Friday, July 3, 2015

A Peaceful Kingdom

"A shoot shall come out from the root of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."(Is.11:1-2)

By now, most have heard the news that The Episcopal Church in both its House of Bishops and House of Deputies at General Convention has adopted resolutions that permit two new trial marriage rites and instructs an understanding of marriage that would include same-gender couples by eliminating the words "man and woman." These votes did not happen willy nilly. There was time for discussion. There was time to file amendments. There was most definitely time for prayer. And then there was time for voting.  And the outcome was for marriage equality in the sacraments. 

There are some who don't see it as equality. There are some who think this is a rush toward changing centuries of tradition in favor of a minority within the church. They feel as strongly in their righteousness as I feel in my convinction that the righteous act is to include all who are baptized into all the sacraments. 

There has been much ink written by people on both sides of the political spectrum of the church about this issue, and I don't need to rehash all that, or engage in arguments about the many definitions of marriage over the centuries, not to mention how marriage came to be a sacramental rite to begin with. I am happy to leave that to others to parse out. Instead, for me, I am interested in the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court presented our country with a new reality, for all of us, where I am afforded the fundemental civil right of marriage in all 50 states. This reality has been recognized by the Episcopal Church as it seeks to minister to the LGBTQ+ community which has been so hurt by the institutional church. Whether any one person or bishop agrees with this reality or not is immaterial; it is the reality. And so where do we go from here?

"The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a child shall lead ." (Is. 11:6)

As one who has been in the minority for a long, long time in the church, both at the intersection of being a lesbian and being a woman, I certainly understand what it feels like to be getting the short end of the stick on any particular matter. So, to the ones who are hurting at the moment, I know you are. And to the ones who hold the longer end of said stick, who continuously feel the need to remind me how to be generous to those who are hurting, thanks, but please stop lecturing me on how to exhibit Christian love. Again, I have had ample opportunity as a lesbian in the church in a much more conservative part of the country to know the pain of those who have experienced being in the minority. I am willing to listen to what pains the more conservative person about this vote. What I am not willing to do is to say that their pain is reason for me to continue being denied my place in the body of Christ. We all are part of this body, the conservative and the liberal, the wolf and the lamb. And in God's economy, everyone is a stockholder and there are no "sides"; only people. 

This is why I think the first step for those dioceses where there is still a lot of hurt and division over the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell and the passage of resolutions A054 and A036 is for there to be a listening process across the diocese where everyone who wants to say something is given that opportunity. I believe this may serve two important purposes: one is to allow people the opportunity to give voice to their fears as well as their hopes in the march toward more faith in our risen Christ to guide us toward respecting the dignity of everyone. Some bishops may also take this opportunity to hear the full range of the voice of the Spirit as he or she discerns the best way forward for their diocese. The Holy Spirit dwells within all the faithful; listening to all the faithful of a diocese is one way to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

This will take time. It will take effort. And it will be worth it. If people are heard, both in their hurt and their joy, it will make whatever is the final decision of the bishop something more palatable. The only ones who won't be satisfied are the ones who insist it's their way or the highway. 

At a pre-convention forum at St. John's Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, someone asked if the resolutions were going to result in people leaving the Episcopal Church. After the rector gave his polite answer, I gave the answer inspired by the words of a crazy Christian, the late Fr. Lee Graham:

"Oh, people have been leaving the Episcopal Church for decades over all kinds of things!" I continued, "We shouldn't be focusing on our fears. We should live into the faith that we have." 

"The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Is. 11: 8-9)

I cannot promise that there will not be attempts to hurt and destroy. It is my hope that, as people of God, we will refrain from attacking one another and instead make a true commitment to the belief that God is working God's purpose out, and put in the time and effort to meet one another and see Christ in each other through honest discussions.  In God, as in the Episcopal Church, there are no outcasts. This is my prayer for those dioceses where there is strife and discord. 

We're all going to be OK. Really, we're all going to be OK. Trust that the shoot coming from the root of Jesse will only be made stronger if we all commit to making it work.


Phoebe Mcfarlin said...

With a few changes of words, this quote from a speech given by Frederick Douglass around 1818 fits the world in which many LGBTG still exist in spite of what the Supreme Court and GC#78 have decided in the last week.
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Wayne Helmly said...


I am a pretty regular reader of your blog, and I really enjoy you insights and meditations. I agree that now is the time for al LGBT Episcopalians to be very sensitive to those who now find themselves in a minority. To that end, I wrote the letter below.

Thank you for being a really theologically grounded LGBT voice in our Church.

--Wayne Helmly

An Open Letter to Those Who Signed “The Salt Lake City Statement”

July 3, 2015

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to you not as a representative of a parish, diocese or bishop, but as an LGBT Christian and Episcopal parish musician who is grateful to God for the passage of Resolutions A036 and A054 at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have read the statement that you signed, entitled “The Salt Lake City Statement,” and though I disagree with your views on same-sex marriage, I am in total agreement with the mature, prayerful, fully Christian way in which you have conducted yourselves. I commend you for not walking away from “The Table” simply because your LGBT brothers and sisters were offered a chair. I want you to know that I pray for you daily, because I know what it is like to be in the minority. I have spent most of my life in that position; I am painfully aware that it can be a lonely place.

The late Maya Angelou often pointed out that human beings are more alike than we are different. I share with you the completely life-changing experience of God, rooted in the teachings, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like most of you, I suspect, I believe Jesus modeled true love for us, and God gives us the power to share that love. “The Salt Lake City Statement” gives me hope that we can sit at the table together. I am open to learning from your perspective, and I hope you can return that openness to all of us in the LGBT Episcopal community. Let us share the love of God with one another and then to our hurting world that needs it so much.

I have served the Church for most of my life. I served our Church long before the passage of A036 and A054. I served the Church when people who shared your views were in the majority, and it was often painful. I can remember when I felt condemned by the majority, when I felt like I was not valued as a person. I remember when I could not even dream that my partner and I would be able to ask God’s blessing on our marriage in the parish we love and serve, with our family and friends in attendance. I remember feeling that Christians, even those in the Episcopal Church, hated me. I pray for God to heal any similar pain you feel as a minority voice in the Church.

I look forward to “marching in the Light of God” together, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in live in a spirit of unity, but not necessarily uniformity. I encourage my LGBT brothers and sisters to “seek ways to engage in pastoral conversation.” And to “…rejoice that Jesus’ embrace includes all of us.”

Wayne Helmly
Charleston, South Carolina

SCG said...


Thank you for sharing your extremely thoughtful and Christian response to the Communion Partner bishops. I pray that it is received, read, and answered in similar spirit of Christian love. I think it's important to engage bishops and priests in a conversation. I think we can show them love and respect and understanding because--yes--we know all too well what it means to be "the minority." It's a tough place to be. I've offered this openess and love since "things" started to go "our way" with GC76 in Los Angeles with the passage of a resolution which was supposed to eliminate the barriers for LGBT people to discern a call to the priesthood and episcopate. Those barriers still exist in some parts of the church, and that is most unfortunate. The world, and the church, have been evolving even since then...and we have seen that in this last General Convention. So, now we will see how the Spirit leads the individual dioceses from here. And as we, who are in the laity extend generousity to our leaders, I am reminded that it says in Scripture that those who have much will be expected to give much more away. Bishops are at the top of the ladder; it is ultimately on them to extend themselves that much more to be generous to all their people, including the LGBT couples in their dioceses.
Thanks for reading!