Thursday, August 2, 2012

May I sit here with you?

Over at the Lead, there is a spirited conversation going on based on this new policy by Bishop Edward Little in N. Indiana
First, the provisional liturgy entitled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” is not authorized for use in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. There will be no exceptions to this policy.

Second, priests of the Diocese of Northern Indiana who, for pastoral reasons, wish to use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” may travel to a neighboring diocese to do so. …
And of course, for many of us it brought to mind this recent report
[Charles] Wilson and his bride Te'Andrea were to be married at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs [MS] on July 21. But after their rehearsal two nights before, the church's pastor sought to move the service, saying some congregants didn't want two black people to get married in the orange-brick sanctuary.

The Rev. Stan Weatherford married the Wilsons as scheduled in another sanctuary….. Weatherford says the relocation was a request meant to avoid conflict. The Wilsons say it was a demand, with Weatherford saying the congregation would fire him if he married the pair in his church.
The parallel seems obvious, doesn’t it?  I'm sure  all of us find it reprehensible that a church would deny a couple a wedding based on their race. But the wedding did occur, with the same minister, just in a different church. Does that ameliorate it? Of course not. The pain of rejection is there.  And, just so for a gay couple in N. Indiana.  That is the same thing.

(Aside:  One commenter at the Lead brought up the fact that being black is not like being gay. To which I would respond, no, it’s not like being gay. Nor is being a woman, or being a Jew. The experience of people in each of these groups is distinct from those in every other, and indeed unique. But at another level, they are the same, in their experience of being treated as “less than” in a variety of contexts. Each group may experience discrimination in a different way, but what is common is that they experience discrimination, based on who they are—whether that is classified by race, sex, orientation,  religion.....)

The conversation at the Lead is divided between two factions: those who know Bishop Little, find him to be an honorable man, and consider this a reasonable effort to accommodate (since he allows his priests to travel without sanction), and those who find this a cop-out, so “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I spit you out”. Let it be noted that both sides include passionate supporters of marriage equality.

Bishop Little goes on (again, via the Lead )
I have attempted in this two-point policy to find a solution that will honor the conscience of all. ….. In recent years, I have been both vocal and quite public about the importance of creating a “safe space” for people of divergent theological convictions. This policy is an attempt to do just that. While the solution is far from perfect, it will – at least in the short term – provide space for everyone to exercise conscience, and will require no one to act in a way that violates the deepest convictions of heart and mind.
My initial response was “why not just let the parishes decide if they want to do it?” which is the reasonable solution in many dioceses. But is that really any different? If you are a gay person and your parish and vestry are not willing to use this liturgy, you still must travel elsewhere. The injustice, the rejection continues.

My next response is to think this is an example of via media, and while imperfect, may be inevitable if you are to maintain a big tent and really respect honorable differences. Because I am quite sure there are people (and it seems Bishop Little is one) who agonize over this issue but can’t in good conscience move forward. I happen to think they are wrong, but I can, indeed I MUST respect their conviction firmly held, as long as they do not engage in lies and hate.    I must work to educate them, not vilify them.  I must keep the conversation open.

I have also thought of this as I’ve seen responses to the Skyline Church event in San Diego, where right-wing Evangelical Jim Garlow hosted a “conversation on marriage”. By most accounts, this wasn’t really a conversation: the anti-marriage equality representatives Robert Gagnon and Jennifer Roback Morse gave the same lectures about the Bible, evil gays and sex, while the pro-equality side of John Corvino and Bishop Gene Robinson focused on real people—the reminder that “we are all beloved children of God”, not pieces on a chessboard. The initial reaction of some advocates is “this was just another opportunity for them to bash us.”

The Blog of St Paul’s Cathedral, aptly called “All Our Voices”, is running a series all week long with individual responses to the event.  And, there are strong responses taking on the theology of Robert Gagnon, and rebutting the comments of Roback Morse, as there should be.

But what’s REALLY becoming interesting to me is less what went on up there on the platform, than the fact of people being there in the chairs.  Many people have commented that it was significant to be seated in the same room, civilly listening to one another, even if disagreeing passionately. One attendee commented on the concept of hospitality and that this requires something from the host AND from the guest. Indeed, apparently Garlow received threats over the event. (I sure hope those weren’t from “our side”. ) And Bishop Gene was, as ever, gracious and loving. (I put him in the same category of Desmond Tutu – would that more Christians modeled themselves on those two Bishops!)

At the end of the event, Garlow apparently remarked that he didn’t think any minds were changed. Perhaps not. But perhaps some hearts were, simply by virtue of sitting in the same room.  And I wish that people like Bishop Little, the lukewarm bishop, could have attended.

And so, although I share the frustration with Bishop Little, I will recognize that his statement is an effort to move forward, one that opens a door where none was before.  Even it's a back door.    Even if he's lukewarm. 

Because a thoughtful host can learn something from a gracious guest.


JCF said...

+Little IS being pastoral . . . to his priests.

Now, if a same-sex couple merely wants to be married by a particular (willing) N.Indiana priest---and they don't mind driving AND they can find an accepting place---OK then.

But (as I said at the Cafe) what of the parish? What of the particular couple IN the particular parish?

It make come as a shock to Bp Little, but many people---even people in same-sex couples!---are more attached TO THEIR PARISH (people and edifice) than to their particular priest (even given they've found an accepting one). And parishes are organic units, which can be deeply tied to their contituent members (even those members in same-sex couples)! Neither the couple nor the parish says to each other, "I have no need of you."

Little's seeming dismissal of the importance of the parish, is rather dumb-founding. Maybe even more telling than his blanket Gandalf-ian "this liturgy SHALL NOT PASS!" in his diocese. M'Lord is rather puts the p*ss in episcope, does he not? O_o

Daniel Weir said...

My concern is that, as much as the Bishop appears to be pastoral in this decision, he is not being pastoral to his congregations. Once again, as with Bishops who would not allow parishes to call women as rectors, the Bishop's convictions trump the laity's. Beyond that, how would it violate the convictions of Fr. Smith of St. Swithen's if the rector and vestry of St. Peter's decided to use the rite? Why would that be any worse that having another member of the diocesan Clericus officiate at a blessing outside the diocese? These seems to me to be simply muddled thinking.

MarkBrunson said...

The parish thing has another drawback, in that, if it turns out your parish is not in favor of ssm's, the trust built up in that parish family has been irrevocably damaged. We are seeing this in my own parish, on a much more limited level, with the Chickengate thing. There is at least one person I'll never feel comfortable or safe with again.

Fred Schwartz said...

Hey! Where did Ed Little come from and who was his mentor? Well, Mr. Little spent his formative years in the Diocese of San Joaquin and under the tutelege of (drum roll please) John David Schofield! Now -- there is Ed Little, Mark Lawrence, and Daniel Martins along with good ole whatshisname. Read their writing, it is the same script with the same double speak and with the same outcome. "Let's see who we can deny some form of personal rights now". I'm left handed -- I need to find a place to hide! (just kidding, about the hiding place, I am lefthanded).

JCF said...

Yes, Mark, I was speaking of an ideal parish---not necessarily in the ones we may (circumstantially) be stuck in!

Note, I wasn't calling for Either/Or---either a priest's discernment or a parish's discernment---but Both. I wouldn't want an affirming priest bound by a homophobic parish, but neither would I want an affirming parish bound by a homophobic priest.

IT said...

So how is it different between a Bishop saying "not in my diocese" and a priest (or vestry) saying, "not in my parish"?