Thursday, February 22, 2007

No Better Expression...

This letter has been shared publically by a friend and fellow parishoner of All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, GA. I cannot add anything to the sentiments of this letter.

Twice today a cross has been traced on my forehead with ashes created from burned palms. And twice I have been told that I come from dust and to dust I shall return. In a couple of hours, that will take place again at the final service for Ash Wednesday.

It is a difficult day. Ash Wednesday usually is. Hearing the words "dust you are and to dust you shall return" spoken hundreds of times leaves an imprint on ones mind and soul. The Litany of Penitence has some extremely moving petitions in it, so very appropriate, particularly those that deal with our failure to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And then there are those that deal with our exclusion and dismissal of those different from ourselves. Yes it is a difficult day.

I have been distracted during the first two services and will likely be for the next. I'm usually somewhat distracted just taking care of my duties during the service, so that's not new. I search for and take personal prayer time whenever I can get it.

The distraction today comes from the fact that the communiqué' from the Primates keeps rattling around in my head. Add to that poignant postings such as those that Ann has shared with us and the potential for distraction increases. And then there are the dozens of emails, private emails, sent to me about the communiqué and my response to it on this list. There is so much pain and anguish.

A frequent question is if this is still a church that welcomes lesbians and gays. Another comes from a parent who sees the pain, the every day pain of her lesbian daughter and wonders about the church to which she professes to belong. Another talks about the tears that were shed in reading the communiqué and wondering where, if anywhere, the writer might belong. Yet another grieves over the fact that a relationship that has endured for decades will still not be honored by the church in which they place their faith life. Still others come from clergy in relationships who wonder what will happen to them. And another states that he has given up and is going to seek a new faith community for spiritual nourishment. There are new messages of like content every time I check my email. And I suspect the same is likely of any of us who are identified in some leadership role within the church and who are lesbian or gay.

What can I tell them? What do I say? Their faith has once again been trashed… This time by some who purport to be the highest ranking religious leaders of our church. So what do I say? (And if anyone writes back and says that the Primates are simply "following Scripture" I swear to God I will jump through the telephone/cable wires and personally strangle them! We have been beaten up by the Bible for long enough and it is time for that to stop…so be warned.)

Some will say that we, both lesbians/gay and the Episcopal Church, brought this on ourselves. Hogwash. We have not told a single other province of the Anglican Communion that they had to do what we do or even support what we do….we have just told them that this is where we felt that the Holy Spirit was leading us. Some will try to insist that we, as "westerners" are trying to impose our beliefs on others. Again, hogwash. We have not done that. What we have done is prayed and discerned and studied and discerned some more and prayed some more to reach conclusions we have reached. And those who did not participate in that process in The Episcopal Church have no excuses and no one to blame but themselves. Everyone had the opportunity and has had it for over three decades now. Taking ones time about change is one thing, but some things become ridiculous.

Those who want to try and make the Episcopal Church and/or the Anglican Communion an exclusive body or club will use any way they can to try and make that happen. They do so without the support of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus had no litmus tests. Jesus did not have any mechanisms for proving orthodoxy. Jesus didn't really seemed to mind who hung on to His little rag tag band at the time. His invitation was never coercive. It was never guilt-causing. It was gentle and always simply issued to the listener. His irritation was clearly reserved not for those who were the outcast of His day, but for those mentioned in the Gospel reading for today, Ash Wednesday, those who found their reward here on earth rather than in a life grounded in serving God.

I still do not know what to tell the folks who write to me. I do know how I feel at the moment and it isn't all that good. A certain part of me really wants to say: "Fine, you have your way. Every blessed lesbian and gay person in the Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion needs to walk out the door, shaking the dust off of our feet as we go." That would make some…and I will name names…Kendall, Jean, Donald, John, Jim S., Dan…and a few others, very happy. Just remember, if we are gone, who will the purity police go after next? Will it be one of you? You never know once such machines get rolling. A certain German got a similar machine in motion in the middle of the last century and millions died because of it. A wrong comparison? Hardly! Those who start sorting the children of God as if they were God are engaged in just as awful a purification process as that was.

The one thing I am looking for is something I have not seen or read yet: Affirmation from bishops that lesbians and gays remain welcome in their own dioceses, regardless of what else may take place. Bishops Andrus and Sisk have done so, but there are an awful lot of quiet bishops out there at the moment. Nor am I talking about quiet postings to diocesan websites. I am indeed talking about clearly supportive statements on this very list serve. Where are they? Why are we not hearing them?

Two concepts come to mind: One is from the earlier days of the AIDS epidemic and it is "silence equals death." Not too strong a concept here. Silence may well mean death in a variety of forms, including the physical. Those who killed Matthew Shepherd weren't hearing anything that gave them an indication that what they were doing was wrong. Fred Phelps later actually praised their murderous activities.

The other concept comes from, of all sources, Robert's Rules of Order…part of the governance of our meetings. It's a very clear concept used in discussions and votes. Silence implies consent. If the chair hears nothing to the contrary, whatever is before the body is affirmed or approved. Are we to take the silence of so many as implying consent to the exclusionary aspects of the communiqué? Remember, Lambeth 98 - whether you voted for it or not - is clear in its contention that lesbians and gays are not compatible with Holy Scripture.

Off to church now and once more to be told that I come from dust and will return to dust. I will pray for those who hate me. I will even pray for those who just dislike me! And I will ask for forgiveness because I have been forgiven and because it is the right thing to do. Maybe at this service I will not be as distracted. Maybe God will provide some reassurance that I am indeed still beloved by God regardless of what some of God's followers might have been saying. And maybe when I check email again there will not be another tearful and sad question. And if I am very blessed, maybe I will see and end to the silence of the bishops of my beloved Episcopal Church.

Bruce Garner, Executive Council

Bruce Garner "Since when do you have to agree with people just to defend them from injustice?" Lillian Hellman, Writer(1905-1984)

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