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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Family Feud

I've been thinking about the recent spectacle of the Cheney family feud.

It's embarrassing, isn't it?

Liz Cheney, daughter of former VP Dick Cheney is running for nomination as the Republican (of course) Senator in the State of Wyoming. Her sister, Mary, is a lesbian who married her beloved Heather Poe in 2012. They have two children.

Last Saturday night, on Fox News, Liz made an appearance, saying that she believed “in the traditional definition of marriage,” prompting Mary’s spouse, Heather, to comment on Facebook. Then Mary reposted Poe’s remarks, prefacing with, “Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree – you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history.”

Then, the Cheney parents decided to weigh in with this statement:
 “This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public.  Since it has, one thing should be clear. Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage.  She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done.  Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter and Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”
They should have stopped after the first sentence.

They should definitely not have included that last sentence.

'Compassion is called for'? What curious language. Like Mary and Heather and their two children are 'poor things' - charity cases - to be pitied and treated as pathetic wounded, deformed creatures?

It reminded me of the "family feud" going on in the church. That's church with a small 'c'.

Recently, a Methodist minister, Fred Schaefer, was tried by an ecclesiastical court of 13 for presiding at the marriage of his gay son and his beloved (Schaefer and his wife have four children, three of whom are gay). He was found guilty on two charges: “conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions” and “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church.”

The jury told Schaefer that he was suspended for 30 days, and said that he must decide whether he can embrace church rules — or, if not, leave the Methodist ministry.

Such compassion, eh? Not to mention generosity.

Schaefer's pastoral assistant at the Zion UMC in Lebanon, PA, preached last Sunday to about 60 congregants, many with tears streaming down their cheeks. “We are a family. Families have struggles. We aren’t the first church to hurt, and we won’t be the last.”

He's right, of course. Two wrongs have never made a right, but I suppose there is some truth to the saying that misery does love company. 

The Episcopal Church's present official stance  from last General Convention, can be found in the language of the resolution in which we allowed trial use of the Supplemental Liturgical texts on the Blessing of the Covenants made between two people of the same gender.

The term used in that resolution is "generous pastoral response".

Le sigh.

I know, I know. They meant well. It's clearly a far sight better than the position of the Methodist Church and eons ahead of the Roman Catholic Church.

That resolution allowed us to take a step forward in the journey to heed the prophetic biblical call to "love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God."

Yes, the movement toward Marriage Equality is gaining surprising momentum.  In those dioceses where there is no Marriage Equality, it allows churches to provide for some recognition of the sacramental nature of the covenants made between two people of the same gender.

In those dioceses that are in those states where there is Marriage Equality, the Supplemental Liturgical Rites allow us to recognize the sacramental nature of that legal civil right for LGBT people, EVEN THOUGH our marriage canons only allow the institutional church to bestow its blessing on the marriage of two people of opposite gender.

Hence, the "generosity" of that "generous pastoral response." I mean, we ARE slip-sliding around our own canon law, right?

Le sigh.

I have to tell you I find it odious when I'm not embarrassed by it.

Since when does the church allow the state - or anyone else, for that matter - to dictate or define the sacraments of the church?  The law is the law. The sacraments are the sacraments.

Either it's a marriage or it's not.

Either it's equality or it's not.

What part of 'marriage equality' doesn't the church understand?

Recently, the state of Illinois joined 15 other states (and the District of DC) which have marriage equality. I do believe Pennsylvania will be next. There will be more to come. I suspect that by the time we meet in General Convention in Salt Lake City, 25 states - half of this country - will have marriage equality.

State by state, it will happen in these "united states". Predictions are that Marriage Equality will be the law of the land in the next five years. I'm optimistic enough to believe that it will happen, surely within the next decade.

There are two parts to my question about marriage and equality. The first is canon law. I believe we are going to have to think seriously about changing our marriage canons so that they will reflect the equality of civil marriage laws.

My personal opinion is that the church, once again, will be found on the wrong - or, at least the slow - side of history when it comes to the "justice and peace" we proclaim is at our foundation. We could be charged and found guilty by a jury of our peers of duplicity. Thankfully, we also believe in forgiveness of sins.

The second part has to do with the liturgy we use to celebrate and bless the marriage. I have nothing but high praise for the work of the SCLM and the rites of liturgy which they have produced. I think the theology behind the liturgy is more in keeping with an evolved, contemporary understanding of the sacramental nature of marriage than that which is in the Book of Common Prayer.

My personal opinion is that both ought to be offered as viable options for all people - all people - who wish to be married.

My beloved (and most chaste spouse) of 38 years and I were legally married on August 9, 2013 in the First State of Delaware. We thought and prayed long and hard about where to be married.

We have never had the covenant of our marriage blessed by - or in - the church.

We - not our covenant - have been "blessed" in the context of our family and our Massachusetts home by the man who was then our rector 28 years ago. He felt he could not, with ecclesiastical integrity, bless us in the church or even simply bless our covenant. And so it was that the "blessing" was done in the context of a house blessing (kitchen, bathroom, etc.) where he also blessed our family and us. 

It was as compassionate and generous he could be, at that time. 
At that time, we accepted that crumb as the best we were going to get.  
We were still left spiritually - and legally - hungry. I can not even begin to express the anxiety we shared about the fate of our children should either one - or both - of us might have an untimely death. The church did nothing to address that anxiety - spiritually or legally.

Then, when we were living in NJ, Domestic Partnership came to that state and we immediately signed up. At City Hall. The next day. Nine years ago. On July 14, 2004. The receptionist, a member of my congregation, looked up from her desk, smiled and deadpanned, "I guess you're not here for a Yard Sale Permit."

We giggled but we might as well have been. We signed some forms and off we went.

Then, Civil Unions came to NJ. We checked with our lawyer who advised us that, between the Domestic Partnership and our wills and other legal papers, we really needed to do nothing more. He said, "You're covered for now - at least in the State of NJ. Marriage Equality is coming. You don't have to crawl to the altar on your knees, begging for justice."

Then, General Convention decided to have a "generous pastoral response" and allow same-sex couples to utilize the trial use of Liturgical Rites of Blessings for the covenants made between couples of the same gender. We decided to take our attorney's advice and not crawl to the altar, even for the church's blessing.
Then, we moved to DE and, within the year, Civil Unions were not only permitted, but the First State agreed to accept and honor Civil Unions from other states. A little more than a year later, Marriage Equality came to the First State. About two years later, it came to NJ. And now, it's making it's way across the country.

On August 9th of this year, my beloved and I met with three of our very dear friends - two to witness and one to sign the license. We gathered at our very favorite local diner before work at 8 o'clock in the morning. We each ordered our favorite breakfast and told stories of our last 38 years together. We laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed again.

Our friend, Bea, an Irish lass and one of 10 children who had left the convent seven years earlier and has a license as a Justice of the Peace, signed our marriage license, said a prayer, and then toasted us with orange juice. Some of the folks in the diner raised their cups of coffee and glasses of juice.
Having a former nun sign our marriage license felt like poetic justice for these two former Roman Catholic girls. And, that diner filled with scruffy, common folk from Lower Slower Delaware (most of whom had voted for Christine "I'm not a Witch" O'Donnell for Senator a few years earlier), was church. (I think some of them thought that the only man at the table was the 'groom'. Never mind.)

We believe our relationship - and our family - to be our vocation. We believe we have been called together by God to live our lives in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, and we strive to do that in our daily lives and work.

Our children (and children in law) include a CPA, a nurse in an inner city Methadone clinic, an architect, a VP for Development of a major university, an electrician who also moonlights as a graphic artist, a PhD psychologist who runs a community service agency for incarcerated women and their children, a professional stained glass artist, and a Montessori teacher in a school in an inner city in NJ. Our profoundly developmentally delayed adopted daughter works in a bank, sorting coins.

As far as we know, all of them - and our five grandchildren - are heterosexual. I know. We want the best for our children but they can't help it, really. It's just the way God made them.

We believe the covenant of our marriage to be a sacrament. We believe it to be an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace which has blessed us and, we think, our children, our neighborhood, our schools and yes, even the church, for the last 38 years.

As much as we love our little church in the ocean block of Rehoboth Beach, DE and our wonderful rector, we are not sure if we will ever have our marriage blessed by - and in - the institutional church.

Perhaps, one day, if the church changes the marriage canons, we might. We might.

We know the covenant of our marriage is recognized by the state and federal government. We know "the church" - gathered haphazardly as it was that morning of August 9th - recognized and blessed the covenant of our marriage. We know our covenant of marriage is not only legal but a living sacrament.
We are not yet sure what to think about the institutional church. I know. And me, a priest. And, my beloved, the Abbess of the Community of Anamchara Fellowship.

Perhaps, one day - after the marriage canons are truly equal - we'll extend a little "generous pastoral response" ourselves and allow it.
Because we believe in the forgiveness of sins - as difficult as that is - seventy times seven (Mt 18:22).

I trust the Schaefer family and the Cheney family and all the millions of other families with LGBT members who seek marriage equality - as well as the church families of all our respective churches in all our various denominations - will also, one day, find that same forgiveness.

It's really the only compassionate, generous thing to do.

Otherwise, I think Jesus gets embarrassed.


Mary Fehrman said...

You're posts are usually interesting, honest and informative, and occasionally they are like this one, brilliant. Thanks for this Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Mary.

Mary Fehrman said...

Please excuse the "you're" for "your". A brain dead moment.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

One of our kids calls it having a "brain fart". LOL. Of all that things that embarrass Jesus, I think grammatical goofs don't even raise a blush.

Kay & Sarah said...

This was a brilliant post! It also gave me some peace. Sarah and I are legally married. We did have a religious ceremony by an MCC pastor but our own church has not blessed our union. At this time, I really don't want a "half way" blessing. I was thought I was feeling childish for feeling that way. I feel better after reading your post. I wish we could relocate you to south Georgia.

Jim said...

I hurt so much for my friends who are waiting, still, for justice. We in Illinois have joined the flow towards simple equity. And yes, we will be offering what we have when the State's law comes into effect, poetically in June.

It is not enough. I despise so-called single issue voting. But today, as we elected the deputations for GC, I was one.

The saying is that all you can do is the best you can do. But it simply is not enough.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kay&Sarah - You know, we LGBT people are so used to having everything being our fault (including hurricanes and tornadoes!) and that we're deficient / "insufficient matter" that it's easy to think that there's something wrong with us when we feel this way.

We don't have to keep baking cakes and expecting only crumbs. We're either equal or we're not. It's either marriage or it's not. No exceptions.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Jim. I knew you'd understand.

Matthew said...

One of the liturgies in the BCP is the blessing of a civil marriage (I think that is what Charles and Camilla had because some don't like remarriage in the CofE). Why can't that be done for a gay couple -- right now -- if the state has marriage equality? Or why would marriage equality have to be legal -- my partner and I eloped to Canada. I guess I don't understand the canons but I don't get why that liturgy is not an option right now.
Do the canons STILL say that marriage is opposite sex only?

8thday said...

When queer folk didn’t like what the CEO of Barilla said about not including gays in their advertising, the whole gay community got political and boycotted Barilla pasta. He immediately apologized. Abercrombie & Fitch is being boycotted because of their discriminatory and exclusionary clothing practices and experienced a dramatic financial loss.

What I don’t understand is why women and queer folk have not simply boycotted churches to let them know that their way of thinking is dated and harmful not only to those who are excluded and ostracized, but also to those who endorse this way of thinking.

Could any church sustain a women’s walkout? None that I ever belonged to.

Just a thought.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - YES, the canons do say "marriage is between one man and one woman." Period.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day, LGBT people have been boycotting the church. More LGBT people are getting married OUTSIDE the church than inside. I know I read that recently. If I find the link, I'll share it.

Bill said...

Heather was correct, Liz and Dick are on the wrong side of history and history has a way of forgetting those who are out of touch with reality.

IT said...

We were married civilly and then blessed in the church, once our local Bishop opened that option. Under his rules, we didn't quite use the "blessing for a civil marriage" liturgy but what we used was fine. We thought it important to claim the blessing, when the opportunity presented itself, to push the door open wider.

Now, with the fall of Prop8, we've attended several same sex marriages that have used the new liturgy. No one is thinking they are anything other than a marriage. Again, taking advantage of the in-between stage here helps keep the momentum. It's a transitional phase. We have to help it along.

But of course, to us, TEC is a breath of fresh air by comparison; my beloved was driven from the Roman Catholic church by Prop8, and found home with you Episcopalians. I can see how those of you with deeper roots can be frustrated by the pace of change. But for us, night and day to be part of a inclusive, progressive community now, which is working towards equality.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill, right you are.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I understand. It's all about perception and reality. I'm beyond frustrated. I'm weary of being "tolerated".

Anonymous said...

Last night I watched the film "Amadeus", which led me to your corner of the web as I googled the recipe for Nipples of Venus.
This morning I reread the recipe and decided to read the comments. Congratulations! Compared to so many other online sites, the quality of your comments, being both civil and intelligent, are excellent. Intrigued, I decided to explore your blog, that is when I found this posting.

Thank you. You have brought a tear to my eye and a very warm feeling to my heart.
The only other thing I would like to say is… I so very very much hope you are contagious.

A new and ardent fan

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you. I usually don't post anonymous comments, even good ones, but this one was lovely. Next time, please leave your name, if you can.