I have been fighting on the side of equality for LBGTs since the day my best friend attempted suicide after one-too-many bullies called him a fag. I cheered at Gene Robinson’s election, debated at countless conventions, and married my share of gay couples. So when, at a recent Clergy Conference devoted to the Anglican Covenant, I heard myself arguing for the signing of the thing, I was as surprised as anyone in the room.
This is what I heard myself say:
1. Every organization has the right to define its membership. If a Mormon declares himself to be a Christian, that’s an interesting debate. But if a Mormon wants to declare himself to also be an Episcopalian, there would be no debate: you can be one or the other, but you can't be both. Our Mormon friends would say the same about us, and they'd be right. Every organization has its boundaries – and needs them.
Boundaries that are transparent and open to inquiry are marks of a healthy community. They give the community it's structure and shape – they are like the walls of a house. Sure, they get in the way sometimes; they can even be painful on those nights when we need to find the bathroom in the dark. But generally speaking I’m glad my house - and my church - has walls. They keep the roof from falling down.
2. A lot of very smart and presumably prayerful people have worked very hard, producing many drafts of a nearly unreadable document which basically says, “We believe in the importance of relationship so strongly that if you do something we don’t like, we’re never going to talk to you again.” Well, okay, so apparently that’s the best they could do, and now they’ve asked us to sign it. This seems to be our working definition of the word “Anglican.” If it were up to me, I’d write something different, but hey, they never asked me, and I respect that.
It’s bizarre logic notwithstanding, there is little in the Anglican Covenant that is, in itself, offensive to the average Episcopalian’s conscience. It deftly avoids any actual commitments beyond a longing for respectful relationships. Who doesn’t want that? Some people think the whole thing is just a cynical attempt by those in power to silence others on the grounds that the Gospel makes them uncomfortable - but I don’t know, that seems a little harsh.
3. No demand for conformity would wisely ask any people of faith to disobey their conscience. If, after signing the Covenant, it were decided by a High Deliberative Body that the Episcopal Church had created a controversy which we had been expressly forbidden to create, then the powers that be would have the pleasure of judging between two competing claims on the good: community achieved by means of conformity vs. moral clarity achieved by means of expressed conscience.
Some kind of heresy trial would presumably be called, at which we would be free to make our case. We might patiently explain that there is nothing on God’s good earth, and certainly nothing in this vague and overly-nuanced pile of wordsmithy, to make us renounce the truth of the gospel as we understand it. We might make our case that this controversy is, in fact, a settled matter in our church, and that there is no going back – because the Gospel truth of full equality is so self-evident to us that we could no more renounce our gay and lesbian friends as we could sharply kick our 90 year-old grandma in the shins. It’s just not going to happen, no matter whose sensibilities we have offended.
If that were to get us kicked out of this Communion, the separating blow would come from those who couldn’t stand to be at table with us - not from us. As long as we have a place at the table; as long as we have the chance to proclaim our Gospel; as long as God’s grace has a chance to infiltrate our relationships, we need to take it.
Let them make their case against us, and let us make ours for Christ, and let the chips fall where they may. If the High Deliberative Body decides they can’t endure our presence, let them make that judgment and call Security to have us removed. In the meantime we’ll keep loving them. Because the Gospel does not die; the Gospel is always polite; the Gospel does not give up.
4. Jesus submitted to the Sanhedrin. He stood before Pilate and took his licks. He didn’t say, “To hell with you guys, I’m going back to my hammock in the clouds.” No, he made his stand and he took his punishment. Every great movement for social justice has involved people suffering deeply for the sake of their day in court. Let’s have ours. What’s the worst they can do to us? Tell us we can’t wear purple in Lent anymore? What?
5. Some say that there is an Anglican priest somewhere in the Sudan who is getting death threats because he’s involuntarily associated with a bunch of homos in the U.S. Well, guess what: that guy’s ten times a better Christian than we ever will be; and if he needs a little distance from us so that he’s physically safe, who the hell are we to argue with that? If we need to suffer a little bit of the Church’s whip so that he can preach the Gospel to some of the poorest and most oppressed people in the world, so be it. If censuring the naughty Episcopalians gives him some cover, let us be censured. Our suffering is nothing compared to his.
Meanwhile we’ll keep preaching hope to the gay 15 year-old boy in the back of that priest’s church, who is literally fearing for his life. We’ll keep sending subversive notes of compassion to the 25 year-old African lesbian who’s been raped in an attempt to turn her straight. We’ll continue to speak words of comfort to the desperate Baptist preacher gratifying himself in men’s rooms and scared to death of burning in hell. I mean, the poor guy.
In other words, we all have our work to do with the Gospel that we’ve been given. Let’s get on with it; and stay together as long as we can.