A Decisive Moment?

I tried, before I accidentally deleted it, to write about the World Vision controversy.  In brief, a well known multi-denominational Christian charity that focused on supporting poor children announced that it would allow married gay couples to work for them if their particular denominations approved same sex marriage.  The broader evangelical world freaked out, and within two days World Vision did a 180.

Rachel Held Evans has written passionately on this topic.  As someone who sees herself as a gay-affirming evangelical, the backlash to brief window of tolerance has clearly hurt her very deeply.  She has recently declared a hiatus from blogging, which is unfortunate for those of us who enjoy her work but hard to begrudge her for.  If you read what she has written, and the comments afterwords from many others, it's hard not to see that many people have reached a breaking point, in a way that was not the case ten, five, or even two years ago.  It's also notable that similar things are happening in the Catholic word--such as the Charlotte story--as well as the Mormon world, where women have staged a very public protest against their exclusion from ordained ministry.  While each situation is unique, it feels like there is a common spirit at work.

There is this idea out there that Christianity is poised for (or perhaps in the midst of) a seismic shift, on par with the Reformation.  Phyllis Tickle wrote a book essentially arguing that Christianity realigns itself every 500 years, putting us right in line for a big change.  I am skeptical of these kinds of Hegelian "iron laws of history" meta-narratives, but it does feel like things are beginning to move in a way that cuts across denominational lines (which, of course, are creatures of the Reformation).  And, to the extent something big is going on, it looks like gay marriage is going to be a major part of it.

That's not to say that I think Christianity is going to realign simply on the basis of whether one thinks that same sex couples should be married.
There are a host of issues in play--the interpretation of Scripture, the nature and scope of authority in the Church, the relationship of science to Christian faith, the relationship between faith and the broader pluralistic society, and the relationship of the Church to its history.  But all of these issues are playing themselves out in the context of the gay marriage issue, and it looks like the gay marriage issue is motivating people to lock in their positions and choose up sides.  Gay marriage might be the fulcrum upon which the Christian world turns, perhaps in the same way that the indulgence controversy acted as a flash point for the Protestant reformers.

The question, then, for the Rachel Held Evans's of the world and her fellow travelers is simple to state but very difficult to answer--do you stay or do you go?  Do you stay and try to be a voice within my more conservative denomination or church for the basket of views that lead to the conclusion that LGBT rights should be, and need to be, part of the Christian message?  Do you stay knowing that this is going to be a very hard road and you will be pushing against the weight of institutional forces?  Or, do you go and find or found new structures that express your beliefs, knowing that the institutions that you leave behind that you care deeply about will likely move further and further away from what you feel to be God's call for justice?  As well as leaving behind the people with whom you now disagree but whom you love?

It's an extremely tough question, and I don't know the answer.  I fear that the logic of this movement, if there is a movement, will make it ultimately impossible for people who believe in gay marriage (or women's ordination, or whatever) to stay--that everyone is going to have to choose up sides and there will be little to no middle ground.  I hope that's not true, but I fear it is.

Rachel's writings on the World Vision story and its aftermath really moved me, as I find myself in the same position.  For now, I'm staying with Catholicism, but I am not convinced this is the right choice, nor am I confident that I will stay forever.  Stories like Charlotte chip away at my resolve to remain a Catholic.  I get impatient for Pope Francis to act decisively, and I fear I will be ultimately disappointed.  I get angry and embarrassed when I read or hear the kind of stuff that comes out of Catholic spokespeople, both official and self-appointed.  And, I know I could have a relatively soft landing in the Episcopal Church if I do decide to go.

Still, I don't want to leave Catholicism--it is my home, and it has a hold on me that is very deep, and that I treasure very much.  There is so much that is beautiful and wonderful in the Catholic Church.  It is the Church of my ancestors, and that means something very real to me.  And I see the surveys and read the comments that convince me that I am not alone in my thoughts.  In fact, I am probably in the majority among American Catholics.  That is both encouraging, in the sense that I'm not alone, and discouraging, in that our majority status seems to have little impact on official Catholicism.

In the end, all we can do is follow Napoleon's Battle Plan, as discussed in the criminally underrated show Sports Night.
The first step of the plan is to Show Up; the second is to See What Happens.  We Show Up by living our lives, keeping close to those we love and trust, and trying as best we can to live the message of Jesus in our lives, whatever that means.  And then we See What Happens.  In the mean time, as Sarah Bessey points out in a pair of posts, we need to be kind to each other, recognizing that each of us is in a different spot in this process of Seeing What Happens, and that the ground underneath us is shifting as we walk.

Good luck to Rachel on her journey.  I hope to hear from you soon.


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