The news of the day here in SLC is pretty tentative and calm. We had a joint session – Deputies and Bishops – discussing structure – not the proposals for structural change that will be on the agenda, but just generally. I was part of a group made up of half the Nevadans talking with half the Deputies from Lexington. We had a really good conversation and learned a lot about church life in our very different worlds.
The Stewardship Committee then went through a laborious boring beyond belief process of perfecting a resolution recognizing that the Development office raised a lot of money last triennium and encouraging them to continue doing their job. But then we got to talking about how the Convention Eucharists STILL (despite three years of our urging) do not present the alms at the altar or designate their purpose. (At this point, there was originally a rant about how utterly and outrageously wrong this is. I have been persuaded by calmer heads to spare you my less attractive sentiments). So we are in a bit of an uprising mode. We shall see if a more vigorous statement and persistence will make some headway. A positive note on today’s worship: we had good music by The Theodicy Jazz Ensemble and an engaging sermon by House of Deputies President, Gay Jennings.
The Bishops legislative meeting was pretty straightforward. We had various and sundry legislative matters and passed them all. Nothing dramatic or controversial. The hard issues are down the road.
The real event today happened in D.C., the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same gender marriage in all states – not to be confused with all dioceses, as we are a church in 17 nations. This does, however, constitute a landmark shift in the way our society recognizes family relationships; so the Church will be called upon to express a spiritual understanding of these relationships. We already bless same gender unions. Where those unions are legally recognized as marriages, we acknowledge that legal status as part of the blessing. We have on the agenda a proposal to recognize the spiritual significance of same gender bonds on a higher level. I think it is quite likely we will do that. Exactly how the new approach will be framed is still being worked out, but I think we are likely to do something along this line. In the next few days I’ll be reporting on that.
But first I want to consider an underlying question of how we think about all our decisions and actions.
Of course, some Episcopalians, like many Christians of other denominations, believe same gender relationships are morally wrong and should not be blessed at all. I disagree. See Live From Anatolia: Part 1. http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/live-from-anatolia-part-1-paul-law-and.html and Nicaea, Constantinople, and Salt Lake City. http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/nicaea-constantinople-salt-lake-city.html But as I said in the Nicaea blog, there are dissenters at this meeting and there will be dissenters after this meeting whatever we do. So, simply stated, there are dissenters. That may seem obvious, but some of my social media friends think there is actually unanimous and universal acceptance of the 5-4 decision of the Court. It ain’t so.
Now, here’s where we come to the issue. Dissenters have two complaints against the LGBTQ inclusion advocates. We may, on the one hand, leave faith out of it and just go for the political value of inclusion. We are doing what we do because we politically want to do it, regardless of God. That sometimes happens and I share the conservative’s objection to a godless politics.
On the other hand, we may claim that LGBTQ inclusion is the will of God. I decidedly want to make a case for that, as I did partially in Live From Anatolia I post. But the conservatives object that this invocation of God stigmatizes them, shuts down dissent, and cuts off conversation. True, these liberals are speaking in the language of Amos and Hosea, but Amos and Hosea were not the kind of guys you could have a beer with and talk things over.
I believe that it is incumbent upon us as Christians to seek God’s will and act upon it in all things, most especially relationship matters like marriage. We have to make a theological case for same gender marriage if we are going to do it. The fact that it’s legal doesn’t mean we have to honor it religiously. We choose to honor and bless same gender marriages not because the state says so but because we believe God calls us to do so.
However, it is irreverent to claim too much certainty about God’s will. God is an infinite mystery so we may have a sense of God’s will but we cannot have certainty. The danger is doing what we want and drafting God to support our position. I am often tempted to do just that and I suspect that others may face the same temptation.
So the challenge of Christian tolerance, according to Reinhold Niebuhr, is to boldly proclaim God’s truth as best we know it, but at the same time hold the humility to remember we could be wrong. That keeps the door open for conversation with people who disagree with us. In conversation, we are quite likely to learn things, to build relationships, to grow in grace. That is not possible if we do not say what we believe with a “Thus sayeth the Lord” boldness. A know-nothing shrug of the shoulders does not evoke conversational response. But on the other hand, we need the humility to listen to someone else and try to understand their perspective.
“Winning” a Supreme Court case and “winning” a General Convention proposal for same gender marriage is not the end of the conversation. It should be the beginning in which we continue to respect those who disagree and listen with open hearts to their concerns. I am deeply convinced that life will be richer for all concerned if we continue our dialogue grounded in a Christ-based mutuality of care and respect. The thing we really need to win is each other for Christ.