Why are we here? The Church and GLBT folks

8 10 2007

Texts:  Luke 17: 5-10; Habakkuk 1:1-13; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

The place of gay Christians within the Church has been on my mind a great deal lately. After our House of Bishops issued their statement in New Orleans in September, and the subsequent response by the Anglican Joint Standing Committee of Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, it appears that while people may say as individuals that we are welcome as full members of the Body of Christ, corporately we still have a long hard way to go. Observing the back-and-forth’s of the various bodies within our church is like watching a game of Anglican Tennis, where people state and restate the impasse that is present in an unending volley of communiques.

Gay Christians are a people in exile. As we try to order our lives by the Gospel and, at the same time, remain true to how God has created us, it seems as if we are caught between two worlds which neither really wants. The gay community wants little if anything to do with who we are as Christians. The Church at times probably wishes we would just go away. To both cultures, we are heretics, embarrassments, not fit to live in either world unless we give up the other. Often times, we do just that. Like the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we are brought into exile as we deny one part or the other and learn to live in comfort while under “occupied rule” of either secular culture or religious culture. Under one occupation, we can still go to the parties, we can indulge in our passions, but the spirit atrophies as we harden our hearts to the call of God. Under the other occupation, we may go through the motions of Church and we act just right and just so and settle down into ordinary, “respectable” lives … and again, the spirit withers because even though we are doing “all the right things,” we do not experience the joy it means of being true to who God has called us to be. On both sides, we experience sins of the flesh and, more tragically, sins of the spirit.

So, why do we still persist? We continue to call and challenge our leadership for full inclusion for many reasons, not the least of which is a matter of justice. Above all, however, I believe that we are still here and still challenging our leaders because of our faith — not the institutions, but our faith in Christ.

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus talks to his disciples about what faith can do. In essence, he says that we can work wonders and miracles if we have the faith that could be contained within a mustard seed. Now, a mustard seed is very small, almost like a grain of sand. Because justice seems a long way off regardless of what we do, should we say that we don’t have enough faith? Of course not! We can have all the faith in the world, but if it is misplaced, then it amounts to nothing. Jesus was driving home the point that it’s not about the quantity of faith we have, but the quality. Genuine, honest faith in Christ, no matter how small, is the kind of faith that moves mountain, makes trees fly, works wonders, and most importantly, facilitates healing. This kind of faith is a trust in God’s providential care that he will ultimately guide his Church into all truth despite our best efforts and its worst intentions. It is a faith that endures and does not fall away because of hardship. It is a faith that grows because of our absolute trust in the one who calls us his own regardless of whether or not the Church accepts it. It is a faith which allows us to claim who we are without fear or shame. It is a faith which allows us to call for justice with a voice of integrity and courage.

Wrestling with fear and shame for the sake of the Gospel is nothing new. St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy contains encouragement that could apply to us today. Timothy had reason to wrestle with fear and shame. Jesus was considered nothing more than dead Jew, and St. Paul (Timothy’s sponsor) was a convict. But, Paul says in his letter that there is no reason for fear or shame. Paul recognized the genuine faith that Timothy possessed. Paul even laid hands on Timothy to remind him that he had gifts given by the Holy Spirit which are to be used for the edification and instruction for the Church. This same Spirit also nurtures those gifts given and the faith received. Paul reminds Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” This is a love and power which conquers all contempt and opposition by a refusal to seek revenge, but to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is the same Holy Spirit abiding within us which stirs our call for justice, even when it seems to be a long way off. The Spirit also gives us assurance that justice will come, often at a place or time when we least expect it. The book of Habakkuk is primarily a complaint about the lack of justice in Israel and Judah that has been troubling the prophet for so long. “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing, O Lord?” asks the prophet. “Things are so bad, there is no hope, and justice is perverted.” But God assures his prophet, and us, that he is already at work. “Don’t be afraid!” says God. “You will be utterly amazed for I am going to do something that you will not believe.” So because of God’s promises, Habakkuk perseveres, stands watch and keeps his resolve. He does not waver, he only trusts. Like us, Habakkuk cries for justice and redemption. Like us, he lives in that awkward, and often painful in-between time of the limbo between God’s promises and their fulfillment.

So why are we here? What encouragement is offered to us when things seem hopeless and we just keep beating our head against the wall? We can look to those who have gone before us in the struggle for inclusion … those women and people of color and anyone who isn’t a privileged white, heterosexual male. We should not put our faith in the institutions of the Church, but in what God has done in Jesus Christ, and THAT is why we are here. Like the first Gentiles struggling with their place in the Church, we are called to be present, incarnational encounters with God to the Church and also to the world. We are called to an experience of a new life in Christ, and the Church will ultimately wake up to that reality whether it wants to or not. It will wake up because our hope and our faith is in Christ, the one who by dying destroyed death itself. Keith Green, a prominent artist during the Jesus movement in the 1970’s could not have stated it any more clearer when he wrote the following lyrics: The battle is already won, the race has already been run…The future is already made, The foundation is already laid…

My friends … my brothers and sisters … we have no need for fear or shame. The arc of history, even Church history, is bent towards justice, and it is the Spirit of God who is pushing and guiding us along.




6 responses

8 10 2007

I found this really compelling: the idea that Christian gays are in exile really made me stop and think.

I think you write beautifully, with passion, integrity and clarity. It is a great gift and you will bring it to a future ministry.


8 10 2007
Reverend boy

Once again, DP you flatter me way to much.

I generally don’t write this topic too much in these reflections, for I don’t want to be a “one-issue” preacher, but i thought it was timely and deserved some attention.

Thank you again,

the Reverend boy

8 10 2007

Thoughtful, provocative and sensitive.

Great job, boy!

9 10 2007

Is is exile though? If God is our center and circumference, drawing on Bonaventure here, there is not place from which we can escape God. I think you’re right though that faith in Christ is at the heart of the matter, but sometimes that does require teasing out what is Christ from other voices, including those of the rest of the Body.

10 10 2007
Reverend boy

Hi Christopher! Always very happy to hear from you.

I use the terminology of exile in part to demonstrate the internal conflicts a gay Christian may feel when there is a lack of pastoral care on the part of the Church … and as you and I have mentioned before those go way beyond bishops and blessings! 🙂

I realize that there are exceptions (our respective dioceses and individual parishes, for example), but we are told that we have to conform to other people’s expectations and comfort level… for example, “You’re more than welcome here, but do you really have to kiss your boyfriend when we pass the peace?” This is the kind of thing which can turn us off to being a part of a worshipping community. Even though we may try and practice our spirituality in private and be one of those spiritual-but-not-religious types, we are certainly not “home”.

Hope that helps … but i probably have just muddied the water a bit with my rambling.

18 10 2007
Grandmère Mimi

Reverend Boy, I’m with DP up there. This post made me think.

One thought that came to me was that the words, “Come, follow me,” are from Jesus Christ. Those words transcend any attitudes or words of the church. So you’re here, and you persevere. Thanks be to God.

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