(note: this was written before the General Convention vote on changes to the Episcopal canons on marriage)
On Friday, June 26th the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that states do not have the legal authority to ban same-sex marriage, thus making it legal in all 50 states.
This decision has been an occasion for incredible joy for many, but certainly not for all. For people I care deeply about this represents the greatest legal victory in their long fight for the recognition and protection of their relationship or potential future relationship. This also is a public acknowledgement that their love and commitment is valid. For others I also care deeply about this is an erosion of a biblical and moral framework they have worked tirelessly to maintain for themselves and for their children. Not only is there sadness over this particular decision but tremendous anxiety around the potential for continued fissuring of that foundation.
As I reflected on Friday’s ruling, several parishioners flashed before me. I have pastored to a parishioner still reeling from being violently beaten some 40 years ago by his own father upon discovering his son was gay. I have also listened as a man described knowing he was different in a rural Canadian town before he had any word to describe what he was. He attempted taking his own life and described with visible relief moving to a place where he learned he was not alone. Both of these men expressed the hope that young people growing up today do not have to suffer as they did. I also recall two brave women expecting their second child sitting near the front of the church unsure how their family would be received. Upon later inquiry, they expressed that they did not want to raise their children in a “gay” church but in a place that valued children and ministered effectively to them.
I have also heard from parishioners who describe the frustration of being told they are “the greatest generation” but then are also told that their beliefs, their worldview, their language is wrong. Still others have expressed the difficulty of parenting today and trying to instill clear values and morals when so little seems absolute. They count on their church to be that anchor, their moral compass, and struggle when the needle wavers. Even our ancient texts seem to be revealing new truths.
My prayers, influenced by so many who have shaped my ministry, have been varied. I thank God for what I see as the Spirit’s work in expanding the sacred. I give thanks to those I see stepping out from decades of shame and fear and for those who hopefully will not endure such pain. I pray that all might find a glimpse of God’s abundant and unconditional love in intimate committed relationships.
I pray for those who are deeply hurt by this decision. I pray that the deep conviction girding those individuals will not be unfairly seen as hatred or bigotry, but as fidelity to their understanding of God’s will.
I pray that all will respect the deeply held Episcopal conviction that people of faith do not agree and do not have to agree on this issue. Across religions and denominations people of considerable devotion and scholarship come to different conclusions. Certainly in The Episcopal Church our greatest minds have faithfully utilized the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason to arrive at different deeply held convictions. Therefore, I also pray for guidance.
We do our best to discern God’s will for the world. The Bible helps, but is not always unequivocal. Certainly scripture contains passages denouncing homosexuality; however, in the pages in which we confer the greatest authority, Jesus makes no mention of it. In fact, he spends the bulk of his ministry broadening our understanding of who is within the reach of God’s embrace and condemning laws and religious leaders that separate people from the love of God.
I pray that at Saint James’ we commit ourselves to digging deeper, sharing our different perspectives, and fully engaging scripture. I do not know what the Supreme Court decision means for our parish or how our General Convention will respond, but I am convicted that we are called to walk that journey together. I feel a great pull in my ministry as rector between leading where I sense God nudging me and my commitment to guard the unity of Christ’s church, the Body of Christ in the world. I also believe there is far more that unites us including the considerable ministry to which the Lord is calling all of us.
The Body is not called to be stagnant, but the Body is weakened when part is left behind or regarded as expendable. I have found when we all come to the Eucharistictable our faith and understanding grow and we more fully reflect the God who invites us and feeds us unconditionally. Therefore, know that I will exercise my liturgical authority as your rector with considerable care. From you, I ask that you continue your ministry of radical hospitality and careful listening so that Saint James’ may be a welcome home to those who see with similar eyes and those who stretch you the furthest.
I truly find it a privilege to help parishioners wrestle with these difficult issues and respectfully share our common and divergent beliefs and would gladly discuss this further with you. I also look forward to broader discussions and study groups regarding how our faith and our reading of scripture inform our views on this and many other issues that confront us. Thank you for walking beside me.