LGBT people are a blessing to the Church. Many of us already knew this. Now we can start talking even more about why it matters for everyone.
Today the Episcopal Church took two remarkable steps forward. Sadly, the Church of England took a remarkable step backward. These two Christian bodies are related in a “communion” that really does need some relationship therapy – and right there we might find a blessing.
Two steps forward and one step back is actually rather common in the history of institutional Christianity. Christians tend to leap forward, lurch around, and lag behind, sometimes all at the same time. To me, this is not surprising at all. We’re all trying to figure out the Mystery we call God in relation to the mystery of our own lives and the ever-changing cultural patterns around us. If you can trace a straight line through that maze, it’s probably a mistake. The “lurching around” is itself a blessing.
None of us can ever capture the Mystery in our midst. But we do have clues in the revelatory life of Jesus and from the Holy Spirit working continually among us. Among the many bright spots of a church paying attention to those clues, there are three on my mind just now: 1) the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church; 2) the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the non-discrimination canons of the Episcopal Church; and 3) the adoption of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender unions in the Episcopal Church.
The latter two happened just today; the first one in 1976. (Read a great piece on transgender inclusion by my friend and colleague Susan Russell; read a cool Twitter thread on the same-gender blessings resolution here.)
There will be much blogging, bloviating, and opinionating on these General Convention moments. Here I will offer just one bit of reflection on why it matters, and it’s just this: I am blessed by the blessing of transgender people and by the blessing of same-gender couples. Today the Episcopal Church took two important steps in acknowledging that mutual blessing.
“Mutual blessing” may sound a bit arcane, but I think it cuts to the very heart of the matter, not only for LGBT people but for women more generally and also for the whole Church (and actually, for the wider society – this stuff matters for LGBT teenagers who think that suicide is their only way out).
The document presented to General Convention concerning the blessing of same-gender unions is titled, “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.” That evokes a biblical verse from Genesis when God made a promise to Abram (Genesis 12:2), and it describes not only a biblical rationale for celebrating same-gender unions in Christian communities but also for honoring all of the manifestations of God’s presence among us. (Full disclosure: I chaired the theological resources task group that produced the theological essay in that document.)
Divine blessing overflows in abundance all around us, in countless ways. The Church acknowledges that abundance in its liturgical life by giving voice to that blessing. In turn, that liturgical act blesses all those gathered to witness it and enables all of us to carry that blessing into the world.
I have found this to be true in my own life in many ways, and here again I have three such ways particularly in mind. First, I have been blessed by having ordained women as friends and colleagues. Evidence of the Spirit in their lives is simply unmistakable and my own life would be impoverished without them. Second, I have been equally blessed by friends and colleagues who identify as transgender. Their lives have pushed me, taught me, and inspired me in countless ways. And third, as a single gay man, I have been deeply touched by the hospitality, generosity, and wisdom of the same-gender couples in my life. They are blessed and they are a blessing.
So why do I keep referring to women’s ordination in these reflections? I do so because male privilege and traditions of patriarchal domination infect all three of the blessings I just cited.
Sadly, we need look no further for that infection than what just happened in the Church of England. The General Synod seemed poised, finally, to accept women as bishops. But a last-minute amendment to the policy, then rejected, then tabled, then…what, exactly? All that has stalled yet again the full recognition of the blessing of women in church leadership in the Church of England. (Read about that here.)
As we will soon hear from some quarters, there are those in the worldwide Anglican Communion who would argue that the Episcopal Church is held captive by liberal cultural trends; thus today’s decisions. I humbly disagree. Indeed, I believe something quite different: The Gospel has been held captive by patriarchal ideology for far too long. Today we witnessed the next steps of God’s people crossing the Red Sea on dry ground.
Today the Episcopal Church took two remarkable steps toward freeing itself from patriarchal captivity. For the small role I played in this moment of liberation, I am truly grateful. Even more, I am blessed by this divine blessing of a Church that can listen to the Spirit in its midst. Please, God, may the Church of England listen just as well to the women you have called to lead it’