To: All Queer Folks Who Have Focused on Suicide

by Louie Clay

Warning: Get a large salt shaker
and sprinkle all over your CRT.
More than a grain is required.
I'm glad you've gotten
lots of electronic hugs
I'll take you to lunch
if you can show up here.

But I wonder whether you need
a harder kind of support?

To the extent that the person
remains rational, and that's difficult
to determine, suicide seems to me
the severest form of a disease
that has long infested humanity,
especially disliked minorities,
the dis-Ease called Self-Pity.

I speak with the authority of a quean.
Self-pity is the only VD any quean requires.
Suicide is its most lethal manifestation.

Self-pity is a severe trap.

Take the version the alcoholic falls into.
"Nobody likes me," she says.
And then drinks to excess.
"Yes, we do; we love you"
say some nearby.
"No, you just love your reputation
for being good guys. You're nice
to me only because you pity me.
You do not really love me...."

That recording is broken, is broken, is broken, is....

"Oh, I'm the lowliest queer on the planet!
Life has not treated me fairly
and I have done a good job
of adding to the mess....."

Tempting? I hope not.

I am not trained in psychology,
only in friendship;
so if you need psychological help,
treat yourself to a professional.
Otherwise listen to a friend who cares.

One of the saddest things about self-pity
is the enormous self-absorption it requires.
I have first-hand experience of self-pity;
that's the source of my authority.
Sugar, it's not worth the bother.

I remember when the rednecks
had just stoned our house
for the third night in a row.
The first two nights I ignored them,
thinking, "They're just adolescents
with pubes starting to sprout.
They don't know what they're doing."

But by the third night, I remembered
that Hitler Youth were just adolescents
sprouting pubes too, and groaned
"Why am I here stuck in Middle Georgia...?"

I snuggled close to my husband
and started to cry. He pushed me away.

"Boo hoo! Boo how! Boo WHO?"
and "Ha, ha, ha!" he said.

"What are you doing? Won't you comfort me?"
I whined.

"Not tonight, baby.
Where's the man I married?
Quit worrying about those damn kids.
They'll be there in every town
and on every block when you and I
are dead and gone. I don't feel like
letting them control our bed tonight.

"Besides, you know how to make them
stop throwing rocks. You know
that you can quit going on TV
and writing articles. But do you want to?
Thank god, no. So show some
of the guts you're made of."

I slept like a baby after I found a healthier,
more adult way to get into his arms.

When we fall into self-pity,
we think we're the only persons
in the world who've ever had it unfair.
How absurd! Especially if we're U.S. citizens.
Most of the world is going to bed hungry tonight.
Even most Americans have not had anyone show them
the power and pleasures of the intellect
that you obviously know about
or you wouldn't be able to write so clearly
or listen to this prose poem.

Slap yourself in the face to wake up
to the enormous possibilities you're given.

Beware lest you come to like your pain.
Pain can make you feel real:
"I may be a bug. I may be a queer.
But at least I hurt; I know I am real...."

Find better ways to affirm your reality!

If you need a crying shoulder,
I have one, and you can rock
on my porch any afternoon.
But sugar, I hope you can find
your own inner strength
so that when you sit with me,
we can share and share alike.

Meanwhile, learn to laugh at yourself.
Schizophrenics never laugh at themselves.
Get enough rest.
Don't do things that depress you.
Learn to take itsy bitsy steps
in controlling your own life,
then bigger steps as you can handle them.
Associate with people who will nurture you,
not just commiserate.

Enough natter.

Love, Lutibelle

Hear Louie speak this poem:

Louie Clay (né Louie Crew) is the founder of Integrity and lives in East Orange, NJ with Ernest Clay, his husband of 40 years. He is the author of 2,375 published poems and essays.

The Lord Provides

by Will Hocker

Reflection on Genesis 22.1-14 for Transgender, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride Day

On Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Pride Day — or as some of we older, crotchety minsters of the Good News like to call it — Queer Liberation Day, I can only think to tell you what a queer little boy I was. My parents traveled a lot with their work. When I was free from school on holidays and during those gloriously endless summers-

Remember those?!

They really don’t make those any more, do they?

Anyway. When I was not in school I’d travel the Midwest and the Northeast with my parents. My favorite thing to do as got to be 11 or 12 years old was to find a cathedral or large church that was open through the week.

They don’t make those anymore, either.

So. I’d find a church.

My dad took me several times to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland, Ohio. You know, I’d get there for the 12:10 mass. Then, I’d sit and say the rosary. The side altars beckoned. I never missed the Lady Chapel. Beautiful. Mary standing on an altar of white marble, looking - you know - both perfect and perfectly empty. Above it, the rose window with a dove at its center. That Holy Spirit. Always roosting. Eternally engaged. Always ready to engage anew.

I wanted to be Mary.

No. Not a girl. Not a woman. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to stop sinning. I wanted my heart to be white as snow, as were both Mary’s heart and her marble. I wanted there to be room only for God in my heart.

I think my joy in the beauty of church art and architecture had something to do with its otherworldliness. It’s not here and now-ness.

Oh. No. A big ol’ Protestant Church just wouldn’t have cut it with me. No iconography.

No out loud, in your face beyond-ness.

Being of this world just seemed so, you know…dangerous. All those sins. Hundreds of them, right? At least to a 12 year old.

Not surprisingly within a year or two of this time, I was quite aware of my gayness. Painfully aware, mostly. Yet I had imagination. I hoped for romance. For a boyfriend.

There was a great Time or Newsweek magazine cover photograph in the early 1970’s of two clasped male hands. It took my breath away. This new idea that gay might be good. That I might be God’s perfect intention, God’s perfect joy, despite how utterly despicable I felt. I would have given away everything to be not who I was.

Except…..There was this boy…..Terry Kavanagh.

I don’t know about you. But, I usually can’t get beyond being appalled that Abraham risks his son’s life for God. Abraham, for all we can tell, soon will take his son’s life in order to demonstrate to God his love for God. Abraham is willing to give it all up for God.

We hear first that Abraham “…chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place which God had indicated to him.” Then, we hear that, “On the 3rd day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.”

So the first seeing is in Abraham’s mind’s eye. In God’s mind’s eye. The next we hear, Abraham finally sees this place way off in the distance. When Abraham finally arrives, he’s already made it. Even though he doesn’t know that yet. Abraham was not led astray by God. Even in such a queer arrangement: to kill his own son.

I am quite pleased to discover, if only deeply so in my older age, that God does not lead us astray. If only we stop working to behave well. If only we begin listening to the Holy Spirit, who swoops down from the rose window to reside in our very own heart.

The Rev. Will Hocker is pediatric staff chaplain at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco, comforter and provocateur, leaning into the interruption of the Gospel.

ELCA confronts “fallout” from progress on same-sex relationships

By Jeffrey Shy

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a full communion partner of The Episcopal Church (TEC) met this past week in Orlando, Florida for its biennial Churchwide Assembly (CWA). The CWA is the ELCA counterpart to TEC’s General Convention. One of the centerpieces in this year’s meeting was a complex report and set of recommendations titled, “Living Into the Future Together - Renewing the Ecology of the ELCA,” usually abbreviated as LIFT.

As a mainstream Protestant church, the ELCA is facing many of the same problems as those confronting TEC: declining membership, financial difficulties, concerns about national structure and its relationship to the church’s mission locally and globally and an ongoing controversy over issues of human sexuality. The purpose of this study was “to recognize the evolving societal and economic changes of the twenty years since the formation of this church [the ELCA having formed in 1987 from a union of The Lutheran Church in America, The American Lutheran Church and The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches] and to evaluate the organization, governance and interrelationships among this church’s expressions in the light of those changes. The intended result of the Ecology Study Task Force’s work is a report and recommendations that will position this church for the future and explore new possibilities for participating in God’s mission.” (LIFT, p. 4) In its 100 pages including addenda in its PDF form, a variety of challenges to the ongoing mission and ministry of the ELCA are addressed with implementing recommendations for a host of changes from the level of the individual congregation to the church as a whole.

Of particular interest to those of us in TEC are portions that deal with the effects of and response to the ELCA CWA 2009’s adoption of the social statement on sexuality, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and its new policy permitting clergy to live in same-gender committed relationships. Tucked away in one of the appendices to the LIFT report were the results of a survey at multiple levels from individuals up to higher-level organizations within ELCA on a variety of topics including those things perceived as having had a negative impact on local congregations.

Responders at the individual level identified a number of factors having a negative impact on congregations, and leading these were: economic changes in the local community, changes in the culture of American society and changes in the religious climate or culture of American society. These were perceived as negative impacts on congregations by about a 2/3 majority of clergy, lay leaders and open responders (presumably mostly laity, although clergy were not excluded). Coming in fifth was the CWA’s actions in 2009 on human sexuality perceived as having a negative impact by 53% of clergy, 61% of lay leaders and 45% of the “open” category. On further analysis of the “open” responder group, it was clear that age was a major factor in how one responded. For those 44 or younger, the sexuality actions and social statement were perceived as positive by 31% and having had no impact by 34% (a sum of 65% positive and 35% negative). Among persons 45 or older, the reaction was 49% negative, a substantial difference.

In what might be seen as a backlash provoked by the 2009 actions, the LIFT report drafters recommended against bringing any new “social statements to Churchwide Assemblies until a review of the process for addressing social concerns based on a spirit of communal discernment is completed,” (2011 Pre-Assembly Report: Recommendations on Living into the Future Together (LIFT), Section IV, page 29) suggesting a desire to slow the process of consideration of contentious social issues. The LIFT recommendations were adopted and a further action of the assembly authorized “the ELCA Church Council, in consultation with the Conference of Bishops and Communal Discernment Task force, to establish a review process of current procedures for the development and adoption of social statements,” (2011 Pre-Assembly Report: Recommendations on Social Statements, Section IV, page 2). One of the reasons cited in the rationale for this recommendation was that “some in this church have described feeling burdened by the rapid succession, overlapping time lines, and controversial aspects of developing documents [i.e. social statements]. (2011 Pre-Assembly Report: Recommendations of Social Statements, Section IV, page 1). What will be the recommendations of this review process will likely not be known for some time. Following the 2009 assembly, the ELCA has seen the secession of more than 600 congregations and the formation of a schismatic new church, the NALC (the North American Lutheran Church).

For those of us looking forward to General Convention 2012 and the initial report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy on resources for same-sex blessings and well as the ongoing conflicts around the proposed Anglican Covenant, it may be wondered if TEC might face similar expressions of a need to slow down for a time on the contentious issues of sexuality.

Should TEC “pull back” and “let the world catch up” or move forward with the next General Convention?

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D. is a neurologist in clinical practice in Mesa, Arizona and a parish member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix.

Bullying is a species of torture

By Marilyn McCord Adams

Bullying is a species of torture. It shares with the practices of medieval dungeons, Japanese prisoner of war camps, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib, the goal of shattering the victim’s sense of self, of shredding any confidence in self worth, of dismantling the personhood of another human being.

Every day, we do and say things that hurt other people. Bad as these can be, bullying differs from the occasional snide remark in being consciously or instinctively relentless and systematic. There is no let up to words and deeds that send the message: not just what you do, but who you are is sub-standard, non-normative, so ridiculous and defective, so caricatured and twisted, so vile and disgusting that you are irremediably bad, unfixable, unfit for polite society. You deserve to be lonely and left out, despised and rejected, cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Bullies gang up on individuals to create the impression of consensus. How could you be right in thinking you have any good points, when everybody else sees plainly that you don’t? Bullies prey on insecurities, bear down with jeers and accusations to make sure the victim finds and nurtures an intense hatred of self. Once this is achieved, the victim becomes the bullies’ best ally and his/her own worst enemy. Self-hatred works overtime to torment. Self-hatred is easily persuaded: the worst is too good for you; the world would have been better if you had never existed in the first place; really, the least you could do is not exist any more!

We wore purple on Wednesday to mourn teen suicides. But the bullies’ victory does not require that the victim literally separate body and soul. Bullying aims to give the victim a fate worse than death, once again, by destroying who s/he is as a person, by making sure that s/he goes to smash in so many pieces that even the best psychotherapists won’t know how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

This deliberate wreckage of human personhood is evil, the very worst sort of evil, because it aligns us with the powers of darkness--however we may prefer to think of them--that labor to unravel the Creator’s most precious work. Bullying is not just cruel and unusual punishment. Bullying is blasphemy because it tramples the sacred. Every human person is a temple of indwelling Holy Spirit. Bullying is an abomination to God!

Deep down, of course, this is what makes bullying so attractive. Deep down, we are scared that there is not enough to us to be worth loving, to justify our taking up space, commanding others’ attention, consuming scarce resources. Deep down, we are terrified that others will target us, expose our secrets, call attention to our failings and weaknesses, use their power to get us ousted. Well, everybody knows, the best defense is a good offense! Rising up to attack, we push down our fears with a surge of power. We take all of that self-hatred that eats away at our inner core, and turn it outward to join others in scape-goating, in playing god with someone else’s life.

When I was in grade school, we knew whom to pick on. First, the physically and mentally challenged: Bobby the hydrocephalic, Jimmy with the terrible lisp, Mary whose buck teeth would have paid for the orthodontist’s Cadillac. Then there were the kids who couldn’t read or did badly in math or were clutzes in sports or whose hand-me-down clothes didn’t fit and were grossly out of style. City bullying counted people out on grounds of race or national origin. Many of the recent tragic suicides have been sex-and-gender queered. Every society favors the survival of the fittest. Every society sends signals as to which groups you can get by with abusing, which citizens it will not bother to protect.

Bullying is torture, and bullying is blasphemy. Why, then, do we keep treating it as a peccadillo? Why do we dismiss grade-school and teen bullying as a normal part of growing up, a natural developmental stage? In several of the recent suicides, the young people and/or their parents had lodged complaints with school authorities, who found them easy to ignore.

One answer is that it is normal and natural because we inherit Darwinian fight-or-flight animal motivation. The instinct for bullying is not something we just out-grow, because we also are scared, feel better when we have someone to belittle. Like the Pharisee in the story, thanking God that we are not like other people, is a way of assuring ourselves that it is alright for society to keep privileging us while degrading others... perfectly fine to congratulate myself that I am okay, even unusually deserving, because those others really are not!

The truth is that “normal” and “natural” is not alright. Bullying is torture, bullying is blasphemy, and that means--in pre-Vatican II language--not only bullying but complacency about it, is a mortal, a very serious sin! Teen suicides are ghastly warning symptoms of deep social sickness. What are we to do?

The tax collector in the story shows us how to begin: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Like John the Baptist, Jesus came preaching repentance. But the old prayer book was wise. It is not enough to say the general confession. Being “heartily sorry” drives us to “works meet for repentance.” What might some of these be?

First, we must take bullying seriously, and we must teach our children to take bullying seriously. This means not treating it as a peccadillo but as a mortal sin when we or they commit it. It also means teaching kids how to recognize and protect themselves against bullies. It means insisting that our schools bring bullying out of the closet as a safety issue and institutionalize effective procedures for turning our schools into bully-free zones.

Second, moving from symptom to cause, we must be alert to identify the groups for which our society still shirks responsibility. In the eighties, our government washed its hands of the mentally challenged, the homeless, and asylum-seeking (legal and illegal) immigrants. Conditions in most prisons are still cruel and unusual. St. Philip’s has worked with others in Durham to take up the slack. But we are now half way through the first term of another president who promised. And hate campaigns are still running, teens are committing suicide, while state governments are still flip-flopping over LGBT marriage, and the fed’s are still hemming and hawing over LGBT don’t ask/don’t tell! In the face of this, we need--by who we are and what we do--to send the message: it is not alright for society to write off or abuse anyone, because it is not alright with God!

Third, reaching down to the foundations, we need to learn to love our children, friends, and partners, just as they are, for better for worse. Much as it is our role to help, even prod them to stretch up to be all they can be, we must not send the message that they count with us only if they excel in our favorite subject, that we are disappointed that they cannot pitch or run, that they exist to fulfil our goals and make us look good. We need to turn our homes and intimate relationships into safety zones where weakness and limitations can be faced as easily as triumphs and successes.

Bullying will stop, the instinct to bully will finally be quenched, when everybody feels safe and when everybody feels loved. God is the only one who can underwrite this conviction. We come to church to learn, and help one another learn, how to enter into the reality that God hates nothing that God has made, that God has no unwanted children, that God is for us through thick and thin, that God is with us no matter what, that God is willing and able to make good on the worst that we can suffer, be or do. Our calling is to become living advertizements of these realities. Time to get down on our knees, rise up, and go to!

The Reverend Marilyn McCord Adams is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Heterosexism: A wound in Christ’s body

By W. Christopher Evans

The late F. D. Maurice one wrote that “the Incarnation may be set aside in acts as well as words.” The Incarnation, in other words, is not just about systematic or doxological proclamation. The Incarnation has something to do with how we are with one another, with our relatedness and our social worlds, here and now. The Word of God does not shrink from politics, but moves to the heart of human concerns and works continually to redeem them. That means that sometimes we will disagree publicly with one another, that we will fight with one another, and that we can be assured that God is working out our salvation in us and among us in our midst not despite our struggles, but precisely through, with, and in them.

Any spirituality that claims a peace and quiet of escape from “all that” is something other and something less than Christian spirituality. I start hearing jeremiads of “peace, peace.” Any Christian authority who claims neutrality for ecclesiastical social teaching or public stance or words is failing to take responsibility for effects on real flesh and blood lives. Christian spirituality refuses to shrink from the realities of human lives. Refuses to deny responsibility for our words and actions upon others’ lives. Indeed, Christian spirituality calls us to dive into the mess, including engaging in politics.

After all, politics is at heart about social relatedness, about people interacting with one another and with our surroundings and place in creation. Politics is precisely about how it is we are with one another in our social worlds together. And the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is very much concerned with the ways of flesh with flesh. After all, Christian spirituality too is at heart about relatedness, of ourselves to God through Christ in the Spirit, and in turn, of ourselves to self, one another, all creatures and the whole of creation. Wherever spirituality and politics are divorced, or the former is claimed to be somehow neutral in relation to the latter, beware. Such is in some sense, a denial of the Incarnation. As the late William Stringfellow reminds us in The Politics of Spirituality:

Whatever else may be affirmed about a spirituality which has biblical precedent and style, spiritual maturity or spiritual fulfillment necessarily involves the whole person—body, mind, soul, place, relationships—in connection with the whole of creation throughout the era of time. Biblical spirituality encompasses the whole person in the totality of existence in this world, not some fragment or scrap or incident of a person….Politics, hence, refers comprehensively to the total configuration of relationships among humans and institutions and other principalities and the rest of created life in this world. Politics describes the work of the Word of God in this world for redemption and the impact of that effort of the Word of God upon the fallen existence of this world, including the fallen life of human beings and that of the powers that be. Politics points to the militance of the Word of God incarnate, which pioneers the politics of the Kingdom which is to come. Politics heralds the activity of the Word of God in judgment over all persons and all regimes and all things whatsoever in common history. (22, 25-26).

Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave yet another interview in which he claims neutrality while continuing to justify present Anglican Communion words and behaviors toward lgbt persons without consideration that it may be the Communion and its Churches that are in need of conversion of manner of life in relationship to lgbt persons, in need of conversion of heterosexist “habits, behaviours, ideas, and emotions.” Williams’ words are not neutral. His exercise of spiritual authority is not apolitical. To call us a “wound in the whole ministry” is flesh-denying. To commend to, if not demand, celibacy of us without observation of our faithful relationships for the same fruits of the Spirit automatically imputed to his own marriage by reason of heterosexuality alone is to bear false witness.

Under such circumstances, I prefer to remain outside the inner ring of Williams’ version of Anglicanism where so much harm is justified toward us in Jesus’ Name without taking responsibility for the hurt. As C.S. Lewis once observed: “The quest of the Inner Ring will break you heart unless you break it'.” Christ’s circle surely does just that, break the inner circle of Anglicanism by infinite embrace. Anglicanism will not leave without torn joint in this struggle, a struggle lgbt Christians increasingly engage by not fleeing but by pushing back in Jesus’ Name.

For contra Williams, his spirituality does real harm to flesh and blood persons, God’s lgbt people both inside and outside the institutions of the Churches. On the one hand, his words reinforce covert and overt forms of hostility in our everyday social worlds. On the other hand, they lend themselves to self-hatred on the part of lgbt persons. But worst of all, they admit no consideration that repentance and conversion might be incumbent on the part of the Church toward others of Christ’s members.

The ecclesiastical focus has been almost exclusively on the manner of life of lgbt persons, particularly, lgbt Christians. It is time to turn the spotlight on the manner of life of Archbishop Williams and the rest of the Body in relationship to us.

The sinful fruits of the rest of the Body as expressed in the Churches’ present stance in relation to us are wicked and many, easily named and readily available for empirical examination. I name just a few of them again: False witness; self-righteousness and justification of self according to sexuality rather than to Jesus Christ; verbal abuse; physical abuse; emotional abuse; spiritual abuse; space in teaching to justify parents and families throwing us out of the house and worse; bullying; loss of jobs and housing; support of government-sponsored torture as so-called conversion therapies that include the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa; reparative rape; imprisonment; and murder. Apparently these standards are no bar to clerical service, much less full participation in the life of Christ’s Church.

Archbishop Williams’ words subtly allow for the endorsement of all these more vicious aspects of the Anglican Communion in its relationship with God’s lgbt people, and they continue in none-to-subtle terms to suggest we are garbage—that we should just go away. And it is time to stop pretending that his is not a deformed version of Christian spirituality in its claimed neutrality toward us, a claimed neutrality that has real life effects in our relationships together as human beings and does God’s lgbt persons harm—harm and effects that from an lgbt point-of-view are a denial of the Incarnation in words and acts. His neutrality and its effects on us are anything but Christian virtues or demonstrations of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the true measure and standard of Christian living, lay or clerical.

Indeed, neither the Churches of the Anglican Communion, nor the societies in which they find themselves and participate, are neutral ethically, culturally, or politically. Many are actively as well as passively homophobic and heterosexist. Just in the United States alone this last week, I saw the report of several young men kill themselves for being bullied because of perception of or for being gay: Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and Tyler Clementi.

The stances of the Churches of the Anglican Communion are not neutral, and for Archbishop Williams to continue to claim neutrality spiritual and political must be challenged in the name of Christ Jesus, indeed, by refutation of the Archbishop with his own words:

Our responsibility for a just commonwealth is the same responsibility laid upon us to be partakers of this holy Communion. If we are to respond to the invitation of God, we must in will and deed be answerable for our common life. That it is God who invites, the holy and sovereign God, must reinforce our sense of the danger to which we are exposed by our collusion in the rapacity and fragmentariness of an unjust commonwealth—“the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions”, to quote from the prayer whose original context is political, not ecclesiastical in the limited sense….the company at the Lord’s Table represents a social order, the possibility of sitting together as God's guests is inextricably bound up with the way power and wealth are being used outside the liturgical assembly…. the specific Anglican contribution to the theology of liturgical construction and reconstruction has to do with the making of liturgy that connects the catholic pattern of life in the Body of Christ with the patterns of community that prevail in this place and time; it is to grasp that part of the task of liturgy is to provide a resource for “imagining the Kingdom” against the specific social and political background, so that the judgment passed by the structures of Christ’s Body on the failed and sinful patterns of an unredeemed or rebellious world may have some chance of being concrete and local. Above all, it assumes that the worshipping congregation is responsible to God for the social patterns in which its members are involved.[1]

[1] Rowan Williams, “Imagining the Kingdom,” in The Identity of Anglican Worship, ed. Kenneth Stevenson and Bryan Spinks (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1991), 5-6.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

The Church and the state of gay rights in Kenya

By Peter Anaminyi

In a recent address last month to a national symposium on HIV/Aids targeting homosexuals, lesbians and sex workers in Kenya, Hon Esther Murugi, a Minister in the Office of the President in Kenya, told the participants that “We need to learn to live with men who have sex with other men… we are in the 21st century and things have changed.”

She went on to say that homosexuals and sex workers were an independent constituency and should not be stigmatised and called for statistics to enable the government to develop a policy to cut prevalence rates among the group.

The reaction of religious leaders was predictable, virulent, violent and swift.

The Organising Secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers described her utterances as “satanic and contrary to African culture” and added that “God in his holy books (Quran and Bible) cursed homosexuality and directed us to fight it.’ He went on to urge the President and the Prime Minister to take stern action against the minister. His comments were supported by the Chairman of the Kenya National Muslim Advisory Council.

Not to be left behind more than 74 churches under the aegis of the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya petitioned the President to sack the minister over her remarks and threatened to hold public demonstrations if this was not done. They warned that the Ministers statement would invite God’s wrath.

However a week or so after the minister’s statement, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs added what must have come as a shocker to some members of the religious community: the Government was not going to discriminate against gays in the provision of services. It’s against the new constitution. What people do in their bedrooms should be a private matter.

Homophobia however is not unique to Africa, as the recent suicide ofTyler Clementi, the 18 year old Rutgers University freshman who felt he would rather commit suicide than have people know that he is gay, has shown.

Kenya Government statistics show that over 30 percent of all new HIV infections are generated by commercial sex workers, homosexuals and drug users. All these groups are engaged in sexual and other behaviors that are currently criminalised. An HIV prevention policy therefore that assumes that 30 percent of the problem to be solved does not or should not exist would be one that is based on wishful thinking.

Almost 30 years after the first incidence of HV was reported, 35 out of 52 African countries or almost 70 percent of them were unable to report any information about gay populations to the United Nations General Assembly Session of HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) this year.

Again whereas the Centre for Disease Control has found that the unadjusted probability per coital act of transmitting HIV is 80 times higher for receptive anal intercourse than for vaginal intercourse, and that the rate of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with
men (MSM) is more than 44 times that of other men and more than 40 times that of women, the risk of homosexual behaviour in relation to HIV in Sub Saharan Africa has been measured in only 14 out of 118 studies reported between 1984-2007.

No responsible government can allow this state of wilful ignorancev and inaction to prevail. The Kenya government is therefore pursuing an evidence based policy in addressing the issue of HIV and sexual minorities through it’s National Aids Strategic Plan. This plan is a product of the Kenya National Aids Council whose corporate members include all the main Christian religious denominations in Kenya who are represented on its board by the National Council of Churches in Kenya, as well as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, and the national associations representing all employers, NGO’s and women organisations. It is not possible to constitute a membership that is wider, stronger or more reflective of the state, civil society and religious interests.

The Plan fully embraces the gay community and organisations that have expertise in this area and commits the government to addressing the delicate and controversial issues of decriminalization and access to services. Significantly the plan states that Cutting across all
strategies will be a central focus on MARPs (Most at Risk Populations: gays, sex workers and injecting drug users) and vulnerable groups.

In compliance with its international human rights treaty obligations, the Kenya Government presented its second periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2005, to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and cited the differences and conflicts within the Anglican Church and communion and the strong homophobic stance of the African Anglican Bishops as one of the factors it was considering in framing its policy towards same sex relations.

In response to a question as to whether it considered the criminalisation of homosexuality to be inconsistent with the Covenant’s non-discrimination clauses, Kenya’s Attorney General said that ‘The movement appeared to be towards tolerance, but the Government would watch the issue closely, particularly as the Anglican Church was currently struggling with the matter.’

However in response to calls this year for decriminalization of homosexuality by the US, France, Netherlands and 97 national international development organisations in Kenya, the UN reported that the Kenya government said it was ‘Committed to decriminalize them and combat discrimination, but facing serious social intolerance towards homosexuals’. And in its report to the United Nations General Assembly Session of HIV/AIDS this year, the Government recommended the revision and harmonization of health and criminal laws ‘so that all the issues of HIV and AIDS that are affecting the MARPs (Most at risk populations)… are addressed.’

The Anglican Church of Kenya is represented on the Kenya National Aids Council by the ational Council of Churches in Kenya. In fact the Anglican Church is the largest denominational member of this Council.

The violent attacks on Kenya’s minister are an indication of the fears African governments have about adopting evidence based approaches in dealing with HIV and AIDS due to culture and religion. They are also an indication of the inability of some churches to distinguish between moral values that should guide their members and public policy that guides all. But how will Africa’s cultural values and religion exist if its people are dead from the consequences of taking the same values and beliefs uncritically? Kenya is prepared to work with any individual or organisation, local or international to address to the human rights and health issues of its gay communities and other sexual minorities.

Peter Anaminyi is the National Director/CEO Feba Radio Kenya and formerly a Manager
with the National Bank of Kenya and Assistant Inspector of State Corporations, Office of the
President, Kenya. He holds an MA in Management from the University of Leeds, in England
an M.Sc in International Banking and Financial Studies from Herriot Watt University in
Scotland and an MA in human rights law and diplomacy from the University of
Witwatersrand in South Africa. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the views
of Feba Radio, Kenya.

Christ, culture and the struggle over same-sex relationships

By Derek Olsen

Recently the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a senior figure within the Russian Orthodox church gave an address at the Annual Nicean Club Dinner at Lambeth Palace in London. His remarks were focused on the concern he had for the future of the dialogue given liberalizing trends within the Anglican Communion. The Metropolitan repudiated the Episcopal Church for the ordination and consecration of women and for the consecration of Gene Robinson (not “Jim Robertson” as the Metropolitan stated…) and suggested that a similar fate was in store for the Church of England if it did not side-line its plans for the consecration of women as bishops. Instead, the Metropolitan framed the debated as a matter of capitulation to the culture:

We are also extremely concerned and disappointed by other processes that are manifesting themselves in churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Protestant and Anglican churches have repudiated basic Christian moral values by giving a public blessing to same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as priests and bishops. Many Protestant and Anglican communities refuse to preach Christian moral values in secular society and prefer to adjust to worldly standards.

Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture. ....

What can these churches say to their faithful and to secular society? What kind of light do they shine upon the world (cf. Mt. 5:14)? What is their ‘salt’? I am afraid the words of Christ can be applied to them: If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (Mt. 5:13).

In reading the Metropolitan’s words, I’m reminded of the classic work by H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. In this book, Niebuhr lays out five basic modes through which Christians construct the encounter between Christ—his shorthand for the faithful proclamation of the Gospel—and culture—the human environment, the backdrop in which we live and move. One mode is represented by nothing less than antagonism: Christ against Culture. This view demands that there be no accommodation with the culture; that the word of the Gospel is antithetical to human society and that it must be rejected and purified from the ground up. Significantly, Niebuhr illustrates this stance with the example of Leo Tolstoy, the only Eastern Orthodox Christian profiled in the book.

A second mode is complete capitulation: Christ of Culture. This view sees no discontinuity at all between the culture and the Gospel and sees Christ as an example of what is best in the culture and a model into which we all hope to grow. Again significantly, Niebuhr identifies this view with the Liberal Protestantism of Ritschl, Rauschenbusch, and others who, in Niebuhr’s day appealed to “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.”

The other three modes that Niebuhr lays out are more complex: Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ Transformer of Culture. The ordering of the book as well as its content leaves no doubt that Niebuhr’s favored solution is the last: Christ, the One who offers a transformational redemption to both humanity and the cultures they inhabit. Unsurprisingly, the Reformed theologian associates this approach with both Augustine and John Calvin—though he also includes our own F. D. Maurice firmly in this camp.
What I take away from Niehbuhr is the fundamental conviction that there is no culture—past, present or future—that either has, does, or will embody the Gospel teachings. Just as all humans sin and fall short of God’s loving hope for us, our cultures will as well. A true proclamation of the Gospel must always and inevitably include a condemnation for the ways that the Gospel is perverted in that culture. Just as surely it must identify and uplift where the Gospel is alive and at work within the culture and must encourage those movements which further the faith and habits of the Gospel.

Holding Niebuhr in mind, it’s easy to see the Metropolitan’s characterization of his position and the Anglican position as a clash between Niehbuhr’s first two modes: the metropolitan sees himself upholding a “Christ against Culture” perspective while accusing liberal Anglicans of a “Christ of Culture” perspective. Indeed, it’s easy to caricature the whole conflict between the warring Anglican parties along these two lines but—like all caricatures—it is a gross over-simplification and one that, more often than not, is false in both of its identifications. Furthermore, I see both sides perpetuating these mistaken identifications and digging into these positions, neither of which should be truly accurate.

With regard to liberalizing Anglicans—those who agree with the ordination of woman and those who will accept patterned homosexual clergy however conditionally—we need to take a hard look at ourselves, our theologies, and our motives. It is true that the prevailing Western culture has moved in a permissive direction over the past decades. Why are we in favor of these developments? Is it because it just seems right or because we have friends that we don’t want to disappoint—or because we truly believe that these innovations are demanded by the Gospel? All too often I see defenses of the liberal position that are based primarily in “rights” language or are grounded by warm personal anecdotes about friends, In advancing our arguments in this way, I fear that we do nothing more than confirm the caricature and, worse, ally ourselves with it. This does no service to our cause. I see the ordination and consecration of women and the ordination of people in committed exclusive life-long relationships blessed by the church—gay or straight—as mandates proceeding from the truth and morals of the Gospel. I sincerely hope that those who believe as I do understand it in the same way. It is only when we proceed from these bases that we can respond to the Metropolitan with a firm “no” and still look him—and ourselves—in the eye. We must ask ourselves whether we pass the Niehbuhr test—are we simply capitulating to the pressures of a permissive culture or do we understand the necessity for Christ to transform and rightly order our practices and relationships? Are there points where we clear identify the Gospel to be in conflict with our wider culture?

On the other hand, those who have taken for themselves a conservative label—whether they be Anglican, Russian Orthodox, or some other group—often fall short of the high ground they claim. While they may appear to be standing with Christ against Culture, all too often a deeper examination of their position reveals them to be nothing more than followers of a Christ of Culture as well. Assuredly, their culture is not the current contemporary Western culture, but sometimes the Gospel becomes nothing more than an excuse for the imposition of yet another human culture, especially one fashioned by nostalgia. Too often language about “traditional morals” is not an appeal to principles of virtue or the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church but to a by-gone all-too-human culture where women and gays stayed in their respective homes and closets.

The hard edge of the Gospel cuts against all human constructions of power and propriety. Sometimes its call to repentance, love, and virtue align with platforms either on the Left or on the Right. But neither platform ever captures the Gospel’s clarion. All platforms fall short. We inevitably fall short. But for all Anglicans, all Christians, who care about the on-going proclamation of the Gospel in a culture which needs to be redeemed by it, we must remain committed to holy conversation—with the Spirit and with one another, holy listening—to the Spirit and to our neighbors, and saturation in the Scriptures and Sacraments which are the trustworthy vehicles of the Gospel.

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Covenant-making, divine and human

This is the second of two excerpts from Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop of North Carolina's Task Force on Marriage, edited by Greg Jones.
By Jo Bailey Wells

There is a thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testament in which human marriage finds its theological context. One might argue there are differing models of marriage visible in Scripture: patriarchs and monarchs practiced polygamy without impunity (including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon); the Hebrew law prescribed remarriage within a deceased husband’s family to protect a widow (Deut. 25:5-10); Jesus challenged divorce (Mark 10:2-12; Matt. 5:31-32); Paul championed celibacy (1 Cor. 7:8-9, 32-35). Nevertheless, the context within which all marriage is understood relates fundamentally to the overarching relationship of God to his people, through the language of covenant.(1)

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer explicitly articulates this covenant understanding of marriage. Consider, for example, the words of one of the nuptial blessings:

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (p.431)

This chapter explores the scope, significance and limits of covenant language in the Judaeo-Christian tradition: how, in particular, it enriches and defines a Christian understanding of the bond of commitment between two parties traditionally termed ‘marriage’ and how it may appropriately be applied elsewhere. Our Church does not only invoke the concept of covenant for marriage; the Episcopal Church also speaks of the baptismal covenant; and more recently the Anglican Communion has explored the idea of an ecclesial covenant. What does the common Christian usage of covenant language have to do with the theology of covenant as it is developed through Old and New Testaments, and what does the biblical concept have to offer the Church today?

Covenant in Biblical Perspective
The Old Testament term for ‘covenant’ (berith in Hebrew) is borrowed from everyday life, to describe a deal, agreement or contract. It becomes used, fundamentally, as a metaphor to describe the relationship of God to God’s people.

As with other metaphors for the divine-human relationship – father and son, or husband and wife, or king and subject, or shepherd and sheep – an everyday image is borrowed from one realm of life and applied illustratively to another, on the principal of analogy. In its new theological context, the concept of covenant takes on a life of its own – lending itself to imaginative development far beyond the original scope and significance of its origins. Consider, in particular, the book of Hosea which assumes a covenant theology in describing God as a lover who has been spurned by his bride, Israel. Hosea underlines the faithfulness of God: even though Israel has become a whore, yet God longs for her to return (Hosea 1:2; 11:8). The covenant is not broken, even though it is continually threatened.

The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy tell the story by which God initiated the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. It is rather like a love story, whereby God had patiently wooed his people. He had brought them out of Egypt; he had sustained them through the desert. Now, prior to entering the long-promised land, God ‘gets down on one knee’ and asks Moses to communicate a gracious proposal:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Notice how the initiative lies entirely with God, even though it is clearly bilateral. The biblical account underlines how God wishes to reveal himself to humankind in order to enter into relationship with them. The covenant with Israel is the means to that end, not just for Israel’s sake but through Israel to all nations. Covenant is oriented to relationship and particularly to God’s self-revelation.(2 )

Where the story is retold in Deuteronomy, it is emphasized that this covenant is not a past action that related only to the original generation in the wilderness but a living reality for subsequent generations. That is to say, the covenant does not end in the way that most human covenants do. In Deuteronomy a later generation is addressed, as if it were the recipient of the covenant:

Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today (Deuteronomy 5:3)

Indeed, the encounter with God that is so carefully described in Exodus 19 at Mount Sinai depicts a spatial architecture that mirrors the temple (as well as much subsequent church architecture), underlining that what the Sinai covenant describes in Exodus is not a one-time encounter belonging to the past, but the regular encounter of Israel with their God in worship. This covenant goes on forever.(3)

At the heart of the covenant are the ten commandments. At times the covenant is equated to the commandments:

[The LORD] declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets (Deuteronomy 4:13)

These are given so that the people ‘do not sin’ – to equip them to live up to the original lofty proposal, to be a holy nation. Even as obedience is invited (Ex.19:5; 20:20-21), it is underlined how these stipulations are life-giving, not life-destroying. Thus, the narrative frame by which they are introduced: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt’ (Exodus 20:2) – emphasizing the relationship of redeemer to redeemed, Lord to servant, Life-giver to creature. Obedience to the commandments is for Israel’s growth and development. The story of redemption is the grounds for which God asks for loyalty, for an exclusive choice – a choice which is ratified enthusiastically by the people ‘with one voice’ repeating their previous intention, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3).

As our Prayer Book puts it, Israel has discovered ‘the God whose service is perfect freedom’. As at a wedding, promises are made that are exclusive and binding at a special ceremony, following which there is eating and drinking. Then Moses heads up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, which (like wedding rings) serve as a practical physical reminder of the promises made. Further, we may recognize the practice of covenant renewal, a sort-of ‘anniversary’ celebration for the sake of regularly remembering the promises made (Deut.27:1-10; Josh.8:30-35).

As many scholars have explored, the Sinai covenant – which becomes the overarching picture of God’s special relationship to Israel – incorporates all the key characteristics of any typical ancient treaty. The narrative we build from the Pentateuch includes an historical prologue, a list of covenant stipulations (the ten commandments), a ceremony of ratification (followed by regular reminding), a description of the witnesses present (here, heaven and earth) and a set of expectations regarding future blessings and curses that accompany either faithfulness or failure in keeping the covenant. While tracing all these elements of the ancient pattern, the notion of covenant in its new-found Israelite usage takes on a life of its own (while also shaping the life of Israel), such that its origins are rendered virtually irrelevant. ‘Covenant’ is re-defined, as the ‘marriage’ between God and his people. Even though we may also use legal language to describe it – for example, that it is binding and inviolable – it is not primarily legal, but relational.(4) A covenant is no longer simply a contract.(5)

Most of the rest of the Old Testament relates to that faithfulness and failure, to the ups and downs of the divine-human journey together. Even at the ‘honeymoon’ stage, the relationship is threatened by unfaithfulness. That is how the book of Exodus depicts the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34): before Moses had descended from Mt Sinai with the stone tablets, the people had forgotten the commandments and forsaken their promises. It is here that the unconditional nature of the covenant is explored. The situation begs the question: can the covenant bond be terminated? That is, will there be a divine divorce? Certainly God threatens to abandon Israel: so great is the anger. Yet he does not. In the face of the worst human depravity comes the most unconditional statement of divine mercy (Exodus 34:6-7) as well as the most emphatic demand concerning God’s uncompromising loyalty (Exodus 34:14). The occurrence of sin, destructive as that may be, does not imply an end to the covenant. Rather, it reinforces it: its privilege, its permanence, its exclusivity.

The fact that the possibility of failure is envisaged from the outset stands as a testimony to the fact that God understood human nature from the start, yet perseveres. Later in Israel’s history there is a rocky period resulting in a separation – the exile – but even this does not rupture the covenant. Although Jews would differ in their interpretation of the new covenant announced in Jeremiah 31:31,(6) Christians recognize in Christ an extension of the Sinai covenant to include non-Israelites.(7) Thus we find ourselves welcomed in to ‘the marriage made in heaven’ – that is, to the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people Israel. The New Testament describes the same covenant, now between Christ and his Church, the new Jerusalem. Consider the picture painted in the book of Revelation, describing the end times:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… (Rev.21:2)

Human Covenants
There is no carefully-nuanced definition of human marriage in Scripture Yet the permanent, committed partnership of a man and a woman is clearly present, something regarded as a norm from Adam and Eve onwards, based on the pattern of creation (Genesis 2:24). It is taken for granted that this is the unit from which children are conceived (consider the domestic assumptions concerning the raising of children in Proverbs, for example), even though the modern concept of the nuclear family would have been alien. The problems associated with loss or failure in marriage are raised (the vulnerability of widows and orphans; the circumstances for divorce). The norm, however, is not something that is given any significant constructive exploration in Old or New Testament. Furthermore, it can be argued that both Jesus (by his example) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:32-35) challenges the very assumption of marriage in favor of promoting the ‘ministry’ of singleness.

Nevertheless, the concept of covenant for understanding the dynamics of committed relationship between two parties is well-developed in Scripture.(8) The term that was borrowed from the circumstances of everyday life – a treaty between senior and junior colleagues, a deal between two merchants – is applied to the fundamental relationship between God and Israel, and by extension, to Christ and his Church. It is the ‘marriage’ between God and God’s people that in turn becomes the context for the working-out of human covenants, which may take many forms, including marriage.(9)

As we have already explored above, a covenant represents a binding agreement between two otherwise-unrelated parties. The commitment is permanent and unconditional. It requires absolute loyalty (‘monogamy’). It is no private arrangement between the parties, but an oath formally established through a publicly recognized ritual, whereby the duties and privileges of kinship may be extended to another individual (or group). In this light, we may recognize how radically inclusive is the concept of covenant: enabling social ties beyond familial relationships, even extending to aliens.(10) The ritual involves spoken declarations, an expression of consent and the presence of witnesses under God.(11) Their task is to remind the two parties of their commitment, with an awareness of the opportunities and demands (the ‘blessings and curses’) that potentially ensue. Witnesses are those who then bear responsibility for recognizing and supporting the covenant in the community where it is to be lived out. Failure to keep up to the demands of covenant does not deny the existence of a covenant: a covenant is not dissolved by error or failure, only by death.

Christians have come to understand baptism as a covenant, and this example helpfully illustrates the way in which the biblical notion of covenant is appropriated in the Church. Baptism is the ceremony that marks the personal recognition and participation in the covenant of God with humanity, even though the conceptual linkage is not found directly in Scripture, it involves the making of promises, the demands of commitment, the presence of witnesses and the anticipation of blessing. Even though the ritual directly hears promises only from one side – from the baptized (or parents and Godparents on behalf of the baptized) – it nevertheless marks a covenant between two parties given that it recognizes the story of salvation whereby God has already made commitment to his people.

In the same way, covenant provides a theological backdrop for shaping life-long human commitments. The linkage in Scripture is clear for marriage in particular (Eph. 5:21-30), and may also be applied to other forms of human commitment. That is, that God’s covenant with his people provides the context within which we make covenant commitments one to another. A biblical perspective on human covenant recognizes the way in which, in our small corner, we seek to mirror and reflect the greatest covenant of all. If we love because Christ first loved us, so we can live in covenant because God in Christ first lives in covenant with us.

In the Old Testament God shows us what it means to make a covenant and keep it. Covenant becomes the means of growing in faithfulness, of living into the call to be ‘a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’ (Exodus.19:6). Jesus reaffirms this archetype. Although he does not use the term ‘covenant’ of marriage, in ruling out all divorce and remarriage, he makes obligatory for his followers the ideal of God’s covenant with Israel, in which God is faithful even when Israel is faithless.(12)

In other words, the call to discipleship in the Judeo-Christian tradition demands so shaping our lives that we become covenant-keepers. That shaping we may call spiritual formation: it happens through the habits of our lives in relation to God and neighbor. For Christians it is the natural – yet disciplined and necessary – response to baptism. Such discipleship, in the end, is not about what we do but who we are: where we fail and how we respond; how we see and where we are blind; what we give and where we resist; how we trust and how we are trustworthy. These are just the aspects covered, in the tradition of TEC, by the baptismal covenant. The sacrament of baptism is the Christian recognition and response to God’s covenant.

As in baptism, so with other forms of covenant. It is on the principle of imitatio dei (‘imitating God’ – for example, [Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26), that human covenants are shaped to reflect the elements and characteristics of God’s covenant, and through them that we ourselves are shaped to reflect more fully the image of God. That is, also, that through them we strive to be a window through which others may more fully understand God’s covenant commitment and mercy.

This is the context in which I understand the gift of marriage. Scripture suggests it is the key context in which I may grow to understand how to live in covenant and thus grow into the reality of God’s ultimate covenant. Though we may describe other forms of covenant – the covenants between business partners or between Churches – these do not mirror the features of God’s covenant to the same extent. That which models an exclusive, permanent commitment of two parties represents the most direct, and personal, and particular outworking of the call to be covenant-keepers. Seen in this light, it seems to me unnecessary that the opportunity be confined only to conventional heterosexual marriage, even though I hesitate to use the term ‘marriage’ for any other kind of union. So long as it is done responsibly – as the marriage liturgy puts it, ‘not… unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately…’ (BCP p.423) – it seems fitting to encourage all forms of covenantal relationship that seek to mirror and reflect the divine. Enabling God’s people to fulfill the covenant call to be God’s ‘priestly kingdom and holy nation’ is what ultimately matters; and this might most obviously include encouraging all who long to imitate God’s rich-but-costly pattern of covenant commitment.

This is the purpose and experience of those who are called to make monastic commitments in the setting of a religious community. As with the Sinai covenant and with the covenant of marriage, vows are taken in the presence of witnesses that are permanent and exclusive. The stakes are high: that is, the costs and benefits – the blessings and curses – are substantial. Yet we recognize here a high calling, and a means to holiness. That calling, and indeed the practices of holiness, require the community – the witnesses – who are charged with the responsibility of helping sustain the covenant they have witnessed in circumstances that intentionally limit the human options so as to discover the freedom of service to God. Brueggemann speaks of covenant relationships involving ‘revolutionary discipline, devotion and desire’.(13)

Whatever the context for the human covenants we may conceive – in baptism, in the partnership of two people, or in monastic vows – we are not at liberty to shape the nature and characteristics of God’s covenant. They are the givens – the graces – within which we exist as Christians, explored and presented in the biblical and ecclesial tradition in which we are planted. If we in our human relationships seek to inhabit that tradition and live up to our calling as the people of God, then the terms of our human covenantal commitments are similarly not negotiable. We may choose whether and with whom we partner: but the terms and conditions of that partnership – if it is to reflect God’s covenant – are not ours to negotiate. The self-giving cannot be quantified (unconditional and unending) while its locus is wholly defined and confined. As I say repeatedly to couples preparing for marriage, "You have to be crazy! You have no idea what you are letting yourselves in for." Covenant-making, in human terms, is a crazy idea. But it is not our idea: but God’s. Perhaps that is the only explanation for why so many strive for it.

The Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells is Associate Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and Bible, and Director of Anglican Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is a priest of the Church of England.

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Marriage and sanctification

Today through Wednesday, Daily Episcopalian will feature two essays from Writings on Marriage, a recent book published by the Diocese of North Carolina. The first, which will be featured today and tomorrow is by Gene Rogers of the University of North Carolna at Greensboro, and the second, which will run Tuesday and Wednesday is by the Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, a priest in the Church of England who teaches at the Duke University Divinity School. We'll let Bishop Michael Curry offer the introduction:

Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop's Task Force on Marriage, was envisioned and produced by Greg Jones as an appropriate format to respond to a resolution of the 193rd Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina calling for study and report on the theology of marriage and the relationship between church and state vis a vis marriage. I am deeply indebted to Greg, and to the task force members and the journal's contributors for their excellent work. My prayer is that it will be a resource for teaching and conversation among us a diocese, as a church, indeed, as a culture.

But my deeper prayer is that as we listen to Holy Scripture, to the wisdom of Christian tradition, to the stories of each of us in this conversation, the Stranger will walk with us and talk with us as he did centuries ago on a road between the city of Jerusalem and the village of Emmaus. May the conversation and journey continue.
Keep the faith,
+Michael B. Curry
Bishop of North Carolina


By Gene Rogers

The consideration of marriage theologically raises many questions - but the obvious essential question is: "What at its core is marriage for Christians all about?" One might seek to find the answer in the various ritual forms for marriage across the Christian churches - though it would be difficult to settle on a single "essential" feature. For Catholics, it is essential that one not have been married before to someone still living. For Protestants not. For Catholics and Protestants alike, the essential moment of the sacrament is the exchange of vows. That moment does not occur in the Eastern Orthodox Order of Marriage, or of Crowning. Although an Orthodox couple express their intention to be married, they express that intention to the priest rather than to each other, and the priest marries them, rather than their marrying each other, by announcing that they are crowned. In Judaism, what is essential is the ketubah, the marriage contract signed by witnesses – although many Jewish weddings take place without the parties knowing much or much caring what the ketubah says, and with no intention of carrying out its more interesting conditions. Of course there are further particulars essential to Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, pagan, and civil marriages. And yet, it seems, that very few if any of us who do not hold any of these different essentials would assert that couples married in any of these traditions are not truly married. So, while it is clearly impossible to speak universally about what marriage is - there does appear to be a family resemblance across the various forms of marriage.

Within the Christian tradition, to narrow the focus, there does appear to be a prominent feature of family resemblance among types of marriage, and I recognize that feature under the rubric of sanctification. Considering the theology of marriage in this way is particularly consistent with the tradition of the Orthodox Church, which regards marriage as a way of participating in the divine life not by way of sexual satisfaction but by way of ascetic self-denial for the sake of more desirable goods. Theologically understood, marriage is not primarily for the control of lust or for procreation. It is a discipline whereby we give ourselves to another for the sake of growing in holiness–for, more precisely, the sake of God.

In this respect marriage and monasticism are two forms of the same discipline, as the Orthodox writer Paul Evdokimov has argued. They are both ways of committing ourselves to others–a spouse or a monastic community–from whom we cannot easily escape. Both the monastic and the married give themselves over to be transformed by the perceptions of others; both seek to learn, over time, by the discipline of living with others something about how God perceives human beings.

Rowan Williams (1) has written, "Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's [Son] makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created [and we marry] so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God." (2). Like all forms of ascetism, this is a high-risk endeavor. It can expose the worst in people–so that it can be healed.

Sexuality, in short, is for sanctification, that is, for God. It is to be a means by which God catches human beings up into the community of God's Spirit and the identity of God's child. Monogamy and monasticism are two ways of embodying features of the triune life in which God initiates, responds to and celebrates love. Monasticism is for people who find a bodily, sexual sanctification first and foremost in the desirous perception of God. Marriage is for people who find themselves transformed by the desirous perception of another human being made in God's image. In a marital or monastic community, the parties commit themselves to practicing faith, hope and charity in a situation in which those virtues get plenty of opportunity to be exercised.

Marriage and monasticism are two ways in which Christians make their bodies fuller of meaning by donating them to concentric communities with an other and others. The narrower community is that of the spouses or the brothers/sisters. Larger ones include the local congregation, the witnesses at a wedding or a taking of final vows, the town, the Church, and the whole human race. But the most embracing community of all is that which it is the goal of both marriage and monasticism to promote, however distantly, their members growing inclusion, in this life and the next: the community of the Trinitarian life. Here it is marriage that is the root metaphor from which monasticism grows. For Jesus says, "the kingdom of heaven is like a father who gives a wedding feast for his son."(Mw 22:2) And marriage analogies abound in Christian texts and practices for the relationship of the human community with God. Thus we read:

• "I will betroth you to me forever...I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know [who I am]." (Hosea 2.19a-20)

• "Why do [others] fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" (Matthew 9.14)

• "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom." (Matthew 25.1)

• "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready...Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Revelation 19.6-9)

Throughout the Christian tradition, in many times and places, what you might call an analogia nuptialis is productive of much theology. As Karl Barth has said, "Because the election of Israel is real, there is such a thing as love and marriage." That is, God's love for God's people is the prime analogate, which marriage is to represent. Not only Catholics, but the Orthodox and even Protestants practice the analogia nuptialis.

The paradigm case of the analogia nuptialis is Jesus' eucharistic remark, "this is my body, given for you." It is Jesus' self-giving that the married and the monastic both imitate in institutional form. That self-giving is at once a celebration, a wedding feast, and, under separable conditions of finitude and sin, a sacrifice. Both because marriage and monasticism are meant to sanctify, and because they imitate the eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus, they are essentially ascetic practices. That, indeed, is one of the two main things that make marriage and monasticism two forms of the same practice. First, they celebrate community; second, they practice asceticism - the giving up of less significant goods to gain more significant ones, the pearl of great price.

True asceticism is not a denial but a use, even a heightening of desire. Jesus did not give up his life from lack of desire, but from the intensity of it: "God so loved the world." (Jn 3.16) Jesus did not descend from the cross, because he desired solidarity with the thief, because he so loved the thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23.39-43)

The choice between marriage and monasticism depends on which leads to the right sort of vulnerability that will change the human being for the good. It is about the right sort of vulnerability before the face of what sort of other. "Grace," Rowan Williams has written, "is a transformation that depends on being perceived in a certain way, as desired, as wanted." The transformative perception par excellence is the one by which God perceives us as God would have us be. God sees Christ in us, that we may change. In the next life, we enjoy the beatific vision, according to Aquinas, not by the power of the one seeing, but by the power of the One seen – by God's causative perception of us. (Summa 1, 12, 13) People who find bodily satisfaction in God's loving perception of them, who can place their bodily selves in God's sight for transformation into God's child, may be called to the monastery. Other people need the focus of a single human other for transformation; the one who, over time, loves them into growth, exposing their faults so that they may be healed. Given human sinfulness, this transformation is risky. To have the best chance of success - to be most hopeful and patient - Christians have traditionally believed that it needs singleness of focus, support of the community, and the promise of a lifetime. For this reason, the Church affirms marriage to be, at the very least, the public and solemn covenant between these persons made in the presence of God and before the nuptial witnesses, the Christian community, and the public community beyond.

Turning again to Matthew's Gospel,

"Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast to his son, sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come...Then he said to his servants...'Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'"(Mt 22,1-3.9-13)
The parable reminds us that the Christian community must respect and celebrate how the Holy Spirit sanctifies in a public, committed, interpersonal, and life-long way: in concrete, marriage-like practices, ascetic practices, disciplines – "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8.2) – that lead the parties, Christians would say, into the sacrificial and glorious marriage of God and God's people. The marriage of God and God's people – Christ's donation of his body to be for others – ramifies in diverse ways through Christian practices, in marriage, in monastics in community, and in the faithful baptized gathered as one in eucharistic fellowship. Dr. Eugene F. Rogers, Jr. is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Among his published works, Rogers edited Theology and Sexuality, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Blackwell, 2002) and authored Sexuality and the Christian Body (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

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Reflections on the report of the HOB's theology panel on sexuality

By George Clifford

The report, “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church,” commissioned by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops and published this Lent merits widespread study within both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion (unless otherwise noted, page numbers refer to this document). The report avoided an overly facile effort to reconcile the diametrically opposed positions about whether the Church should bless same-sex marriages. Instead, the Committee recruited a panel of four Christian ethicists to delineate the arguments against same-sex marriage and another panel of four Christian ethicists the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, and then each panel responded to the contrary position.

The view with which I profoundly disagree, that against recognizing same-sex marriage (“Same-Sex Marriage and Anglican Theology: A View from the Traditionalists,” pp. 1-39), prompted some fresh reflections about natural law. The traditionalists correctly contend that natural law (as heretofore understood) supports heterosexual but not same-sex marriage. The panel does not inquire whether the received interpretation of natural law might be wrong. Had the panel done so, its members might have altered their views.

Natural law claims to identify principles or “laws” that govern the natural world. Pre-Enlightenment “scientists” often defined those laws based upon a priori arguments or scriptural interpretation rather than the scientific method (determining the validity of a hypothesis by measuring its predictive power). The Enlightenment heralded a new and enduring reliance on the scientific method, triggering a succession of clashes between conflicting understandings of natural processes. The sixteenth century dispute between proponents of a geo-centric and helio-centric solar system was one such clash.

In the twenty-first century, “discerning the sexual pattern in creation” (p. 22) probably demarcates another pending clash. As the traditionalists note in their report, the natural law tradition has until now argued, in species with two genders, that heterosexual relationships and reproduction are normative (pp. 31-33).

Although scientific data remains inconclusive in the estimation of the traditionalists (p. 25), the weight of accumulating data points increasingly toward proving the assessment of heterosexual relationships and reproduction as normative wrong. Nature exhibits incredible diversity and contending that any one pattern of sexual behavior is normative has become very problematic. That natural diversity has become more apparent as researchers greatly improve the accuracy of their observations, vastly expand the quantity of observations, and compile an every growing, ever more fully nuanced body of evidence based theory.

The following seem relevant to any discussion of natural law and human relationships:
• All life forms appear to have evolved from a common source.
• Patterns of behavior in other life forms, especially in primates may therefore shed light on human behavior.
• Some animal species, including chimps with whom humans share 96% of their genome, exhibit diverse mating patterns, i.e., both opposite and same-sex.
• Some of these relationships, both opposite and same-sex, are monogamous and last for years.
• Reproductive patterns among species with two sexes also vary widely, e.g., species in which some females morph into males, a species in which male fish mate by biting a female’s back and then being permanently absorbed into the female to ensure a ready supply of sperm, etc.
• Some same-sex non-human animal couples rear offspring.
In other words, the implicit presumption of natural law as traditionally formulated that only heterosexual couples mate, procreate, and nurture children is wrong. (For a highly readable synopsis of current research on gay animals, cf. Jon Mooallem, “Can Animals Be Gay?” New York Times, April 3, 2010.)

The traditionalists candidly remark (p. 16) that attempting to learn what the Bible says about same-sex relationships “involves looking to it for answers to questions it does not pose, at least not in the form we want to ask them. The notion of same-sex marriage did not exist in Scripture or in its contemporary contexts.” The Anglican tradition only maintains that the Bible is the repository of all information necessary for salvation and not all important or even useful information (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 513, 526).

In the absence of biblical answers to our questions, we have no choice but to search for other approaches to find answers to our questions. One of those approaches may be natural law, which, as outlined above, offers a far more complex and nuanced picture of relationships and reproduction than the historic formulation of natural law presumes. (I have admittedly formulated that picture to support my views as strongly as possible but the actual picture does not cohere to the historic view of natural law and is complex.) Another approach relies not on specific passages but broad biblical themes to extract from them a tentative answer. The Liberals utilized this method in “A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples: A View from the Liberals” (pp. 40-69).

Within the Christian tradition, views about marriage have evolved as Christians faithfully sought to interpret Scripture in the light of both tradition and reason. For example, Christian thinking about marriage shifted from marry if you must to avoid sin (expecting an imminent parousia, celibacy is better), to sex is only for the purpose of procreation, to marriage is for the community’s benefit, the mutual well-being of both partners, and the procreation and nurture of children.

My reading of the traditionalist position in the report is that this last issue – procreation of children – constitutes the major obstacle to accepting gay unions as marriage. Obviously, the traditionalists interpose other objections to the idea of same-sex relationships, such as natural law and their understanding of what the Bible teaches. The traditionalists do not seem to question the mutual well-being that a same-sex relationship may provide the two partners. The value to the community of same-sex relationships is largely a function of the degree to which that community accepts or rejects such relationships.

People today can procreate a child through intercourse, in utero artificial insemination, or in vitro fertilization with subsequent embryo implant in either one of the partner’s wombs or a surrogate’s womb. Perhaps can also “procreate” by adopting a child(ren). Most of theological and ethical thinking is woefully inadequate with respect to procreation in the twenty-first century, cf. Ellen Painter Dollar’s three part essay, “Why Episcopalians need to care about reproductive ethics,” Daily Episcopalian, March 9, 2010. If nothing else, available procreation options offer all couples, regardless of their gender composition, the option of having children. Even as improved insights into how the world functions call for an updated natural theology, so do scientific advances that expand the options for procreation call for Christians to rethink associated theological and ethical concepts.

Neither the release of “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church” nor the upcoming consecration of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese Los Angeles has led to a cataclysmic outpouring of wailing, gnashing of teeth, and consternation among most Episcopalians. Easter is dawning! In the meantime, thanks be to God that dialogue continues, at least some of the discourse exhibits Christian respect for the dignity and worth of those who disagree, and the Episcopal Church in good Anglican fashion continues to incorporate diverse viewpoints.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings.

The Ugandan repression in historical context

By Louie Crew

Anglicans in Uganda are currently encouraging passage of a harsh new law that would institute the death penalty for some homosexual acts and would punish with severe prison sentences those who fail to report the homosexuality of those whom they counsel or even just know. The legislation will encourage the most vicious kinds of witch hunts. One Anglican priest in Uganda has likened lesbians and gays to "cockroaches." International human rights organizations are alarmed that this legislation may actually pass.

This violence has a long history, especially among the British and those whom the British have influenced.

The Napoleonic Code (1804) led to radical reform of almost all law in most of Europe. One of its effects was the decriminalization of consensual homosexual acts throughout most of Europe, except in England.

That was no accident, and the Church of England was one of the main obstacles to reform of Britain's sodomy laws.

Britain continued to execute homosexuals for five more decades. England's last execution for sodomy occurred in 1857.

While the death penalty was still on the books, many visitors from the Continent wrote of their horror at the flagrant public pillorying of homosexuals in Britain. (See a brief account of the Vere Street Coterie,1810.)

The British obsession led Lord Byron to spend most of his adult life on the Continent. He and his homosexual friends called themselves "Methodists" as code for "homosexuals" in their private correspondence. (See extensive accounts in Louis Crompton's Byron and Greek Love, University of California Press, 1985; see also Crompton's Homosexuality and Civilization, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003)

Even after the death penalty was removed, the British fervor against gays continued little abated. Witness the conviction with jail and hard labor sentence for Oscar Wilde in 1895.

Wilde died only five years later, in 1900, a completely broken man, and it took more than six decades thereafter before Britain decriminalized consensual homosexuality (1967), almost a decade after decriminalizing heterosexual prostitution.

Britain's decriminalization of consensual homosexual acts would likely have been delayed further had not the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, supported the reform.

There is much LGBT blood on the hands of the Church of England. Uganda is merely keeping alive those ancient uncouths, with help from the silence of Rowan Williams. Rowan Williams is no Michael Ramsey.

In the early 1971 one of the bishops from Florida shocked the Episcopal House of Bishops by asking on the floor of the house how he was to handle a priest whom he had discovered to be "queer." His raw candor shocked the House, which immediately established the House of Bishops Task Force on Homophiles and the Ministry (1971-76) so that such discussions could go underground. (Only Episcopalians could have come up with such a prissy name as "the House of Bishops Task Force on Homophiles and the Ministry"!)

In October 1974 I took out ads for a new publication, Integrity: Gay Episcopal Forum in The Episcopalian, The Advocate and The Living Church. Immediately I received a letter from Bishop John Walker, a member of this Task Force, asking me to meet with the Task Force in Washington as soon as possible. We met at Epiphany in Washington, DC, and to that meeting I brought with me copies fresh off the Xerox, of the first issue of the Forum, in which I called for chapters to be formed.

A priest named Tyndale and a layman named Wycliffe (who says the Holy Spirit does not have a sense of history?!), both from Chicago, but neither knowing the other, called me wanting to start a chapter. I put them in touch. They met in December and the following summer (1975) hosted the first national convention of Integrity at St. James Cathedral in Chicago.

In my papers stored in archives of the University of Michigan is a thick binder labeled "Episcopal Snide," a collection of hostile mail that I frequently received from bishops. Long ago I decided not to keep that collection near me. From the day I took out the ads, I understood that we all have much better news to tell to absolutely everybody. It is not ourselves whom we proclaim but Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

Louie Crew, professor emeritus of English at Rutgers University, is the founder of Integrity, and a longtime deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Newark.

The silence of the shepherds

By Adrian Worsfold

The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on 19 November at the Gregorian Pontifical University offered, even promoted as 'good', a condition of impaired communion as experienced within Anglicanism as a model for Roman Catholic and Anglican relationships. Presumably this was a definition of the Anglican brand, and a rather optimistic one wrapped up in dense theological speak and question after question.

One reason I responded to this only humorously (on my blog) was because this is easy speech. It is easy to construct arguments like this, even if it takes Rowan Williams's own mind to deliver it in the strained manner that he does. It is also easy to talk about the awful violence in the Congo. What is not easy, and where the silence has been deafening, has been to find anything said about Uganda and its proposed laws singling out one group of people for harsh and repressive treatment. We also have an Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, a Ugandan himself, who doesn't mind a bit of publicity now and again, in jumping out of aeroplanes and refusing to wear his white collar until Robert Mugabe leaves office - but when it comes to Uganda and gay people, and that Anglican Church's intense homophobia, he suddenly has his mouth all zipped up. So it is easy to talk shop, easy to talk about general situations, and yet when it comes to the minority sheep in the flock in your own back pen, silence is the order of the day. More puzzling, given that Canada has at least said something about this, is the silence of The Episcopal Church and its Presiding Bishop. What on earth is going on?

To me this is a gigantic ethical failing. I knew already that the whole Covenant business was to build an international institution on the backs of excluding a minority. It will give recognition to processes at the level of international institutions for the first time; these processes will give worldwide Anglicanism a conserving central identity. I maintain the Covenant needs defeating to preserve a diverse and culturally responsive Anglicanism, and clearly the Pontifical speech was about an identifiable Covenanted Anglicanism that deals in processing disagreements - to and from the centre.

My own personal theology is further and further away from the sort of theological clutter lying at the heart of what Rowan Williams presented in Rome. I take the view, almost conclusively now, that this is utter human construction, pure institutionalism, human made and human preserved. Theologically I have become stripped out of even relating to this material because in part it is increasingly morally objectionable, and indeed allows morally objectionable behaviour such as attitudes to consenting minorities. Somehow the heart is dying inside Christianity so that it becomes a pointless hulk, where some of its core messages are tossed aside in order to promote one institutional fantasy or another.

There is another potential explanation to Rowan Williams's dealings, and it is almost Kamikaze. That, in making his 'half full' speech about Anglican incoherence, he knew perfectly well that it would be dismissed in Rome, and it was a kind of raspberry from an incoherent Anglicanism, just as this Covenant business is a non-starter because the Church of England cannot legally adopt a Covenant that even sniffs of control from without. The Church of England would have to only voluntarily abide by something without, which is worthless and constantly open to challenge. So, in the end, the argument goes, despite deliberate appearances to the contrary, there is no end in sight. There is no intended Covenant to process anything, but just an exercise in keeping people on board to a point of exhaustion - it is towards nothing at all.

In the same way, not all appears to be as it seems regarding Rome's latest finger into the Anglican pie. Whilst there might be initial annoyance, the Pope has put a spring into the Anglican step. He has annoyed mostly his own bishops and clergy. The Romanish Anglicans now have their galleon to sail away on, and the some of the most awkward of the Anglican awkward squad will be gone or utterly weakened, allowing for clearer decisions on women in ministry in the Church of England. Plus the Pope could well weaken GAFCON/ FCA significantly given its unprincipled alliance of extreme Protestants and extreme Catholics, as the latter shave off. So this also weakens the extreme Protestants, for whom the Catholics were more ballast along with the Africans. The extreme Protestants want to be both in and out, but in the end will face frustration in this never ending long game that goes nowhere. If they want their idea of renewal, they'll have to become independent. Bye bye to them too.

Do we believe it? Is it as devious as this? It could be that behind all the convoluted intellectualism is a kind of laughter of institutional politics that is the real game, and that the visible game is not the game being played.

I hear this explanation, but I don't believe it. It might be what happens, but it isn't the intention. I really do think Williams wants the Covenant, to impose it; it's just that he won't get it because the mother Church cannot have it legally. I really do think that a minority is being sacrificed for this end. There is no ethical basis to any of this.

More than this, there is no ethical basis up front or devious. If devious, it is too risky for people's lives for them to be included eventually. If not devious, there is the burning smell of sacrifice - not self sacrifice via service, but the sacrifice of others for convenience and for the worst of bureaucratic religious motives.

It is hugely disturbing and wrong. The silence is deafening and these institutional leaders will pay for this error in lost credibility. They are out of touch and colluding in cruelty.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

Supporting gay marriage in DC

District of Columbia Council – Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary
Public Hearing on Bill 18-482
Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

My name is Paul Roberts Abernathy. I am the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill – a community of 700 souls and many family configurations. A single mother whose adopted daughter was born in China. A gay couple, together now 21 years, who, eight years ago, adopted their son from Vietnam. A lesbian couple at whose commitment service I was privileged to preside and whose children I have been honored to baptize. Heterosexual couples, white, black, and interracial, married for years ranging from one to nearly fifty. Single people of all ages. St. Mark’s is many families with one set of family values: love and respect, fidelity and stability.

Concerning equality, we believe that God, to paraphrase our national creed, endows us all with the inalienable right of life and love founded in relationships of faithful commitment, and, through such, the right to all civil liberties and legal responsibilities appertaining thereto.

I affirm the right of others to hold other views. Yet, as a Christian, I heed the biblical witness of Jesus who quoted Genesis, “From the beginning, God made them male and female,” specifically in reply to a question about divorce, therefore decidedly not in response (nor do I believe it should be used today to respond) to an issue that, in his day, did not exist: same-sex marriage.

Throughout history we have changed our laws to reflect our ever deepening consciousness about what promotes a productive, stable society. This legislation addresses an issue that in our day does exist and, more importantly, acknowledges the reality that same-sex relationships are a part of the rich tapestry of life in our beloved District of Columbia. Thus, I advocate the passage of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.

I close with a very real story. John and Kevin were proud fathers of their son. John was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. Kevin, considered only a friend by hospital staff, even in possession of a living will and a power of attorney, initially was not allowed to share in life and death decisions. John died. Kevin received no Social Security spousal benefit. (The procurement of Social Security, as a federal benefit, is yet another element of the long journey toward equality.) Had Kevin not been gainfully employed, John’s death, already devastating beyond words to tell, would have proved wholly financially debilitating.

Grave inequality makes for gross injustice, the sort of which no culture of compassion dare tolerate. I pray your benevolent consideration. Thank you.

Read the Rev. Abernathy's All Saints Day sermon, in which he reflects on the experience of offering this testimony.

Wondering about risk

By Joy Caires

As a pediatric chaplain I saw people of all faiths pour all of their being into the attempt to save a child's life, again and again--regardless of any differences we may have had. The Orthodox Jewish family anticipating their baby's heart surgery; the lesbian couple seeking baptism for the infant they knew would not survive much beyond birth; the Hindi family I led in prayer as we gathered barefoot at their adult son's bedside; the Jehovah's Witnesses watching their son's last breath leave his body; the evangelical fundamentalist father expressing concern over his son's obsession with Heaven; the teenager I baptized who's grandmother had left the Episcopal Church over the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy-desperate in their need they welcomed my presence. They didn't question whether I was "eligible" to pray for them, bring the sacraments to them, or love them. They clung to me like a life boat and I in turn held steady at their grasp. As they watched their children struggle their relief at the presence of the priest was often palpable. In that moment all they cared about was the fact that a child, their child, was dying and that I was there.

Now that said, the relationship was primarily one way. I had something they needed, I wore a collar, and they were in crisis. So, no personal questions were asked of me-and I rarely volunteered information about myself. Occasionally in the quiet moments, or as the relationship grew I would answer their questions while still dodging the inevitable "so are you married?"s with an answer of "yes" and a quick follow up question. They would keep talking and I would keep listening--their question answered but not answered--and I would feel relief at my preservation of the pastoral relationship. Yes, I often found myself wondering, did my duplicity help or hinder my ministry? If they knew about my sexuality would they still call me to anoint their dying child? Would they still ask for me if they knew that part of my familiarity and comfort in the medical setting came from having met my beloved while she was still in medical school and learning the language of medicine second hand?

And, I wonder, and part of my wondering is the knowledge that many of these families want the pastoral relationship to continue beyond the bounds of the hospital. They want to visit me at my parish; they invite me to birthday parties for children that made it despite it all. They, gasp, want to friend me on Facebook so that they can share photos taken of me with their children! How much do I let them into my life now that their crisis is over? Would knowing more about me harm their memory of the relationship I had with them in the hospital?

As a chaplain it was about them--and after the crisis I got to walk away. There was little risk of rejection and I knew with surety that what I did was crucial. In the parish I find that getting the bulletin proofread does not strike me as a crisis (at all) but that it is its own kind of ministry. I find the parish world to be a different kind of challenge-with greater personal risk. Because, now, as a parish priest I find that it is usually about us, as a congregation, as a gathered community. These are people who share the journey with me-they know my spouse, in sermons I share with them some of my story as we embark on the journey of faith together. It seems odd at times to have so many know so much about my life. But, at the same time, I can see the difference it makes to the people who make up the congregation to have these insights into my life and love.

So, I wonder...what would have been different if I'd let patients and parents in a bit further, if I'd answered instead of evaded? And, as these relationships settle firmly into the past, I wonder whose loss it has been?

The Reverend Joy Caires, a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, is currently the Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour in Akron, Ohio. Joy's first call, after ordination, was as the pediatric chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Liturgical roots, baptismal theology: where "full inclusion" comes from

By Linda L. Grenz

A reading of press reports about the 76th General Convention might suggest the only topic debated (again) was sexuality – or, more precisely, homosexuality. Sometimes this happens simply because the press does not know much about our history or theology. Unfortunately that often means our members get misinfornmation about why this topic is relevant to our church and why we are devoting attention to it.

Our focus is on inclusion and this is not new – it is something we have been working on for decades. It grew out of the liturgical renewal movement that began to have a significant impact on the church in the early 20th century. The desire to renew the church's liturgy led scholars to re-examine the church's worship and theology. Their research and the discovery of previously unknown texts led liturgical scholars to re-vision how we worship.

Liturgical scholars realized the earliest Christians gathered around the dining room table and it is likely that the hosts presided. As membership grew and services became more formal, the order of priests was established to assist the bishop. This led to the clericalization of the liturgy as priests became more central to worship services and laity became mere observers.
The priest became the primary actor, the one who said the liturgy and did the ministry. The people become passive recipients. Their role was to “pay,” “pray” and not “say” much more than “amen” or “and also with you!”

As liturgical scholars began to re-shape the liturgy to make it more participatory, the roles of clergy and laity also changed. This change was driven by another aspect of the liturgical renewal movement – the re-visioning of baptismal theology. In the early church, baptism was a transformative rite of passage. In baptism, one died to one's old self and rose with Christ to a new life as a redeemed child of God. One’s baptism profoundly changed one, both now and for eternity.

As priests became the primary leader of the congregation, the bishop, who used to lead the congregation, had no connection to the local community. What would be the bishop's role? One response was to separate the anointing with oil from the rest of the baptismal liturgy. This led to the creation of Confirmation, and the development of a theology that one needed to “complete” one's baptism by being confirmed by the bishop. The liturgical renewal led the church to move baptism back to the center of the church's life (vs. a private ceremony) and to restore the anointing to the baptismal rite.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer wholeheartedly embraced the re-visioned baptismal theology – and emphasized it by adding the five questions that spell out baptismal living after the Creed. Because we believe that how we pray shapes what we believe, it became a means of incorporating this baptismal theology into the life and practice of the church. Those five questions, in particular, led to theorization that baptism meant full inclusion which resulted in the church re-examining the role of laity, of people of color, of women and of children and youth.

The 1960s saw the church take significant steps to support and sometimes lead the effort to establish equal rights for blacks. In the church, blacks were elected to leadership roles.

Women in most dioceses began to serve on vestries in the 1950's and 60's. Laity began to read lessons and lead the prayers at the liturgy. The first women deputies to General Convention were seated in 1970 and girls began to serve as acolytes. The 1976 General Convention voted to permit the ordination of women as priests.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1980s and 90s, laity were appointed as Eucharistic Ministers, allowed to administer the chalice at the Eucharist and later to take the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. Children were allowed to receive the Eucharist as soon as they were baptized. Youth were appointed to vestries and given voice at diocesan conventions and at General Convention.

In 2003 the General Convention voted to confirm the election of an openly gay man by the Diocese of New Hampshire. It also engaged in a conversation about whether or how to bless the relationships between same sex couples.

Each of these changes was challenging to some members. Each time we changed the liturgy or the rules to include another group of people in a previously prohibited arena, we lost some members who could not reconcile that change with their theology. The latest focus on the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people grows out of this long history of the church seeking to apply the baptismal theology that says that in baptism we are all transformed by Christ, becoming equal children of God. It is part of the church's long engagement in the spiritual practice of seeking to be the Body of Christ – the place where all the baptized are equally welcome.

One of the most moving experiences at General Convention was when some deputies and bishops joined the largely Hispanic group of Disney workers protesting Disney's plan to eliminate health care benefits for many of them. The largest march in Anaheim's history put the church on the side of those who are poor, often oppressed and living at the margins. But what was remarkable was that when Bishop Robinson, the gay bishop who is the focus of much of our talk about homosexuality, was introduced – the Disney workers burst into applause. It turns out they knew who he was and what he stood for – and they identified with him. You can bet that Episcopal churches in Anaheim are having lots of new Hispanic seekers coming, along with many of our congregations who are finding people who otherwise would not trust coming to church or who are at the margins of society, coming to us. The good news is that those souls are hearing: ALL are welcome at God's table. And that is worth the cost of struggling through all of these sometimes awkward or difficult changes.

The Rev. Linda L. Grenz is president of Leader Resources and priest-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, Md. A version of this article appears in the September issue of Washington Window.

How generous is "pastoral generosity"?

By R. William Carroll

The phrase occurs in the fourth resolve of C056, adopted by the 2009 General Convention:

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church;

Surely, I am not the only one who is tempted to see unhelpful condescension in this language. In this piece, I’d like to suggest a more charitable reading, which I hope might provide some guidance for how to apply C056 during the next triennium and beyond.

The language is intended to draw a distinction between public liturgies for blessing same sex unions (which have not yet been authorized by the Episcopal Church) and appropriate pastoral care, perhaps taking the form of a locally approved rite, while such liturgies are being developed. Indeed, the first three resolves outline a process that may (almost certainly will, perhaps by 2012) lead to public liturgies approved for use by General Convention.

It is indeed highly insulting if we read the language about generosity as if the diocesan bishop were being generous to provide pastoral care. This is in fact his or her duty, and the General Convention has already committed the Episcopal Church to the following (over 30 years ago, in 1976):

Resolved, that it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God and have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

One cannot be generous in discharging a duty. One is either being faithful and upholding one’s vows, or one is not. One can perform a duty with a generous or grudging spirit perhaps, but in the end a servant does only what is required by his or her Lord. There is a fundamental distinction between gratuitous liberality and what is owed. Among other things, a bishop promises to “encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries” and to “nourish them from the riches of God’s grace.” (BCP, p. 518)

At the same time, however, all of us (not just bishops) need to acknowledge that we have, as individuals and as a Church, fallen short of the mark and that we have waffled about whether we really mean it when we speak of a “full and equal claim.” If anyone has been generous these thirty years and more, it has been the LGBT faithful, who have endured from the Church they love a spectrum of pastoral care ranging from spiritual violence and rejection, on the one hand, to ambivalent and fickle tolerance, on the other, with an occasional outbreak of Kingdom hope here and there to sustain them on their wilderness journey.

I believe that when it speaks of a “generous pastoral response,” resolution C056 should be understood to be reminding us of the high standard to which we are held as Christians. It is calling the bishops, in particular, to the task of shepherds and apostles. In every ministry and apostolate, however, the standard is not our generosity but God’s. It is the generous love that overflowed to make the world. It is the love that sent the Son into the world, to live, suffer, and die for us, and to rise victorious over every power that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God. Seen in this light, the phrase “generous pastoral response” implies that we should go to great lengths so as not to further scandalize the LGBT faithful. The Church is called to nourish God’s people from the riches of God’s grace. None of the Church’s treasures belong to us. God is the source of every blessing and every good gift. They not ours to control, only to administer.

Does this mean that every bishop will rush to authorize blessings? Probably not, though I think it is chicanery of the highest order and an evasion of the apostolic ministry to read the “particularly” clause, as if a generous response is only called for in places where same sex marriage or civil unions are already accorded legal status. What the fourth resolve calls us to is to fulfill the vows we have already made to God, with the generous love of Jesus as the measure for our faithfulness. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will use this resolve to break down remaining barriers to baptismal equality. May God move our bishops and all the faithful to a new level of public honesty about the gifts and ministries of LGBT faithful in every diocese of this Church, to genuine listening where it has not occurred, to repentance wherever necessary. And may God lead us to witness, bless, and celebrate faithful love wherever it is found.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Resolution C056: it's our job now

By Rebecca Wilson

Yesterday morning, on the last day of convention, the House of Deputies passed Resolution C056 on Liturgies for Blessings. The House of Bishops passed this resolution overwhelmingly on Wednesday afternoon.

The final resolution was a substitute for the original C056 and was crafted by a small group of bishops informed by a larger Indaba-style conversation that took place on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

C056 begins the process for the Episcopal Church’s response to various kinds of same-gender unions: committed relationships, domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriages. It also contains a provision for pastoral generosity in states with legal status for same-gender couples.

The ultimate power of this resolution will be determined by the strength of the process it sets in motion. That process—to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships—will be developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops.

According to the resolution, the Standing Commission will “devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion.” The resources developed by the process will be reported to the 77th General Convention in 2012.

In speaking to the resolution this morning, Deputy Ruth Meyers, secretary of the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee, emphasized that the process would be “open and transparent” and that it would “expand the circle over the next triennium.” Supporters of C056 are particularly enthusiastic that the process encourages participation from people at all levels of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion: individuals, congregations, dioceses, and provinces.

By casting such a wide net, the Commission can include the work of other churches in the Anglican Communion, including New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, that are considering theology of and liturgical rites for same-gender relationships. Through those conversations, the Episcopal Church can continue to demonstrate that moving forward on inclusion actually strengthens some of our relationships in the Anglican Communion.

Thanks to the work of those who crafted C056, the Episcopal Church now has the chance to make progress toward full inclusion in the best possible way. Whether or not we take best advantage of the opportunity now before us is up to the Standing Commission, of course, but it is also up to people all across the church who care about both inclusion and communion.

We need to spend the next three years contributing to the process, fostering conversation, encouraging reflection and paying attention to the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Throughout this Convention we’ve seen the Holy Spirit working through prayerful conversation, public narrative and Indaba-style groups. If we carry that spirit home and into the work of the next three years, we can both realize the promise of what has been accomplished in Anaheim and strengthen our relationships with one another and our sisters and brothers across the Anglican Communion.

Rebecca Wilson is the director of communications for the Chicago Consultation.

Getting out of God's way

By Marshall Scott

The robins are eating my blueberries.

This is not a new problem. It was something of a surprise to me when my wife first pointed it out to me a number of years ago. In part I was surprised because the bushes had born for several years, and no robin had appeared. But I must admit I was more surprised because of all those coloring book images of happy robins tugging struggling worms out of the ground. I had seen them pick at worms. I had even seen them poking through the grass, picking up insects. I had no idea that robins ate berries, much less that they would eat mine.

In years past, I’ve been able to prevent most of their predation. I’ve taken time to build a frame – really, a cage – of concrete reinforcing bar and bird netting. I built it large enough that I could move under it to pick myself, and tight enough that birds couldn’t get in. On the rare occasion one did, it was generally sorry enough not to come back.

But this year the cage didn’t happen. This year the spring rains always seemed to fall on Saturday, or at least on every Saturday when I didn’t have another commitment. Too, my wife is lead gardener for the parish’s new vegetable garden, with the produce committed to another parish’s soup kitchen. So, there wasn’t as much time this year to get the cage built.

And another thing: this year the robins waited. They didn’t show up when the bushes bloomed. They didn’t even show up when the berries first became distinctive. No, they waited. They waited until the berries were full sized, and starting to take on some color. Even then they hung back. I took off the first cup of ripe (or at least ripe enough) berries. And suddenly the next day they were there.

And, to make matters worse there are more of them than ever before. In the past it’s been one, and occasionally two. These days it’s three and frequently four. If I’m outside at the right time, I can scare them off with the solid bang of a deadfall peach thrown at the fence behind them. But of course with more rain and less time I’m not out there enough; and like as not that one cup of blueberries will be all I harvest this year.

I find myself wondering if I didn’t teach them this persistence. Several years – probably several generations - of robins have grown up lusting after my berries. For most of those years they’ve been prevented, stymied by the barrier of net and steel. Did they wait to be sure what I would do? Did they wait, holding back so as to lull me into a sense of security; and then swarm in when, caught by time and hoping they really weren’t coming, I didn’t put my guard up? Indeed, did I teach them to want the berries all the more because they were for so long out of reach?

I have to wonder. That seems too much intelligence, too much planning, to attribute to a robin. On the other hand, there have been those remarkable reports about the ability of some parrots to synthesize spoken concepts. So, who knows? Maybe I did teach them or inspire in them the persistence to wait and seize that which had long been forbidden.

I have occasionally wondered if we needed to do the same thing with the faith. We worry about the next generation of Episcopalians. At our lowest we worry about whether there will be a next generation of Episcopalians. I sometimes wonder whether that would change if we made participation in the Church somehow forbidden.

What if, for example, we barred everyone under sixteen from worship? I don’t mean just making them wait for communion. I mean not allowing them in the door. Can you imagine the young teens trying to sneak into church, instead of sneaking out for an illicit drink? Can you imagine them trying to sneak into the side doors of the transepts instead of the side doors of movie theaters? Can you imagine them surreptitiously reading the Prayer Book under their covers instead of one or another sensational magazine? “Reverse psychology” is largely the stuff of cartoons and situation comedies; and yet there’s enough apparent truth in it that virtually every parent has tried it at least once. Think what might happen if we did that in the Church.

We could think of it like so many other things in life. We hold some things apart as “adult,” things which we forbid to “children,” even children of relatively advanced age. And after all, the one thing that every child wants is to be an adult. If we made Church “adults only,” wouldn’t they clamor to join in?

And, you know, there’s precedent, at least of a sort. In early Eucharists the Peace was the point at which those who weren’t going receive left. Those not yet baptized and those under discipline weren’t just prevented from receiving. They had to leave the building. I have to wonder whether some, at least, didn’t look for a window to at least peek in. Couldn’t that work now?

Well, maybe it could; but, not for us. Oh, it might well get and hold the attention of a number of folks; but I don’t think we could take that step. You see, it may be good marketing, but it’s bad theology.

It is bad theology first because we are called to be people of light, and not of darkness. Certainly, Christ is the Light of the World, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The Gospels call us to put our lamp on the stand, and not under the bed or a bushel. They tell us that what is hidden in darkness will be exposed in the light. They call us to walk in the light.

It’s bad, too, in that we have been shaped, perhaps more than we know, by the same desire as the author of Proverbs. Many times that author speaks of raising children. We know best, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray;” but we might also claim “And now, my child, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.” And how shall the child listen to our words if we haven’t shared them?

And so we model ourselves on Peter when Christ called him to evangelize Cornelius. When he spoke to Cornelius, Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” As he reported when he returned to Jerusalem, Peter understood God’s intent to be that Cornelius and “all [his] house will be saved.” In light of that mission, Peter asked, “Who was I that I could hinder God?”

This is, after all, the foundation on which we baptized infants. We want them to grow “in the right way,” a way that we publicly proclaim and in which we want them to participate. To that end we make explicit our expectations of parents that they will see “that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” so that “this child [can] grow into the full stature of Christ.” To that end we all commit to support them; after all, we all say, “We will!” We seek to bring them into life in Christ, and not simply the club of Christ.

It is also the foundation on which many of us call for full inclusion and full participation of all the baptized in the life of the Church. Until we see the Kingdom, we will all still have room to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord; and we pray often enough for our departed brothers and sisters that such growth can continue in the Kingdom as well. The Holy Spirit fell on everyone in Cornelius’ house who heard Peter. So it was that in the face of criticism from the circumcised believers, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same [Spirit] that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

And so we could not in good faith keep the faith from our youngest, whether they are young in years or simply young in faith. Withholding might make for good marketing in its way. It might even teach some to long for something they cannot have. It just wouldn’t reflect God as he has revealed himself in Christ. It wouldn’t express our call that all participate fully in Christ’s Body, the Church. In short, it wouldn’t demonstrate the faith as we have received it.

This is not to say that we can’t help our newest and our youngest siblings to appreciate the wonder and the value of life in Christ, and so inspire them to live in the Body more fully. I think, though, that we will do that more faithfully and effectively by what we give than by what we withhold; by what we demonstrate than by what we hide. It has been said before, but can bear saying again: if we commend the faith that is in us, if we allow the love of God in Christ to shine through us, we won’t have to worry about the next generation of the Episcopal Church. Living in Christ to the best of our ability will so shape our community and our communion that we are able to welcome our newest and our youngest, and to offer them all the opportunity they can desire to grow in grace and to participate in the life of the Church. They will certainly desire, as we desire, to do more and to know more of life in Christ. It’s just that they will desire it, not because it’s been hidden, but because they will see, first in us and then in themselves, the wonder and the mystery of the love God has for us, and the possibilities to know more, to do more, and to be more.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

"Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

On April 16, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote letter from a Birmingham jail cell to a number of clergy men, including the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, who though that he and his supporters were asking for too much, too soon. As the Episcopal Church looks forward to its General Convention next month, it seems an appropriate time to contemplate the ways in which King's famous letter may be applicable to us and to our Church.

An excerpt from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

What the court did and what it left undone

By L. Zoe Cole

What in the heck did the California Supreme Court do with Proposition 8? It looks suspiciously like they implicitly denounced California’s system for changing the state constitution. Many proponents of Proposition 8 believe they won, because the Court did not find that the measure itself was invalid. Some proponents of marriage equality fear they lost because the court did not find the measure invalid. Others wonder how a proposition that limits fundamental constitutional rights in any way is simply an “amendment” permitted by a simple popular majority vote, rather than an “alteration” requiring a two thirds vote of the legislature. And still others think the opinion represents illogical fence-sitting.

The decision may be illogical (even Oliver Wendell Holmes acknowledged that the "law does not always keep step with logic"), but it’s about as far from fence-sitting as a secular court can get. Contrary to popular slurs about "activist judges," courts don't make law, much less public policy (as pointed out in a quote from the majority opinion in the New York Times On-line article about the decision), they answer the questions litigants bring. Legal maxims rigorously maintained by most courts also require that an appellate court’s opinion be as narrowly tailored as possible to answer only the questions brought to it and those that cannot be avoided in answering the primary questions. I believe the Court could have gone farther than they did, but Courts are also inherently conservative (again, despite the popular lambasting they often receive). Within the confines of the actual legal situation they were asked to decide, the decision does make sense, even as it leaves room for additional litigation to work out its implications.

Supporters of marriage equality feared that, if upheld, Proposition 8 would invalidate the same-gender marriages that took place between the California Supreme Court’s ruling in The Marriage Cases, (2008) 43 Cal.4th 757, and the effective date of Proposition 8. An "ex post facto" law – which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, is one that makes something illegal, after the fact, so the parallel isn't exact here (because this is a civil case dealing with civil rights, rather than a criminal case), but it is close. As the court points out in its ruling, principles of legal construction require that taking away “vested rights” be clearly intended and not simply an accidental by-product. Because the language of Proposition 8 didn’t specify that it would invalidate previously legal same-gender marriages, it could prevent future same-gender marriages, but not undo existing marriages. If, as has been suggested elsewhere (see, for example the May 26, entry at, the California Supreme Court intended to give only what it could not legally avoid, then it makes absolute sense that the court would find a way to maintain the legality of these same-gender marriages.

Two things are hopeful for me in the Court’s ruling: 1) the Court’s insistence that its decision does not overturn The Marriage Cases, and 2) their insistence on the right of same-gender couples to establish the same legal relationship that opposite-gender couples do when they marry – just without the same name. "Civil unions" have all the same rights as "marriage," according to the Court, but civil unions are for same-gender couples while marriages are for opposite-gender couples. Emphasis on the similarity of the two paradoxically sets up an eventual challenge on the same grounds the U.S. Supreme Court overturned segregation in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education: separate is not equal. If the civil unions and domestic partnerships are legally indistinguishable from marriage, then the logic of Brown and its progeny will require that either a single term is used or that the terms may be used interchangeably by both same-gender and opposite-gender couples.

The California Supreme Court was not asked in this case to make a decision based on equal protection considerations. They already decided the equal protection questions in The Marriage Cases and have gone to great lengths to preserve their answer. The limited legal issue in this case was whether Proposition 8 was an "amendment to" or a "revision of" the state constitution. The Court answered that the measure was indeed merely an “amendment,” and thus did not require a 2/3 majority vote by the legislature to put it on the ballot, but carefully preserved their previous finding about marriage equality. They didn't have to do that, but they did. The Court also, whether intentionally or not, seems to have created a ruling that will encourage further litigation that will eventually undermine even the narrow limitation on the right of some couples to designate their relationship as a “marriage.”

Other events, such as an overhaul of the constitution as a whole (something also being called for because of the state’s unique economic crisis) or a subsequent ballot measure in favor of same-gender marriage, may obviate the need to overturn the decision the Court has made today. In the meantime, however, the court has raised more questions than it has answered. The more state Supreme Courts hold that civil unions and domestic partnerships involve the same legal rights and responsibilities; and the more opposite-gender couples who chose to create these relationships, although they have the legal right to use the “designation” “marriage” for their relationship, the less justification there is in maintaining a legal distinction among them. If opposite-gender couples can choose “marriage” or “civil union” for their “officially recognized family union,” what legal precedent can prevent same-gender couples from making the same choice between “marriage” and “civil union”? As more states officially recognize same-gender relationships – whether marriage or something like marriage – pressure to reconsider the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will also grow, as will the sophistication of the legal arguments against DOMA, and in our very mobile society, the need for states to recognize the valid same-gender marriages of those married elsewhere as well as the rights of the children of such relationships.

While it is certainly frustrating to be given only half a loaf, I suspect this will turn out to be a very important decision on the road to marriage equality for all. Although it is difficult to wait for the next case to form itself and then work its way through the right court with the right facts and the right law to be challenged, this may very well be the same-gender marriage equivalent of the US Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which set the stage for Roe v. Wade. In anticipation of the California Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8, the news seems to be full of evidence that attitudes toward marriage equality are changing. All the news is good. We are moving toward secular legal marriage equality. Within our lifetimes, our children and our grandchildren will look back and wonder why in the world people ever thought marriage needed to be limited to opposite-gender couples.

The law is not perfect. It does not actually effect social change. Movement in the law merely reflects social change. Brown is a 1954 decision, and yet, miscegenation laws weren't finally struck down until Loving v. Virginia in 1972. Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia's sodomy law, was decided in 1986, and not overturned until 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. As early as 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court found, in Baehr v. Lewin, that limiting marriage to opposite-gender couples violated the “state” equal protection clause. However, same-gender marriage did not become legal in any state until the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, refusing to tolerate persistent, irrational prejudices against lesbigays. California made essentially the same finding last year in The Marriage Cases. Earlier this year, Vermont – the first state to legalize civil unions – became the first state to legalize same-gender marriage by vote of the legislature.

The court is definitely not fence-sitting here, merely splitting legal hairs in a time-honored manner. In fact, the legal system is moving as decisively as it is capable of toward marriage equality and inexorably toward implementing the changes the culture as a whole is making in its attitude toward lesbigays. Really, it is quite exciting!

L. Zoe Cole is a lay member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Denver, CO and active in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, she is a part-time municipal court judge and a full-time writer for, producer of web-based ethical decision making tools and training materials.

"I guess I’m a bad homosexual"

By Paul Fromberg

My husband and I drove home from our regular Monday night dinner talking about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling we expected to uphold Proposition 8. “I guess I’m a bad homosexual,” he said. “But gay marriage hasn’t been the most important thing on my mind this month.” I agreed.

It had been a beautiful Memorial Day. We drove out of San Francisco into the Republican suburbs to explore Mount Diablo. As we stood in line at a deli, Grant turned to me with a question about potato chips and addressed me as he always does. “Honey?” he said. We both looked at each other. Could my husband call me honey in the middle of a suburban lunch line? Would we be turned away from ordering our sandwiches? Would we be ridiculed? Did we care? Well, yes, a little. Nobody likes to get the hateful stare. But nobody was dialing 911 making a complaint of eating while gay. We weren’t going to be interrogated. There were no officers stuffing us into unmarked vans. We were just going to be two middle-aged married men waiting to order our sandwiches outside the safe zone of San Francisco.

In the ongoing work of converting a culture ––bending it toward justice, toward the restoration of human dignity and ordinary goodness––you have to recognize what the big struggles are, and which ones are small.

It’s hard for me to see gay marriage as the biggest struggle we’ve got to deal with in California.

I can still walk publicly with my husband, legal or not, without fear of the arrest or deportation our undocumented neighbors face every day. Being a gay couple doesn’t put us at risk in one of our state’s hellishly overcrowded prisons, where so many of the young Black men in our neighborhood wind up. Our marriage gives us rights about health care decision-making, but it doesn’t change the way our elderly friends lie for days in gurneys in the dingy hallways of the country hospital, waiting for over-stretched nurses to bring them something for the pain. Our legal right to marry or adopt children doesn’t fix the dysfunctional school system where twelve-year olds have given up on learning to read.

While it’s true that the No on 8 campaign message was mealy-mouthed and its strategy poor, the lessons to be learned from that battle are not all technical. Organizing is not, at the end, a technical task. It means actually finding common interest among people, and building on that. In terms of political organizing, the fight for gay marriage can’t be separated from California’s budget crisis: from our struggles for immigrant rights, education reform, and tax reform that will allow us to provide humane health care and educate all our children. The fight for gay marriage can’t simply involve gays throwing a bit of money at a campaign so we can all have fabulous weddings. It means, as we say in my business, doing the hard work of becoming a community.

My business, which is being a priest in a church, is after all not very different from the business of most of the people in our state. We love each other, we bless each other, we feed and heal and teach and care for each other—not always because we like one another, but because we recognize that we’re bound together in a common life.

When we got married last July, standing in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in City Hall, Grant and I promised that we would stand by each other. Even then, not knowing if our marriage would be legal in the future, what we most yearned for was to love, support and keep faith--- not just with each other, but with the whole community in which we live. Nothing could change that promise for us; not Prop 8, not anything.

It’s ironic that my marriage to my husband--- which now is one of the 18,000 declared legal by California—has not brought me any closer to common life with the people of my state. I find myself set apart from my unmarried sisters and brothers. I now have one more privilege that others don’t. It’s a situation that makes me feel, for lack of a better word, queer.

Paul Fromberg is the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Celibacy: a response I

By Derek Olsen

A while back, George Clifford wrote a piece posted on the Daily Episcopalian at the Episcopal Cafe that tried to look at sex and relationships in the Episcopal Church from a progressive viewpoint. It started by discussing the history of Christian understandings of marriage, and the thesis statement that guided its unfolding was this: "In general, the Biblical witness about marriage appears to progress toward monogamy."

As the piece unfolded, I became more uncomfortable with it because I believe that it began the argument on faulty premises. That is, it began from modern cultural assumptions and retrojected them upon first century culture, considering only the evidence that fit the initial paradigm. Therefore the issues addressed were fundamentally marriage and divorce.

My response was to remind the author and readers that wrapping human sexuality into categories of marriage and divorce is anachronistic in general and in particular does not reflect some key strands within the New Testament and early church witness that present celibacy as a superior alternative to marriage.

Fr. Clifford has now written another piece asking if celibacy is the preferred Christian option. Towards the beginning of the new piece he notes:

Christians have too often accepted celibacy as normative sexual behavior for Christians as illustrated by some of the comments on my Thoughts on Marriage.

Since the main comments against his thesis there were from myself and some of my comrades, I'm assuming that he is referring to my objections. Given his response, though, he seems to have missed the point. For that I apologize--I should have stated my view more clearly although Fr. John-Julian and another commenter hit exactly on my point:

The major point being made by Derek and others here is, as Fr. John-Julian notes, arguments around marriage have been "contaminated by current culture" to the point where nobody even notices what the words on the page say anymore - and where all sorts of excuses are made to avoid "the plain sense of Scripture" when it's inconvenient for those who use the argument against others.

I've added the bolding for emphasis. However, to defend myself and my argument, I shall take up Fr. Clifford's new piece, examine its arguments, and respond with a rebuttal.

I have two major disagreements with Fr. Clifford’s new piece. The first is the suggestion, based on a reading of Elaine Pagels, that there is no “real Christianity” and that thus “an individual must chart her or his own spiritual path.” In my opinion, this sets the discussion off on entirely the wrong foot, and tragically and unnecessarily suggests that no early historical evidence is normative in wrestling with current theological issues. The second notion with which I disagree is that I am making the argument that celibacy should be enjoined upon all; this is neither my point nor my belief—and my two daughters are evidence that it is not my practice either. The arguments that Fr. Clifford puts forth against celibacy fail to address the fundamental point: Christian logic on sexuality—not necessarily practice, but logic—must begin with celibacy. Furthermore, I will argue that a theology of sexuality that begins with celibacy remaining more contiguous with first century thought presents a stronger argument in support of same-sex marriage than those that pass over celibacy in silence.

First, I’ll admit that I haven’t read the Pagels’s book to which Fr. Clifford refers—Adam, Eve, and the Serpent—but the argument he reproduces is quite familiar to me from other works by Pagels and similar teachers. The two fundamental problems that they face are that 1) proof of discontinuity does not thereby indicate a lack of continuity: just because disagreements existed concerning who Jesus was, what he taught, and what should be believed about him does not mean that there were not communities that shared fundamental agreements about these topics, and 2) the Episcopal Church in basing ourselves on the canon of Scripture, the historic creeds, and the apostolic succession/Historic Episcopate (cf. pp. 877-879 in your BCP) align ourselves with the teachings of Irenaeus who declared these three marks to be characteristic of his faith communities and those in communion with it. Yes, there was diversity—but we affirm that we are part of one particular group. Therefore for us, the teachings and practices of this group are normative despite what others may or may not have done.

Given this continuity, I reject the notion of Pagels promoted by Fr. Clifford that there is no “real Christianity” and will respond that I’m not concerned with its reality (whatever that means) but with its historical continuity.

There are standards. There are principles of interpretation. There are historical examples from which we may learn. And, as Irenaeus states that he was taught by the martyred Bishop Polycarp, and as the exchanges between the Bishops Ignatius and Polycarp share a common character, and as Polycarp learned the faith at the feet of the Apostle John, I’ll continue to assert that this faith of Irenaeus with which we claim continuity is the apostolic faith. (For the record, here’s the version of the creed or “rule of faith” that Irenaeus handed on.)

Second, Fr. Clifford is wrong to assume that modern discussions of human sexuality that are rooted in the Scriptures can simply remove celibacy from theological discussion. Fr. Clifford writes, “The totality of the scriptural witness is similarly conflicted about whether celibacy or marriage is the preferred option for Christians.” I agree—there is discussion around the issue. Therefore we must tackle it if we wish to render a faithful account of the biblical witness and rightly understand our own theologies as proceeding from the Scriptures in a meaningful way.

Fr. Clifford’s first point is that sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are as human animals, and that Scripture speaks about these drives in a variety of ways. I agree on both points, but would state that the teachings of Jesus in the gospels are more ambiguous than Fr. Clifford acknowledges. In addition to Jesus’ statement that the resurrected will be like angels, neither married nor given in marriage, that true disciples must hate their families and forsake wives and children, Matthew’s account also commends those who are able to become “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:10-12). Note still the ambiguity; not marrying is upheld–and is qualified. Not all may receive it, and the reward for embracing celibacy is not made clear. Furthermore it’s odd that this bit appears in Matthew; when forsaking relations comes up, Luke typically includes “wives” while Matthew does not, suggesting that Matthew typically, holds a more “pro-marriage” stance than Luke. In short, the evidence is conflicted. On the whole, though, I’d suggest that Jesus’ words and example promote celibacy over a simplistic family-values portrait. But that’s not the end of the story by a long stretch.

Fr. Clifford’s second point is that 1 Cor 7:9 and 1 Tim 5:14 are misogynistic as they refer to women rather than men and participate in a denigration of the physical over the spiritual. First, I’d recommend a look at 1 Cor 7:8. Yes, Paul refers to the widows here but also to the “unmarried” (grammatically masculine) and suggests that both these groups remain just as he himself is. I fail to see the misogyny, nor do I see how he is counseling men and women differently here. 1 Tim 5 as a whole is concerned with order in the community and verses 3-16 specifically address widows. No, widowers are not discussed—because something other than sex is foremost here: survival. What Paul is discussing here is how women in the community without male support and without a male income should survive. Should they remarry for the sake of physical sustenance or should the church help them live on their own? I’d agree that verses 11-15 paint an unflattering picture of younger widows and Paul, agreeing with the assessment of humans as sexual beings, recommends that they marry rather than causing scandal with their behavior. To dismiss this as misogyny and an unequal treatment ignores the cultural circumstances that require the community to offer assistance to those who need it most.

Nowhere in these verses do I find a preference for the spiritual over the physical. That topic is worth a discussion—but I don’t see it in these verses.

Fr. Clifford’s third point is that Paul does not understand the value or emotional rewards of marriage as he sees it as suffering, rather than joy or fulfillment. This may be a fair point, but it does not address the point Paul is actually making in 1 Cor 7:28b-35. Paul, who believed the end of time imminent, wanted his congregation focused on the final goal, ready and attentive to the commands of the Lord rather than invested and distracted in the cares of a household.

Fr. Clifford’s fourth point is that both celibacy and sexuality are gifts of God. I would agree—but I take issue with the way that the gifts are structured. Being either male or female is one kind of gift. Being either straight or gay is another kind of gift. Being celibate is yet a third. None of these are mutually exclusive yet somehow in Fr. Clifford’s construction they become so. I am male and straight and non-celibate and am gifted by all three—but I recognize these as distinct. I would separate these gifts out as gifts of biology, gifts of orientation, and gifts of behavior; celibates are gifted by both biology and orientation, but make the choice—and are aided by the grace—not to express the prior two gifts through sexual actions. Does that somehow mean that these gifts have thereby gone to waste? Is gender or sex or orientation simply about sexual acts or is there more to our biology and orientation than what we do with our genitals? Fr. Clifford seems to have fallen into the trap that if we are not acting upon our sexuality we are somehow lesser for it.

Let me be clear. I have not been gifted with celibacy. I do not believe that most people have been gifted with celibacy. In most situations where celibacy is imposed on a class of people it invites corruption and vice. Paul is quite clear—repeating himself twice in 1 Cor 7 (vv. 28, 36)—that marriage is not a sin. However, he is equally clear that it is better to remain unmarried. The Jesus traditions while also ambiguous, contain a strong thread that also privilege but do not command celibacy. Throughout the centuries Christians have acted upon these Scriptural recommendations choosing lives of prayer and dedication to the needs of others—and we are their beneficiaries. And so I insist that the logic of Christianity sexuality must begin with celibacy, giving it the place that the New Testament accords it. Where Fr. Clifford may be confused, though, is that I do not therefore commend the practice of celibacy to any not called to it. Our logic must begin with celibacy but it is not necessarily normative for our practice.

Why then am I so insistent upon it?

Because it breaks us out of our culturally conditioned modes of thought regarding marriage, family, and sexuality and gives us a chance to reorient along theological lines. Our default thinking on sexuality establishes heterosexual marriage as normative; Scripture moves in other directions. Furthermore, Paul’s celibacy argument establishes a firm foundation for reflection upon interpersonal relationship in the language of virtue and vice. Rather than focusing on genital or procreative acts as central to nature of marital relationships, it foregrounds the cultivation of mutuality and Christian love. In short, it is possible—beginning with celibacy as an ideal—that leads us to an understanding of human sexuality far closer to the Scriptural witness than those that begin with the presuppositions of our culture. I shall present a picture of what this looks like in Part II.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Is celibacy the preferred Christian option?

By George Clifford

Elaine Pagels in her book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, insightfully observed that people who study Christianity’s origins are usually searching for the “real Christianity.” Instead, she noted, these searchers discover multiple early Christianities. Then unable to identify the one “real Christianity,” an individual must chart her or his own spiritual path.

Sexuality is integral to human identity and therefore an inescapable element of spirituality. Many of the debates about whether celibacy or marriage is the preferred Christian option illustrate Pagels’ observation, both sides claiming their arguments rest upon Scripture interpreted through the lens of primitive Christian practices. Based on such flawed analyses, Christians have too often accepted celibacy as normative sexual behavior for Christians as illustrated by some of the comments on my Thoughts on Marriage: Part I and Part II posted here in January. According to this view, only people unable to remain celibate should marry.

Human sexuality has acquired sufficient importance for contemporary ecclesial and moral controversies that reexamining the issues pertinent to the celibacy versus marriage debate may yield some clarity by highlighting differences and agreements. To keep this essay to a reasonable length, I intentionally ignore other questions about sexuality and sexual behavior that Christianity faces. These unaddressed questions include: identifying a heuristic for determining which sexual behaviors are appropriate within and without monogamous bonds; articulating the theological purpose(s) of sexual behavior; and assessing the import, if any, of in vitro fertilization and other non-traditional reproduction methods on sexual intimacy and moral standards.

Humans are inherently sexual beings, both from a biological and a biblical perspective. Humans, like most other animals, have a sexualized reproductive drive. The urge to reproduce, evolutionary biologists contend, drives all other behavior in a living organism. Freud correctly saw sex permeating every nook and cranny of human existence. From a biological perspective, intercourse, not celibacy, characterizes life. Concomitantly, humans’ long gestation and extended childhood help to explain the human tendency toward monogamy.

The strength of the human sexual drive is a constant theme in scripture, often negative but occasionally positive. David famously lusts after Bathsheba, for example. Conversely, the positive approach to sexuality generally receives less attention but is rooted in the creation myth in which God concludes that man being alone is not good and thus creates woman as man’s companion. The Song of Solomon celebrates physical love between a man and a woman, perhaps using that relationship as a metaphor to describe God's love for humans.

The totality of the scriptural witness is similarly conflicted about whether celibacy or marriage is the preferred option for Christians. A brief and incomplete look at sex in the New Testament can clarify the conflict. First, one can read the gospel record of Jesus either way. On the one hand, Jesus graces a wedding with his presence and first miracle, deprecates divorce (or bans it, depending upon one’s interpretation), and affirms the goodness of the body through his enjoyment of food and drink as well as his healing ministry. On the other hand, Jesus teaches that in the resurrection humans do not marry, implying that perhaps sexuality may end with death or find a new form of expression in the resurrection. Jesus also exhorts his disciples to value loyalty to God's kingdom more than family, from which some Christians infer that celibacy is better than marriage (Luke 20:34-36). Gregory of Nyssa echoed this theme, writing that a Christian should abandon marriage for God's kingdom.

Incidentally, Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene has intrigued generations of artists and authors, most recently receiving tremendous attention thanks to Dan Brown’s blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code. Was the relationship sexual or platonic? Before answering that question, remember that sexuality touches many aspects of human existence and behavior, a concept far broader than Bill Clinton’s facile, self-serving, and narrow definition of sex as intercourse. Did the fully human Jesus experience electrifying moments of attraction and pleasure in Mary’s presence? Did Mary find herself strangely warmed by Jesus? If so, how far toward intercourse did their relationship progress?

Second, reading I Corinthians and I Timothy in support of a preferential option for celibacy seems as misguided as interpreting the New Testament in support of an exclusively male priesthood. The mixed advice offered women differs from the advice given to men: 1 Timothy 5:14 advises that young widows are to remarry, 1 Corinthians 7:9 limits that to widows aflame with passion, and neither letter says anything about widowers remarrying. These conflicting, misogynistic passages lack the clarity of Paul’s declaration that in Christ there is neither male nor female, on which we base arguments for equal treatment of men and women.

The underlying assumption of these passages is that the flesh exists in tension with the spirit, a theme some exegetes contend runs throughout Paul’s writings. That theme contradicts modern biology’s understanding of humans as physical beings, the ancient Hebrew belief that humans are physical beings, and the Anglican emphasis on incarnation that underscores the fundamental unity of a human. Dichotomizing spirit and flesh may function as a useful metaphor but not as an accurate description of a human being. A human is his or her body; the body is the human.

Third, in 1 Corinthians 7:28 Paul advises people not to marry because he would spare them the suffering he associated with marriage. That view has also led many Christians to perceive celibacy as the preferred option. However, not all married persons experience substantial suffering in their marriage. Many find the companionship of married life far more valuable and enduring than any transitory suffering associated with their marriage (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Fourth, 1 Corinthians 7:7 implies that celibacy is a gift from God. Being male is a gift from God. Being female is a gift from God. Being straight is a gift from God. Being gay is a gift from God. None of those gifts is superior to any of the others – they are all simply gifts from God. So it is with celibacy, a gift from God. Many find the complexities of relationships that Paul wishes for us to avoid the most rewarding aspect of life.

Paul’s apparent antagonism to close relationships, whether the relationship is sexual or platonic and regardless of the gender orientations involved, seems more indicative of Paul’s personal issues than revelatory of the God who is love, the God whose love our relationships model and reveal. For example, Bishop Spong in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism suggested that the Apostle Paul’s mysterious thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) was Paul knowing he was gay. If so, then we must interpret Paul’s views about sexuality against the backdrop of his internal conflict between his gender orientation and the Christianity of his day. Thankfully, Christians have begun to discover that sexual orientation is God's gift, whether one is gay or straight, a gift that the Church should celebrate rather than deny or punish. Many persons receive gifts of both monogamy and celibacy, each in different seasons of his or her life.

The historic priority Christians have given to celibacy over marriage has partially contributed to sad distortions of the goodness of sex and life. For many years, the Roman Catholic Church taught that sex was evil, even with one’s spouse; the only moral excuse for intercourse was procreation. The Church viewed physical desire for or enjoyment of one’s spouse as sinful lust. The Christian rejection of sex is a component of a broader Christian rejection of the present world in favor of heaven, something for which Marx rightly criticized Christianity. Today, some Christians ironically (hypocritically?) level the same criticism at Islamicist suicide bombers who prefer paradise to earthly existence.

Theological and ecclesial conversations about sex and sexuality would do well to stop presuming that celibacy is the preferential Christian option and instead view both celibacy and monogamous relationships as equal good gifts from the one God, who created us as sexual beings and said, “That is good.”

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Rendering unto God and Caesar at the wedding altar

By Jacob Slichter

In the spring of 2007, as the date of our wedding approached, my then fiancé, Suzanne, and I discussed the political dimensions of marriage. Specifically, we spoke of how two close friends, Joe and Priscilla, had forgone legal marriage altogether because of their objections to the discrimination enacted by marriage laws, bans on same-sex marriage and so forth. In lieu of a wedding, they had a commitment ceremony, a commitzvah as they called it, a label that announced the extra-legal nature of their lifetime union (with a nod to Priscilla’s Jewish roots). “That’ll make Priscilla’s family your out-laws,” one person told Joe. Given my religious belief, I told Suzanne, I wanted to have a wedding and be married, but Priscilla and Joe’s commitzvah raised questions we could not ignore, especially given our support for same-sex marriage.

Our ceremony would take place at Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, my old parish, where same-sex couples had been joined for years. The auspices of Saint Gregory’s presented no problem; California’s ban on same-sex marriage did. We considered removing the marriage license signing from the church premises and having a separate legal marriage at city hall, thereby keeping the state out of our ceremony. (As it turns out, this was already Saint Gregory’s practice.) Still, this would leave us partaking of legal rights denied to others, and after further reflection, we decided to adopt a modified form of what Joe and Priscilla had done: forgo legal marriage and instead draw up a slew of documents that would approximate legal marriage. If and when same-sex marriage became legal in New York (where we live) we’d get married. Meanwhile, we’d have a church ceremony and exchange rings and vows in public.

The next question was what to tell our wedding guests. What was the point of doing all of this if no one else knew? We briefly entertained a printed statement or an announcement, but we didn’t want to come off as scolding the married people in attendance. I was already wincing over having invited my predominantly atheist friends and family to a church wedding where they would be asked to say such things as “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” We decided instead to inform family and friends of our extra-legal status in conversation, over time.

Our wedding day arrived. We exchanged vows and rings as those atheists belted out their hallelujahs, and we found ourselves swept along a tide that followed us out of the church and into our new life together. Upon our return to New York, I began the process of exploring what it would take to assemble wills, join our finances, draw up hospital visitation agreements, and all the other arrangements necessary to approximate legal marriage. The lawyers I consulted estimated it would cost us thousands of dollars in fees. Put off by the expense, I bought a CD-ROM of pre-made legal documents, but quickly found myself overwhelmed and confused by the number of options. I wondered if there was a simpler, cheaper solution—a civil union in New Jersey? Unavailable to straight couples. We could get married in nearby Massachusetts, where gay marriage was already legal, but New York would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, so we’d still be partaking in a discriminatory system. The legal steeplechase occasioned discussion with friends and family about our marital status.

“Wait, Jake, are you married or not?”

“We’re married, but not in the legal sense.”

Straight friends puzzled. Gay friends chuckled. “Just get married. I would.” An email exchange on the subject left an old high-school friend bewildered. “Is Suzanne a man?” Frustrated by how our gesture seemed to arouse only laughter and perplexity, I also felt a rising urgency regarding the legal documents, especially a will. I worried about Suzanne’s financial security in the event of my accidental death. The crosswalks of New York City never felt so dangerous.

Finally, last May, our solution presented itself when Governor David Patterson decreed that New York would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it was legal. We picked a date, borrowed a car, and drove to Greenfield, Massachusetts where we lunched with my cousins before strolling over to the town hall. After submitting our application to the town clerk, we went to the courthouse to seek a waiver on Massachusetts’ three-day waiting period, assuming this meant waiting in line for a rubber stamp. But after sitting through separate interrogations with a uniformed court officer (who asked each of us if we were marrying of our own free will), we were ushered into a courtroom and found ourselves standing before a judge.

“You two live in New York?”

“That’s correct, Your Honor.”

“And yet you’ve decided to get married in Massachusetts. Why?”

At last, here was the perfect venue to air our thoughts on marriage equality. Perfect, that is, provided the judge didn’t mind the injection of politics into his courtroom, that he wouldn’t be outraged by our views, and that he wouldn’t therefore reject our waiver request. “Your Honor . . . I have cousins in the area. We thought it would be fun to see them.”

Signed waiver in hand, we slunk out of the courthouse, returned to the town hall, and presented the waiver to the clerk, who doubles as a justice of the peace. She led us outside, stood us under a tree, and beamed as she read from her script. “Marriage is a solemn . . . ” I had anticipated a ten-second procedure, not a three-minute mini-wedding that coupled the legal and spiritual realms we had labored to separate. “And now please join your hands.” We exchanged vows, again, the clerk pronounced us husband and wife, and as she handed me the certificate, I felt only the lifting of my recurring anxiety: getting pancaked by a bus and leaving Suzanne penniless.

So ended our adventure in nuptial social action. I began with my eye on principle and concluded by figuring out how to secure inheritance rights for Suzanne on the cheap, an irony that argues more cogently for marriage equality than anything we had said or done.

I realize that what I had really wanted was to emerge with a sense of mastery—to know we had stirred conversations and reflections, to feel the vibrations moving outward, but all of that seems to have eluded us. We take away only a deepened appreciation for what marriage rights entail—a small prize, but one more real than mastery.

Jacob Slichter is the author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, a behind-the-scenes look at the music business. He lives with his wife, Suzanne Wise, in New York City. He has a Web site at

Thoughts on Christian marriage, II

This is the second part of a two-part essay on Christian understandings of marriage.

By George Clifford

The next step in that unfolding narrative of grace is to expand the concept of marriage to include a gay man marrying a gay man or a lesbian marrying a lesbian. This timely, grace filled step rightly extends the Christian concept of marriage to people whom the Church for too long has marginalized or demonized, the very categories of people with whom Jesus spent his ministry. The Church wrongly has attempted to foist a life and love denying form of sexuality – heterosexuality – upon people whom God created with a different gender orientation. Consequently, their gender preference has too often caused gays and lesbians to deny their very identity or to express their sexuality in promiscuous, exploitative, or other destructive ways. Same-sex monogamous marriage inherently promotes healthy lifestyles, models the union of Christ and the Church, and can powerfully mediate grace to all whom they encounter.

Conversely, contending that such marriages pose a threat to heterosexual marriage is as silly an evangelical shibboleth as pretending that Christian teachings about marriage have remained constant. Any married heterosexual who fancies him or herself threatened by gay or lesbian marriages has a delusional concept of her or his own attractiveness as a partner, perceives his or her marriage is in trouble, or fears his or her own severely repressed homosexuality.

The time for silence ended years ago; now is the time for action. At General Convention this summer, the Episcopal Church should initiate appropriate legislation to:

(1) Disentangle the Episcopal Church from the state with respect to marriage by canonically prohibiting Episcopal clergy from acting on behalf of the state in performing marriages (regardless of what civil law may allow), deleting all canonical provisions governing such acts, and deleting the existing rite for the “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” from the Book of Common Prayer;
(2) Create one rite for blessing all monogamous relationships, regardless of the gender of the two parties (a revised, gender neutral, and enriched version of the current Book of Common Prayer rite for “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” could serve as the basis for this new rite for blessing marriages);
(3) Prophetically encourage all government entities (states, territories, etc.) with jurisdiction to define marriage as the legal union of two consenting adults regardless of gender.

The legal benefits of marriage are real and substantial. Two people who choose to live as one understandably want to share fully obligations to care for one another, responsibility for any children, property ownership, etc. Laws governing health care, child guardianship, inheritance, and a host of other issues stipulate preferential treatment of and protections for a spouse. Item #3 above is critical because those laws should apply to all marriages, regardless of the gender of the persons involved. By prophetically advocating equal rights for all, regardless of gender orientation, the Church walks faithfully in the footsteps of the Biblical prophets, echoing their call for justice.

The lingering entanglement of religion and state with respect to marriage is an unfortunate legacy of various United States denominations having emerged from (or continuing to be part of) established European Churches. God's grace cannot and does not wait for governments to act. By ending the misguided entanglement of the Episcopal Church and state in which clergy act as agents of the state when officiating at marriages (Item #1 above), the Church moves in time with God's grace, treating all monogamous relationships equally, using the same liturgical rite to pronounce God's blessing (Item #2).

For political rather than theological reasons, reasons that I, an ardent supporter of democracy, nonetheless find compelling, France over a century ago took away the authority of religious leaders to officiate at the legal ceremony in which the government approves of a marriage contract. After that civil ceremony, those for whom the religious ceremony holds meaning seek God's blessing in a manner appropriate to their faith tradition.

Separation of the civil from the legal is also good theology. Most clergy have officiated at marriages in which tradition, architectural beauty, location, humoring parents, or other extraneous factors motivated the couple to have a “Church wedding.” Any belief or even hope by bride or groom that God could or would bless their union was absent. Some beguilingly naïve couples, at least in unguarded moments, unsuspectingly divulge their real motives even while trying to pay lip service to their non-existent faith. Performing a wedding of this genre is rarely effective outreach. Instead, such weddings commercialize the Church (i.e., provide helpful income to some parishes), demean Christian believers, cause non-believers verbally to prostitute themselves, and distract from the real work of ministry. Those who too easily dismiss these objections would do well to reflect on the uniquely American phenomena of “mail order” clergy performing weddings, Vegas wedding chapels, contemporary wedding trends, and wedding extravaganzas that display conspicuous consumption. People will hear the Church’s proclamation of the gospel against that cacophonous background only if the proclamation is clear and unambiguous.

Admittedly, General Convention implementing the three recommendations above will have some unintended ramifications. Dissidents who have exited the Episcopal Church will feel their departures justified. On a positive note, given the experience of other American ecclesial bodies in taking similar steps, notably the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church can expect that few additional dissidents will depart.

Other provinces will bewail the Episcopal Church acting unilaterally, without first developing a consensus among members of the Anglican Communion. Completing the liturgical changes will require at least one additional triennial meeting of General Convention. Thus, any action General Convention takes implicitly, and even better explicitly, invites the rest of the Anglican Communion to enter into dialogue on subject of marriage. This topic, for very diverse reasons raises important questions not only in the United States, but also in Canada (same sex relationships), the United Kingdom (remarriage after divorce and same sex relationships), and Africa (polygamy). Provinces that have already separated themselves, de facto, from the Communion will predictably refuse to participate; recent moves by and messages from those provinces express their opinion that the Episcopal Church has already abandoned the faith. Confirming those provinces in their negative opinion will not cause any additional harm. The rest of the Communion, holding firmly to Anglican inclusivity and diversity, can profit from timely conversations about marriage from cultural, legal, and theological perspectives.

General Convention’s approval of the three initiatives will set the Episcopal Church firmly on a course of incarnating God's love for all in a radically inclusive manner that emulates the one whom it calls Lord. These initiatives are the faithful and logical next step in the unfolding narrative of God's grace. No alternative course will achieve the same result. This is the intended outcome, the one to which God has called us: to stand with God, in God's name, for all of God's people.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Re-member-ing Matthew Shepard

By Ann Fontaine

Sunday, October 12, 2008 was the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. Many churches and others are holding memorial services and recalling the terrible events of the weeks prior to his death. Wyoming, where I live, is searching its conscience once again about how this son of our state was cruelly beaten and left to die tied to a fence post on the prairie. As I read the news articles and essays about this event I wonder about how a man becomes a myth. I wonder if the Matthew known by his parents, family and friends is slipping from their hands and hearts.

Today, as I read an essay by someone who attended the funeral, I see that already the location of the funeral no longer matters. Details are unimportant in the construction of a myth – only the things that build the myth. The details still matter to those who were there, who actually knew Matthew as friend, cousin, son, nephew. Details like the name of the church and the town of the service does not matter to the wider world. The local church, however, still reverberates with the decision to host the service. The town saw the horror of those who hate gay men embodied in a group of church people who stood outside in the park across the street. As the adults and children held up their explicit and hate filled signs – others from the community dressed as angels and held up their huge white wings to shield the family and other mourners.

Not long after Matthew’s death I was talking with his uncle. He was saying that he often did not recognize the person who was already being spoken of as a saint by those whose need to have an icon was stronger than the reality of the person. Matthew Shepard was a young man, a college student, fun and loving and trying out life and all that it offers. Now he is forever the young gay male, beaten and left to die, the embodiment of all the fear of living in a world that still kills those who only want to live and love as others are allowed to live and love.

Is this icon-ization a bad thing or is it inevitable? Is it good to have a focus and an example when working to change society? Is it good for those who fear to have their fears externalized? Does it matter that the details are lost in the mythmaking? Do those who were close to the event lose something in this process or can they privately hold on to the one they knew in life? Do they give over their Matt to the larger community and find peace and healing in the work that is done by his story?

Sometimes I wonder, is that what happened to Jesus?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine lives in Wyoming and keeps the blog what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Seeking answers in a summer of pilgrimages

By Martin L. Smith

This has been a summer of pilgrimages for me. I have crossed the Euphrates to meditate in Harran—the city where Abraham and Sarah settled before risking the further move to Canaan—on the way faith calls us to pull up our roots. I have prayed alongside pilgrims at the shrine of Job in Sanliurfa, who were weeping silent tears as we descended to the spring linked with his legend, meditating on the place of loss and suffering in our spiritual journey. I have shared my joy with throngs in Konya praying at the tomb of the most beloved mystic of Islam, Jalaluddin Rumi, now the most read poet in the world, eight centuries after his death. But I have planned a further pilgrimage. As you read this I will be in Berlin, where I intend to spend some time in prayer at the memorial to the gay victims of the Holocaust, dedicated just a few weeks ago.

It is agonizing to recall the fate of the gay men who were condemned by the Nazis to torture and devastating forced labor that killed most within months. But this is what most people don’t know; when the camps were liberated by the Allied armies many surviving gay inmates were not set free. The ‘liberators’ jailed them. Hundreds continued in prisons until they were deemed to have ‘served their time,’ years after the war ended. They were truly the forgotten.

During my training as a guide to the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, I remember the impact of the testimony of an old German man, who had survived torture in five camps, several years in the prison to which he had been immediately consigned after the camp was liberated, and then upon release made the journey home to his mother. She took him in, but never once asked—she didn’t want to hear what she suspected—where he had been all these years. These men were consigned to oblivion without recognition or restitution until recently.

Perhaps my pilgrimage will strengthen me to keep on trying to answer a common question: why is there so much at stake in the dispute about gay folk and their lives that it threatens to split the church and deepen the rift in American society? Here are some of the responses I have been working on: it isn’t really about sex, it’s all about power. It feels safer to wrangle about sex acts and tease out the sticky threads of disputed interpretations of Leviticus and the authority of the Bible than it is to talk about systems of privilege.

I remember my eyes being opened at a gathering of Christian leaders some years ago who were tackling the issue of racism. A distinguished academic made great headway demonstrating that racism was not merely a matter of individuals having negative feelings to those of a different race. The issue was the system of unearned privileges enjoyed by white folk. Gradually, most of the participants seemed to get it. They couldn’t absolve themselves by claiming personally to have no negative feeling towards persons of color. What they needed to reckon with were the hundreds of ways in which simply being white entitled them to all sorts of preferential treatment, privileges and perquisites.

It was a powerful turning point, and as lunchtime approached the participants were feeling good about the shift in perspective they were gaining. The session was ready to end earlier than scheduled, so the lecturer offered to add a supplement. “Let me use the final half hour before lunch to demonstrate how the same is true of heterosexism. What society is wrestling with in coming to terms with the gay and lesbian minority is not really homophobia—the nexus of negative attitudes towards them—but heterosexism, the maintenance by straight people of the system that awards them multiple, automatic advantages.” The lecturer illustrated her argument with a sample of these privileges, ranging of course from marriage to the right to display affection in public. Suffice it to say that many people in the audience were acutely uncomfortable that she had made this additional case. It’s far easier to talk about prejudice, because we can disclaim it, than about unearned privilege and power which just a little reflection makes undeniable.

My pilgrimages are a resource for gaining the strength to continue in the church. Because our real struggles are about relinquishing monopolies of power and influence, surrendering unearned privileges that are systemically entrenched, we are in for a protracted process of judgment and conversion. There are no short cuts. When everyone is sick of talking about sexuality, then we might get down to breaking the last taboo and learn to make real analysis of how power is so unequally distributed, in defiance of the Reign of God and the manifesto of the Beatitudes.

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

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