What Are We Fighting About, Part VI--Gay Christians and the Ecclesiastes Choice

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9.

I know I said that this series was going to be done with five posts, but another dimension to this discussion occurred to me over the last few days that I felt was worth adding.  It is spawned from two things.  The first is the action taken yesterday by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to "suspend" the Episcopal Church from Communion business for the next three years, and more specifically the reactions to this move I have been seeing online within the Episcopal Church.  The second is two posts involving the Gay Christian Network, one very positive about the group, and one much less so.  Both of these address a key, and very difficult, question that LGBT Christians and those that support them are going to have to face in the near future.

First, the Gay Christian Network.  The organization and its corresponding conference describes itself as "dedicated to building bridges and offering support for those caught in the crossfire of one of today’s most divisive culture wars."  In doing so, it affirms and supports both what it calls the "Side A" view of LGBT sexuality (that same-sex relationships, and presumably sexual acts, are morally acceptable) and the "Side B" view (that LGBT people should or must refrain from same-sex sexual acts).  In doing so, the organization clearly believes that it is working to "build bridges" between more progressive voices and some segment of the conservative Christian opposition to LGBT sexuality.  By affirming and providing space for people who cannot accept same-sex sexual behavior as morally acceptable, it seems that the hope is that the temperature will be lowered and people can interact and have fellowship without the divisive fights.

But this bridge building is not without controversy.  Kimberly Knight argues that the fact that the Gay Christian Network accepts "Side B" views creates cover for Christians and churches to insist that same-sex sexuality is broken and morally repugnant, legitimating further marginalization.  The only proper position, in her mind, is to reject in toto any claim that being LGBT is any less than being straight.  And, necessarily but unvoiced by Knight, if conservative Christians can't handle that and turn away, then so be it.

What we see here is a choice between bridge-building and being prophetic.
Gay Christian Network wants to bring people together and build relationships and reconciliation, while Knight wants to be a witness to what she believes (and I do, too) as justice and truth.  Both bridge-building and prophecy have a critically important place in Christian life, and both are legitimate postures for Christians (and anyone else) to take.  And both of them can be abused.  Sometimes bridge building is bridge building, and sometimes "bridge building" is an excuse for cowardice and capitulation; sometimes prophecy is prophetic, and sometimes "prophecy" is a vehicle for self-righteousness and narcissistically exploiting divisions.

The discernment between bridge-building and prophecy seems to be what the Episcopal Church will be wrestling with in the next three years.  I see no indication that this act by the Anglican Communion will result in a reevaluation of the Episcopal Church's position with regard to LGBT people and gay marriage.  As this editorial suggests, people had to know that there was going to be blow-back from the decision to formally endorse services for same sex couples at the last General Convention.  That action had consequences, and these consequences are coming to pass.

No, I think the debate within the Episcopal Church will be about what to do with regard to the rest of the Anglican Communion in light of the fact that the Episcopal Church is not going to change.  The more "prophetically" oriented voices are calling for using this moment as an opportunity for making a decisive statement--cut off the funding, withdraw from the Anglican Communion, denounce the anti-gay African hierarchy, and even set up parallel governance structures for congregations that embrace the Episcopal Church's vision of LGBT issues (much in the way the African churches set up the Anglican Church of North American for Episcopalian dissidents).   The more "bridge-building" elements are calling for staying engaged, continuing to work with Anglican Communion partners, and seeing what the future holds.

As Ecclesiastes suggests, I think there is a place for both--there is a time for bridge-building, and a time for prophecy.  What Ecclesiastes leaves unsaid is that it is not enough to know that there are times for both approaches; you have to figure out when it is time for bridge-building and when it is time for prophecy.  Because if you do one when you should be doing the other, you are likely to fall into "bridge-building as cowardice" or "prophecy as self-righteousness" traps.

I truly don't know what the right answer is here.  I believe in bridge-building, including bridge-building in this area--if it weren't for James Alison convincing me of the importance of "never, ever let[ting] go of your fundamentalists," I would in all likelihood be an Episcopalian right now.  But I recognize that for someone like me to demand bridge-building around LGBT issues is to demand that other people bear the brunt of the consequences of that move.  It is easy for me to seek dialogue with conservative anti-LGBT folks when I know as a straight guy their wrath will never be directed at me.  I understand why someone like Kimberly Knight is unwilling to accept anything less than full and complete validation of her as a person.  And I am open to the possibility that my desire for bridge-building in this area is a kind of cowardice.  I truly don't know.

Maybe the solution is to find a middle way (very Anglican, that).  In that spirit, I was really impressed with the comments of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, which sounded both bridge-building and prophetic notes:

Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome,

Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.

For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain. . . .

I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.

The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.

There is a time for bridge building, and a time for prophecy.  And maybe time for both.

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