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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Suffer The Little Children

 Honest to Ethel!

I can't imagine you haven't heard about the brouhaha coming out of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida concerning the "postponement" of the baptism of Jack, the adopted son of two fathers.

You can find the perspective of Eric and Rich McCaffery, Jack's parents, here in The Blade.

You can find the perspective of Greg Brewer, the bishop, here in the Orlando Sentinel.

And, the story from the Dean? Anthony Clark? The one who canceled postponed equivocated needed more time , said "It's not never, just not now"?

He's been away all week at a conference.

The story has struck such a deep cord in Christians in general and Episcopalians in particular that Faithful America ("Love thy neighbor. No exceptions.") has started a petition which began late Monday afternoon with a goal of 15,000 signatures and will, I have no doubt, surpass its new goal of 25,000 before the end of Friday.

The issue has stirred up debate on every conceivable tangential issue, from the age old controversy of infant vs adult baptism, to the relatively new controversy of whether or not LGBT people should be able to adopt children.

Everyone is pretty clear that baptism ought never be denied anyone. Well, everyone except those Uber-Calvinists who think the efficacy of the sacrament is dependent upon the state of grace - or lack there of - of the parents.

The real problem, you see, is that The Episcopal Church has gotten "soft" (as opposed to, ahem, "standing firm") on "membership requirements."

Note: If you do click on the above link and have the stomach to watch and listen to the entire video, you will notice that, while his logic is absolutely pristine, it is completely devoid of any compassion. It's as narrow a legalistic interpretation of scripture as you are apt to find. If you look closely, you will also notice not a drop of the milk of human kindness on the man's lips. 

According to the Uber-Calvinist position, if the Dean had been doing his job, he would never have admitted the boys fathers as "members in good standing" of The Cathedral.

Problem solved.

Unless, of course, they repented of their "sin" and lived separately.

I suspect they'd also have to walk ten miles backward, barefoot, covered in sackcloth and ashes, calling out every ten feet, "I am a worm and no man."

But, I digress.

Well, maybe just a little.

As often happens in church, the 'shame and blame' game is in high gear. It's the Dean's fault. It's the Bishop's fault. No, it's the fault of the "deep pocket" members of the Cathedral congregation who think they can buy whatever they want - or get rid of what they don't want.

No, this never would have happened without the "militant progressive LGBT community" who, like the immature, adolescent brats they are, always "want more".

The truth is that the Diocese of Central Florida has been highly toxic to LGBT people for years. The previous bishop, John Howe, was a particularly virulent homophobic influence in that diocese.

Which was not a real stretch for him in that particular geographical area.

With the exceptions of a few pockets of tolerance and acceptance - especially the Diocese of Southeast Florida where Bishop Leo Frade has created a climate of acceptance - the State of Florida has been noted for being home to almost as many intolerant knuckleheads and right wingnuts as in any of the other states which Louie (Crew) Clay describes as being "Behind the Cotton Curtain".

It's bad enough to deny (or, postpone "not never, just not now") baptism to a child, and even to deny the baptism because the parents are two gay men, but to do so in the Diocese of Central Florida which is known, at best, to be "intolerant" of LGBT people, is to create a theological hurricane in the church which thought it was heading into an endless summer of justice.

If people had gotten complacent about the Supreme Court making Marriage Equality the law of the land just before The Episcopal Church changed the pronouns of the marriage canons, well, this was a pretty cold slap in the face. 

My best hope which I share with many, many other LGBT people and our allies, is that this 'El Nino' of hot baptismal water will provide the opportunity for a real 'climate change' in the church.

It's going to take a great deal of work, getting rid of the toxins of intolerance and pollutants of prejudice, but this baptism could not only provide a means of grace and hope for this child and his parents and family, but it just might transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

Here's my suggestion for that climate change in the Diocese of Central Florida - indeed, in The Episcopal Church: Before on more baptism is allowed in any church by any priest or bishop anywhere, everyone has to wash each other's feet.

You know, just the way Jesus did with his disciples, saying:  
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-17)
Nothing like a little dose of humility to bring an end to the Climate of Arrogance.

That same night, after he washed their feet, Jesus said to his disciples:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
I think a good way to understand what that means is on your knees, washing someone's feet.

Then, we also might understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14. Luke 18:16)


Robert Johnson said...

Had the dean been honest with the couple when they first visited the church about the diocese in the first place, this wouldn't have happened. That is what I feel the mistake was. It would be going into uncharted territory to force clergy to perform sacraments to people they feel are unsuitable. Having an inclusive church means having space for those who are traditional as well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Robert - The parents report that the did was accepting. They were invited to class with other parents. A date was set. It was, according to them, a problem with "some of the members of the congregation who objected to the baptism".

So, it sounds like the Dean wanted an inclusive church without paying the cost of actually being an inclusive church. You know. Like Jesus had to suffer the cost of including ALL.

Marthe said...

And the institutional church wonders why its membership continues to decline? It is the very concept of membership that is at the heart of the problem--it assumes a level of excluding those not duly signed up, vetted, approved ... a concept that would reduce Jesus to tears, no doubt. I suspect that deep in the oozing bowels of the Episcopal hierarchy, where it is rarely admitted that "we" are still sort of playing catch up to the princes of the RC, the words of Benedict XVI dismissing the not truly faithful as no longer of concern to him are resonating - stand firm, be tough, never mind those wishy-washy liberals, they aren't "real" believers, anyway, so not welcome in their exclusive club. Can't help but remember the old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to join any club that would have him ... what if we just stopped with the membership game, stopped recruiting, counting, transferring, defining "good standing" (and oh, by the way, freed up a whole lot of time and energy for actual ministry) and just acted like people trying to live out the love one another commandment? Oooops ... way too radical a concept ... never mind.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - The update is that the Bishop has visited with the two dads and says the baptism has his full support and he'd be happy to assist. The Dean is still away. The dads say that they are planning on a baptism "this summer". They say they know that time is needed for healing.

I give them props for committing to stay and work this out. Let's see, can you tell who the real Christians are in this picture?

Now, there are a bunch of knuckleheads who call themselves the Anglican Institute who are giving "theological reasons" why this baptism ought not take place.

The stupid is strong with some people, Obi Wan.

Which, I think, some people can see and see through. This may turn out to be the best thing that's happened. Not the stupid stuff people say and do but the intelligent and compassionate way others respond to The Stupid.

8thday said...

I wonder - is there a biblical justification for the rule that at least one parent be a member of the church that will conduct a baptism? Or is that something that churches have just made policy over the years?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That's a great question, 8th day. I don't believe there is a "biblical justification" for the requirement but lots of religious tradition.

Remember, we're talking about 'infant baptism' here. It's not a choice the "person"/baby/infant/toddler/person under the age of consent has made for him/herself and so can continue to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the teaching of the faith for him/herself.

So, I think it's not unexpected for an infant baptism that a requirement be made that at least one of the parents be Christian so as to ensure that the child will be brought up learning about what it means to be Christian - by "word and example".

At least, that makes sense to me. If I find a scripture that's quotable, I'll let you know.Thanks again.

Melody said...

How does this happen, when the Episcopal Church's stance on the subject is this, "To our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters: 'The Episcopal Church welcomes you!'"

Being a new member to the Episcopal Church, and choosing it specifically because of it's inclusion of all, I a deeply disappointed that this has happened.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It happens, Melody, because we pride ourselves on being the "big tent" church and, alas, "pride goeth before the fall."

It happens because we're all on a journey - none of us have yet "arrived" and not all of us are in the same place on that journey because "the journey is our home".

It happens because we are, after all, human and we are deeply faulted and flawed.

It happens because we set a standard for ourselves and some of us fall short of the mark.

It happens because sometimes some of us get tired - or complacent - and events like this are a cold slap of reality.

It happens because as Brother Martin said that the arc of history is long. Yes, it always bends toward justice. But, it's long. And hard to bend.

It happens because even though we don't like some people for some reasons, Jesus loves us all unconditionally.

Stay with us. Join the struggle. It will be well worth your time and effort. We're far from perfect and we're not the best game in town, but you'll be hard pressed to find one better.

8thday said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question, which unfortunately has spawned quite a few more. But lest I become a pest, I will ask just one - since infant baptism happens without the consent of the infant, can it be ‘undone’ when that person becomes an adult?

I like you answer to Melody and agree with it but I think one of the many reasons organized religion gets tagged with the hypocrisy label is that they rarely extend such understanding or forgiveness to other groups. I’ve never seen a progressive Episcopalian saying that Walmart is not perfect but they are on a journey and have not arrived yet.

Lastly, 23 years ago TEC baptized my first born, and later my second. At the time they had separate church services for gay folk, but they agreed to do the baptism at that service, even though we were not members of their church. Baptism was very important to my partner and my mother and I will always be thankful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, 8th Day. I'm so glad you are asking these questions. So, to your first one, I suppose, if an adult decided to "renounce" the baptismal vows said for them as an infant, that is entirely possible. In the eyes of the church? That baptism is "to infinity and beyond". Just means that the door is always open and the porch light is always on.

Wait - Maybe I'm just being dense but I don't get the Walmart analogy. I think I know what you're saying. But, I'm hearing it as "apples and spaghetti". I don't see Walmart setting high standards for the way it treats its employees. They're pretty arrogant about it. Unrepentant, in fact. And, they make tons of money by paying their employees low wages and no benefits. The church has nothing to profit and lots to lose by denying sacramental grace to people. So, I'm sorry, but I don't get it.

So, as to baptism. I'm glad that church opened up its "regular / normal" service for the baptism of your child. Blessed be. I confess that, when I've had parents come to me to say, "Look, we are not Christian. We will not raise this child as Christian. But, our inlaws are driving us nuts about a baptism. We don't want it but we want them to shut up. What can we do?" So, I can't do a baptism under those circumstance. I would have no integrity if I did. So, we got to what was important _ A ceremony that names the child and celebrates the mystery of new life of the child and her/his place in creation of a new family.

After much research and learning, we developed a "naming ceremony" which is actually quite lovely. I've used it several times. It involves water and blessing and honey and oil and earth and candles - you know: symbolic representations of the "elements". The grandparents also get to exchange symbolic gifts and the parents get to say something about the name they chose and everybody lays hands on the infant and we all say "Amen."

It has lots of integrity and parents who aren't Christian but feel like they need something for their Christian parents love it. So do interfaith parents. The last one I did was about two years ago for a Christian/Jewish couple at whose wedding I co-presided. The same Rabbi and I co-presided at this service. It was really, really nice. And, I get to sleep well at night and look at myself in the mirror in the morning without a hint of guilt.

8thday said...

Now I am more confused than ever. It seems to me that something that is going to stick for “infinity and beyond” should absolutely require consent. So why is it that babies are baptized? Why not wait for the age of consent to make a mark on them?

I like your description of a naming ceremony which sounds very like similar to what my nieces had in the Unitarian Church decades ago. But frankly, I am missing why that is any different than a baptism, except for labelling the child a Christian (?), which then brings me back to the question of why churches do this to babies without consent. It makes me uncomfortable, like the Mormons posthumous baptisms of dead Jews. This, I readily admit, may be because I don’t fully understand the whole meaning or intent of baptism.

And I may not have been clear about my own children’s baptism - we did not get to do it at the church’s “regular/normal” service, even though we both were church going Christians at the time. We were at the ‘separate but equal’ gay service. But for 23 years ago, I thought having a gay service was still pretty progressive. And to see my father among all these gay men was worth the price of admission to me.

Lastly, I think you took my Walmart analogy in a different direction than I had intended but that can wait for another day.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - And now you've stumbled on to the reason infant baptism is still controversial in Christianity. Mainline Protestant, RC and Orthodox churches have been doing infant baptism for so long it's "just what we do." However, there are other Christian denominations that will only baptize a consenting adult.

I can honestly see both sides of the argument. The only thing I reject is the argument that unbaptized babies who die do not go to heaven or hell but in "limbo". That's just crap, in my not so humble opinion. Then again, as the old saying goes: I'm not in management. I'm in sales.

Matthew said...

The latest sermon from a cathedral staff member (excerpted on episcopal cafe) is disgusting. Also I've been very disappointed in some conservatives but who support the baptism say you don't punish the child for the sins of the fathers the implication being homosexuality is a sin and so I wonder if the cathedral would baptize either of the parents if they sought it. I also wonder if there is a way to fix this in salt lake. The canons include sexual orientation but many have said orientation is different than behavior. I'm not typically a dictator but I'd really like to see a rule that prohibits anyone from denying baptism, Eucharist on the basis of homosexual conduct. And ordination. But that will probably not happen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - While I understand your sentiment, I think resolutions that affirm what we already know and do are, for the most part, seen as extraneous at GenCon, especially when we have so very many resolutions to deal with. So, no, I wouldn't look for that at SLCU but it's not because we don't believe in "all the sacraments for all the baptized" - and infant baptism.

I am choosing to hear these "barking noises" like the sermon to which you refer as the noise a dog makes when he's chained up and scared when someone approaches his "turf". These guys have themselves on a pretty short leash. They're scared of change or anything they perceive might be a change to what they know to be safe and provides them with a sense of safety.

It's just an illusion. Pity them.