I applaud the church for taking this important first, brave, bold step - after an almost 40 year journey - towards marriage equality.
Brava, Mother Church! Brava!
You'll forgive me, however, if my applause is slightly less than enthusiastic.
I keep hearing Bishop Barbara Clementine Harris' question at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist at General Convention in LA:
"How can you initiate someone and then treat them like a half-assed baptized?"Look, I understand full well how the institutional church works - especially in terms of justice. I've been at this most of my adult life.
We take three steps forward and two steps back. We're still a long way from the dream of "full inclusion," and, at the rate the institutional church moves, I have serious doubts as to whether or not we'll get there in my life time.
I understand this. I don't accept it.
General Convention C056 is far from the "whole enchilada" that Susan Russell speaks of, and yes, there's a whole lot more guacamole in there than we've ever had before.
I understand. Susan is a very wise leader. She has more political acumen in her baby finger than I have in my whole body. I am deeply grateful for her leadership and that of the leaders in Integrity and Claiming the Blessing.
Me? I'm still hungry.
Actually, I'm really tired of being hungry. I'm sick and tired. Truth be told, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I'm weary of the knowledge that the church is baking cakes - feasting on them, in fact - and giving out crumbs. Indeed, the bow on the package is bigger than the crumb of justice we've been tossed.
I understand. The charge of Resolution C056 was to gather data and resources about pastoral care and liturgical rites of blessing and to offer "pastoral generosity" to those bishops in those dioceses in those states where there is marriage equality.
Given all that is happening in the Anglican Communion and in The Episcopal Church and all that's swirling around about the Anglican Covenant, the SCLM is most probably very wise to stay within a narrow focus of that charge.
This sure feels like "separate but equal" to me. At the end of the day - or, actually, even at the beginning or middle or any part of the day - that doesn't feel very equal to me.
Because, in fact, it's not. Far from it.
Separate but equal works for the fruit in the above picture. Or, vegetables. But, not people. Funny, but I thought we had figured that out during the Civil Rights Movement.
The worst part is that Mother Church is being caught up short on Her whole theology of marriage.
There are a few embarrassing frays in the theological fabric of "Holy Matrimony".
It begins with the first sentence of the theological introduction to marriage in the Book of Common Prayer (p 423). You probably know the words by heart: "Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony."
We do not 'marry' anyone. The two marry each other. We 'witness and bless'. The 'marriage' part is a legal contract which the church performs as an agent of the state.
That's just the beginning of the confusion.
The church must begin to challenge herself about this 'unholy' alliance between church and state. We don't allow the state to dictate to us on any other sacrament or sacramental rite of the church. Why do that with marriage?
That's my first question.
The next few have to do with the veracity of the claims made by this rite in the next few statements of the theological framework of marriage.
"The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation . . ."Really? Somehow, I don't remember a word about marriage in either of the two stories of creation in Genesis. We are told that God made humankind in God's own image - male and female God made them.
I don't recall God ever saying to Adam and Eve, "I now pronounce you man and wife". It's just a wild guess, but I'm thinking we've imposed our own 20th Century understanding of marriage onto the scriptural story.
We do it again in the second part of that second sentence:
"... and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee."Really? I guess I've been reading the story wrong all these years. Seems to me that Jesus was present at the wedding because he was an invited guest - not to make a statement about marriage, one way or the other. He showed up because he was invited.
The only comment we have from Jesus about that marriage is when His mother points out to him that the wine is running out. "What does that have to do with me?" he asks, rather impertinently.
Then, at the request of His mother, Jesus turns water into wine - not as a sign of approval of the marriage, but at the request of his mother for generous hospitality.
I mean, the whole thing does beg the question: If Jesus was so high on the subject and institution of marriage, why didn't He, Himself, get married?
Mind you, I don't think Jesus wasn't supportive of marriage. Indeed, He had some very harsh things to say about divorce. Funny. We don't listen to those words very closely, now do we?
So, I'm left questioning the whole scriptural underpinnings of marriage as outlined in "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" in the Book of Common Prayer.
Here's where the church and I agree:
"Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God."
Well, okay. Strike those last five words. I don't think marriage was 'instituted by God'. It was instituted by good men of God who believed with their whole heart and mind and soul that marriage is inspired of God.
I do, too, but not in the way that those good men of God first imagined it.
Let's face it, "traditional marriage" is a legal contract between two men wherein the woman is the subject of the legal agreement. That's why the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle and "gives her hand in marriage" to the groom.
She's property, is all. The church has been complicit in this legal transaction since the fourth century.
Marriage is best understood as a sacred vocation. It's a calling from God that the two shall live as one. Not everyone receives that call. Not everyone - heterosexual or homosexual - is able to live into that high calling.
That does not diminish the fact that it is a vocation. God does not put barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation on vocation.
I think 'holy matrimony' is at its best when understood as being inspired by good people of God based on what we understand in the story of creation when God says, "It is not good for humankind to be alone."
That's 'holy matrimony' at its best.
It's a covenant made between two people which mirrors the covenant God made with humankind in creation. And, of course, the church can and should bless that covenant and make it 'holy'.
That's the church at its best.
Funny that it should take LGBT people to call the church to its 'orthodox' understanding of the covenant of marriage.
Indeed, we've been doing this for about 40 years. It's interesting to watch and listen to some people come to these understandings as if they were "new insights".
Outwardly, I smile and nod and say, "Yes! Right! Good for you!" On the inside I can feel something in the pit of my stomach calling out, "What the hell do you think we've been talking about for the past 40 years?"
It must be the way some of my African American friends feel when I come to yet another insight about the subtleties of racism. I'm grateful for their kindness and generosity as a model for the way I need to behave. I can only imagine that they must roll their eyes and say, "Well, she's just a nice White girl, trying to make a difference."
I don't know about the 'nice' part, but I do try to make a difference.
Even so, you'll excuse me, then, if my enthusiasm for what the church did in Atlanta this past week end, and is about to do in Indianapolis at General Convention in 2012, is tempered by all of this.
I guess I'm particularly chagrined by those who say to me, with great enthusiasm, "We'll finally get liturgical rites of blessing passed next year at General Convention in Indianapolis and then we can get on with the work of justice."
First of all, C056 does not provide for authorized liturgical rites of blessing. It only provides for a gathering of data and resources. In order to get authorized liturgical rites of blessing, that's going to take a separate, new resolution.
See? I know how the institutional church works.
I fully suspect that General Convention 2012 will authorize the development of Liturgical rites of blessing to be submitted for authorization in 2015.
When that does happen - and, I have no doubt that it will - my prayer is that the liturgical rite of blessing won't promote "separate but equal". My prayer is that whatever rite is developed, it can be utilized for the covenants made between same and opposite gender couples.
Then, I hope someone else will submit a resolution charging both the House of Bishops and Deputies as well as the SCLM to study our theology of marriage and return to General Convention 2015 with a report, and a revised theology of marriage, along with a proposed new rite which supports marriage equality.
Because I know how the institutional church works, I know that I'll probably get a "Task Force" which will study our theology of marriage and gather information about what is already being done in terms of marriage equality.
Then, in 2015, General Convention will review, discuss and debate that report and, not only authorize the development of liturgical rites of blessings, but pass a resolution to authorize a Task Force to write a new theology of marriage equality which will be reviewed, discussed and debated at General Convention 2018.
That's if all goes well and the Anglican Covenant doesn't scare everyone into stepping five steps back with the threat of "relational consequences", we just might get those authorized rites and theology of marriage equality in 2021.
So, I say to my enthusiastic friend, this issue is a work of justice. And, the work of justice on this issue is far from over. Indeed, it is a continual work of justice.
There is no hierarchy of injustice or prejudice or bigotry. Neither is there a hierarchy to the work of justice.
Yes, there are priorities, which Jesus named: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for all those in need.
We do those things - tending to the basic human needs of people first. That being said, justice denied is justice delayed. And, whenever justice is either denied or delayed to anyone, justice is diminished to all.
Bottom line: Separate but equal is a lie. Always has been. Always will be.
I hope what the SCLM is able to provide in its report to General Convention is proof positive, beyond-a-doubt evidence that the Church has been participating in the sin of 'separate and unequal' and ought not take a move to participate in the lie of 'separate but equal'.
I pray that the church will take a bold step, this time, and move to marriage equality. It's not great leap. Not for those who profess to follow Jesus and pledge in their baptism to "grow into the full stature of Christ".
I'm not half-assed baptized.
I am, as Luther said, baptized.
I'm only expecting to be treated as such.
Is that so much to ask?