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Episcopalians to End 40-Year Campout in Homophobic Wilderness?


The General Convention of The Episcopal Church is now in session in Anaheim, California, and the big issues are all Gay: Gay marriage; Gay bishops like Gene Robinson, above; Gay baptism—and one question that’s mostly Straight: can we finally talk to young people again about Jesus without the damning baggage of homophobia?

Forty years we’ve been wandering this wilderness; forty years later we’re still torn between those who want to go slowly into freedom, and won’t take a step forward unless everyone else comes too; and those who want to set foot in the Promised Land where God loves everyone in our own lifetimes.

Preliminary readings, based on nothing more reliable than how many folks showed up to argue each side in debate, indicate that we’re about to take a big step forward—though being Episcopalians, it will doubtless come with all kinds of ifs, buts, whereases, double-checking and backwards somersaults.

The stakes are not small. The fate of the worldwide Anglican Communion may hang in the balance, along with lots of ecumenical partnerships. Since the last convention three years ago, four U.S. dioceses have defected to join the anti-Gay forces in Argentina and Nigeria by way of Pittsburgh. (Don’t ask.) We’ve had to sue to get our churches back and it’s been ugly.

Several things are striking about the current scene.

• All over the world, GLBT Christians hurt massively about being in limbo all this time. I do too, and I don’t have nearly as much to lose as Gay Anglicans in Africa, China, Japan, India (which recently saw its first Gay-positive court ruling), much less Iran, where they publicly hang the queers to cheering crowds.

• Most of the really vicious anti-Gay Americans have already taken a hike to Buenos Aires or Lagos, and are likely to be marginalized for years to come. You’ve never seen vitriol like these people speak it; they make Fred Phelps look like a piker.

• Most of the remaining, go-slow Episcopalians are not Gay-haters. I disagree with them profoundly, but they don’t want TEC to get too far out front and break the valuable ties we have to Third World Anglican churches, most of whom embrace 19th century British colonialism, with its evangelical zeal and particular abhorrence over (male) homosexuality, which just happen to fit perfectly with native prejudices and male domination.

• But it’s important to listen to the anguish of these non-Gay-hating Americans. Some are parents of LGBTs. Most realize change is coming, like it or not. It’s not wrong for them to value relationships with the Old Guard in Britain, Central Africa and Australia; what’s wrong is that they elevate those relationships above those with their own GLBT parishioners—and generations of young Americans who judge Christianity as an immoral religion.

It must have been hell for Moses to talk the Israelites into setting out for the Promised Land. They procrastinated so long he never got to set foot there himself.

• A post yesterday on Episcopal Café by Otis Gaddis III, a young Washington lawyer and candidate for ordination, crystallized the moral argument better than I’ve ever seen it, and better than I’ve ever made it. (After a lifetime of Gay advocacy, I don’t give such praise lightly.)

There can be no evangelism, he writes, among young Americans or anyone else, if The Episcopal Church is simply one more Gay-bashing, hypocritical conglomerate.

He cites a recent Banta poll which found that two-thirds of young U.S. adults favor Gay marriage equality. He says it’s become a litmus test among young people deciding whether to trust a faith community with their own spiritual concerns. If a church isn’t safe for their Gay friends, it isn’t safe for them either. They don’t identify with an “immoral religion,” he says, and 90% of them believe Christianity is anti-Gay.

This is exactly where The Episcopal Church finds itself in crisis and opportunity—not in worrying about ancient relationships with England and Nigeria, which we will doubtless maintain no matter what.

Do we have anything to say to our own children?

If the “Church of the Presidents” (TEC) strikes a definitive blow for Gay rights in Anaheim, that will make news—and open up countless spiritual conversations among friends. “Jesus is not a bigot. Jesus is a radical lover.”

If we don’t—if we keep wandering this barren desert till every last communicant with an anxiety attack finally gets over it—we will miss the greatest opportunity for Good News-spreading in my lifetime.

“Mission” and “evangelism” are really nothing more than one friend telling another, “I’ve found this way to live that really helps me. Is there any chance it could help you too?”

If the Episcopal Church is safe for Gay people, it’s probably safe for anyone. Come, see what Jesus has to say, and how his followers lived once upon a time, and still try to.

No, you don’t have to sign on the bottom line. Just bring an open mind and open heart; “come and see.”

Questions allowed; opinions encouraged. Doubts expected; faith inspired.

“No greater love is this, but that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

(H/t Fr. Mychal Judge)

I have hopes for the current General Convention, but hopes tempered by skepticism. People always opt for the wilderness they know instead of the Promised Land they don’t. (How Moses endured is beyond me.)

Even our best foot forward will inevitably involve two steps back. One of those back-steps comes from gentle concern for the fearful, and one will be caused by the machinations of hateful schismatics.

At some point TEC has to choose. This may be the year. Six states have same-sex marriage now, and bishops in those states are asking why they can’t solemnize Gay weddings with the same ineffable joy as they do Straight weddings. The parishioners wonder too.

However, the Bishops and Deputies (as priests and lay delegates are called) are overwhelmingly middle-aged to elderly, mostly retired, able to afford two weeks in high-priced SoCal. It takes cash and lots of time to represent a diocese at General Convention; I admire the dedication of those who can manage it. Latino, Black, Asian, White (we’ve got them all), the dominant hair color is gray. Young adults are built-in and subsidized, I hope, but still, most voters have spent all their lives in the wilderness. Do they have the courage to set out for the Land of Promise? Or is Moses going to die before we finally get there?

Will I die before we finally get there, where we can credibly present Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model for how to live for this generation?

Breaking News: “Gray Ones Join Youth on Uncertain Trek.”

I think the gray-haired bunch steps off the fastest. The kids will race to catch up, then everyone will dance on the way to the new stomp grounds, where there will be singing and feasting and yes, real mourning for those left behind.

Church politicians may groan and fret, but a little child will lead them, and Grandma’s right on her heels, “Let’s race!”

O God, make it so, that my People, these extraordinary givers so dear to your heart, may feast in your agapé at last. Come Holy Spirit, incline our hearts to keep your law.

As Fr. Ben said, Sunday after Sunday for forty years:

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love thy neighbor, even if she’s Gay.++

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