Saturday, July 18, 2009

I suppose I should say something

I know I've been queried both online and by phone on what I thought about the goings-on at General Convention 2009 in Anaheim. I try hard not to talk politics (church or secular) on this blog, and politics seems to be exactly what General Convention has become about in the last few cycles, particularly over the whole sexuality debate (amongst other things).

I have already had to have some conversations with people from the local to Anglican friends from all over the world. I must admit I am saddened by what I am hearing from folks both here and across the pond. I do not want to add to some of the ballyhooing on some other more incendiary blogs, but I will say that from what I am hearing from contacts in the Church of England (both liberal and conservative and everything in between) and some of my contacts in the "Global South" that General Convention's actions are only being viewed in one way, and that is namely yet another example of unilateral American arrogance.

I am grieved by this because I think that, at the end of the day, is a correct assumption. With the leaving of more and more conservatives (dioceses, churches, and individuals) over the past several years, that has left General Convention with a dominant majority that is evermore increasingly of the extremely liberal protestant persuasion. Thus, I am not surprised that the Episcopal Church has shifted further and further to the theological and political left, to the point that General Convention was so bold as to pass a resolution calling upon Episcopalians to vote against Defense of Marriage Acts in their home states and on the federal level, which I thought was flagrant hobby horse politics.

I am informed by the concept of separation of church and state, and I believe the Church should only speak out on political matters of the gravest moral and ethical urgency. I know there are those in the Episcopal Church who think that the whole Gay Marriage thing is a matter of social justice. I have never found that argument convincing, but I understand the urgency in some (apparently most) of GC's delegates' minds now. I still don't think it was appropriate for the Episcopal Church to be passing resolutions with cute caveats about "we're not all of one mind on the issue" but then turning around and passing resolutions browbeating one particular side who hold contrary views on that issue.

I know of five friends that I have personally talked to in the last few days that live in the South where I grew up, and four have told me they are outright leaving the Episcopal Church. Three of which because they no longer feel safe to have differing political and moral views on these issues and others, the 4th might still stay but is on the tipping point and I would be surprised if he stayed.

The 5th, who interestingly is fairly liberal on these issues, is just tired of all the fighting and doublespeak one way or the other, and is leaving due simply to what I could only describe as battle fatigue.

I asked her permission to post her exact facebook message to me, and she agreed on the condition of anonymity. This is her exact words (and let me be clear that while I am sympathetic, I am not endorsing this statement or the tone of it, but I include it here because I think a lot of Episcopalians in conservative states would sympathize with this because they have to deal with a culture that is not whitebread, liberal New England or California.):

"Issues aside, Father, I just no longer see the love of Christ being manifested in this Church as a whole, and I am just tired of it. I'm tired of infighting, I'm tired of the bickering, I'm just tired of it. We have been living in a constant state of upheaval for years, and I'm just sick of it. I tend to agree with where ECUSA is on a lot of stuff, but frankly, I feel the environment in this church (and I mean both with ECUSA and the larger Anglican Communion) is just so toxic, that its poisoning my spiritual life. I've gotten to the point where I dread going to church and having to continually and perpetually deal with all this %#@$. I can't go anywhere around here and people ask me what denomination I am (you know how it is in the South, people are like that) and I tell them. I always get one of four responses, and these are exact quotes:
1.) "Oh..." (and they are very polite, but you can just tell in the look in their eyes what they think of the Episcopal church.), or
2.) "That's that whacked out church that seems to be in love with whatever the Liberals in Washington are into." (again, an exact quote I have gotten more than once.), or
3.) "Never heard of 'em. What do Episcopals believe?" (and I never know exactly what to tell them.), or my personal favorite:
4.) "Ain't that the church where ya'll are always arguin' over sex or somethin'?"
So, Father, I'm just saying. I'm going to start going to another church. I'm just tired of it. I may not agree with them on some things, but at least they have a coherent message about God and can actually do something productive other that argue and sue each other..."

Note how many times she says, "I'm just tired." Again, while I would disagree with her on a some things in this snippet, I sympathize about the tired part.

I have said before and I will say again that when the dust of this General Convention settles (if it ever does) the general rule of thumb in actions by the church, either local or national or international, is the same rule of thumb that St. Paul talks about in Galatians 5:

"9Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

"22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another"

When the dust settles, has the actions of General Convention led to the works of the flesh or to the fruit of the Spirit? Brothers and sisters, we must continue to pray and continually ask ourselves that question of discernment. Have our actions led to quarrels and dissentions, or to faithfulness and joy? From what I am hearing, its the former and not the later. And I think we, as a denomination, need to think long and hard about that. I could be wrong, and I hope that I am, but I fear we've passed the tipping point and gone over. If by our agenda of inclusion, we likewise start excluding people who no longer feel safe having different moral or political convictions, is this the Church that preaches Christ crucified and manifests the Fruits of the Spirit?