I received this note yesterday from a friend and parishioner and share it with her permission. Nanette Frantz is someone Fr. Dan Martins and I know well. She served on my discernment committee for the priesthood and, in addition to sharing worship, we sit side by side each week reading Scripture together in a Disciple Bible Study called “Jesus in the Gospels.” For clarity, I must report that Nanette represents a strong and clear voice within our parish, but our melody includes multiple lines of harmony. In the last week, I have spent much time in dialogue with persons experiencing profound angst at the actions of General Convention, and usually their sentences are filled with words like “hypocrisy” that they fit snugly next to sentences expressing compassion for gay persons. And I have been taught well by others how painful it is for them to see their clergy and bishop criticize (and perhaps constrain the consequences of) TEC’s decisions on same-sex blessings, when, for them, this should be a moment of great celebration. So while I post below Nanette’s reflections, I must emphasize that hers is just part of the truthful song I hear arising from the laity of my parish, and I suspect that our experience is common across the United States.
It is painful to see the Episcopal Church in such turmoil over the subject of gays and lesbians. For some this will be the hill to die on, for others it will cause them to leave the church, and for others it will be yet another issue to grapple with in a centuries-long list of difficult issues. It grieves me to think fellow members of the Episcopal Church would attack either in person or via the internet any bishops, clergy, or members of our church. Both sides of this issue hold what they believe to be heart-felt, passionate beliefs on the subject. If we truly think of ourselves as the body of Christ, there is no room for sarcasm, rancor, and disrespect. If we attack each other, we attack our own body—the body of Christ.
I have been confirmed in the church, married in the church, and had my child baptized in the church. During the 41 years I have been at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church I have seen prayer books change, I’ve seen the priest go from facing the altar to facing the congregation, I’ve seen less kneeling, I’ve seen over half a dozen priests come and go, I’ve seen three different bishops, and I’ve seen the issue of the ordination of women discussed and dissented (even by my own bishop at the time). None of these changes has ever tempted me to leave. I have at times been uncomfortable, mad, frustrated, felt like an “old timer,” and felt a little wistful about the church I knew as a young person, but I repeat, I never felt tempted to leave.
Why didn’t I leave? I firmly believe the Christ who hung on the cross to die for our sins did not call us to divide even over the most deeply felt social convictions. What I think I know for sure is that in the Old Testament God told his people to always remember his promises to them—even when it didn’t look like the promises were being fulfilled. In the New Testament, the only thing I know for sure is that we are called to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he died for our sins so that we might have eternal life. That is pretty much all I know for absolute certain. The rest has been picked apart by theologians and scholars far smarter than I am. It has been interpreted differently by various denominations, and some take the Bible very literally, while others see it as open to wide interpretation. I’m looking for answers, but honestly, I’m not absolutely certain where I fall on all of that.
What I know Christ calls us to do is work it out TOGETHER. The apostles scolded the early church repeatedly about their bickering and fighting. What they were fighting about I am sure seemed as important to them as the issues we face today. The message to a church in turmoil seems to me to be the same throughout history—walk TOGETHER in love and mutual respect for one another. The greatest commandment, after all, was to love one another.
It would be so much easier each week to sit in church with people who all thought the same as I do and who interpret the Bible the same way I do. It is much harder to sit shoulder to shoulder facing the cross with people who differ drastically with me in my point of view, but who share in common a love of God and a commitment to follow Christ as best they can as flawed humans. I do not for a moment believe that when we die and meet our maker face to face he will judge us on where we stood on these issues, but I feel certain we will be judged on how we treated one another in the midst of strife.
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