Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The tedious run-around in the "gay priests" debate

I see today, reported on the Huffington Post that ... 'Bishops at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement declaring "God has called and may call" to ministry gays in committed lifelong relationships.'

With tears in my eyes, how long does it take the church to reach such perfectly obvious conclusions! Like that the sun doesn't revolve around the Earth; like that the world wasn't made in seven days; like that condoms are the best protection poor countries have against HIV/AIDS; like that we are killing the planet?

Actually, looking at that list, one may just as well give it all up as hopeless. The church, throughout its history, has never really bothered about scientific evidence of anything at all. Public opinion has rarely played much part in its decision-making, and common sense - well, that has never played any role in its deliberations, at any stage of its history.

Drafters of the recent statement have insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.

"The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating," in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay (sic!) Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. "These people (sic - by which I assume s/he means those which have felt some kind of call to be ordained) have responded to God's call."

And so we trek slowly on. In the Anglican Church, my sister was excluded from receiving communion, because she was divorced. It would have preferred her to remain getting beaten up, abused and humiliated by a violent drunk. Millions of people were not eligible to be ordained priests, because somehow the possession of a penis was thought essential to the consecration of bread and wine. And now the gay thing.

To enter into the debate with any level of dignity (not to mention sanity), one has to simply ignore the fact that the Anglican Church has not only ordained priests, but consecrated gay bishops throughout its history. In South Africa - several great names spring to mind, de Blank, Clayton, Stradling, Selby-Taylor - and several of the the others are still alive (but not not quite so great!). And not to mention beloved heroes of the struggle, people like Trevor Huddleston CR. But we need to just live with the lie, to have the "debate". It is almost considered indelicate to mention it, and to keep on mentioning it. It is very similar to the way whites in this country don't like any mention of apartheid - it is just something unpleasant, which we would all rather forget.

I think we can't give into this kind of control of the tenets of the debate by the heterosexual majority in the church. And furthermore, we should not allow the debate to simply be about whether gay and lesbian people are allowed to be ordained, or allowed to be elected bishops, or allowed to function in Holy Orders or not. The debate needs to be much further reaching.

I want to say four things in relation to this so-called debate:

1. The time has come for the church to show a bit of honesty in relation to gay and lesbian people. We have always been in the church and we always will be. Many churches could not keep going without our support. Whether we are hidden, or whether we are open, we are there.

2. I have news! The earth isn’t flat anymore! It doesn’t matter how strongly people might have believed that it was, or what the Bible might have said about it. It is round. And the church has needed to remake its reality around that. Similarly, it is not ethical to keep slaves anymore. It doesn’t matter that the Bible accepts slavery. It is wrong. As a developing moral species, we have come to see that. And the same is true for our sexuality.

3. If there really is a dialogue, (or a conversation) taking place in the church about gay and lesbian people, it cannot be a dialogue that assumes that gay and lesbian people have nothing to bring to the theological table. The church’s theological norm at the moment is not an inclusive one. It is a hetero-normative one. I, and others like me, cannot and will not be treated as though we are beggars at the table.

The picture above is a fairly controversial piece by Becky Jayne Harrelson, called The “Crucifixion of Christ”. What I like about it is that it exploits the real ambiguity and irony of the Biblical record. As we all know, the Gospels, and John in particular makes the point that what was written on the cross was that Jesus was “King of the Jews”. In John’s Gospel, the chief priests petition Pilate to change this, because, of course they are offended by it and its substance was their major subversive claim against Jesus. Rather say, they argued, he claimed to be king of the Jews. So, is he or isn’t he? Harrelson’s painting asks the same question. On the one hand it is the biggest irony. On the other hand, it is true. You could put any word you like there – like“Kaffir”, or “Bitch”, or “Hot’not”, or “Gham”, or “Mlungu”

d. Lastly, I would want to ask that we all stop accepting the insubstantial gruel of a heterosexual god. It is unpalatable. It is offensive and in the end, it is an idol. But more importantly, it denies the complex glory of a God who is purported to have made us all in the divine image.

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