Sunday, February 10, 2008
Snakes in the Baptismal Water
"I think I've found a spiritual home!"
Even the one-dimensional aspect of communication in cyberspace couldn't hide her absolute delight. My friend, a woman very dear to my heart, has been searching for a long time to find a church. A community of Christians. A place where she can be nourished by the Body of Blood of Jesus, be inspired by the Gospel preached with passion and intelligence, and find some solace in "those old, old songs of Jesus and his love."
She has the worst track record of church shopping of anyone I know. It's as if someone has placed a 'lune magnet' in her soul. So, I was understandably cautious when she wrote to say that she went to church on Ash Wednesday and was thrilled with the community, the priest, the music - and just couldn't wait to go to church on Sunday.
I immediately googled the place. In ten seconds flat I was gasping in horror. The church still identifies itself as "Episcopal" but the only links on the home page were to rabidly orthodox organizations that are hell-bent on destroying The Episcopal Church. No links to the local diocese or the national Episcopal Church.
Hmm . . . Seems to me there are more than a few red flags in the center aisle of the church.
When I checked under the heading "Information" there it was - a link to "Virtue on Line." At that point, the warning buzzer was going off, the strobe lights were flashing and a neon-sign appeared crying, "Danger! Danger! Danger!"
Curious, and trying to keep hope alive, I went to the Rector's page. It began with some fairly innocent ruminations about the Diocese of San Joaquin and ended with this little tidbit (These boyss just can't help themselves, can they?):
"Found while researching and provided with no comment.
"Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which humans distort God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply."
When human beings exchange these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have exchanged the truth about God for a lie."
I began to cry. My friend is decidedly heterosexual (she can't help it - that's just the way she was born ;~), but as she says, "I'm straight, not narrow." She is a justice-warrior and a spiritual healer. She has a seminary education in the Methodist tradition, and is intelligent and articulate and incredibly creative and resourceful. She does have a decided preference for the evangelical, charismatic style of worship. She just has a 'lune magnet' for dysfunctional churches. I wept for my friend and the bitter disappointment she would, once again, have to face.
How long, O Lord, how long?
After I dried my eyes, blew my nose and pulled up my socks, I did two things: First, I wrote a short note to the good father, thanking him for the clarity of his website message. I wrote it from a thankful heart. Truly. Genuinely.
There are lots of snakes in the baptismal water - those who say one thing about themselves and then pull the old 'bait and switch' routine. They are ecclesiastical predators hiding behind the banner of Evangelism.
Their favorite catch is exactly like my friend - not from The Episcopal Church or knowledgeable about either our tradition or the recent troubles, much less all the political innuendos and subterfuge. The only 'virtue' she knows about is the classic kind - not what's presently online.
They lure in folks like my friend, molding them to their image of The Episcopal Church, and then the next thing you know, you can hear Billy Joel singing in the background about the angry young man, "with his fist in the air and his head in the sand."
I was at least grateful that this man seemed to have some integrity and transparency about his theological and political inclinations. So, I wrote and told him so.
Then, I wrote to my friend to warn her of what to expect. I wasn't expecting her reaction. She FLIPPED OUT. How could I say these things? I hadn't even met the guy or been to the church? How could I be so mean-spirited and judgmental? I should step back, take a deep breath, say my prayers and, if necessary, see my therapist.
Then, she wrote to the priest at this church and asked him"Do you and your congregation receive God's children, whoever they are, whatever lifestyle/ orientation/ wealth/ size/ age/ ethnicity/profession, or other ism nature or nurture has provided for them, is there judgment of them for any reason whatsoever, or are some just not welcome?"
And, no fool, he answered: "Absolutely, yes to the first part, no to the second part! And third, we welcome every person who comes through the door. I don't know how to do otherwise. I suspect you felt that from me and from the people at the service. It's unfortunate when people make judgments about others without ever meeting them. It's actually stereo-typing that some so often complain about when done to them, but don't seem to be aware of when they do it themselves!"
She sent it on to me, triumphant. "There, see!" she exclaimed. Shame on you!"
"Okay," I wrote back, "but when you see him, ask him what he says or does after he says, 'Hello' and 'Welcome.' Can an LGBT person serve in a leadership capacity in his church? Would the commitment of LGBT people to each other be recognized and blessed in that church? Would an LGBT person with a vocation to ordination receive support from him and the church? Might they be elected to represent the church at diocesan convention? "
She promised to make these inquiries after today's church visit when she would set up a time to meet with him in the next week or two, as their schedules allowed.
This just appeared in my 'inbox': "Ok: you were right. The service was high mass, RC, sung. (minus the smells and bells however). The sermon was one narrow minded, oppressive and unappealing barrage of on-the-surface gleanings from Luther and Calvin, at the heart of it, murmurings of a man on a mission. Not a good mission. How you saw that before me is absolutely amazing to me. Nice man. Means well. Has no clue what he is creating I think. And that woman I was very sure was his wife. Nope. Whatever the relationship there, not his wife.
So, I will just say sorry. I really didn't understand the implications.
I won't be going back. Not for me. No joy there. I need joy. But the music was okay. Just not enough of it. "
I take no joy in any of this. Indeed, it absolutely breaks my heart.
For me, this is one of the microcosms of the macrocosm of The Episcopal Church. It's tragic. And, it's going on all the time. This is exactly how things like San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth happen. Slowly, over time. One parish after another. I do believe even Jesus weeps to see this kind of damage done in His Holy and Blessed Name.
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but the sooner this guy takes the word "Episcopal" out of his church's title, the better off we'll all be.
Lord, have mercy.
Oh, and please pray for my friend, that she might find a way to disengage her internal 'lune magnet' and find a spiritual home.