By lex, on October 21st, 2007
Forewarned is forearmed – a long, rambling post follows dealing with the Christian faith, the Episcopal Church of the USA and national politics. Most people who are not bored to tears will probably be outraged. As much as anything, I’m writing this one to myself. You’re welcome to read it if you’d like, but I won’t ask you to.
I’ve walked out of movies before and I’ve walked away from conversations. But until today, I’d never walked out of church – and I’m not at all sure that I did the right thing.
Our national church is in the middle of an ugly schism. The church hierarchy is dominated by revisionists who have taken a particular side in the American culture war and who have, by doing so, not only disenchanted broad swathes of the American church but also alienated that body from the much larger Anglican Convention. The breach is a product of many cuts but was struck most openly in the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire: Robinson had left his wife and children as a priest to openly enter into a committed relationship with another man.
Our current Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, was a strong proponent of Robinson’s elevation. Her own selection to the primus inter pares position was somewhat surprising – not only was she the first female premier in the Anglican Convention, there were questions of qualification: She had never had her own parish before being elevated to a backwater Nevada bishopric and had only been in orders for 12 years before being selected to lead the US church. Her selection was seen as a resounding victory of a politically liberal wing of the church over its more conservative – and, many would argue, more doctrinally grounded – alternate. Fifty US churches have already left the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA), and four entire diocese are considering doing so, including the three largest. Ugly as these apparently irreconcilable differences are in themselves, even more grotesque are the legal battles breaking out over ownership of church properties, with parishes that voted to leave ECUSA intending to hold on to the physical plants they have inherited and still maintain, and a national church refusing to give them over without a fight – whether out of lofty-minded sense of stewardship, political spite or as a warning to others not to leave depends upon your point of view.
But, even as I am uncomfortable with these issues at the national level, so have I tried to insulate myself and my family from them, not least because I am not sure which side has the right. Never once in all his words did Jesus say a thing about homosexuality one way or the other, and we have been taught to believe that the New Testament is also a “new covenant” which supersedes such inherited proscriptions such as those found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Shellfish for all my friends.
His testimony was one of love and inclusiveness and yes, sacrifice. But in the context of His time – as revolutionary, and yes, liberal as he was, the conversation itself would have been unthinkable. The fact that there is no Gospel record of the topic means, well: Nothing, either way. But, as I have stated before, I believe that not only are we created in God’s image, but so also are gays as their God has made them. That they do not “choose” to be gay, but rather that they “are” gay and despite their sexual identification – is that really what defines us? – should not be prevented from full participation in the love of Christ. Nor do I believe that a loving God would create a class of his children only to spite them and deny them that which he so freely and at such great cost offers us: Love.
All that said, neither am I 100% in love with the idea of elevating a priest to the bishopric who left his wife and children behind to cleave to another. I’m trying to believe that the church might have done the same thing for a heterosexual priest who left his wife and family to live with another woman, but you know, the fact of the matter is that I’m just not feeling it. And I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea of a church that, having unmoored itself from such traditional sources of moral authority such as scripture, tradition and reason, seemingly seeks to chase an emerging culture, rather than guide or shape it. That’s a hole with no bottom, no guardrails and no light all the way down.
So the way I’ve dealt with this, mostly, is just refuse to think much about it. Look the other way. National church politics frankly has very little to do with me, that’s not why I go on Sundays. I go to church because it is a place of peace and comfort, a sanctuary filled with good and like-minded people who are asking the most important questions anyone can ask: Who am I? Why am I here? How do I fit? What is the good? How can I further it? And they’re looking for the answers in the once place that has been pretty much thinking about nothing else for the last 2000 years, employing the best moral thinkers our civilization could create.
I go because, most of all, it comforts me and creates in me – a man who might otherwise be all too easily given over to rages and passions – a better person. “False comfort,” my oldest daughter once said accusingly, in a moment of standard-issue teenage melodrama.
“Perhaps,” I replied, “but better than no comfort at all.”
What I don’t go there for, Holy Spirit-moving-through-us-in-the-world notwithstanding, is political instruction. But ours is a liberal church, and California is a liberal state and even with that combination in place we have a couple of very active members of the parish that are politically very liberal, even by our standards. Ex-New York City, pony-tailed hippies in tie-dye liberal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, and I smile at them at coffee. We exchange polite pleasantries but apart from that we don’t talk much.
The OT lesson to day had to do with Jacob wrestling with God by the river. Timothy had nice words for us about keeping the faith. And Jesus Himself talked to us about the widow who struggled ** until justice was done. This ended up as a launching pad for an exquisitely timed sermon – not from the clerisy, but from our very active liberal laity, first during the children’s homily and later to the rest of us, in case anyone missed the point – on the necessity of extending SCHIP benefits to another 10 million children who will all apparently die unless we can get our act together and elect the right sort of politicians. I think that’s where he was going. I left after a minute or two, just as he was getting warmed up. Very quietly. Excuse me.
A Santa Anna breeze is blowing, and “now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” I don’t much mind a debate, but if I’m going to be preached at then I’d prefer that preaching to be scripturally based. Didn’t help things much that the temporary rector – himself having recently retired – told us that the national church had asked children’s health care to be the topic of this weekend’s “dialogue.” Feeling as I do about the national church, it didn’t help at all.
It’s God’s house of course, and you oughtn’t just walk out. But I was very far from being in a state of grace and was in no condition to sit at his table after the sermon. Probably wasn’t the right thing to do, too much pride in it. Which goeth ever before a fall. I was happy that I’d let the girls sleep in – they’d had a very busy Saturday – I wouldn’t have wanted to make them witnesses.
I shouldn’t have walked away. Much better to walk towards something than to just walk away.
** 08-15-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.