Thursday, June 29, 2006

Letter to Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta

Bishop Alexander and Deputies to the 75th General Convention

In name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, I send my heartfelt greetings and good wishes to you! I have watched with dismay the reactions by the more conservative elements of our Church along with the Archbishop of Canterburys response to our General Convention. I will admit that when I first read the Archbishops letter, I felt enraged because it seemed to me that it was a clear capitulation to the Global Souths relentless agenda to ensure that no gay or lesbian person will ever be fully included in the life of the Church. It seemed to me that gay and lesbian people were being thrown under the proverbial bus for the sake of unity.

After prayer and good nights sleep, I am still wary that the Archbishop is trying to do something that is impossible, and is willing to accept the expulsion of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion (associated status would by the Archbishops own words make us equivalent to the Methodist Churchto me, thats expulsion) if it will keep the Global South with its numerous faithful in the Anglican fold. I am disturbed that the Archbishop calls for a covenant based only on Scripture and Tradition, completely leaving out Reason. I am disturbed at his inference that the Episcopal Church has moved forward with ordaining women and fully including gays and lesbians within the life of the Church based ONLY on social and legal considerations. I know many of you are aware, as much be the Archbishop, that there are quite a few biblical reasons to support full inclusion of gays and lesbians within the life of the Church.

I also find it laughable that the Archbishop seriously argues that the debate in the Anglican Communion is not essentially a debate about the human rights of homosexual people. It is possible indeed, it is imperative to give the strongest support to the defence of homosexual people against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage, to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation, and still to believe that this doesnt settle the question of whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of Gods will. I submit that the basic human rights and dignity that God gives all human being is the very subject of contention here. The Global South does not pretend to value the humanity of homosexual people against violence, bigotry, or legal disadvantage, most of which are abundantly present in their countries. The Archbishop then goes on to remark that only a small minority would approve of blessing same sex unions or fully including homosexual people in the life of the Church. Had we had such a process of discernment about 50-60 years ago, I sincerely doubt that desegregation or other laws suppressing black people would have passed a vote of the Lambeth Conference or any other organ of the Church. Were the Global South and the conservatives in our midst approach these topics with an open mind, it would be different. However, I know for a fact they generally approach homosexual people from the basic perspective that we are, at our core, perverted and evil human beings looking to revel in our sin as an affront to God.

I know this because I grew up in an independent Baptist church in Lexington, KY which was to the right of the Southern Baptist Convention. Brother Wayne preached hating the sin, but loving the sinner, the same message I see conservatives and the Global South proclaiming in their blogs. They have no animus against homosexual persons; they simply want to be sure that we enjoy none of the legal protections that heterosexuals enjoy, that our children are removed from our homes no matter how good of a parent we might be, and that the government and private sector can discriminate against us and harass us at every their pleasure. This includes barring us from the House of God unless we agree to renounce our sexual orientation and agree to never have a loving, committed relationship with a person of the same gender. God have us love and partnership as an expression of His love for us, and I believe he expects the same of me as a gay man as he does of any heterosexual person.

The church of my youth had an elder (kind of like a vestry member) who was discovered to have been molesting young boys on the church baseball team for over 10 years. This man was married with children, and identified as heterosexual. Yet, all they did to him was require him to step down as an elder, but he was allowed to remain a deacon and provide communion each Sunday. The summer I finally accepted the fact that I was a gay man, Brother Wayne stood in the pulpit and said, I know this not Godly, but I could never have love in my heart for a homosexual. And if I knew of any here now, I would come down off this pulpit, escort them out of the sanctuary and tell them never to return. The message to me at that time was clear: Gods church hated me. I believe the Holy Spirit let my heart understand that God Himself did not hate, and that Christs salvation and love for me was still present. I will forever be grateful for the grace of that understanding, because I know too many homosexual people for whom that grace was not present.

Nevertheless, I knew I was no longer welcome in the church of my youth, so I left organized religion for the next seven years. I only entered a church for weddings or funerals. Upon moving to Atlanta, I had been feeling a void in my heart that only fellowship in the House of God can provide. I needed to have my relationship with Christ nurtured through a church, but I knew that I could not join a church that denied my basic humanity or taught that God loved me less than he loved heterosexuals. Or that God created me this way only to create a cruel rule that I should never experience love or companionship. I also did not want a church that was focused on the experience of being a homosexual Christian. I found such a place in All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta. For the first time in my life, I was in a church that challenged me to engage in Scripture, to think about it, and struggle with it. I didnt have to do this alone eithereveryone else at the church was engaged in the same process and welcomed me to join them in their journey. We are all at different places of understanding and growth, but we continue to strive to grow together. For me, such a place was truly Providenceat work. It brought me back to Christs church as I became a confirmed member of the Episcopal Church. The gifts of the Holy Spirit have only continued to grow in my life since I joined the Episcopal Church and All Saints.

Yet, I now see conservatives in our Church attempting to sever all ties because their particular view of the Bible is not the one that is winning. They are furious that a woman was elected to be the Presiding Bishop. They are furious that as a Church, we believe that gay and lesbian people can be called to the ministry and episcopate. Even as we proceed ahead with this covenant process, my concern is that the consensus will arise that we should sacrifice homosexual Christians on the alter of unity. The Global South and conservatives do not seem open to any kind of dialogue that does not have a pre-ordained, anti-homosexual conclusion.

As official representatives of the Atlanta diocese, please do not retreat from the respect and inclusion you have shown to gay and lesbian parishioners in this community. Please do not acquiesce to demands to deny my basic humanity or the God-given gifts I have been given as a gay man. Please do not let reactionary elements destroy our Church, but also do not destroy me in order to preserve unity. Thinking of how the Global South and conservatives view homosexuals, I am reminded the story of Christ with a group of children. The apostles did not think it dignified to have noisy children around our Lord, so they tried to shoo the children away and keep others from approaching Jesus. Upon realizing this, Jesus rebuked them and demanded that they allow the children to come to Him. He then made a remark (and I dont have this exactly) with the gist that there will be woe unto anyone who leads a child away from God. For seven years, Brother Wayne drove me away from fellowship with Gods people, and he did his best to drive me from God Himself. Many homosexuals have been driven from God by the hate they feel spewing from the pulpits and pews. Thankfully, the Episcopal Church is not such a place on the whole. I do not want it to become such a place either, just for the sake of unity. Please do not allow the Global South or other conservatives drive away another generation of homosexual people from the Grace of God's Salvation and Love.

My thoughts and prayers are with you in the coming days.

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