Monday, June 19, 2006

God's Roundabout Path

In a comment to a previous post, Lisa asked an important question, and it deserves an answer. She asks about A161, which puts forward a proposal for a moratorium on the election of GLBT folks to the Episcopate and on official rites same-sex blessing and asks "how could a person of good conscience vote for this?"

I think of myself as a person of good conscience and not a quisling. A quisling is a Dutch term for traitor, named for the Dutchman the Nazis put in place to be the puppet head of their occupied country. The term refers to one who seeks an expedient peace at the cost of both principles and persons. Implied in her comment is that anyone, especially a person who claims to be for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the full life of the church, is a quisling.

Lisa asks "how could a person of good conscience vote for this?" Here is how:

I am a moderate who tilts left. I read and study the Bible, and believe the Bible is authoritative, but I am no fundementalist. I also believe two things at once that seem to be working against each other but I beleive are both equally compelling calls from God.

I believe that Bishop Robinson's nomination was an act of the Holy Spirit and that we were being obedient to God in consecrating him. I believe that we are in keeping with how we are taught in Scripture about God is working in the Church. In Acts 11:1-10. "(Peter said:) If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could not hinder God?" Acts 11:17

I also believe at the very same time that as people called to reconciliation that our Commnunion is essential to our call to be ambassadors of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) Even before The Rev. Senator Danforth stood at our podium and spoke to us about the peculiar charism of the Episcopal Church to have the ministry of reconciliation, I have long believed this. Check out my sermons for the past four plus years on and you will know this to be true. I differ with +Gene's on this one thing--God is not doing a "new" thing...God is doing an "old" thing. God is doing what God has always done, drawing all people into union with God and each other in Christ Jesus. It is not new. It just seems new to us. This is the old, old story I love to tell.

Communion is important both as sign and tool of God's reconciling power and as a tangible sign that in Christ all the barriers that are a result of human sin are being torn down. Not just for the next life, but in this life. But this transformation is neither unilateral nor is it without pain. Reconciliation does not happen alone and it does not happen all at once. Neither did (does) redemption. The cross is the way to eternal life and reconciliation with God, humanity and creation--but it was not theorhetical and it did not come without considerable cost. The cross cost not only Jesus his life, but required the whole of the history of reconciliation and salvation before and after to focus upon to it. We are still at war with sin and evil. We are still struggling to embody God's ideal for a renewed creation, a just community and a reconciled people. When Rowan of Canterbury said that there would be no pain-free solutions, he was not just breathin'.

Please re-read the story of Acts and the inclusion of Gentiles into the then mainly Jewish sect we now call Christianity. One would think that this happened quickly. It did not. And one might think that all it took was Peter's eloquence and Jame's wisdom and Paul's stubbornness. It took far more than that. I am sure that there were Christians who went to their dying day convinced that the Church was changed--ruined--because of that first Council's decision. There were probably Gentile believers who thought that the direction of that very same Council (Acts 15:28-29) was an impossible, insensitive burden. We can look back over two millenia and take the long view of that Council now, but I am certain that to those on the ground back then it was as urgent, and as murky and as contradictory as what we are facing now.

So, how can I even think about voting for the proposed A161 (assuming what was given to me is in fact the actual resolution)? Two reasons. My first principle is that "it's about Communion." One must keep a laser-beam focus on reconciliation via the reality and witness of Communion.

The other part is that the former language of the original A161 used "considerable caution" language. This was problematic language because it was code. It would look to conservatives, especially in other cultures and provinces, that we would cautiously proceed with the very thing that want us to stop doing. But it could look to others as saying that as long as we were cautious we could move forward. Two sides of the same coin, is it not?

The real code-words within the "considerable caution" language was that it was a veiled warning that if any diocese put forward an partnered gay nominee for Bishop then the House of Bishops would deliberately fail to concur. This to me was a step backwards. It opens the door to two things in sequence: Step One-- A return to "don't ask don't tell" (which we cannot in all truth go back to) and, Step Two--another constitutional crisis where we would be fighting about the candidate and sexuality when we should be focused on Communion.

The proposed (leaked?) A161 is better because it does not resort to code language, it is therefore not a return to don't-ask-don't-tell, it communicates clearly that we are not going backwards to a time of silence and denial. But it does not let us straight-white-guys off the hook. We have to be clear that we know exactly what we are asking and what that means. If we don't have the stomach to look our friends in the eye and tell them we know what we are asking of them, then how are going to stand down those who would tear us apart?

So, the original A161 was weak because it satisfied no one, made those who do not understand us but want to stay in communion with us wary, ticked off the conservatives in our midst (even more), and finally could lead us back into the don't-ask-don't-tell world which won't work and proceed to tear us who believe in what God is calling us to do apart.

When Paul and Barnabbas went to the Council in Jerusalem to make the case for the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles into the People of the New Covenant, there were people back home who waited nervously. They speculated, they worried. There were some who said "who cares what those Leviticus quoting people say?" And then there were those who were attracted to the One God of All Creation and to the depth of Judaism but who had no place at the table until the Christian church came along and taught "there is now in Christ no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." The early Epistles are full of how this Church in tension and transition worked this out. It was not easy, it was inconsistent and it was messy. But it happened. No one knew how Peter would land--he ate with Gentiles but seemed to cave in front of his Jewish friends. And what would James say? He was related to Jesus--his word would mean alot but he did not say much.

The varieties of witnesses in the New Testament, plus the non-canonical material, tell us that the Church had difficulty staying One and in Communion from the very start, but they worked at it and God did not give up on them.

God has not given up on us, and we should not give up on each other. We should do as the witness of scripture shows us how the early church lived--they struggled with what it meant to in Communion and to be people of the New Covenant under the Reign of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The witness of scripture is that the Holy Spirit always moves too slowly for the most visionary and progressive among us and the Holy Spirit always much too quickly for the most traditional and conservative among us. Because God chooses to use people and their lives, relationships and councils to speak to us, it will not be a direct path. But it is God's path.

We live in a complex world and at the end of the day we deputies have to make multi-dimensional decisions in a binary mode. This is true in all of human life, but is especially true in councils with little electronic doohickys and paper ballots. We have to negotiate the richness of God's reconciliation one "yes"/"no" vote at a time.

Give me a resolution that gives those who want to be with us but who do not understand us a chance to be with us, tells those who would divide us at all costs that their day is done, is fair and just to those who have been excluded and is honest about the cost of reconciliation that is better than A161--or the other Special Commission resolutions-- and I will vote for it.


marnanel said...

Quisling was a Norwegian!

Andrew Gerns said...

You're right, of course. I should have used Wikipedia before publishing. Thanks.