Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mulling Over Marriage on Mary Magdalene's Feast Day

There was so much love in the air at the beginning of this month as Americans soaked in the new reality that the United States Supreme Court made marriage equality legal in all 50 states. Following on this news, the Episcopal Church passed resolutions to allow for new trial marriage rites that are gender neutral and changed the church canons to allow for same-sex couples to have access to the sacrament of marriage. Toot your party horns! We have achieved victory!

Ah, but not so fast. 

While our civil laws must now recognize my marriage as valid and legal everywhere (much to the chagrin and consternation of some), the actions of the 78th General Convention left some wiggle room for those bishops who oppose marriage equality to keep on keeping on. And they have. Some have penned very lengthy letters to explain their "No means No" to their dioceses. They term these letters "pastoral" but they seem to fall far short of offering the kind of caring exhibited by Jesus, even for the rich man seeking the answer to how to  achieve eternal life. I pray for those living in the dioceses of Central Florida, Albany, and Springfield, among many. Given the positions articluated by your bishops, you have some soul-searching to do for yourselves.

I'm in a different place. My own bishop, +Benhase of Georgia, made it clear in a letter to the diocese that he is in a struggle. Bishop Benhase has been clear that he is partial to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. And so, for him, he is in conflict because he sees the new canons of the Church being in disagreement with the language embedded in the BCP. Equally difficult for the bishop is the decision to put the weight of whether a diocese will make these rites available to couples, beginning on 1Advent, squarely on the shoulders of the people in purple holding the croziers. This was done for the benefit of the now "minority" bishops. Bishop Benhase, who abstained on the vote changing the marriage canon, must figure this out for a diocese that is not particularly liberal overall, but has active and faithful LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and family members throughout the congregations. 

As one of those from the latter group, I couldn't help but smile that Bishop Benhase called for a meeting of many various leaders of the church in Georgia to begin a dialogue process about marriage, and he chose to have this meeting on the feast day of Mary Magdalene, the magnificent...and maligned...and absolutely devout follower of Jesus Christ. There are lots of different Marys in the Gospels, and Mary Magdalene has been thought to be one who was a notorious sinner, healed by Jesus, and became one of his closest followers. She, after all, was at the cross when he died when all the men had scattered. And she was the one who saw the risen Christ first and ran to tell the men who (surprise!) didn't believe her until they had seen Christ for themselves. I see so much of the LGBTQ+ Christian community in the witness of Mary Magdalene. Like her, the Church has labeled  us "notorious sinners." They've called Mary a "notorious sinner" and classified her as a prostitute...when they're being nice about it because she's believed to be the adulteress who was about to be stoned to death before Jesus interceded, and might be the woman who washed his feet with her tears. Like queers in the church, all anybody wants to talk about with Mary Magdalene is her sexual practices. There's nothing wrong with being sexual. But--truly--do we wonder about what any of the men around Jesus were up to in their sex lives? 

Like so many of us in the LGBTQ+ Christian community, our experiences and encounters of a "God nature" pull us closer to Christ because we can feel and understand deeply what it is to advocate for Love only to have the world beat you and spit in your face. We know what it means to suffer rejection. And we know that power that comes from the realization that nothing, not even a cruel and painful death, will ever destroy Love because Love will be victorious. From the Morning Daily office, there is this passage from Zephiniah:

I will deal with all your oppressors
   at that time.
And I will save the lame
   and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
   and renown in all the earth. 
At that time I will bring you home,
   at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
   among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
   before your eyes, says the Lord.
(Zeph. 3: 19-20)

I appreciate that the new reality that marriage is simply now marriage and not qualified as "gay" or otherwise is something that everyone is adjusting to and getting used to. And I believe that God has been willing, able and ready for us to come to this new understanding as part of unfolding more of the mystery of eternal life to us. May the bishop and those from whom he has sought counsel pay attention, keep awake, and listen to that voice that repeats over and over to us to not be afraid. We're all going to be OK, even those who feel they are in the minority will be OK. Trust that we're all walking in the light of God together. 


Wayne Helmly said...

Well, I'm not much for fence-stradlers, and that's what I think your Bishop is doing. I may not agree with the dissenters who voted against A036 and A054, but at least they had the courage of their convictions.

I know I don't have to tell you that Jesus had nothing to say about LGBT, but was pretty specific about divorce (see Matthew 19, Luke 16). Yet I notice on the Diocese of Georgia website that Bishop Benhase is okay with remarriage after divorce. How does one make that distinction?

It will be interesting to hear what came out of today's meeting. Keep me posted. :-)

Bishop vonR made it official yesterday, we start performing same-sex marriages Advent I.

SCG said...

I'm really not sure what happened today, or if those of us not part of the "inner circle" of the diocese will hear anything. Congratulations to you that your bishop in South Carolina has given the green light for marriages to occur in the church there. I have much more to say on the issues that have +Benhase straddling the fence. He's not in an easy place. Our deputation was divided in the laity on whether to approve the canonical change which tells me there's more work to be done here. In the meantime, the diocese I left (FL) is permanently stuck on "No." I pity all who remain there. There are plenty of clergy and laity who are champing at the bit to bring the church into the 21st century, but the bishop won't let it happen. :-(