Saturday, September 24, 2011

By What Authority Do You Do These Things?

In particular, how do we justify embracing the LGBTQ community as eligible for marriage, and ordination? By what authority do we proclaim that we are all one in Christ without regard to race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation?

As a matter of fact, I worked it out in every particular in a book I published in 2004. In that book I suggested to the world of faith and to the culture around it that it was time to grow up and face facts. Gay folks have been with us for a very long time, and they will be with us for a very long time to come. In God’s good time we will embrace all humanity in a gentler and kinder way, I believe that time has come now. My proclamation, of course, played to mixed reviews.

When I became the Priest-in-Charge of St. Peter’s Church in Salem, Massachusetts I encouraged the membership to read my book; “Everything You Need to Know About Sex in Order to Get to Heaven”. There is humor in that book, there is satire, but there is also the story of my family embedded in the biblical analysis of that book too. I wrote it word for word, Honest to God. Many of the vestry of St. Peter's Church read that book and they still consented to my appointment as Priest-in-Charge.

I had yet to really fully understand by what authority I proclaimed St. Peter’s a “House of Prayer for All People”, but I did so from the outset. And when I did, I painted the proclamation clearly with the Rainbow to make it abundantly clear that I meant what I said.

Members of the LGBTQ community were already members of the church, and we then sat down to figure out the particulars of how this could be and by what authority we could make such a claim.

In our first vestry retreat we asked ourselves if we could in fact call ourselves “A House of Prayer for All People” and do so from the bottom of our hearts. Not only did we embrace that statement we also decided to use it as our mission statement.

We did a Bible study on the origin of these words. When we discovered that the proclamation came from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the 56th Chapter, it was as if the scales fell from our eyes. There in black and white were the questions of the foreigner and the eunuch; the former asking why he had to be cut off from the House of Israel and the latter lamenting that he would become “a dry tree”.

The Prophet gave a grand reassurance to both.

4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.

Suddenly, we understood as one what God meant for us. Foreigners and those whose sexual identity was ambiguous at the very least were embraced by God and they were to be given the highest honors within God’s House of Prayer.

We were no longer tentative about our proclamation. We were now authoritative because we knew by what authority we spoke. In our own case at St. Peter’s Church, many foreigners largely from the Dominican Republic have made this church their home. There is one particular little child whose mother and whose partner asked me to baptize. I was delighted. They haven’t missed a Sunday since. In the abundant answer of the Prophet Isaiah; as he said “Yes” to the eunuch and the foreigner who so tentatively wondered if they could be included in the embrace of God, could I do less than give the Prophet’s “Yes” to these people?

In recent months I found myself returning time and again to Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matthew’s Gospel. And again the scales fell from my eyes. Here Jesus is challenged by the same tiresome religious authorities who second guess him on everything he does and all that he teaches. In responses to the drilling Jesus teaches that marriage is to be a life long covenant. But the Scribes and the Pharisees wanted to know why Moses permitted a certificate of divorce. Obviously, Jesus said, “because of your hardness of heart”. The disciples, perhaps bewildered by the impossibly high standards Jesus set for marriage, then assert that it is probably better then not to marry. Then, in an instant and seemingly tangential to the previous verses, Jesus then tells the disciples; “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:12)

To be sure castration among males and even females is common in the Ancient Near Eastern world, but what about those “born that way”? Explain that one to me. The ambiguity of sexual identification in this passage is really not all that ambiguous if you were in fact “born that way”.

In my own faith journey, I happen to be the nephew of a man who was “born that way.” He had a life-long union of more than 50 years with another man “born that way”, and I happen to be the father of two sons who were also “born that way”

And so in the fullness of time, my son’s best friends in Chicago asked me to officiate at their civil union. What a joy it was to claim that blessing before God and all that friends. There was a bit of uncertainty and maybe even a bit of tension that day as the young couple and this priest took his place with them. But we proceeded with the pronouncement of that union as a sacred and complete in the eyes of God, in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of all their friends. I can assure you that the celebration that followed was of unbridled joy. I can tell you that everyone in that sacred space felt embraced by God as never before.

As Jesus replied to his interrogators with a question, so do I. So then, I ask you this question; “By what authority do we now do these things?”

A blessing for ALL God's Children,

Fr. Paul

1 comment:

ShariYS said...

Amen, amen, amen!