Friday, November 21, 2014

Fox News on the "Proper" Use of Scripture


ICYMI ... and you probably did, because odds are if you read this blog you don't watch much Fox News ... the Fox News Folks were evidently quite taken aback by my favorite part of President Obama's Immigration Action Speech ... the part where he said "Scripture tells us we shall not oppress the stranger." It's what I tweeted. It's the quote I put on my FB cover. And it's what made their heads explode ... according to this feature over at Raw Story. Check it out:

On Fox & Friends, Tucker Carlson accused the president of using the Biblical quotations to prove that “God is on [his] side.” “It’s repugnant,” Carlson said. This is the Christian left at work, and it’s repugnant."

"To quote scripture?” he added, “that’s out of bounds.”

“He’s using it to guilt someone into” supporting immigration reform, Elisabeth Hasselbeck replied. “That’s not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use.”

====

Seriously. This from the folks who are fine quoting scripture until the cows come home as long as it's about what they think the Bible says about who's entitled to the equal protection of civil marriage.

Evidently using the Bible as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBT people is fair game but suggesting that loving your neighbors by not deporting them is out of bounds. Honest to Ethel ... they make my hair hurt.

So here's some scripture for you. "You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God" Leviticus 24:22

Wonder how Hasselbeck's "scholars behind the Bible" would interpret that one?

This Happened

At my desk on Thursday.

Editing December newsletter.

Call from unknown number.

Pick up anyway.

Rector (who I've never met) from North Carolina wanting advice on "best practice" for moving vestry/congregation forward on embracing marriage equality.

Q. "The vast majority are supportive but anxious. What do I say to those who are worried someone might leave or their neighbors will be offended?"

A. "You say that those are exactly the same question every vestry and congregation has asked itself down through the ages when the Holy Spirit called them to step out and be part of bending the arc of history toward justice.

You tell them it was asked about standing against segregation. It was asked about supporting the ordination of women. And it's being asked now about ending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.

And you say the more important question than "who might leave if we include everyone" is "who might come if we take our place with those standing on the right side of history on this challenge facing our generation the way our forbears did on the ones that challenged them."

Resume editing the December newsletter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Of Marriage Equality in South Carolina and "Marriage Pledges" on the Internet

So the same day we got marriage equality in South Carolina I got an email about "The Marriage Pledge" in my inbox. Coincidence?

Marriage equality came to South Carolina today when the U.S. Supreme Court today denied the motion filed by South Carolina's Attorney General to further delay the start of marriage for same-sex couples.

Interestingly -- to me, anyway -- in the same FB newsfeed was the announcement of a new initiative called "The Marriage Pledge" ... calling for clergy to cease "civil-marrying" any couples now that civil marriage is available to same-sex couples.

Seriously. From their pledge:
To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name.
Already much discussion amongst the conservative cognoscenti over at Titusonenine but I have to admit I just don't really "get it."

To start with -- "government marriage"???? Really -- that's a new one for me. And don't even get me started on the "in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church's life" part. Stay tuned for the History of Marriage essay in the Study of Marriage Blue Book Report to clarify just how much marriage has evolved over the centuries.

Oh, I get the arguments that clergy should quit acting as agents of the state on matter of civil marriage. I actually get the arguments on both sides of that question. In fact, those questions -- and a call for discernment on that issue -- will also be part of above referenced and upcoming report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

And here at All Saints Church in Pasadena we have our own history of deciding not to act as agents of the state on marriage -- but in our case it was in order to not participate in state sponsored discrimination during the Prop 8 Era.

In point of fact for Episcopalians, our canons already give clergy the leeway to decline to preside at any marriage for any reason whatsoever -- Marriage Pledge or no Marriage Pledge. Canon 18, Section 4 (and I quote):
It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize any marriage.
Period. Seems pretty clear to me!

So what's to be gained by throwing out the bride with the bathwater in this dramatic temper tantrum -- rather than simply using their existing canonical ability to "just say no" to any marriage they consider "un-biblical?" Are the gay cooties of marriage between same-sex couples really going to sneak over and contaminate their otherwise pure marriages? Or is this just yet-another on the long list of efforts to posture and polarize instead of pastor and evangelize?

Anybody?

PS -- Mazel tov, South Carolina! (And I want points for managing to write this piece without bringing up Charles Manson. Until now.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Valori Sherer is an Episcopal priest, the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby, North Carolina and the author of this op-ed piece on marriage -- which appeared in the Shelby Sentinel in June 2014. I missed it then but it showed up today in one of my newsfeeds -- and I thought it was one of the most clear, concise and helpful summaries I've read in a very long time.

It will not tell you anything you don't already know, but it is totally worth reading and bookmarking for future forwarding to our "But you're redefining marriage!" friends as the journey toward equality continues. (And it WILL continue until we "arrive at destination.")


Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Many modern Christians hold the idea that marriage, that is, the union of one man and one woman in a life-long covenantal relationship, is an institution created by God in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

It is clear, however, from the Old Testament that many of the Jewish patriarchs had multiple wives, e.g., Abraham, Solomon, Jacob. Polygamy was still in practice, though less so, during Jesus’ time. Divorce was an accepted practice as well, but only the husband had a legal right to demand it. For centuries, marriage was a private, family matter and most marriages were arranged by the father of the family or the legal guardian.

It was St. Augustine of Hippo who, in the fourth century, first described marriage as “a sacred sign, a sacramentum, of the union between Christ and the church.” In the fifth century ecclesiastical blessing on marriage was only required for priests and deacons. It wasn’t until the eight century that “church weddings” became common practice.

The Christian perspective that has remained consistent is that marriage, as a covenantal relationship of persons, reflects God’s covenantal relationship with creation as described in Scripture. The fruits of any marriage, therefore, must reflect God’s saving plan for the whole world. The marriage must be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world.

Historically, the concept of marriage has evolved from polygamy to monogamy, from property exchange to consent, from duty to love. Each cultural shift in understanding has led to a shift in theological understanding and in the development and application of sacramental rites for marriage.

Our cultural, theological, and ecclesial understanding of marriage continues to evolve. We are confronted almost daily with changes in legislation around the country on the issue of marriage.

As we study, legislate, and enter into marriages in the world we live in today, it may help to remember that in the thirteenth century, the only legal marriages were those conducted in a church because the church and the state were the same entity. Such has never been the case in American history or in American church history. It hasn’t “always been this way” as some voices say. It has always been evolving.

In the Episcopal rite of marriage, we pray for the couple, asking that by God’s Holy Spirit “they may grow in love and peace with God and one another, that their life may be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world, and that they may be given such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.”

Christians are a New Covenant community commanded by Jesus Christ to love God, one another, and ourselves as he loved us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans assures us that the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation was made once, for all. Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual, form a community whose individual members constitute equally important parts of one body, Christ’s body; and we are all saved through faith, by grace. Marriage is one way we all can reflect this truth is our world.

Valori Sherer is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Thoughts on Friday's Prayers at the National Cathedral

My first visit to the National Cathedral in Washington DC was a high school youth group trip in the '70s while the massive house of stone and light was still under construction. I've returned many times over the years and never fail to be moved by the beauty, power and energy of this place of worship in the center of our nation's capital -- a place which defines itself as a "house of prayer for all people."

Due to the marvels of modern technology, on Friday morning I was able to sit in my living room in Southern California and watch the livestream of the service of Muslim Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah) from that very National Cathedral in a service that emphasized the "all" in "all people."

You can read the rest here ... in the blog I posted to the Huffington Post yesterday. (And of course I hope you will.)

But in this platform I want to share a comment on Facebook in response to that blog. A reader wrote:
The Rev. Susan Russell offers some excellent insights about today's Muslim prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. Katie and I listened to the entire program this evening together on the Cathedral's website and were amazed by the remarks by the Dean, the Cathedral Canon, and the leaders in the Muslim Community.

I learned so much that I didn't know about our brothers and sisters in the Muslim Community. These peaceful people of prayer stood in the Cathedral and condemned terrorism and called for the protection of the religious freedom of Christians in the Middle East. There are Muslims who have helped to rebuild churches that have been destroyed by terrorists. I quickly learned in listening to their talks that there is nothing to be afraid of and I was able to lay some of my own personal biases to rest.

Those who were so against opening the Cathedral to the Muslim community could have really benefited from taking the time to listen to what our brothers and sisters have to say. Part of the problem with society is that nobody seems to want to listen to people who look or believe differently than they do. You don't have to agree with the other person, but you can learn by listening and offer hospitality while still standing confident in your own tradition. Love is the opposite of fear. Let us all choose love.
And that -- my friends -- is why we do what we do. An inch at a time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Praise of Certain Bishops


    The things you find digging around the Episcopal Archives.

    October 19, 1995 | A Statement Made by Certain Bishops in the Face of the Impending Trial of Bishop Righter

    We the undersigned recognize the witness of the Rt. Rev. Walter C. Righter to the Christ who lived, died and rose for the salvation of all. Walter Righter's trial is a trial of the Gospel, a trial of justice, a trial of fairness, and a trial of the church. We stand with Bishop Righter. We feel charged as Bishop Righter is charged. We feel on trial as Bishop Righter is on trial. Should he be found guilty, we are guilty. Should Bishop righter be sentenced, we will accept his sentence as our own.








    Allen L. Bartlett, Jr., Pennsylvania;
    George S. Bates, Utah;
    William Burrill, Rochester;
    Steve Charleston, Alaska;
    Jane Holmes Dixon, Suffragan of Washington;
    Ronald H. Haines, Washington;
    Sanford Z.K. Hampton, Suffragan of Minnesota;
    Barbara C. Harris, Suffragan of Massachusetts;
    George N. Hunt, Acting Bishop of Hawaii;
    James L. Jelinek, Minnesota;
    Jack M. McKelvey, Suffragan of Newark;
    M. Thomas Shaw, Massachusetts;
    Richard L. Shimpfky, El Camino Real;
    John S. Spong, Newark;
    Orris G. Walker, Long Island;
    R. Stewart Wood, Jr., Michigan;
    Tom Ray, Northern Michigan;
    Roger Blanchard, Retired of Southern Ohio;
    John M. Burgess, Retired of Massachusetts;
    John Harris Burt, Retired of Ohio;
    George C. Cadigan, Retired of Missouri;
    Otis Charles, Retired of Utah;
    David R. Cochran, Retired of Alaska;
    Robert DeWitt, Retired of Pennsylvania;
    A. Theodore Eastman, Retired of Maryland;
    John E. Hines, Retired Presiding Bishop;
    John Krumm, Retired Southern Ohio;
    H. Coleman McGehee, Jr., Retired of Michigan;
    William Marmion, Retired of Southwestern Virginia;
    Paul Moore, Jr., Retired of New York;
    Quintin E. Primo, Retired, Suffragan of Chicago;
    George E. Rath, Retired of Newark;
    Francisco Reus-Froylen, Retired of Puerto Rico;
    Robert R. Spears, Jr., Retired of Rochester;
    Richard M. Trelease, Retired of Rio Grande;
    Frederick B. Wolf, Retired of Maine

    This list represents a great cloud of witnesses – bishops who were willing to put not just their “money” but their vocations where their mouths were on the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments in the Episcopal Church.

    There has been a lot of water under the bridge since this “statement made by certain bishops” nineteen years ago. And although we’re not quite “there yet” on the full inclusion thing, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and we are inarguably leaps and bounds beyond the day when certain bishops had to write statements in support of a fellow bishop facing a heresy trial for ordaining a gay man to the priesthood.

    We are where we are because of them. Because of all of those who stood up, who spoke out, who took risks and who paid prices for their prophetic witness. And we stand on their shoulders -- theirs and unnamed multitudes of other giants of justice -- as we continue to seek God's will for us and for the witness of this church. Some of them are still with us in this realm -- others have gone to Jesus. But may I just suggest that today would be a really swell day to thank the ones still amongst us ... and to give thanks for those who have gone ahead.

    And may the One who gave them the courage, the clarity and the conviction to do all those things in their generation give us the same gifts in ours … especially as we move toward 2015 – the 20th anniversary of their statement – and the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Palm Springs Pride 2014 | Oil for the Lamps and Strength for the Journey


[sermon for Pride Eucharist at St. Paul's in the Desert, Palm Springs preached on November 8, 2014]

Listen. Can you hear it?

It is the sound of the sand running through the hourglass as we come to the end of yet-another church year and see on the horizon the end of yet-another calendar year – AND we gather here today for yet-another Pride weekend.


Yes, my brothers and sisters, time flies when you’re having fun – either by striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being … or by abandoning the faith received from the fathers and destroying western civilization as we know it … depending on your point of view.

Either way, times flies – and what a difference decade … or two or three or four … makes! Let’s review:

"It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." -- Resolution of the Episcopal Church, 1976

And then just last month there was this:

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" -- Working document from the Vatican, 2014

Two statements -- issued decades apart -- by church councils struggling to respond to the conflict between ancient doctrines and new understandings: each case greeted by some as "too little, too late" and by others as "the end of the world as we know it."

As an Episcopalian busily ministering in a church on the cusp of finishing the work of fully including the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments it would be easy to dismiss the recent news from the Vatican as the former – especially as the final version "walked back" the more revolutionary language under pressure from conservative prelates.

And yet -- as my brilliant friend Diana Butler Bass said in response --
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late."

We are told that the very arc of history bends toward justice.
And so the sound you heard from Rome was that arc bending a little further with this document moving (ever so slightly) And it was followed by the sound of the "one step back" in the proverbial "two steps forward, one step back" journey to justice.

Just as our own 1976 resolution promising "full and equal claim" was followed in 1979 by a resolution stating that it was "not appropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual."

So much for "full and equal."

Like the Vatican in 2014, the 1979 "one step back" in response to our 1976 resolution came from conservative elements within our polity pushing back on the tide of equal love, justice and compassion for all God's beloved human family.

But the good news is that the tide kept turning.
The arc kept bending.

And year after year -- General Convention after General Convention – resolution after resolution -- we kept coming back and pressing forward.

In terms of God's justice we may have moved too slow and too late but we kept moving. And last week when I stood with the rest of a packed-full church to applaud as Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool introduced St. Luke’s Monrovia to their new rector and his husband I thought, "we may not be 'there' yet but we're sure getting there!"

Getting there because we’ve kept our lamps trimmed and burning.
Getting there because – unlike the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel – we’ve both stockpiled and shared the oil we needed to keep the light on in the dark days and to celebrate the victories on the bright ones.

And for those who work for equality, the recent past been chock full of examples of both.

Marriage Equality – extraordinary progress in the last year
Midterms – hard not to be discouraged by the polarization and division
Supreme Court – Circuit Court ruling going to put equality back in their lap
General Convention – on the cusp of finishing the work of 40 years
David Gushee – indicative of a huge shift for evangelicals
UMC – bishops meeting on LGBT issues with no LGBT people in the room

Steps forward – and steps back – on that arc of history we are promised bends toward justice but we are not promised bends easily. And the challenge is not to be discouraged in the process.

I hold in particular mind today Bishop John Krumm – the former bishop of Southern Ohio who retired to Los Angeles. A number of years ago now at his memorial service I had the privilege of hearing Bishop George Barrett reminisce about their 60-year friendship in the homily he offered at our diocesan Cathedral Center.

“John Krumm” said Bishop Barrett – stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis – “was never disillusioned by the church because John Krumm never had any illusions about the church!”

Yet John Krumm loved this church -- served it joyfully and well. Because he had no illusions he was free to focus on the ideal of what it could become. And when I think about his long and faithful life I think about the many changes he must have seen over the course of it – and the two steps forward and one steps back that made them happen.

John Krumm’s gift to the church – the oil that kept his lamp burning – was his willingness to be an agent of change – to venture into the unknown future God called him to without the fear that Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier named as the opposite of faith.

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith,” she wrote. “Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

The journey to that new possibility – that New Jerusalem – is what today’s lessons are all about.

The days shorten and the shadows lengthen. As church year nears its end – yes, we are just two weeks from Advent! –the lessons turn to the end times. To what our spiritual GPS would call “arriving at destination.” To the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

And so this afternoon we hear Joshua call us – as he called the Israelites settling at last into the Promised Land – to remember to remember who got us this far.

And we hear the psalmist remind his listeners – and us -- to make sure the next generation knows their history.

And we hear Paul exhort the Thessalonians – and us – to encourage each other.

And we hear Matthew challenge his community – and us – to keep our lamps trimmed and burning with the oil they need to shine …

Because we may be on the journey but we’re not there yet.
And we do NOT know the day or the hour.
And we do not know when the step forward is going to be followed by a step back.
And so we need both oil for our lamps and strength for the journey.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is why we gather here today. In this place. With this community. Around this table.

Our strength is the community.
Our oil is the shared story
Our challenge is to continue to keep our lamps burning with the light of love, justice and compassion as we go out into a world in desperate need of the good news God has for God’s beloved human family.

As we offer an alternative to those who have hijacked the Gospel of God’s inclusive love and turned it into a weapon of mass discrimination.

And, particularly for those who prepare to march tomorrow, to be beacons of hope and welcome to those in our community who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one because all they know about Christianity is what they heard from Pat Robertson. Or Sarah Palin. A tall order? You betcha … and yet …

I remember when I was in seminary and wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew and whether all the work was worth it. And I remember a moment with Bishop Barbara Harris – in the cocktail lounge at the Red Lion Inn in Ontario after an ECW Annual Meetings – and her gravelly voice as she laid her hand on top of mine and said: “Never forget: the power behind you is greater than the challenge ahead of you. And just keep on keepin’ on.”

But make no mistake about it – there is challenge in this Gospel work – and keepin’ on is sometimes easier said than done. Listen to these words from Mary Glasspool:

The enemy of fidelity and commitment is apathy, the inability to suffer.
In order not to feel the pain of loss, we set emotional limits on our commitments.
In order not to be disappointed or hurt in relationships, we set boundaries on our fidelity.
In order to avoid suffering, we diminish all passion and exuberance.
Apathy is the opposite of exuberance, a way of living designed to avoid pain.
And so life and vitality are swallowed up by apathy and despair.

That is one very visceral way to describe what it is to “run out of oil.”

Last week our Gospel for All Saints Day was the Matthew version of the Beatitudes – presenting an impossible ideal for the Christian life; but then – said Bishop Mary -- discipleship itself is shaped by immoderation.

The poor in spirit, those who mourn,
the meek and the merciful,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the pure in heart and the peacemakers are the blessed ones.
The Beatitudes are the outrageous expectations of an extravagant God.
It is appropriate that God should set an impossible ideal for discipleship –
because we are called to model God's immoderation.

The Christian life – Mary concludes
is always moving toward an impossible dream,
in the confidence that God will not condemn us for missing the mark.
That is what it means to take God at God's word.

And that is the journey we are on.
Together.
To take God at God’s word as we work with God to make that Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.

A journey to that place where there is no stranger at the gate,
no bridesmaid out of oil, no LGBTQ kid waking up thinking God hates him,
no transgender woman afraid to walk to her car by herself for fear of getting jumped,
no asterisk after “love you neighbor as yourself” that leads to
*unless you’re gay or lesbian
*bisexual or transgender
*queer or questioning
*or anything else.

And how do we get there?

The only way we can: two steps forward and one step back.

With the oil of love, justice and compassion in our lamps and the strength of the community supporting us on the journey.

Which brings me to these words from the late great Bishop Tom Shaw:

"We are what God has to do good in the world.
Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that.
I don't think we can point to one huge event that's changed everything.
I think instead it's thousands of ordinary people 
doing what they think is right, taking risks, 
speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways.
Eventually that turns the tide.
God really depends on us for that."

Diana Butler Bass was right.
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us may move too slow, too late."

And yet we, my brothers and sisters, are the ones we have been waiting for.
And God is depending on us
to keep our lamps – trimmed and burning –
for the two steps forward, one step back journey to that Promised Land
trusting that the power behind us
is indeed greater than any of the challenges ahead of us.

Amen.