As an Episcopalian and as a (then) vestry member and senior warden of my parish church (The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany), I cringed as it became clear that the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church was changing the Church’s policy on gay marriage. I cringed because I was afraid of a horrible schism in the Episcopal Church in America and between the American Episcopal Church and much of the rest of the Anglican Communion. But even more, I cringed because I was afraid of a split in my lovely, quiet, culturally-diverse, local parish Church.
So I began to pray about it.
In fearfully following the press coverage of and commentary on the General Convention, I read Bishop Andy Doyle’s article entitled A Conflicted Abstention (see http://www.livingchurch.org/conflicted-abstention) in which he explained why he abstained from the vote in the House of Bishops. I found that I agreed with him so, on July 1, 2015, I sent Bishop Doyle the following email:
I read with great interest your thinking in A Conflicted Abstention and I agree with you. Change is here but responding to that change will take thoughtful, prayerful discernment. As a more conservative leaning member of a more liberal congregation, I want to maintain the unity that we enjoy. Maybe that means finding some middle ground and maybe that means some understanding on both sides. I praise you for your measured response. And I will be praying for you – not that you make this decision or that decision but that you make the decision God reveals to you.
My prayer was that both Bishop Doyle and I would discern not either of our own wills but God’s will in this matter.
To back up a bit, from both a political and a social viewpoint, I was not opposed to gay unions. Since I first really thought about it, I have believed that gay partners in committed relationships deserved the same civil rights and social and economic status and benefits that married straight couples have. Nevertheless, I was surprised and maybe a bit dismayed when the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. Surprised because I did not see it coming. And dismayed because I could see an impending religious storm on the horizon.
The government is one thing but the Church is something else entirely. How could, after 2000 years of staunch policy in opposition to gay marriage, the church so quickly change its stance on this controversial issue? I had heard and could still hear the often strident shouting back and forth from both sides … but I didn’t have an answer. The Episcopal Church that I had joined back in 1985 had spoken with one voice but the Episcopal Church it had become after June of 2015 now spoke with a different voice. And I was afraid that that conflict and bitterness in the newspaper headlines could/would spill over into the congregation where I worship.
So I continued to pray – and sometimes I remembered to listen for an answer. God speaks to us in a lot of ways. He can be heard in a pastoral presence, in the voice of a friend, in the words of a book we’re reading, in his Word in the form of the Bible, and even through a Sunday morning sermon. In my prayer and listening, did I discern the voice of God? I did.
I first heard it in the anguish of Bishop Doyle as he sought a way to be a pastor to his whole diocese.
As time passed after the convention, I was asked by a gay friend to officiate at her upcoming wedding. Not being a priest (and she knew/knows that I am not a priest), I declined. But I was honored to be asked – and I will go to that wedding and celebrate with those two friends. Against the backdrop of what I had been praying about, this invitation caused me to reflect more deeply on the Episcopal Church’s new position. I know these two people. I know they are in a long-term committed relationship. I know they love each other. Was God speaking to me in that request?
In September, I saw a note in the Diocesan email broadcast advertising a talk by Lutheran priest Nadia Bolz-Weber at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. It looked interesting and I wanted to go but it was a Wednesday night and I have dinner with my sons on Wednesday night. (This goes back to “dad-night” with my two sons after their mother and I divorced. Even though they are now both adults, we try to stick to it.) So instead, I downloaded her book – Pastrix, The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint – and read it on my IPad. And then I downloaded and read her second book – Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. I highly recommend both books. In the words of this reluctant, tortured saint, I heard God telling me that gay people are as much God’s people as anyone is.
And then in October, I heard the Reverend Christine Faulstich, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, preach a sermon that had nothing (and everything) to do with gay marriage and the church. Nothing because it was about, among other things, sin and forgiveness and remarriage after divorce. And everything because in hearing God’s words coming from Christine’s mouth, the dam broke. In her sermon, Christine said (quoting scripture) that remarriage after divorce is specifically prohibited by Jesus. And yet the Episcopal Church now allows and sanctions remarriage after divorce. How did we get there? She went on to use the example of the woman who was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus before she was to be stoned (John 8).
Jesus said “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Beginning with the oldest, they put down their stones and went away. He asked “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replied “No one, sir.”
He said “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Jesus did what Jesus does. He forgave her. Just as He forgave me for getting married after having been divorced.
Christine’s point was that doing the Christ-like thing – loving and forgiving each other – allowed the Episcopal Church to overcome the issue of remarriage after divorce. In doing so, the Episcopal Church brought many people back into the sacraments. Using Christine’s voice, God told me that the Episcopal Church should do – had to do – the Christ-like thing and clear the way for gay people to be incorporated into the full sacramental life of the Body of Christ.
In the anguish of Bishop Doyle, in the words of my gay friend, in the books by the Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, in the words spoken by the Reverend Christine Faulstich, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel According to St. John, God spoke to me. I understood why we – that part of the Body of Christ called the Episcopal Church – had to change 2000 years of policy. I know that, as a sinner and as a divorced and remarried man, I cannot accept God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and all of God’s sacraments while I deny them to fellow members of the body of Christ because they are gay.
The love and forgiveness of God as demonstrated by Jesus outweighs all other considerations. Loving each other as Christ loves us – with all our various flaws and foibles, as both sinners and saints – is the only path forward.
That’s how I got here.
Does that solve anyone else’s issues? Probably not. But I hope it helps. The only advice I can give is to pray on it. And to remember to listen for God’s answer.