It was a windy, rainy but joy-filled night here in Minnesota. At St. Paul's on-the-Hill Episcopal Church in St. Paul, MN--many gathered to pray, listen and break bread together in anticipation for this weekends Diocesan Convention.
As many of you know, the Diocese of Minnesota will be electing its ninth Bishop, sometime on Saturday. So tonight many gathered to hear the newly elected President of Integrity, The Rev. David Norgard, deliver the homily.
#13: For a Church Convention
II Corinthians 4:1-10
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“It is not our way to be devious, or to falsify the word of God; instead, in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every human being with a conscience by showing the truth openly.” – From the epistle appointed for the evening (NJB).
We gather here on the eve of the whole Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota gathering to elect its next bishop. It is a time of anticipation for, as elections of leaders always go, whatever the outcome, we are about to embark on an adventure. We can only pray that it will be an adventure in faith. Recognizing the time and place, the moment in which we stand, I would like to begin with a personal story – my own.
I was the first openly gay person to be ordained in the Diocese of Minnesota. I “entered the process” (as people say) shortly after the General Convention of 1979. (You can do the math in your heads, if you like, but I’m not going to do it for you.) It was the convention that declared – in typical Episcopalian fashion – that it was “inappropriate to ordain practicing homosexuals at that time.” The good people advising me and supporting me then were determined not to let that non-binding resolution transmute into a concrete barrier. So the question put to me was: Should I tell the truth about being gay? Or, in the interest of being expeditious, should I rather wait and let the truth about who I was come out, as it were, later? At the time, it was not courage but simple naïveté that prompted my question in response to the question: How could I build a solid Christian ministry upon the foundation of a deception? I just could not get past the simple reasoning repeating in a loop in my mind to any of the much more sophisticated theologizing others were proposing. As I understood it, Christian ministry meant adhering to a twin ethic of love and justice. Justice is always built on the truth. Therefore, Christian ministry also must be built on the truth. It would occur to me much later, by the way, that justice and truth together equate to integrity.
Well, as is evident, I suppose, it turned out okay for me. In due course, I started wearing the collar I had passionately desired from an early age. By being both out and ordained in those days, though, I also earned the poignant privilege of hearing from many whose stories had turned out or were turning out very differently. I heard hard truths about individuals coming out and being disowned by their families…fired by their employers…ostracized by their colleagues…shunned by their churches…inhibited and dismissed by their bishops.
Now, happily, it is a new day. Whatever the outcome of the election, the Diocese of Minnesota has come out as a church. It has said, “In our family of faith, we have gay brothers; we have lesbian sisters.” That is also essentially what happened at General Convention last summer. The Episcopal Church finally and unequivocally came out. It came out to its mother, the Anglican Communion (and she was not amused, but I digress). It came out to its sisters, the other Christian denominations (particularly the Lutherans…and commendations to them!). It came out to the country and the world at large.
As many of you know from your own personal experience, life is inevitably different after you come out. First, of course, there is no going back once you do it. The die is cast. Just as certainly, enormous new challenges begin to loom because homophobia and heterosexism aren’t just terms of leftist political rhetoric. They are the living realities of all too many people still across the country, across the Communion, around the whole world.
Coming out does not make life easier…but it does unequivocally make life better. Telling the truth and seeking justice, while painfully difficult at times, are inherently better options for living than their alternatives because they are the constellation that leads us on the path toward integrity. And as the psalmist says, “No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity.”
So we learn to live in an in-between time. Joy abounds but it is not yet complete. Times, they are a-changing, but they still lead us through valleys of shadow and –as Matthew’s mother knows all too well – even death. We know that while our own diocese has nominated for election to the episcopate someone who is out there are other dioceses, some near here, whose bishops will not permit the good news from Anaheim even to be announced, much less celebrated or acted upon. Prejudice, the antithesis of integrity, really is a malignancy of the soul. It is no mere intellectual error. So, it will not be excised by a single brave act or legislative victory, however definitive. It will only die out gradually through a constant application of truth and justice.
We see this mirrored in the continuing saga of racism in our country. In 1954, in its decision on Brown versus Board of Education, the Supreme Court of the United States held that separate is inherently not equal. Still, over fifty years later, half a century, schools across the land barred the country’s first black President from speaking to their students about staying in school. Times, they are a-changing, but in matters of the heart, they do not always change fast.
Paul, the patron both of this church and of this city, understood that. That is why he said what he did in writing to the Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” And that is why he also said: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
This year the General Convention of the Episcopal Church came to the same judgment, more or less, that the Supreme Court did all those many years ago: Separate is not equal. All the sacraments must be open to all the baptized. We took heart and it was meet and right so to do. We had labored long and hard for those legislative victories…but now comes the really long haul, that of turning them into living realities. …And that, that one of truth and justice given to us out of God’s mercy, is changed but hardly ended.
Over twenty-five years ago now, a quarter of a century, a naïve young gay man sat in the office of the Bishop of Minnesota and decided that it was just not the way to go to deceive people about who he was in order to minister in the name of One known as the Way and the Truth and the Life. The truth was that he had fallen in love with a person of the same gender and everything about it felt right and good. And by the way, after thirty years, he is still with that same good man today.
But as he quickly learned and not just once but time and time again, as gay and lesbian people, our ministry has never been about proclaiming ourselves. Rather, it is a matter of being unwilling to hide the truth, particularly the truth about the way God has made everyone, including us – we who are at once very much the same and a little different from our straight brothers and sisters. And that must continue always to be the essence of our message, the truth we must both tell and seek, proclaim and honor…that a loving God, out of love (and with some good humor and good taste) created all things…and behold, without exception, they are very good. Amen.