Quick Hitter: Show, Not Tell

I have said this in a couple of places already, but my basic status is that for the last six months I have been exclusively attending an Episcopal Church, and I am beginning the process of becoming an Episcopalian.  In the simplest terms, my move is the product of reaching two conclusions: (1) I did not have to sacrifice any of my first order, small "c" catholic beliefs and values in becoming Episcopalian; and (2) I could no longer accept certain second order positions of the Roman Catholic Church, more specifically its approach to gender and (relatedly) its approach to human sexuality.

In saying this, I basically have gotten two types of responses from people who are upset or concerned about the move.  One response is some variation of "you are totally wrong about the gender and sexuality stuff.  The traditional positions are correct and directly from God."  To those people, there is not much I can say, other than we just disagree.

But there is another group.  These folks say something like "look, I understand why you strain and chafe against those traditional positions, and I am not 100% convinced they are right, either.  But I am also not convinced they are wrong, and I am afraid that if we change our position this whole edifice of church is going to collapse--whether because we have no 'witness' to make to the culture, or because we will become some weird post-christian remnant, or because (usually unsaid) God is going to be mad at us."

It is easy to get mad at this second category of folks, to call them timid and scared.  They are scared, but they are scared because they care deeply about the church and Christianity.  They feel like they are custodians of something, and they feel an obligation to be conservative about what they do with the thing.  I understand why they are scared, and I can't bring myself to throw stones at them.

In general, the approach that has been taken with regard to this cohort of folks is to try to persuade them that their fears are not real, and that everything will be OK if they let go of the rope of conservative gender and sexual morality.  This involves making arguments, whether Scriptural or from tradition or sociological or psychological or what have you.  And some people will take those arguments and use them as the basis to drown out their fears and make the leap.  Those sorts of arguments certainly helped me.  But for others, no amount of argument will be enough to keep those voices at bay.

What is needed far more than telling people that it is going to be OK is showing them that it is going to be OK.  That means building and maintaining groups and congregations that are deeply committed to the Gospel of Jesus, but also equally committed to full inclusion of women and LGBT people.  Don't tell people that being a woman is no impediment to being a deacon, priest, or bishop; show them through vibrant congregations led by such people.  Same with loving LGBT couples--show them that you can celebrate these things and still call people to transformation in Christ.

There will be some who are convicted that being a Catholic and/or a Christian is definitionally opposed to this kind of inclusivity, and will dismiss anything that looks like strong Christian communities and Christian life on that basis.  Again, nothing can really be done to reach those folks.  But there are others who will have their fears assuaged by the presence of such communities in their midst.  Maybe that will mean that they feel empowered to make or advocate for changes in their own congregations, or maybe it means they will be willing to come over to inclusive congregations.  Either way, the witness of the strength and the authenticity of existing structures is the key and cares a weight that words will never carry.

It may be falsely attributed to Gandhi, but it still has wisdom to it--"be the change you want to see in the world."  I have come to believe that it is more valuable to create facts on the ground that are hard to ignore than to talk endlessly about how great it would be if those facts came to pass.  There are places and opportunities and communities where one can be a part of being that change.  So, let's go--talk less, do more.


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