Thursday, January 25, 2018

Short Prophetic Memory

The Episcopal Church has been known for taking prophetic positions when it comes to issues of justice and inclusion. We did so about race, even though rather half-heartedly in many places. The same was true for the ordination of women, despite resistance from some of “the boys” who just couldn’t perceive of women clergy. We responded to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression/identity, or I thought we responded. Soon to be three years ago we changed our canons to allow for the marriage of same sex couples. Again, at least we purported to do so.

We seem to “get” the issues at the church-wide level and act accordingly to address issues of injustice and discrimination. Then, at least it seems so, our prophetic memory gets very short as we don’t seem to have the ability to address the problem of those dioceses and bishops that choose to ignore or refuse to enforce the canons of the church. We let things “slide” under some notion of “keeping peace and unity” even at the expense of justice.

The bishops of dioceses of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Springfield, Tennessee, and the Virgin Islands have not authorized use of the liturgies for the marriage of same sex couples. How they have addressed the need to provide for the pastoral needs of those couples is not clear.

The bishops of the dioceses of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, Springfield, and Tennessee prohibit their use by clergy canonically resident in those dioceses, whether within or even outside of the diocese. That posture takes on a degree of arrogance that further promotes injustice and inequality and seems to be nothing less than some power play over the clergy allegedly in their care as chief pastors.

Some claim we did not do enough study or establish a sufficient theological basis for our position. I think 40-plus years represents a reasonable investment in prayer and study. After all, Israel only had to wander in the desert for 40 years to get to the promised land.

We take a prophetic position and then develop memory loss over helping insure that those intended to benefit from our prophetic position actually achieve those benefits. Reasons vary. Some seem reasonable. I am inclined to see our memory loss as hypocritical.

Unfortunately, clergy are trapped between the exercise of pastoral ministry and obeying unjust restrictions from their bishop. Their livelihood and exercise of their ministry must be weighed against disobeying for the sake of conscience. I doubt any of us want to find ourselves in such a place.

Those of us who are not ordained can generally afford to be prophetic in action and in challenging unjust authority. Short of ex-communicating us, there isn’t much that could happen. (And I haven’t heard of any excommunications in many years!) Accordingly, we CAN speak out. We CAN raise questions. We CAN be a prophetic witness in the face of injustice and discrimination. We CAN show the face of Christ to those who may not yet understand the unconditional love of all God’s children, who may not grasp the concept that all of God’s children belong in the Beloved Community.

There is a group of lay folks in the Diocese of Tennessee -- that is the middle one of the three dioceses in the state -- who are challenging the stance of their bishop over same sex marriage. They share their own very personal stories. Their experiences will tear your heart out. I cannot comprehend how their bishop or any other bishop could justify inflicting such pain on those under their care. It flies in the face of the vows bishops take at their consecrations.

The extremely compelling story of those brave folks in Tennessee is told in a video. I urge you to watch.

You have endured me asking you for many weeks who you contacted about what matters to you, how you feel about injustice and oppression. Let me bring those questions closer to home. Have you contacted your own bishop about addressing his refusal to allow same sex marriage in your diocese? Have you witnessed to the power of Christ in your relationships and those you have witnessed that the church has said should be honored but he refuses to acknowledge? As a lay person, as one who experiences his prejudice or witnesses it in others, you have no reason for not sharing how you feel. Have those of us who live in the dioceses that do permit same sex marriages asked our bishops what they are doing to help insure that all have access to what the church has said they should?

How about we all do what we can to lengthen the memory of our church in its prophetic witness? I will ask again…
















Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

1 comment:

Susan Nance said...

Thank you for this review. We continue to do what we can in Middle Tennessee. Speaking as just one child of God in the diocese of Middle Tennessee, I hope that those who live in dioceses that permit same gender marriages will encourage their delegates to the General Convention to remember our Memorial. That is one way to help lengthen the memory of our church in its prophetic witness.

I don't want to be left behind, out of mind, forgotten, and worshipping in an institution that continues to oppress LGBTQIA folks as it speaks of Christ's love for all.