Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Only to a certain point…..

When we baptize someone, whether infant, teenager or adult, we do not baptize them “only to a certain point.”  When we receive them into the household of God, we do not receive them “only to a certain point.” Baptism brings full membership in the Body of Christ.  It is complete and total and certainly not “only to a certain point.”

Yet we continue to see glass walls, ceilings and barriers placed before those of us who are LGBTQ+  We continue to see evidence of us being accepted only up to a certain point.

We have spent decades, yes decades, striving for full inclusion and equality for LGBTQ+ persons in The Episcopal Church.  We got where we are now incrementally and General Convention by General Convention. Our processes often seem cumbersome and overly complicated, yet we utilized those processes to show our commitment to our church and our willingness to follow the processes that are part of the polity of The Episcopal Church.

It has always been intriguing that we as queer folk have been included only to a certain point at the various milestones of our journey toward inclusion and equality.  The first accomplishment was the simple acknowledgement that LGBTQ+ were children of God. That may sound odd now but at the time it represented significant progress in our collective journeys within the life of our church. Over the decades, canon law was changed to embrace LGBTQ+ folks at increasingly more levels of the church.  The General Convention of 2018 tried to make it clear that we were full members of the portion of the Body of Christ that is The Episcopal Church, even including allowing us to be married in our church…..just like everyone else.

After General Convention 2015 eight bishops of The Episcopal Church refused to allow same sex marriages to take place in their dioceses.  The 2018 convention sought to address that issue when it gave rectors the authority to decide who to marry rather than bishops (except where there was a prior marriage).  

There is still resistance.  Some of the “resistant eight” have managed to find a way to address the pastoral needs of the LGBTQ+ members of their flocks.  One steadfastly refuses and is having to face the consequences of that position. Those who would include queer folks “only to a certain point” still exist.  I would offer to them now what I said years ago: If you do not intend to allow LGBTQ+ persons full membership in the church, then do not baptize us!

Now it also appears that our baptisms are acceptable only to a certain point with the Archbishop of Canterbury as well.  The spouses of duly and legally married same sex couples will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference next year. LGBTQ+ bishops are invited…...but not their husbands or wives.  This is progress over the last Lambeth when even LGBTQ+ bishops were excluded. Another glass barrier has been put in place. If the Archbishop of Canterbury wishes to be completely fair then NO spouses should be invited….none, period, end of sentence.  Would the pain of such exclusion register with the non-LGBTQ+ bishops and primates? To be honest, I have to wonder.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of “sins” identified in Scripture.  We seem to fixate only on those that might be related to sex or sexual orientation.   The others are explained or “forgiven” away usually by some convoluted mechanism that doesn’t have much connection to theology or salvation.  The concept of a loving, consensual, monogamous same sex relationship did not even exist when the books that became the Bible were finally put into writing.  

Same sex relationships between women were not discussed.  Same sex relationships between men were almost exclusively based on conquest, humiliation and degradation and centered upon the imbalance of power between the persons involved.  Is that model really how we want to judge those we know personally whose relationships embody the concept of love? If that is truly the case, we have a serious need for self-examination as to why we are so self-loathsome about the gift of sexuality God has given us.  Why should that be the “certain point” up to which we will go?

The Executive Council of our church passed a resolution at its last meeting that was described as providing the Archbishop of Canterbury with “wiggle room” that might enable him to change his mind and invite all spouses of bishops.  I feel obligated to pose one of those “hard questions:” Would we have provided “wiggle room” if the exclusion had been based on race or ethnicity or gender or differing ability or any other criteria than sexual orientation (or gender identity/expression)?  It is a valid question. I leave that question for others to answer.

Bruce Garner, Past President (And sometime contributor to the Friday Flash.)
Integrity USA:  The Episcopal Rainbow