Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Churches

I was delighted to open up to my Facebook page and to see the announcement that the Washington National Cathedral, the site of so many state celebrations and funerals for presidents and a major tourist attraction in the nation's capital, will be making use of the new blessings for same-sex couples in the Episcopal Church. 

I wasn't surprised by this news; Washington, DC, and now Maryland, allow for lesbian and gay couples to marry, and the bishop of Washington, Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, is supportive of same-sex couples getting married and agreed to offer the rite to her diocese which covers Washington, DC, and four Maryland counties.  The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, has also long been a proponent of allowing LGBT couples to marry. He had been one of the architects of the new blessing rite, and was seen, by many, as the catalyst needed to bring marriage equality to the Cathedral.  He sees his decision as consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

“I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,” Hall told the AP. “And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.”

For Episcopalians such as myself, this is a momentous occasion.  To have such a visible symbol of the church open its doors so completely for the LGBT community is very hopeful and encouraging.

Especially in light of another story I read about involving the chapel at one of the Episcopal seminaries and how it is handling the new blessing rite. 

The University of the South, more commonly called Sewanee, is an Episcopal university and home to All Saints' Chapel, an equally stately, beautiful, Gothic cathedral.  Sewanee's School of Theology, which produces the Education for Ministry program, is one of the preferred seminaries for postulants from the southeast.  When the General Convention overwhelmingly adopted A049, the resolution to allow for the same-sex blessings, Sewanee was faced with a dilemma.  While located in Tennessee, it's governing authority is a chancellor, a position that rotates among bishops representing 28 dioceses of the Episcopal Church.  Many of those bishops were among the 41 who voted against A049, including the now rogue Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina, and Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Florida, Sewanee's chancellor.  Now, they had to make a decision: would Sewanee allow a gay or lesbian couple, who meets the basic requirements to request use of the All Saints' Chapel for a wedding, the opportunity to have their union blessed there?  Commence hand-wringing now. 

“An absolute yes or an absolute no was just not possible,” John McCardell, Jr., vice-chancellor and president, said. The college feared its chapel could become a sort of Las Vegas for blessings of gay unions -- an end-run for couples whose bishops wouldn’t permit the rite in their own diocese.("Going to the Chapel?" by Libby Nelson, Inside Higher Ed., Dec. 19, 2012).

Stop right there.  End run?  A 'sort of Las Vegas' for LGBT couples??  Are they serious??? 

Yes, obviously, they were serious.  Seriously afraid of what might happen if they were to open up the use of the chapel for LGBT couples who are affiliated with the school.

I read that statement and I was appalled.  For starters, there is the assumption that LGBT people want to have their unions blessed at Sewanee.  That really is a huge assumption.  Tennessee, like most of the states here in Dixie, don't allow LGBT people to get married.  Many of Tennessee's neighbors have similar laws to Florida that specifically detail that marriage between people of the same gender makes so many people itchy and uncomfortable that they won't allow it.  Therefore, the majority of those who are LGBT and Episcopalian will go elsewhere to get married, and maybe even by an Episcopal priest.  A ceremony at Sewanee would then be redundant.

Secondly, statements, such as what appears to have been attributed to the vice-chancellor, are indicative of an attitude that has successfully turned-off lots of potential LGBT Episcopalians. The "end run, Las Vegas-style" comments make it sound as if the governing body of the university believes that we are sneaky people, attempting to sully the sacredness of Sewanee's chapel with our crude, rude, and disco-infused ideas of a "blessing."  Never mind that there is nothing quite "so gay" as a high church Episcopal service with the splendid music, a chanted Sursum Corda and lots of incense. The notion that we, who have been long-denied the opportunity to make these kinds of commitments before God and the church, would somehow make a mockery of that covenant is insulting and hurtful.  It is not a reflection upon any gay person who may have an association with Sewanee; rather it reveals the prejudice of the one who would make such an insensitive statement.

Finally, it should be noted that, once again, the issue is what is "feared."   That, to me, is the saddest part of this story.  Belief in God, and belief in Jesus Christ as our mediator and advocate, is about faith and about love.  Fear has no place there.  Too often in these stories about the LGBT faithful, I read about those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ responding out of fear to us.  It's as if they've lost their ability to hear what is the underlying message of such miracles as the feeding of the five-thousand: ALL were fed.  ALL received exactly the same portion. NO ONE left hungry. And there were leftovers!  The love of God is for ALL.  Everybody will be OK, so stop worrying and don't be afraid!  There is nothing to fear when it comes to me, my partner, my friends.  We are part of the diversity that makes up the Body of Christ, and the beauty of God's human creation.  And all we want is to have our relationships recognized, and gain the civil, civil, rights of marriage.

Ultimately, Sewanee decided the best course of action would be to allow lesbian and gay couples who meet their usual requirements to use the chapel, if their diocesan bishop says it's OK.  I hope that newlyweds of the heterosexual persuasion also need to receive the approval of their diocesan bishop.

The Very Rev. Hall of the Washington National Cathedral indicates that the debate about same-sex blessings is largely a settled matter in the Episcopal church.  I would agree that most of the Church has settled this matter.  But there are still many of us living in places where it remains an unfortunate live wire issue within the Church, even as society moves forward. 

When will all mean all in the Church?


1 comment:

Phoebe McFarlin said...

When will all actually mean ALL??? When all have accepted 'the perfect love that casts out fear'.