In case you aren’t one to follow church business, the Episcopal Church over the last decade has been actively engaged in struggles over what it means to be gay and Christian in our denomination, which was brought to the forefront when Bishop Gene Robinson was elected, approved and consecrated as the bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Marriage? Unions? Ordination? Sometimes, these struggles have been life-giving, transformational and holy. Other times, as the media has helped us show to the world, these conversations haven’t really be particularly pleasant or grown-up at all. Fighting with people that you thought were on the same page, finding out that things are “make or break” questions for you and your friends – but not in the same direction – is really hard. Not as hard honestly, I would wager from my privileged straight perspective, as having the Church that raised you splitting over whether you are worthy of God’s love and service.
Since conflict is exhausting, and church people aren’t all that great at it oftentimes, and Americans aren’t all that great at it oftentimes, some people in the church have gotten tired of fighting. The refrains I’ve heard most often are “Why can’t both sides accept a big tent?” and “When can we stop fighting about this and focus on mission?”
A while back, it occurred to me that this isn’t a debate with two sides. Its a debate with at least four sides. If I knew how to do cool graphics, I’d draw this out for you, but I don’t, so bear with me:
Picture a table chart with two rows and two columns. The columns are labeled “GLBT Inclusion or Exclusion IS part of the church’s mission” and “GLBT is adiaphora or not an essential question to the church’s mission” The rows are labeled “GLBT inclusion” and “GLBT incompatible.”**
So, there would be four squares, rather than two sides:
1. GLBT-inclusive folks who believe that this inclusion is vital to the Gospel message as taught by Jesus – that when Jesus stood up in the synagogue and claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words “proclaim release to the captives… to let the oppressed go free” he laid out a mission for the church, and the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in all of the sacraments is part of living into the teaching of Christ – and therefore, this struggle is part-and-parcel of the mission of the Church in this time and place.
2. GLBT-inclusive folks who don’t see that inclusion as particularly central to the mission of the Church- people who believe that God is at work in the lives of gay and lesbian people, and New Hampshire (and Los Angeles and whoever else) can have a gay bishop if they choose, but spending time and energy on the discussion/fight is not productive in our corporate discipleship of Jesus. Perhaps this is the group calling most often for us to “stop fighting and focus on mission”?
3. GLBT-incompatible folks who don’t see the role of gay and lesbain people as particularly central to the mission of Church – people who opposed Bishop Robinson’s election and/or think that same-sex relationships aren’t compatible with following Jesus, but aren’t interested in focusing on it, as it’s not an issue (in their view) that is central to the Church’s mission. Maybe this is the location for much of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of language?
4. GLBT-incompatible folks who believe that guarding the Church from a theology/culture they view as incompatible with Christianity is essential to the Church being Church – I think that’s enough explanation?
I’m not really sure what it does for the conversation to describe these poles, but this post by Susan Snooks+ about Jesus and mission touched on these thoughts hiding back in my brain’s filing cabinet. I agree with her that understanding what we mean by “mission” is going to be essential going forward, particularly if our church structure and budget will serve our the mission of the church rather than the other way around… but I think we are perhaps farther apart on understanding the mission of Jesus that we might have thought.
Those differences aren’t only because people aren’t thinking about Jesus (though, sure, yeah, country club churches exist) but some of those differences are because people ARE thinking about Jesus, albeit with drastically different conclusions.
Anyway. This table graph idea is just one limited way of trying to add nuance to the conversation… but somehow, at least in my head, it feels less adversarial to think of four squares than two sides. If you find it too limited or slanted, discarding it is fine with me. While I may feel strongly about the questions raised, those feelings don’t extend to graphs. Ever.
don’t tell my graph-loving beloved spouse.
**I’m solidly in the “inclusion AND mission” category, but I wanted a label for those opposed to the ordination of GLBT people or the blessing of same-sex unions other than “exclusion”… I think the general argument they might make is that living as a GLBT person who is not celibate is “incompatible” with following Jesus. If someone can think of a better label, let me know. Though really, not enough people read this page for it to matter much I suppose.