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Peter and the Blanket: Letter to a Conservative Friend about Same-Sex Marriage

To make the most sense of this you should read Acts 10:9-23, following the link immediately below.

Dear S—,

The pulled Scripture quote for tomorrow’s Morning Prayer is the best explanation I can offer you for why Episcopalians are getting ready to approve liturgies for same-sex marriage next month.

One can argue that in fact it’s no justification at all; we’re aware of that. The quote is sufficiently vague that it can apply to anything.

However, it perfectly matches our experience as a church and denomination. Just as Peter was surprised, we are surprised.

We think it would be good if other churches would listen to our experience. Indeed, the evidence is that many churches are not only listening, but undergoing the same revelatory experience.

We seem to be among the first to receive it in such a widespread fashion; I think that’s because of our democratic governance as well as unshakable faith. We are able, because of the power of laypeople, to enact changes faster than other churches – even though at that, it’s taken us 40 years of study, argument and schism.

I don’t want to discount the leadership of clergy on this issue, but the key thing is that the people in the pews have learned something that we take, in all godly sincerity, to be the Spirit’s ongoing revelation.

After all, the parish clergy are caught in the middle between bishops and laypeople. The bishops’ power to enact change is limited by the other “orders.” They can’t do it by themselves, the priests can’t do it by themselves, so the laypeople are the key.

When the vote is taken, it will no doubt be divided “by orders,” to make sure that all three orders are in agreement. This is a common delaying tactic, but it also has the happy result of affirming, when votes are favorable, the proposed course of action.

The vote will not be unanimous; people have their own minds. There will be a certain amount – less than you might think – of arguing over scripture. “How can you possibly vote for this, when it says right there…”, etc. But that will be over fairly quickly. The voting will proceed, the tallies will be announced, a brief demonstration (joy!) will be allowed, then everyone will adjourn for ten minutes so people can catch their breath and get ready to go back to work.

The vote will make headlines worldwide, and give hope to a persecuted minority in every country, except in Western Europe, where the attitude will be, “Well, they finally got there. How nice.”

The media will then proceed to recount the schism, quoting liberally from Biblical opponents while ignoring the lopsided vote. The end of civilization as we know it will doubtless be invoked, and we’ll have to suffer yet again having our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God publicly questioned, doubted and denounced.

It isn’t easy being Episcopalian, but then again it is. We’re not victims here; we know who the victims are, and they’re not most of the members of the Church.

We find it both amusing and sad that our persecutors loudly bewail their victimhood for not being allowed anymore to brainwash children in America’s public schools, or to fight so hard to make their religion the only one in this country. It never has been; it never will be.

The quote? Acts 10:15:

What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

I write you this out of respect, affection and love, not to change your mind. It’s just a little testimony, that’s all. You’ll hear it again from others; you’re hearing it already.

The question is whether one believes in ongoing revelation, or whether the ancient scriptures are the last word on everything. I don’t know why they would be; they don’t make that claim. Indeed they tell us, “There’s more to know.”

Our solution to the genuine issue of whether to trust claims of ongoing revelation is whether they stand the test of time. If we made a mistake, we’ll correct it.

If we didn’t make a mistake, as God gives us to see the light, we’ll ratify the change, no matter what it costs us.

It becomes a matter of discipleship, of following the Lord’s call. We went through the same thing with women priests, whose service and holy leadership have proven impeccable.

We lost a million members over women priests and civil rights, and we’ll doubtless lose more over this. We’ll also gain new members consistently, from people whose churches drive them crazy and drive them out. People of faith will find us; they always do.

No one worries anymore, as Peter and the early Church did, about foods that are clean and unclean. If it doesn’t make you sick you can eat it. His vision, as a righteous Jew, must have been totally amazing. Revelation always is.

To go from a revelation about food to one about gender and sexuality is even more amazing – because the one thing people cling hardest to is their old notions about sex. It’s ironic, given the history of racism in this country and the world, that we’ve found it easier to give up old ideas about skin color than to change our minds about women and men.

But we live in a time in history when all that’s changing too, and I welcome it with everyone else in my Church. It hasn’t been a century yet since women started to vote – when they could own property and serve on juries. If an heiress married a poor man, he ended up with all her stuff.

That isn’t fair – but God is fair.

Of all the things that can be said about God, that one is obvious; God is perfectly and completely fair.

In fact, God is so fair that when his people the Israelites found themselves oppressed in Egypt, he got them out of it.

When all people were oppressed by sin, he got us out of that too – if we want to go free, by taking on the burdens of others in love.

Episcopalians have learned how loving these Gay and Lesbian people are. We’ve slowly started to take on their burdens in love, when they’ve always been there for the rest of us.

What God has joined together, let no human being tear apart.

Thus it seems right to us to bless their relationships in liturgy, which really means less that we impart a blessing (though we do) than that we recognize the blessing God has given them before we knew it.

If God be for them, who can be against them?

Episcopalians can’t, so next month, we expect to begin to celebrate their blessings.

If we are right, within a century the entire Protesting Church will join us; and if we’re not, I guess we’ll find ourselves alone.

We don’t expect to find ourselves alone.

We expect to continue to prosper in the Lord; God knows we have up to now, or you wouldn’t enjoy our boy choirs so much.

What this all reminds me of is the importance of taking a risk for Christ. The first Twelve sure did, when they had every reason not to.

Peter must have been afraid the day that blanket came down from heaven.

But it wasn’t the first time he’d been afraid either, and the previous times seemed to work out okay.

So he went ahead and met Cornelius’s representatives, and gave them shelter and food.

It is likely, though not certain, that Cornelius was the same centurion who met Christ and asked him to heal his beloved pais.

It is possible, though less certain, that those two were Gay. I don’t care what they tell you in Bible class, the possibility is there.

And if it should be true, which we won’t find out about until after we are dead, then Christ adorned and beautified their relationship just like he did at the wedding at Cana.

So Episcopalians, who are uniquely blessed by maintaining the Catholic religion while curtailing the power of the Bishop of Rome and all bishops, are going to take a risk for Christ. I’m excited; it’s better to take a leap of faith than to cower in doubt and fear.

Everything the human soul longs for lives on the other side of fear.

Our fellow Christians know this, and it’s okay with us if they watch while we leap. Somebody has to take the first jump (and we’re not the first; the United Church of Christ gets their name on the plaque).

The second leap is probably as important as the first; if nobody followed the Congregationalists, then nobody else ever would.

Thank you, S—, for your love and faith in me, knowing as we both do that I’m officially disapproved of by your tradition. You’ve taken your leaps too, and I’m thrilled.

I don’t need you to jump where I jump, or when I jump, or even to jump at all. The fact that you love me when I jump makes me, what, Street Vendor #4? [Her son, recently in a high school theater production.] “It’s not that he did it so well, it’s that he did it at all! And he was rather good, I thought.”

I will always cherish you, and whether we meet in this life or the next, I look forward to it. There’s going to be dancing in heaven that day – as there will be in Indianapolis next month.



3 Responses

  1. Nice.

  2. Very nice!

  3. Beautiful, Josh.

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