This is the piece I mentioned on Monday that won the Award of Excellence in the Polly Bond competition sponsored by Episcopal Communicators. It originally appeared in the Washington Window in April 2005, just before the Anglican Consultative Council met in Nottingham.
By Albert Scariato
At its June meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council will hear presentations by theologians from the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada explaining why churches believe there is no Scriptural or theological barrier to the consecration of a gay bishop or to the blessing of monogamous same-sex relationships.
It is fitting that these presentations will focus on "relationship," for embodied in that word is the very core of the current situation that no written document can ever hope to overcome. Christianity is above all else about incarnation. We make the audacious claim that God lived among us as a human being, Jesus, son of Mary. This one person, born of woman through the unhindered Spirit of God, is, we say, God's ultimate revelation to humanity.
Notations on paper or papyrus, no matter how old, venerated or insightful, can hope only to approximate the divine revelation we have in Jesus Christ. The Bible itself admonishes us that beyond its pages much remains to be learned. Indeed Jesus told his disciples that there were matters that they were unable to bear while he was still with them. God's Holy Spirit would, however, guide them ultimately into all truth (John 16:12).
Spanning the history of the church, the Holy Spirit has striven to guide the world, both outside and inside the church, into a more complete understanding of truth. A vital question in Jesus' time and in our own comes from Pilate's lips (John 18:38), "What is truth?" Accessing that truth has been the work that the church has been commissioned to explore, incorporate and proclaim. Never has so great a task been undertaken by mere mortals. Truth has within it the power to create freedom (John 8:32). Freedom itself represents the ultimate gift of our God. From Eden to Sinai to Calvary to the new Jerusalem, we hear a story of God leading humanity from the bondage of self-seeking agendas to a place and time where God is all and in all. When the truth that rushes from God's being and is accepted and inhaled into God's vessels of love - each of us - the incarnation of the divine will dwell beyond the physical and temporal limits of what we now can perceive.
Sadly, it is most often difficult to recognize, let alone to accept, what is truth. Much of what has been revealed to the church and to the world over the years as being ultimately consonant with the Gospel was welcomed not with joy and hope, but rather with skepticism and disdain, or rejected - its messengers often sharing the fate of the one who
"preached peace to those who are far off and those who are near." A rehearsal of this litany would include but not be limited to the truth concerning: the complicity of the church in justifying the often harsh rule of temporal kingdoms, the torture inflicted by the inquisitors, the stifling of Galileo, the conscious encouragement and perpetuation of anti-Semitism, the reactions to the reformers, the use of Scripture to justify slavery, the repression of women, institutional racism, and the list goes on. We have read of it. We have heard it - over and over, council after council, convention after convention, document after document. Today we hear it as well as the bloodiest of centuries, the 20th, has given way to a new millennium in which we hope and pray that we can be led away from yet another stumbling block, sexuality, which keeps us away from the work of bringing the Gospel of peace to a world at war.
God's holy words, the Scriptures, are often manipulated today in an attempt to thwart God's ultimate word, Jesus, who ushered us into an era in which God's will is made known not in written word but in relationship. Divine will entered into relationship with and expressed solidarity with the human condition by seeing, hearing, knowing and coming down to rescue a group of desperate slaves (Exodus 3:7-8). Today, other groups are experiencing God's compassionate response to their cries. Each of us has unique windows, our relationships with other people created in God's image, that reveal the love and truth of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ. Those interpersonal relationships, even with all their foibles and frailties, where we encounter love give us an approximation of the love that God has for each and every human being.
For gay and lesbian Christians, relationships with loved ones are the most vivid reminders of God's love. These relationships, no less than faithful, life-long heterosexual ones, reveal the "mystery of the union between Christ and the church" to men and women who by their very nature are attracted sexually and otherwise to members of their same sex. The business of the church is meant to be about finding God within the bonds of these relationships rather than determining by vague, rather primitive, psychologically twisted, and medically dubious standards that they are immoral.
Scripture has, is, and unfortunately may always be employed to defend the indefensible. Read sermons from the 1850s from Boston and Richmond. Compare and contrast. Where is God? Where is truth? Where is the word made flesh? The Emancipation Proclamation of a secular leader and the amending of a human document, The U.S. Constitution, settled the matter of slavery - not the churches who divided themselves over the issue, and not the bible that was used by slave-holders and abolitionists alike to support their positions.
Somehow the Episcopal Church and most of the Anglican Communion has come to realize correctly that in some instances divorce may be the path of healing in a relationship fraught with hurt and harm. Yet the Gospels speak more clearly on that matter than on the current issues of sexual relationship confronting the church. The
church, the institution of marriage, and society managed to stay intact when the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:4-12 was reexamined and reinterpreted in the power of the Spirit of God that Jesus promised would lead us into all truth. How did the church come to this interpretation? Was it because more people could empathize with the plight of a lifeless marriage than can understand the basis of same-sex attraction? One would hope that this is not the case. Yet, how can the rigid adherence to what is contrived by some to be the biblical prohibition on homosexuality be squared with the relaxed position of many of these same people on prohibitions of divorce? Questions of logic, bias, and subjection of the minority by the majority (the mighty versus the weak?) come to fore.
Ultimately, one has to face some simple truths. No biblical author addresses the contemporary model of two people of the same sex living with each other in a relationship of equals, faithful and caring. Biblical reference of supposed same-sex relationships is open to a wide range of interpretations. Sides on the present-day debate have staked out their claims. A two-fold truth emerges - the debate will not be settled this way, and in perseverating over this issue so long and so intractably, the church has been driven away from its commission to preach the Gospel.
At the core of the issue of human sexuality is the truth of the incarnation - that God took
on humanity, and in so doing brings humanity into the sacramental realm. One aspect of that humanity is that some are homosexual and others heterosexual. "God looked at everything he had made, and behold it was very good." May our eyes behold God's creation through divinely inspired eyes, ears, hearts and minds. Pen, ink, paper, and even, yes, computers are finite, limited. The Spirit that is at our threshold knows no limits. How then can we impose a boundary on what is boundless? As the Spirit presses against the walls of division and discord, truth will emerge – the truth that liberates - the truth that Jesus promised, that now is hard to bear, but which will lead us to what Anselm called "that than which no greater can be conceived."
The Rev. Albert Scariato, M.D., priest in charge at St. John's, Georgetown. He is completing work at the Catholic University of America on a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies.