The 77th General Convention is over. The one allegedly controversial decision – the blessing of same-sex unions – generated a lot of brouhaha. A news outlet shouted that The Episcopal Church was the first to acknowledge and accept the blessing of same-sex unions. This left friends in the UCC dumbfounded. In 2005 the United Church of Christ voted on a national resolution that endorsed equal marriage by 80% of the delegates. Seven years have passed since that decision.
Then the Op Eds questioning TEC’s decision began to appear.
Disclaimer: I skimmed these pieces because I don’t care. I used to care. The tipping point was right after 2003 and the approval of Gene Robinson successfully winning the Purple Fever version of the Parker Brothers Careers board game. At first I felt the self-satisfaction until my LGBT friends informed it meant nothing for them. They still lost property or had their names scrubbed from beloved partners’ obituaries. That’s when I put the big “We’re Number 1!” foam finger in storage.
Two critical Op Ed pieces were published, the first in the post-Murdoch Wall Street Journal (so who really cares here?) and the second in the New York Times. The Nerf ball salvos from the “conservatives” were responded to by loyalist Episcopalians. So many responses, so many shares on Facebook it was exhausting. I was close to wishing there would be more snapshots of dinners instead of the chest thumping quotes. The Op Ed Wars had begun.But the issues with the institutional church, the indisputable fact that on line graphs the numbers of church attendees was in the same trajectory as pay phones went unattended. Not only does the point-counterpoint model erode public discourse, it contradicts one of the core tenets of Anglicanism – the via media. In my interpretation, that’s not a kind of denominational Switzerland, responses so “reasoned” they are nearly incoherent. Via media means being comfortable in confusion and the grey areas as part of a process. Living with the bad news before deciding that MDGs or Five Marks of Mission are The Solutions. When were those writing the counterpoint Op Ed pieces going to get down to what the issues were? One piece on the Huffington Post was titled “The Glorious Episcopal Church.” The language of exceptionalism was being recycled only by those with an investment in the system.
The latest response to the two not-so-superlative Op Eds was by Jon Meacham. He questions the future of the institution and he says this – quoted and re-quoted on Facebook:
But I do know this: the central tenet of Christianity as it has come down to us is that we are to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward; to give when we want to take; to love when we are inclined to hate; to include when are tempted to exclude.
Very good idea, Mr. Meacham. However, there is a disconnect that occurs every day in nearly every community. Like the real estate maxim of “location, location, location”, church is “local, local, local.” This is not just a reality but a potential strategy. The giving, the loving, the inclusion, the reaching outward must come include everyone. Not just blessing same-sex marriages. Everyone means everyone. There are a lot of marginalized people these days. Bill McKibben’s new data on global warming, threatening Creation itself, is not covered in the reams of bleached white paper handed out Sunday mornings for worship. We have more empty homes than homeless families. Our landscape and public psyche is scarred by corporate greed. People are illiterate, lonely, hungry, in need of skills, and dying. Five Marks of Mission isn’t going to get us anywhere as long as Wall Street corrupts everything people of faith value. Don’t rely on a pastor’s, Vestry’s, or committee’s idea of inclusion – ask those in the community where your church is planted.
A few years ago a co-classmate in EFM told me that she loves her church -a bedroom community of Manhattan and home of a lot of Wall Street honchos -because the rector makes all the business people feel so very good every week. Trinity Wall Street suggests that we attend a service during which an associate is preaching because his southern accent is “so soothing”. The Episcopal Church has become a soul spa for the 1%.
The sad fact is that the institutional church gets together every three years to redefine what is “good” in order to mask its complicity in the commodification of God’s creation in these terrible, transitional days. The institution asks us to look at a few deft moves in the shell game –a liturgy here, pronouncement there.
It is not equipping those who attend to speak the truth and do their very best to fight the forces that are out to take out life and love on this planet. Our very survival hangs in the balance.