Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On Anglican Idols

I've been thinking a lot about idols lately. Many LGBT Episcopalians, including myself, have expressed concerns about the idol of institutional unity; the willingness to sacrifice the lives, vocations, and relationships of LGBT people for the sake of the unity of the Anglican Communion. Our Presiding Bishop has recently opined that the idol of impatience (for justice and mercy) is equally problematic; though she allows that many of the prophets and saints, not to mention Jesus, were not notable for their patience. The inference is that LGBT Episcopalians and our allies are willing to sacrifice the Anglican Communion to the idol of impatience.

Here, it is important to call to mind two aspects of idolatry: idols, unlike God, always require sacrifice; and they never deliver on their promises. This being the case, I do not believe that there is any moral or spiritual equivalence between the "idolatry of unity" and the "idolatry of impatience." The later is not an idol at all.

My impatience is, in fact, an impatience with the whole concept that God desires sacrifice. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. As Jesus teaches us in his refusal of the third temptation in Luke's account of his wilderness trial, God does not require sacrifice in order for us to obtain mercy. Mercy precedes sacrifice. We do not need to put God to the test. We do not need to throw ourselves off the pinnacle of any temples - Jewish, Anglican, or otherwise - to vindicate ourselves or God. God's saving mercy, vindicating us who are unable to vindicate ourselves, is already present.

The idea that sacrifice precedes mercy is demonic, and I am inpatient to reject it. Unity based on sacrifice is not communion - it is scapegoating. Any community organized on the basis of scapegoating has become on idol, and our response must be an impatient loyalty to the God of mercy.

Such idols as unity based on scapegoating are unable to deliver on their promises. The promise of authentic communion with God and one another through Christ already has been obtained by those willing to receive it. It is God's free gift and can not be forced upon anyone. Those who accept this gift and recognize God's mercy at work in the lives and ministries of others will discover communion as given already through Christ.

Those who accept and rejoice in the mercy of God, may indeed be called to make many sacrifices for the sake of sharing that mercy with others. But is is always mercy that precedes sacrifice; sacrifices offered in solidarity with victims and not for the making of new victims; sacrifices offered in witness to the mercy of God in imitation of our Lord's own sacrifice on the Cross.

I hope that our Church as a whole will refuse the temptation to throw itself - or more to the point, its LGBT members - off the temple mount. I hope that instead, we will walk the way of the Cross, sacrificing our status in the Anglican Communion - sacrificing institutional privilege - to bear witness to the mercy of God, if necessary. If we are willing to do so, I believe we will discover the promise of authentic communion fulfilled in new and surprising ways.

posted by the Rev. John Kirkley, Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco

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