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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Half-assed baptized?

Most of the folks I talk to are waxing rhapsodic about the 'historic' gathering in Atlanta with 1/4 of the elected deputies to General Convention and the members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to discuss General Convention Resolution C056 on gathering data about blessing the covenants made between same gender couples.

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.

And yet.... and, yet....

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."

Excuse me?

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?


Daniel Weir said...

Gray Temple observed in "Gay Unions" that we call committed, life-long, intimate relationships "marriages."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I remember. Blessed is he among men.

IT said...

Brava! I am so glad you wrote this. As I have noodled around reading things related to the SCLM, I have been increasingly troubled that "blessings for same sex relationships" are, for too many people, in a box separate from any other category. These resources clearly are going to be for a separate Thing. And I think that's a real problem

BP and I are married, legally. That marriage should be recognized as such.

Moreover, I am very glad you point out that the conflation of state marriage and religious marriage is increasingly problematic. Having ourselves experienced our legal marriage and the wedding as a separate event from a religious blessing, I heartily endorse this for everyone.

Muthah+ said...

Once again you say it like it is, Sistah. I am stealing the cartoon. It is wonderful. It really hits home down here in the south when we all grew up with white and green water fountains.

Muthah+ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pfalz prophet said...

One of your best posts, Elizabeth, thank you for many reasons that resonate with my own life.

I share with you the dream of TEC breaking out of its incremental journey to equal justice--separate but "equal" being next--to the creation of a single liturgy for marriage, but I will be surprised if it occurs. How can we accelerate this journey of TEC, to disenthrall our people from the historical deceitfulness of homophobia buttressed by the misinterpretation of Scripture and our corporate ignorance of Hooker's three-legged stool, the Elizabethan Compromise, and their meaning for Anglicanism?

When Gene Robinson was confirmed as Bishop in 2003, my rector, risk-averse but liberal, took the opportunity to discuss sexuality and its place in Christianity. I came out a year later, thanks to his pastoral care. Should not the SCLM and all of us develop materials that congregations less open than mine use to explain and describe TEC's reasons, explain the political landscape in the AC, and provide a bibliography that provides further resources for the broad population of Piskies that only hear the news that hits the mainstream media.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Ms. Conroy and I had our relationship blessed, within the context our blessing our family and our home, in 1986 by our rector, Emmett Jarrett - now numbered among the saints of God. Most of the parish of St. John's Bowdoin Street were there.

When we get legally married, we won't need a 'blessing' from the church. Indeed, we hope we have been a blessing to the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - Steal away, dear sister. Steal away to Jesus.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

PP - I am really tired of crawling on my hands and knees to the altar. Let's get on with it.

Matthew said...

AMEN sister!!!! I look forward to the day when my beloved and I can have a Holy Matrimony ceremony in our church (regardless of whether same sex marriage is legal in whatever state we happen to reside in). I also want our liturgy to be in a bound book, already sitting in the pews, not some photocopy job that is taken from "sources." I want the liturgy to be in a hard bound book and sort of like when my straight brother had holy matrimony in a church, also without photocopies and just a prayer book. That is part of my reticence of having one of these ceremonies. I want it to be like what everyone else has.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Matthew, there you go, ruining the illusion that LGBT people want "special rights/rites".

Okay, so the secret is out. We just want what the church says she promises. That's all.

Barbi Click said...

Wonderful, Elizabeth!
I have refrained from reading the posts on HoB/D simply because I did not want to see anything less than what you have stated is only right. I am tired of half-assed everything. One of the things I do know - my baptism, even in a little rural Southern Baptist church - is the real deal and holy. The other thing I know is that my relationship with D is also holy. We have not had the "church" bless our union nor have we gone to another state to be married. But it is blessed and we are a blessing. God said so.

SCG said...

Yay!! And so interesting as I am in the middle of writing out my own thoughts (read frustrations) with the whole marriage business. I might cross-reference to this post.
I live in a state that not only has outlawed same-sex marriage in FOUR places in the state statutes, the voters also put the ban in the state constitution in 2008. My bishop was not supportive of C056 (or D025) at the last GC, and so I can only watch from the nosebleed section as this "issue" continues to get played on the field of church politics. I do applaud them for trying. But I also think it's stupid and incredibly painful to watch the church struggle against the Love promised to all of us. Sometimes, I just want to yell, "Oh, please, STOP it!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Barbi - Lots of people on HOB/D are raising questions about "separate but equal". It's encouraging. I'm sure this "process" will ultimately lead to a liturgical rite that can be used by everyone, but man, it's so painfully slow to get there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SCG - I know. Stop it and get on with it. The first "it" being BS and the second "it" being justice.

Suzer said...

Thank you for this, Elizabeth!

It is because of this separate but equal that I find myself moving further and further away from the church. Any church. I'm tired of being hurt. I'm tired of picking up the crumbs. I'm tired of my life and love being endlessly analyzed and compared to heterosexual relationships.

I had been excited at the prospect of possibly getting "married" in my home parish, until I found out that we couldn't use the rite in the BCP. (This was years ago, before I knew much about the politics of same-sex blessings in the church.) How naive I was!

Perhaps this is what the anti-gay folks want -- all of us GLBTQ folks to just leave the church and let them have their purity cult all to themselves. Maybe I'm playing into their hands. But honestly, I've got a lot of life to live. I've got a lot of Christ's message to share. And I don't have time for the Church to catch up.

Reminds me of the lyrics from a Mary Gauthier song: "Sometimes you gotta do, what you gotta do; and hope that the people you love, catch up with you."

Anonymous said...

I agree with Suzer. I am finding it harder and harder to go to church. I am tired of being hurt. I am tired of trying to explain this treatment to my children. Once a month the church recognizes marriage anniversaries. My daughter asked me why we didn't stand up since we have been together for 20 years. Unfortunately, she said this in a loud whisper. Those around us just stared. My heart broke for all of us. How do you explain this to a child?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Suzer - Sigh. I know. It's really hard to stay in the institutional church when all of this is going on. And yes, that's precisely what the homophobes have tried to do. Indeed, I think some of them were honestly stunned when some of us kept coming back. Which is why they left.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - I usually don't print comments left by "Anonymous" but I understand why you couldn't leave your name. Your story breaks my heart. I posted it so that those who can't believe this still goes on in the church will know better.

You know that you and your family are of God. Trust in that. Believe in that. Teach your children that.

There are those of us in the church who support and cherish your family. One day, your daughter will know that.

Thomas Eoyang said...

Dearest Elizabeth!
I have ALWAYS wondered at the fuzzy reading of the Cana passage found in the BCP marriage rite. Talk about sloppy exegesis. If I can dig out one of my first EDS papers, for Bill Kondrath's Pastoral Offices class, I'll e-mail it to you. It was about "same-sex blessings," and largely argued against some gay proposals of how it would need to be altered to fit the special circumstances of LGBT couples. Like take out the mention of children on p.423, and play around with references to fidelity because of course gay men especially cannot be bound to an absolute standard of sexual fidelity. My argument was NO WAY. If marriage is to be sacramental for us all, we need to make some hard promises with no fingers crossed behind our backs. Knowing that we are capable of breaking those promises and wounding those we've vowed to love comfort honor and keep--that's what repentance and forgiveness are for. But let's not go in and say, This oath before God is a little strict, so could we have a half-assed marriage for our less ambitious LGBT selves? Let's do a fundamental re-examination of the theology of marriage by all means, but let it be the theology that grounds ALL marriage, gay and straight. And then let the (revised) marriage rite published in the BCP be the one that we all use, every word of it meaningful and binding on gay and straight couples alike.

Jeffri Harre said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Well said.

What really frustrates me about what I've seen, heard, and read (including the documents produced by the meeting) is that I have that familiar feeling of being talked about and at.

There are days when this process as conversation (and conversation instead of action) is enough to make me leave the church. And not just the Episcopal Church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jeffri - I understand that, between the co-chairs of the Pastoral Concerns committee and some of the deputation, there were more of "us" in Atlanta than have ever before been when they were discussing "us". A good representation, so that, while some of "us" may not have been in every room when we were being talked about, there were enough of us to talk to after the small groups.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, I agree, and I'm glad you posted on "separate, but equal".

My thought is that the church should remove itself entirely from doing the job of the civil authorities of witnessing to the legalization of marriages.

As to the blessing ceremony, the rite or rites should be the same for everyone - no special blessing for same-sex couples.

For crying out loud!!! It's simple.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm sure I'm not very popular with some of my colleagues, but someone had to say it. Might as well be me. I've got the least to lose.

June Butler said...

I ask you: Are same-sex couples any more "special" than Grandpère and me? Why I'd be jealous if same-sex couples had "special" blessings. :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think you and Grandpère better brace yourselves. I fear a 'special and different' blessing is coming our way. I sincerely hope I'm wrong. Indeed, I would be very pleased to be wrong. But, the church is hardly ready for blessing the covenants of same gender couples. I think a 'special' one will, ironically, be the compromise.

Jim said...

Thanks for crystallizing why we felt so unmoved by what was going on in Atlanta. Sue-z and I wanted to be excited, we really did, but we did not manage it. I think it was equivalent to having blacks paint the "whites only" signs in bus stations back in the 30's.

We went to church and got married, not civil unioned: married. Until every person has the same prerogative, we are in a protected class and that is simply wrong.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, jimB. The more straight allies we have like you who will stand in solidarity with us, the sooner this injustice will end.

IT said...

I think you are right. My commentary at FoJ.

ShinyThoughts said...

Many thanks for this! I stumbled upon it while looking up a different quote from Bishop Barbara Harris... but had to read the whole post once I saw were you were going with it. It's also kind of wonderful seeing this just after the 2015 General Convention and the nationwide legal support of marriage for all people regardless of gender. Nice to see a few steps forward in succession!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, we didn't take the full Montey in SLCU but we're only 7 steps from 100%. In three years, I really feel we'll be at 100%.