I regret to inform you that my experience during the Easter season has only strengthened me. Part of it was the experience of designing, writing and leading a Good Friday service that focused on death and grieving and then coming to an Easter service that was chock full of people and which went very, very well. I like worshiping in small spaces when you have small amounts of people. 50 people in a room built to seat 300 is depressing. 50 people in a room where they are violating the fire code by exceeding capacity is awesome.
I don’t want distance, don’t allow myself distance, partly because another part of me craves it. Part of me wants to stand On High at the pulpit, declaring to the congregation what The Word of God is for them today, with them looking up with rapt stares, hungrily receiving my brilliant words. But the part of me that wants distance is the part of me which, if I am to be a good person, I need to ignore. I got a lot of participation out of the members who came to Good Friday, and it made me tremendously happy to see it and be part of it, and I can’t get participation if I’m Up Here and “you” are Down There.
The reason I say “I regret to inform you” is that I know that the positions I take are not popular with a majority, perhaps, of my denomination. When I say that as Christians we should never support violence of any kind, I know that I’m going against a long tradition of American (and human) war-making. When I say that anyone who reads the Bible is already interpreting the Bible, I go against the grain that says the Bible is plain-sensical, and that those who disagree with this “plain sense” are plain wrong.
Specifically, I feel even more strongly that God wants us to ordain homosexuals to Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I am not going ahead with my own convictions and dragging the Gospel behind me. I am following in a direction that I honestly feel the Holy Spirit is leading us. The time is coming. The tide will turn. I am patient, but I am also resolved, and even energized. Even, dare I say it, hopeful now and then.
I don’t plan on ignoring the standards that we have in the PCUSA. I plan on joining the work to transform them, until they are in line with what I think we are being called to do – to welcome our brothers and sisters whom God has called. I cannot even begin to believe that all of these wonderful, intelligent, faithful people, who frequently embarrass me with their commitment and courage, are a threat to any good and Godly thing. I cannot do any less than believe them when they say they are called by God to ministry. And given that, it is my duty, at the very least, to support them.
I think yet another in a long line of Peter-and-Cornelius moments is coming for us, and probably soon. The table is set by God with some things that we thought for a long time were unclean. The doors are being opened to people we’ve dehumanized and excluded for too long. The conflict is real, and there are substantive issues at stake, but I came out of Easter with some hope for resurrection, some hope that our current troubles are not life, but are the grave, and that life is what is growing in us daily. I honestly want that life to be together, but I understand that well-meaning, intelligent people of conscience can disagree…maybe for a long time. How long, and how many times, has the Presbyterian Church been split on various issues?
I’m about done with the book A Generous Orthodoxy, and in it at one point Brian McLaren talks about how Jesus threatened not with exclusion, but rather with inclusion. I think right now a lot of people are threatened with inclusion. I don’t mean to say that we should give up standards altogether, but rather that…when I talk about this issue, I see the faces of people I have in mind, and am thinking of the stories of the many others. I am thinking of when I was working in campus ministry at The College of Wooster, and the Shower of Stoles came to the college. I didn’t know what it was when I first heard about it. I spent hours in the auditorium where the stoles were draped over everything, an overwhelming array of colors and patterns, each in their own way representing the pain of those whose wish is to serve the church. I took part in reading the names that corresponded to the stoles. I learned some of their stories.
To me, those stoles could be the stoles of African Americans in the past, or the stoles of women who are not ordained in some denominations even now, or the stoles of other groups who have been excluded on “Biblical”, “moral” and “theological” grounds which we have now rejected – for stronger Biblical reasons, for stronger moral reasons, for stronger theological reasons.
Peter felt he had excellent Biblical, moral and theological reasons to protest when God said to eat unclean food, to go out and share the Gospel with an unclean Roman centurion. What he found was that God’s purpose was greater than he had dared to think, greater than he was even comfortable with. I think we are going to find the same thing to be true.
And if it is God’s purpose, then it is inevitable. We will see the change that I and many others hope and pray for. If it is God’s purpose, we will know it by its fruit, won’t we? So far, the fruit of our division over the issue has been venom and vitriol, threats and allegations, exaggerations and invectives. So clearly, to me, this is not God’s purpose. So what do we do instead? What do we do differently, with an eye to bearing fruit that benefits everyone?
Perhaps we say, either way, that it is God’s work and not merely ours. Exhausted, frustrated advocates can rest now and then, trusting that God is bringing good out of all of this. Defensive, punitive defenders of the status quo can take a moment to breathe, to trust that if they are indeed right, then it is God’s work and not theirs, and they will be vindicated. As we become more desperate, feel more threatened, we lose sight of our participation in the Body. As we rely on ourselves more and more, we become defensive and hateful toward our opponents. As we find it within ourselves to trust, however, I think it might make some room for actually being together and not seeking to hurt each other. And that would be a welcome change.