“Gene, I don't know how you are this night, or if you can summon a word of hope, but the eyes of many LGBT people and our faithful allies are looking to you, tuning the ears of our hearts to hear where you see the hand of God in what feels like deep, deep betrayal.”
After a good number of sleepless nights and prayerful days, let me tell you where this gay man and Bishop of the Church stands, with respect to our beloved Church and our trustworthy and faithful God:
Let’s remember that, for now, nothing has changed. The Episcopal Church has been bold in its inclusion of us, “risking its life” for us in dramatic ways over these last few years. Not perfect, but bold. Just because The Episcopal Church has been invited to subvert its own polity and become a Church ruled by bishops-only, a Church that is willing to sacrifice the lives and ministries and dignity of its gay and lesbian members on the altar of unity, does not mean that we are going to choose to do it. That is yet to be determined. Let’s not abandon hope simply because that is possible. The Primates have the right to make requests of us (nevermind the threatening tone of those requests). We do not have to accede to those requests in exactly the terms in which they are made.
Nothing is surprising in this development. None of us thought this issue was settled, did we? None of us expected our detractors to stop their efforts – whether their goals be genuinely about the authority of scripture and its playing out in our lives as Christians, or whether those goals have more to do with power and money and influence. (BOTH are represented in the actions taken.) We are fighting a larger battle here. As you have heard me say before, we are engaged in the beginning of the end of patriarchy. Did any of us believe that such a battle would be won without resistance? Did any of us believe there would be no more bumps in the road? Did any of us foresee smooth sailing into the future?
We still have countless allies. We are not engaged in this struggle alone. There are countless heterosexual members of this Church who now “get it.” They have heard our stories, felt our pain and taken up our cause as their own. There are countless heterosexual families who have joined The Episcopal Church (they are numerous in my own diocese) because they want to raise their children in such an inclusive Church. There are countless lgbt people who have come to our churches for the comfort and solace and grounding in Christ that we offer – and we dare not lose hope or momentum for them as well as ourselves.
Most importantly, God is still with us. And by “us,” I don’t just mean gay and lesbian people. God is still with God’s Church – frail, cowardly and misguided as it can sometimes be, human nature being what it is. The Church is not ours to save or lose – the Church belongs to GOD, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I believe that we are meant to use the institution of the Church – yes, even boldy risk its existence – to further NOT our own agenda, but the agenda of God. I do not equate the two. Our vision of the Church is only partial; our grasp of what God wants is as susceptible to our self-focused distortion as anyone else’s. But we are called to witness to OUR vision of God’s will and combine it with all the other imperfect visions of God’s will (yes, even those of our detractors), and come up with as perfected a vision as we can muster. The Church has been wrangling over those different visions since its inception – and that will never change. The question for US, however, is: Will we continue to put forward faithfully and respectfully and tenaciously OUR vision into that mix, or will we be intimidated into doubting our own vision of God’s will for the Church – or worse still, leave?
God will continue to show forth God’s glory and God’s goodness in our lives. The reason that we have made progress with our brothers and sisters in the Church is that GOD has shown forth God’s glory and goodness in our lives so strongly, that God cannot be denied at work in us. Many of the faithful have changed their views on homosexuality because they see GOD showing up in our lives, our ministries, our relationships and our families. That is the witness we can and must continue to make to the Church – not pointing to ourselves, but to the God we know in our lives. As I have said before, and will continue to say: JESUS is our agenda – the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, and the sins of the whole world, so that we might know God’s love and goodness in our lives. In the end, God will reign, and all will be well. I believe that with my whole heart.
Lastly, I give thanks every day to God for the fellowship we share. Part of what gives me relentless hope is my fellowship with YOU. What an honor and privilege it is to hold you in my heart as brothers and sisters in the faith, colleagues in ministry and faithful members of the Church. Can you imagine a more wonderful, fun and courageous group of “companions along the way?” Let our joy, our humor, our devotion to the Lord and to His Church be signs of the abundant life given to us in Christ. Let gay and lesbian people everywhere witness our joy, let them wonder how we can be so hopeful in the face of such overwhelming odds against us, that they want what we’ve got – a relationship with the living God that brings deep joy and abiding peace. Let us be ready to tell them the story of our own salvation at the hands of a loving God. And let us welcome them into our blessed fellowship, the Church.
I don’t know if this is the “word of hope” my friend asked for. It has little to do with events in Tanzania or even the Episcopal Church, and everything to do with God. But it is the hope that keeps me going. My faith is not in myself or in our “cause.” My faith is not in the House of Bishops or the General Convention to get it “right” anytime soon. It is, rather, the faith that people of countless generations and innumerable circumstances have found in our loving and trustworthy God. It is the faith Jesus said it was “blessed” to be persecuted for. It is the faith that Christians have always found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and God’s desire, willingness and power to bring an Easter out of ANY Good Friday. It is the faith that in and through the Holy Spirit, God continues to fulfill God’s promise “to lead us into all truth.”
I may utterly fail; I will undoubtedly disappoint God in my inability to be the person God created me to be; I will predictably confuse my own will with God’s will. But whatever the next weeks, months and years may bring, whether the Episcopal Church “comes through” for us or not, GOD will not fail, GOD will never disappoint, and GOD will never cease to pursue God’s will for my life – and yours – and for the world.