INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2001 Integrity/Toronto.
The hard-copy version of this newsletter carries the ISSN 0843-574X
Integrity/Toronto Box 873 Stn F Toronto ON Canada M4Y 2N9
OPEN OUR HEARTS: A Prayer in Honour of Those Whom Jesus Loved
by Sister Joan Chittester OSB
DIALOGUE AND PATIENCE: an evening with Paul Gibson
by Gillian Barfoot
GET OUT - AND STAY OUT!
Sister Thelma-Anne SSJD's regular column "Ways of Prayer"
A Reflection by the Rev L William Countryman
DOC AND RAIDER REFLECT ON THE PROBLEM OF PAIN
Cartoon by Sean Martin
CHARTING A COURSE FOR THE CHURCH: General Synod 2001
In May 1999, the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith moved to silence the ministry of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick to gays and lesbians. Various RC church documents refer to homosexuals as "intrinsically disordered". This prayer was written by Sr Joan Chittester in response to the dismissals of Nugent and Gramick.
Jesus who loved the Samaritan woman,
outcast proclaimer of your name,
let us love and support all those who proclaim
your name to the gay and lesbian community.
Jesus who loved the lepers
whom others called unclean,
let us see the glory of creation everywhere,
Jesus who loved the one condemned with him
and promised him heaven by virtue of his faith,
give us the faith to broaden our vision
of the reign of God.
Jesus who loved the hemorrhaging woman,
long ignored and thought to be intrinsically disordered,
give us hearts large enough to embrace
those whom the world calls bent.
Jesus who loved the tax collector the community feared,
enable us to put down our fear of those
who are different from ourselves.
Jesus who loved the Roman soldier,
foreigner and oppressor,
help us to love those who make exiles of
our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Jesus who loves us in all our humanness, all our glories,
enable us to love those
whose glories we have failed to see.
You who called women disciples in a male world,
who confronted leaders of the synagogue
with their sins of injustice,
who sent out your disciples to the whole world,
give us the courage to stand with
our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,
their families and those who minister to them.
Give us the grace to confront their rejection,
to ease their loneliness,
to calm their fears and
to belie their sense of abandonment.
Give us all the grace of own our sexual identity,
whatever its orientation,
as another manifestation of your goodness.
Give us the vision to recognize and reject
the homophobia around us and in our own hearts, as well.
May we and the church of Jesus open
our hearts and homes and sanctuaries
to the gay and lesbian community,
to the glory of God they bring in a new voice,
with a different face.
Let us bless the God of differences.
It was billed as an evening of education at the cathedral, featuring a talk by Dr. Paul Gibson, a liturgical officer and author of the book *Discerning the Word: the Bible and Homosexuality in Anglican Debate*. I would have thought this event would attract a huge crowd, considering the vociferous debate which has raged over the topic of homosexuality within the Anglican church. However, only about 60 people attended the February 21st event, and the only form of protest was a comment about the old prayer book hardly related to the debate over sexuality.
The evening began with a low-key Eucharist, followed by a friendly meal of lasagna, salad, wine and dessert in the parish hall. Dr. Gibson explained that he had decided to enter the debate because of the shock and dismay he felt at the hateful attitude he had witnessed at the Lambeth Conference. Besides giving a careful and reasoned understanding of the various scripture passages used to condemn homosexuality, he spoke about the tradition of Anglicanism, and talked about how we read the Bible through the eyes of our society and our culture. He pointed out that Jesus not only taught that the Sabbath was made for people, not vice versa, but also asked his disciples to read the law and prophets in the light of their love for God and each other.
Dr. Gibson also offered some insight into the current schism in the Anglican communion over this issue, relating our different understandings of the Bible and our world to the village, town and city viewpoints cited by Harvey Cox in his book *The Secular City*. He called for dialogue and patience, urging Anglicans to consider what presuppositions and prejudices they bring to the Bible, and to ask themselves, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Who is God for us today?"
Although the talk was thoughtful and educational, some of us wondered when those who questioned his message would speak up. If dialogue is the key to the survival of the Anglican church, the possibility that those who challenge Dr. Gibson's point of view did not feel welcome at this event does not bode well. Living in separate camps will not strengthen our church or help to resolve this debate.
Not a very promising way to begin an article on inclusion! So let me explain. In my previous article in this series, the theme was coming out - "getting out" of the closet, if you will. This time, the focus is on staying out of the closet, despite pressures to get back into it. It is about exclusion and inclusion.
The Bible gives examples of both. On the one hand, we find the laws against mingling with the Canaanites at the time of occupation of the Promised Land, and the story of the rejection of foreign wives after the return from exile. On the other hand, there is a growing sense that Israel's mission is to the whole of humanity. We find hints of this in Isaiah and in books like Jonah and Ruth, which may have been written to challenge the more exclusive position.
In the Christian scriptures, we see the debate about the inclusion of Gentiles, happily resolved in their favour, counterbalanced by an increasing exclusion of women from leadership roles as the church moves out and accommodates itself to the patriarchal structure of Graeco-Roman society.
The tension still exists. Who is inside and who is out? There are plenty of people who wish we would just go away. As I read (or don't read) some of the appalling letters to the editor in our church newspapers, I often think, "Where is all this garbage coming from? Why do I have to put up with it? " But then I remind myself that if we had been content to "go to the back of the bus", these letters would not have been written.
So an important part of being lesbian, gay or bisexual in the church is not to get lost, not to go away - in other words, to "keep out". Staying out makes us a sign of contradiction, calls us to a prophetic mission, identifies us as a suffering servant, places us in distinguished company, and confirms us as called, blessed, and blessing.
It is the vocation of prophets to keep on talking and acting in the face of injustice. Jeremiah, a timid and self-doubting man, feels a compulsion to deliver his message; whenever he felt he has had enough and decides to keep silent, the prophetic word is like a fire burning within him, and he must deliver his message, come what may. The Suffering Servant celebrated in the Second Isaiah attracts the violence of the rich and powerful but is vindicated by God. Jesus "comes out" of safe obscurity when he lets himself be baptized by John, identifying himself with a vehement critic of the powers that be, and setting out on a course which will lead to his own death.
In the Beatitudes we read, "Blessed are those who are persecuted ... Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you for my name's sake ... for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." It is a blessing none of us is anxious to receive. We do not seek persecution and rejection, but our call, indeed our very presence, challenges the powers that be The powers perpetuate themselves by ruling on who is in and who is out, and claim the right, indeed the duty, to keep those who are at the bottom, or excluded altogether, "in their place". This is legitimated by high- sounding moral and religious principles, like "law and order" and "stability" or "the will of God". The Bible has been co-opted to justify slavery, racism, the oppression of women, and the persecution of those perceived as sexually deviant.
So this is what we are up against, and this is why it is so hard, at times, to keep out and so tempting to disappear into the woodwork. The temptation can come in many forms, especially to those who are not publicly out. "Well, maybe I'm not really gay . . ." "This is between me and God , so I' d better conform outwardly, I'd better keep quiet and play it safe." "My friends know - I've told them - but I don't want to be "in their face" about it. I might lose them." "I'm celibate anyway, so why make a big deal about my orientation? "
I'm not suggesting that there are never times when we should keep silent. There is always an element of discernment. We do not go out of our way to seek rejection. Jesus hid on several occasions because his time had not yet come. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, but there is also the danger of not rising to the challenge. We all make errors in judgment, and we learn from our mistakes; but each time we act on the inner prompting that will not go away, we have more ability to discern a genuine call, and more courage to respond when it comes.
Our very presence can be a blessing, though sometimes a blessing in disguise. We are the piece which doesn't fit the puzzle, the bit of evidence which scuttles the theory. Our graced lives demand that the church rethink its assumptions. "Our moral system may feel complete and self-consistent to us, but it is not humane. That raises some questions about whether it's godly at all" (Gray Temple). Or, as Gregory Baum pointed out many years ago, when our reading of scripture is out of sync with the claims of love and justice, it is a sign that it needs to be reexamined. We are a blessing when our very presence causes people to rethink their certainties. When we add to that our testimony about how God has blessed us in our coming out and in our relationships, the blessing becomes still greater.
To take the it a step further, we can move into conversation with those who are willing to engage in it - on a one-on-one basis, or in more formal dialogue. By so doing, we make ourselves vulnerable, we open ourselves to pain and frustration. But we believe we are doing it for the love of God and of God's people. When members of Integrity and Fidelity gather at the Eucharistic table, we are bearing witness to a reality deeper than our differences.
It has been said that prejudice against lesbians and gays is the "last prejudice". Having known what it is to be outcasts, we are called to do our best to model a community where no-one is an outcast. Not even those who reject us. We love them by challenging them, by offering them the freedom to move beyond fear and live out of love, trust and freedom. But we, too, are fearful and need the same healing. We, too, find it hard to love and to forgive. We must be on guard against the temptation to create our own exclusions and prejudices. Excluded ourselves, it is not ours to exclude others.
As we look at the churches, and at the post-Lambeth '98 Anglican church in particular, we ask, "Is there hope? " Often the most massive resistance goes before the most spectacular change. We are part of a much larger picture, which includes feminism, ecology, the struggle against racism, and much more. Even the smallest witness increases the impetus toward liberation and emboldens others, until the critical mass is reached and the "last prejudice" crumbles.
Imagine a church which excludes no-one. And imagine what it would
be like, in the meantime, for you and me to live that way, to see
and honour nothing less than the image of God in everyone we met.
That would be truly to love our neighbour as ourselves. But that
is what coming and keeping out are finally about: steadfastly
living our truth - God's truth in us - in such a way that we
become channels of God's redemptive purpose and God's unlimited,
I have some doubts as to whether the neat distinction between those who make experience the supreme consideration and those who do the same with scripture is valid. I think all of us read scripture through the lenses of our experience (including the lenses of culture, race, ethnicity, educational status, etc.), and I don't personally know any Anglicans whose experience (or their interpretation of it) isn't profoundly influenced by their reading of scripture.
I have no problem at all with affirming the centrality of scripture in our tradition, but that doesn't settle the questions. Our reading of the Bible doesn't always lead all of us to the same conclusions. I am distressed when those who invoke the authority of scripture turn out to be unwilling to read it carefully themselves or to enter into honest and open conversation with those who read it differently. In such cases, I suspect that they are invoking scripture as a stand-in for something else--something on the order of received opinion in their particular corner of the world.
Scripture is still and will always be full of surprises. Many if not all the great moments of renewal in our history, starting with Jesus himself, have been inspired by and have generated new reading of scripture. Most of them have been greeted with dismay by those who felt that they broke with received opinion. This doesn't, of course, mean that every new movement is right. It only means that it is a mistake to identify received opinion too easily as an accurate reflection of the authentic meaning of scripture. We are children of the Reformation and our tradition ought to hold us back from making that mistake.
As to 'schism,' I suppose I've usually thought of the term primarily in the context of pre-Constantinian Christianity where it was certainly a possibility--and occasionally a reality. I think any breach of existing communion is schismatic. Is schism sometimes a less grievous sin than countenancing doctrine that one believes is destructive of the Gospel? I suppose so. I think that was the case for our Reformation forebears. On the other hand, I think that the great majority of the schisms that have left Western Christianity so fragmented were premature and ill-advised- -even perhaps arrogant. A good many of them have been facilitated by a presumption that it is possible for human beings to know the Truth of God in considerable detail, right down to such questions as whether God likes instrumental music on Sunday mornings. That seems to me a dubious assumption.
Normally Doc & Raider appear in *Integrator* as a single panel cartoon, a light-hearted look into the life of a gay couple. This month they offer a rather more significant insight, as Doc considers the ancient theological conundrum of the problem of pain -- when Raider is gaybashed. Coming to grips with why bad things happen to good people is at least as old as the Book of Job. Here is a look at it in a modern-day homosexual light.
[Doc & Raider cartoons are not normally reproduced in this text- based archive of *Integrator*. However, in this issue the cartoons covered two and a half pages, so a verbal summary of the pictures is offered here, along with the paragraph above, which formed the introduction to the series.]
Panel 1: (several men in a back alley, armed with clubs, are pummelling a single man on the ground.) They are shouting "DIE, ya damn fag!"
Panel 2: (Raider is curled up in a fetal position in the alley in front of a dumpster, all alone in pool of blood, with debris from the gaybashing around him.) Speech bubble: "... Doc ... help ..."
(Panels 3 - 11 show Doc from several angles, alone, walking into an empty church, sitting in a pew and talking aloud.)
Panel 3: "Hi"
Panel 4: "I suppose you already know..." "but Raid's been beaten up by a bunch of guys who claimed to be friends of yours. The doctors are pretty sure he'll be okay..."
Panel 5: "...but I thought you and I should have a little chat."
Panel 6: "My parents taught me you were the good guy in the sky: never too busy to handle any problem, no matter how small, and it always seemed like how it was..."
Panel 7: "but when a bunch of goons who say you're on their side ambush a guy, drag him into an alley, beat the crap out of him, and leave him for dead, it sorta shakes your belief in a benevolent God..."
Panel 8: "... unless you're not what you're cracked up to be..."
Panel 9: "Look, I can't blame you for what happened to Raider, just like I can't blame him when one of the cats gets out of line. Still, you shouldn't let wild dogs run loose -- we have a leash law in this town, y'know."
Panel 10: "I'm going back to the hospital and see how Raid's doing. For your sake, he'd best be okay. Otherwise, just remember I'll be headed you way soon enough..."
Panel 11: "... and you've already got enough explaining to do on THAT particular issue."
(Small panels 12-14 show Doc walking into a hospital room, carrying a teddy bear with a gift bow around its neck.)
Panel 12: "Hey, cutie, it's me."
Panel 13: "You know, you look pretty hot today ... but hey ..."
Panel 14: "Black eyes ARE our usual fashion accessory, eh?"
Panel 15: (Doc's hand holding Raider's) "Some of our friends might consider it a miracle to see us any other way, right?"
(Large panel 16: a heavily bandaged Raider is asleep in a
hospital bed. There are balloons and get-well cards in the
background, the new teddy to his right, and an IV pole on his
left. Doc is sitting next to the bed, holding his hand. These
words come in a thought balloon: ) "And if nothing else, you're
here and you're safe. Even if I can't understand why God would
let it happen, I guess that's miracle enough for me."
Every three years, Anglicans from across Canada meet in General Synod, to chart the course of the church for the next triennium. Integrity has been at these meetings for quite a few years now: 2001 will be our seventh session. This year, in early July, General Synod will meet for a week at the University of Waterloo. There will be many areas needing discussion, including relations to Lutherans and the ramifications of the native schools issues. There will undoubtedly be discussions, both formal and informal, around matters of sexuality. Interest will be piqued by the debates at New Westminster diocesan synod in late May, and indeed by an Essentials conference in BC shortly thereafter.
Integrity members across Canada are getting ready to go to Waterloo in early July. We're planning on having representation from many parts of the country. If you would like to join an on- line discussion in preparation for our General Synod , please send email to email@example.com and we'll add you to the list.
A number of Integrity supporters from across the country have
responded generously to last month's appeal for funds to support
Integrity's General Synod presence, and we want to thank them very
much. If you would like to join their number, it's not too late -
- send a tax-deductible donation to Integrity/Toronto.
Much more news will be coming in the next couple of issues of