Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Countdown to First Sunday of Advent

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

The church year is coming to a close as Christians ready themselves not only for those many office Christmas parties during the week, but the  preparation of our hearts and minds as we enter the season of Advent next week. Our final collect in the Episcopal Church gives a nice summary of thoughts to carry you through to the last Sunday of November:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of
lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided
and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

"The gracious rule"  of this "King of kings and Lord of lords," who we Christians know to be Jesus Christ is gracious enough, I believe, to love without reservation anyone who is doing the work of building up the kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven." I think about a young social worker, tattooed and with rainbow streaks in her hair, who has put her passion into the effort to clothe and feed and give aid to homeless teens and young adults who pass through Tallahassee. I think about the people in France who lived adjacent to the Bataclan concert hall who opened their apartments to fleeing and terrified concert-goers during the rampage last week in their city. I think about those people who stop to help a motorist whose car has broken down to move them off the road and into a safer place. I think about how the ones doing this giving and even the recipients never ask questions; they simply respond. They don't make an inquiry about the person's sexual orientation before they help or receive aid. 

Why am I bringing up "the gay thing" in this entry? Because if there is one area that in some places in this country there appears to still be resistance in the church, it is with the LGBTQ+ community. And, in my experience, those same places that have failed to welcome "my people" and remained "divided and enslaved by sin" because of their homophobia are many times eager to announce that they wear the mantle of Christ while shunning their religious kinfolk of the other Abrahamic religions. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, their behavior is more like that of the priest and the Levite who see the beaten and bloodied man in the ditch but cannot bring themselves to go help him because maybe he's "unclean," or maybe they don't "know" him or maybe they just don't want to take the time.

The bishops of the Episcopal Church were given a directive at this last General Convention to respond to the reality that lesbians and gays were, are, and will be, getting married in the United States, and in some foreign countries as well. With this in mind, both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies agreed to some liturgical rites that will be available for use beginning next Sunday. Not everybody was happy to adopt this position of allowing the church to marry same-sex couples. Some bishops signed off on what was called "The Salt Lake City statement" (because General Convention occured in Salt Lake City) to reiterate their objections to the resolutions. All parties who supported passage of these rites cautioned their fellow supporters to be gracious and understanding of the feelings of these minority bishops. These men (because they were all men) were feeling marginalized and unappreciated and feared being bullied by the "progressives" of the church.

I understand all of that. I know that feeling of marginalization. I found it a bit strange that people felt the need to admonish me and others to be kind to these powerful men who still retained the top ranking office in their dioceses, but if that needed to be said, OK.

And, as part of the graciousness extended to those who might disagree with lesbians and gays marrying their partners, the church allowed bishops until the First Sunday of Advent to come up with a plan for how they will aid couples seeking marriage the opportunity to fulfill that dream, even if it means referring them to go outside the diocese. It was no longer enough for a bishop or a priest to say, "I'm not doing this." Now they'd have to show an alternative plan for how to make it possible. 

I'm fortunate that I am a member of a church in a diocese where the bishop has extended grace and hospitality to the LGBTQ+ community. Bishop Benhase, after asking for counsel from various commissions, individuals, and his priests, came out with guidelines that were, frankly, better than I had expected. He acknowledged that there would be those who would disagree with him, and he could handle that. And he is happy to provide an avenue for gay men and women to participate in the life of the church by letting his priests marry them. For me, it was an example of living into the graciousness of Christ's rule, which does not have a litmus test on love.

Meanwhile, in some bordering states and dioceses, there is silence on this issue. Perhaps the Salt Lake City statement was all that some felt they needed to say. It isn't really. It doesn't provide a plan for how to comply with the Church's desire to offer marriage to lesbian and gay men. And yet, there is no word on how they would extend that grace or at least help couples find a place that would. And so who is the marginalized and unappreciated and bullied in those dioceses where the bishop has chosen to remain silent?

There's still time for them to create a plan and publicize it so that lesbians and gay men of faith can know what their roadmap to marriage entails. There is an opportunity for grace, so that God may continue doing God's work in the lives of these couples. There is a chance to make this Advent a truly new beginning.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. 

No comments: