How many of us feel as if their heads are spinning after news broke that the Episcopal Church has been sanctioned by the Anglican Communion for moving forward on same-gender marriage. I suspect what really has our heads spinning is that most of us had no idea the primate’s meeting taking place in Canterbury. Now we have to try to answer the questions many of our friends and family from outside the church have for us.
As I have tried to wrap my own head around this new reality, all I can say is, God certainly works in mysterious ways. I have to believe the result of the Primate’s meeting is somehow part of the divine plan. As I read the decision on Thursday evening, I was struck by the contrast between the statement of the Anglican Bishops and the overarching meaning of Epiphany.
On January sixth, thirty of us gathered in the chancel to celebrate the arrival of the Magi at the home of Mary and Joseph. The story we read that night is not just about three men following a star. The story is not just about a divine child receiving gifts befitting an earthly king. On a theological level, the story of the thee wise men is about the universality of Christ. The story of the three wise men is about all nations and all people of the world coming to acknowledge and to pay homage to the divine child lying in a manger. The story of the three wise men is a statement of the universal inclusiveness of the Gospel. It is a message of divine forgiveness and salvation being brought to the whole world, to everyone, no matter who.
It is in the context of Epiphany that the Bishops of the Anglican Communion decided to sanction the American Church because General Convention now allows and recognizes same-gender unions as both sacred and sacramental.
I am thankful our Presiding Bishop responded to this decision in the most humble and theological way possible. After acknowledging the pain the primates decision will incur on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and after appealing to them as a man of color, a descendent of slaves, and one who has experienced injustice first hand, the Presiding Bishop stated,
“ Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to all of us, While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”
The Presiding Bishop’s statement is a summation of what we have grown to love and to appreciate about the Episcopal Church.
However, choosing to be inclusive, choosing to be progressive, choosing to be the prophetic voice crying in the wilderness often means choosing to be in a place far ahead of the others, and this often comes with consequences. No prophet in his or her time is fully appreciated. Most prophets are largely ignored, ridiculed, or worse yet, punished for speaking out against the status quo.
This weekend we are celebrating one of the greatest prophetic voices of modern times. Dr. King, like most of his African-American contemporaries knew civil rights came with a price. They also knew the dream they had for an integrated America was far different and far beyond the times in which they were living. In his book Why We Can’t Wait, he railed against the gradualism many white pastors advocated for because he knew it would only prolong the plight of the African-American.
“We can,” Dr. King stated, “try to temporize, negotiate small, inadequate changes and prolong the timetable of freedom in the hope that the narcotics of delay will dull the pain of progress. We can try, but we shall certainly fail. The shape of the world will not permit us the luxury of gradualism and procrastination. Not only is it immoral, it will not work. (ch. 8)
As reread Dr. King’s statement, I was reminded of our history in regards to the church and its discussions on human sexuality. As I read in the Primate’s statement against the American church, words about distrust stuck out. What was this distrust about? Then I realized the sanction may have little to do with human sexuality and more to do with our behavior as a church, our decision to no longer wait and to move forward.
At the Lambeth Conference just after the election and consecration of Gene Robinson we were asked to stand down and to hold off on any action advancing our position on same-gender marriage. Our Bishops agreed to this request. However, after ten years of discussion and deliberation on the part of the Anglican Communion, it is obvious there too great a distance between the west’s understanding and acceptance of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and that of the Global South. To this day, there are countries in the Global South who deem homosexuality a capital offense. There were bishops at this week’s meeting who have condemned the Episcopal Church for embracing same-gender marriage while at the same time silently condoning the persecution of the LGBTQ communities within their provinces.
Several years ago, after attending a meeting of the House of Bishops, Bishop Adams of Central New York shared with his clergy the testimony of those visiting the House of Bishops from the Global South Provinces. Those present praised the Episcopal Church for its boldness and its willingness to defend and to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ community. And, he continued with emotion in his voice, they thanked us for speaking on behalf of those who have no voice half a world away. It was and is because so many were voiceless that the American church could not wait.
I realize the result of the Primate’s meeting in Canterbury is painful and disappointing for many who are here today. And like you and the Presiding Bishop, I too am deeply saddened by the sanctions imposed on the Episcopal Church. However, I also know what could have happened would have been far worse.
Most Bishops going into this week’s meeting expected the communion to schism with the Bishops of the Global South and GAFCON leaving to form their own communion. Others expected the Episcopal Church to be forced out of the communion. The sanctions we received are minor in comparison to what could have been and are,perhaps,the best outcome considering. If the Episcopal Church must serve as the sacrificial lamb in order for the communion to remain in tact, then so be it. Because, while sanctioned we may have lost vote, we will still have voice and the ability to continue building relationships with the bishops of the Global South and to serve as a witness to the fuller love of Christ.
This morning we heard the story of the Wedding at Cana and how after the wine ran out Jesus turned over 180 gallons of water into the finest wine the steward could imagine. As Fr. Travis reminded me this week, this story is not about the sanctity of marriage, but that God cares about the details of our lives. Why else would Jesus have cared enough to help the bride’s family avoid social embarrassment by bringing more wine to the party?
So yes, God still cares about the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. And yes, God still cares about the LGBTQ community and all other communities that inhabit this world. Most of all, God still cares about the Jesus Movement moving forward. And as Bishop Curry continues to remind us, “we are part of the Jesus movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never be stopped and can never be defeated.