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Unwelcome messages received while at church

Unwelcome messages received while at church

All Saints Episcopal Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, told a local news station of hate-filled flyers left on the cars of worshipers during Sunday morning services. The three-page flyers targeted the church’s inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, as well as its acceptance of ordained women.

“Be honest with yourself,” the flyer read. “Do you really want a woman on the altar as a priest?”

The police are investigating the flyers, which are similar to some sent three years ago to the same church. Although not designating it a hate crime at this time, they are reportedly “concerned” about the language in the printed copy and the handwritten marginal notes. Distributing the flyers without a permit is also against city ordinances.

On the parish website, its rector, the Revd Max Wolf, describes the church’s call as one of expansive love.

When I was called to serve as rector of the parish in 2001, I asked the congregations to join me in the simple goal of loving everyone who walks through our doors. We have a focused Mission Statement “that the love of God be more widely known in our community and in the world.” We strive together to live more fully into the Great Commandment taught by Jesus to love God and to love our neighbor.

He responded to the flyers yesterday through the local news station, WBOC.

“It’s really disturbing for people to receive this,” said Rector Max Wolf. “To all sorts of people. Certainly the gay and lesbian members of our parish were offended. But also all their friends and family that love them just the way God made them.”


…Wolf had a message for the author.

“It’s too early to forgive,” he said. “But certainly this inspires me to work harder so we can help break down those barriers.”

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David Streever

Bro David: I felt that my assumption was a charitable one, and the most literal; “Do you forgive them?” “It’s too soon.” I don’t read that he was speaking for the entire parish, personally; to me, he’s giving a sensitive answer. Not knowing who did it, not knowing why, not knowing who it has affected or how everyone else feels, not knowing what may happen next, he’s saying it’s premature to offer forgiveness.

I think that’s the most sensitive answer he could have given to a kind of tired (and cliche) question by the media. I can’t personally think of a better answer, but of course, there could be one; I just haven’t seen it proposed nor can I imagine it!

Paul Powers

David Streever: I apologize for misspelling your name.

Catherine Jo Morgan

Well David, you may well be right. I’ll think about what you say. I do think that racist, hateful acts do harm all of us, including white people; at least I feel the hurt. And the acts (and the thoughts and feelings behind them) damage the community we share. That said — your perspective adds a valuable dimension that I had overlooked.

Catherine Jo Morgan

I’m white and I think it’s as important to forgive a racist hate killer as to forgive anyone else. As a white person in America I share the privileges of racist structures, yet I believe that God forgives me for this sin. Rather than keeping me from asking for guidance on how to change my life and the society in which I live, this forgiveness helps me. If I withhold forgiveness from other racists, it doesn’t help them or any of the people they — and people like me — continue to hurt. It almost seems insulting to God, like throwing God’s forgiveness back instead of sharing it with a bit of the same awesome generosity of God.

David Allen

David, I see the rector as doing just that, speaking for the whole community with his pronouncement that it is too early to forgive. I think he meant just that at face value, and not this deep, thought out concept of whether he was truly one of the wronged and whether he could speak for those who were.

And to me, the wronged were the entire parish, whether they were some of the specific folk called out in the leaflet or not.

David Streever

I’m genuinely puzzled by the notion that you or I can offer that forgiveness. It seems like forgiveness is something that God can offer to all because God is uniquely connected, whereas those of us who aren’t directly hurt are not. I guess it sounds very off-putting to me, because it implies that you or I have some authority in a situation where I don’t believe we have any authority at all.

The basic argument I see from you (and Bro David) sounds so patronizing & parochial to me; I appreciate the intent and the sentiment behind it, but maybe I just haven’t been clear about why it bothers me?

It bothers me because I don’t think privileged people are in a position to ‘accept’ an apology on the behalf of another; if you hurt me, I can forgive you. If you hurt someone else, I think God & the person you hurt can forgive you. I don’t know why I’d have the authority to forgive you for something you’ve done that hurt another person & God, but which didn’t directly hurt me. That’s what I find so off-putting & patronizing about it; it’s almost like the argument is that you can forgive someone on the behalf of the injured party, even when the injured party is continually being injured by the person.

I think I’m not being understood because I see things like “withhold forgiveness”; I guess I wouldn’t say it’s about ‘withholding’, but about humbly acknowledging that forgiveness may not be yours to grant. In this case, I absolutely think forgiveness is between the perpetrator, the victims, and God; not outside authorities who benefit from systemic bigotry and sexism.

If forgiveness is given by an uninjured party to a perpetrator who continues abusing and hurting others, then is the forgiveness meaningful, or does it not just become an act of ego by the person offering it? It seems to me that true forgiveness is a powerful, transformative act, which loses it’s meaning when we offer it willy-nilly in situations where we aren’t the injured party. It’s incredibly easy for a non-injured person to ‘forgive’ when that forgiveness has no cost at all.

Forgiveness is, and should remain to my mind, a powerful act of transformation and sacrifice. What I am reading described here doesn’t sound like that at all to me.

Paul Powers

David Steever, aren’t you taking it for granted that the rector isn’t himself an injured party? Even if we assume that he’s not LGBT, and that he doesn’t have a close family member who is, this was an attack on his church. I agree that he shouldn’t bestow forgiveness for wrongs committed on someone else, but I haven’t seen anyone on this thread suggest that he should.

David Streever

Hi Paul:
No worries on the name 🙂
That’s kind of what I’m getting at when I say it would be a bit patronizing or parochial for the Rector to issue the forgiveness; it would take for granted that the Rector was the most injured party. Even if the Rector is an injured party, he isn’t the only one, and he’s the injured party with the most power & authority.

I think it’s entirely appropriate when a community is hurt to not step up and speak on their behalf; anyone who is hurt should have the chance to work through their pain, & not be forced into offering forgiveness.

Does that make a little sense? I think the Rector has a responsibility to not prematurely speak for the congregation, so I commended his “it’s too soon”.

Michael Morris

I’ve always found forgiveness to be a constant process, and like revenge best served cold. It is best (in the sense of longest-lasting) if one works on it after one has worked through the initial grief caused by the offense.

So while I will grant the rector’s remark was worded oddly, I felt I understood what he was attempting to say (assuming that I’m not projecting).

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of those who spout of about forgiveness too quickly after serious harm–repression of hurt and grief is not forgiveness though it is often mistaken as such, and it can cause many problems later if not handled properly.

JC Fisher

Not to mention, people have very different ideas of what “I forgive you” means. For example, *to me* “I forgive you” is NOT consistent w/ “…but I still want (insist) the state execute you for my loved one’s murder.”

Paul Powers

I agree with you, JCF, in theory that wishing the death penalty on someone for killing a loved one is inconsistent with forgiving them. In practice it can be a real struggle.

Catherine Jo Morgan

Thank you, Michael Morris. That makes a lot of sense to me.

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