations before Christians called it a Sacrament. To deny that fact – that this openness is an innovation – is to engage in creative myopia.
Now, acknowledging that fact does not mean that it is an innovation whose time has not come. There are good and even holy impulses that are leading to this discussion. I do not believe that this change is Satanic as some have charged nor do I believe that it is simply a capitulation to the spirit of the age. As more is revealed to us of creation and human nature through the reasoned observance of science, sociology, and more, one can begin to see where a case can be made. When paired with faithful prayer and the attentive reading of Scripture, an acknowledgment of the holiness of loving same-gender relationships may be a thing to be embraced, even among the tradition-minded.
However, all good reasons on the table, it is an innovation that is moving with remarkable rapidity when situated within the context of the arc of Christian history. I have a number of LGBT friends who are saying that they are not sure about this shift – not yet.
I have many friends of all sides of these issues. They are all faithful people who strongly desire to follow the will of God and the guidance of the Spirit. What troubles me deeply though is that those who do not hold the same mind about this as the majority of the Episcopal Church are being called bigots and worse.
I looked up the definition of bigotry, and found this, “Intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.” We might, indeed, feel that a certain intolerance (a bigotry) has been expressed toward the Episcopal Church (and towards LGBTQ Christians) by the Primates. Yet, I fear many are now engaging in pernicious bigotry by assuming the direst of motivations and machinations of those who disagree with the direction that The Episcopal Church has taken.
The Episcopal Church – this supposedly high-minded and elevated form of rational Christianity – has succumbed to the nastiest abusiveness of fellow Christians. Whether it is the veiled racism of referring to “the Africans” or the copious use of various forms of the word “bigot” or casting the acts of the Primates as devious and underhanded – we are reacting in ways entirely out of proportion to the sanction that we have received.
We are reacting in ways that actually imperil communion – in ways that are more dangerous than a sanction or reprimand from the institutional arm of the Church. The Church is the Body. It is a mystical union as well as an institutional entity. Our reactions – our words and deeds – have the potential to undermine the mystical union we share for we are literally saying to one part of the Body, “We have no need of you.”
It is difficult to remain in communion with someone when he or she is saying that you are a bigot. I would hasten to add that I hope that those who are on the more traditional end of this conversation would also work hard to curtail and contain those voices who denigrate and deny the faithful witness of LGBTQ Christians around the world.
There might be hurt over this reprimand but, look closely, we were not ejected, nor were our orders declared null and void, nor was Bishop Curry thrown out of the meeting. I understand that many are angry over the rebuke– yet we walked away from them – not the other way around. Anglican brothers and sisters gave repeated and clear statements that pointed toward an outcome like this if we moved ahead and yet, we did so.
Now that we have received a rebuke (not an ex-communication or expulsion), there is comment after comment from fellow Christians talking of bigotry, promoting schism, and advocating financial retribution. As a friend of mine used to say when the Church got twisted up, “Jesus is so lucky to have us.”
If this is prophetic work – then do what prophets do – bear the disapproval and move ahead. This caterwauling is beneath us as a community of Christians. Should we ferociously decry the abuse, murder, and torture of LGBTQ people across the globe, particularly at the hands of fellow Christians? Absolutely!
However – to act as if every Episcopal and Anglican blog is another forum where we can cast invective against those who disagree is beneath dignity. More dangerously, it is against the expressed prayer of Christ for unity. The image I have of a prophet is of Elizabeth Eckford, in the midst of a screaming crowd at the height of school desegregation in Little Rock. Amidst anger and rage – she held her head high.
If you are in the majority in the Episcopal Church (and the minority in global Anglicanism) who supports this opening of our understanding of marriage – then feel free to hold your head high if you are feeling persecuted. Don’t scream back. And for the sake of all that’s holy, let’s stop calling someone a bigot because they read Scripture, pray, and reason differently than we do. Among these “bigots” are friends who disagree, family who are still praying, parents who are trying, and Christians looking for signs of hope in a divided and divisive world.
Perhaps, though, there is also something that can be learned in this – even among those who feel themselves to absolutely be on the right side of this. How can we be patient in difference and encourage one another in the fundamentals of the faith? How can we seek the will of God together in such a way that we never again doubt one another’s motives and faithfulness even if we come to a different sense of where God is calling us?
There is much that unity teaches as we bear with one another. The news before the Primates gathered was all about the impending dissolution and collapse of the Anglican Communion. Yet, gathered together, they committed themselves to unity and reaffirmed our connection in Christ. They did not, however, say that one part of the Communion could act without regard for another part nor act without ramifications. This is simply the cost of being accountable to one another in any system. So now is our chance, as Episcopalians, to be an instrument of unity – to be an instrument of Communion.
There are so many moments in my own life when I have been so sure only to meet someone with whom I disagreed – someone whom I might even have castigated at another point in my life – and they changed me. Grace has a way of doing that.
So let’s take a breath and heed Psalm 37, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”