This post focuses on the sexual policy and the church in the U.S. and Canada. It does not address the international issues regarding sexual policy, which I believe are significant in considering the church’s progress on addressing same-sex ordination and marriage as a global church. For more information, see H-6: Committee on Homosexuality and the Church Report from the 2007 World Conference.
On May 22nd, the First Presidency of the Community of Christ issued a letter to administrators about the authority of priesthood to conduct same-sex marriages. Not intended for wide distribution, the letter restated the church’s current position against this practice. It requested, again, that leaders respect the current position while the church continues to struggle for a way to adequately address the issue. This letter circulated among some members on the internet.
The letter was prompted by inquiries following Iowa Supreme Court’s decision. Same-sex marriages have been legal in Iowa since April 29th. On May 17th, Michael and Chuck Hewitt of Community of Christ’s Cornerstone Congregation (see KMBC 9 story) married in Roy A. Cheville Chapel at Graceland. June 2nd, Graceland’s President, John Sellers, issued a letter stating his administration did not know that a same-sex wedding was planned. Given current church policy, it would not have authorized the service knowing a Community of Christ minister was officiating. The letter invited responses.
In Chicago, where I worship and work for the church, reactions to this chain of events continue to unfold. I still receive emails and phone calls. Almost all are negative. The tone and timing of the First Presidency’s letter frustrated many. Many feel they can no longer be patient regarding these issues. The majority of the reactions have come from young adults. In Chicago Mission Center, a majority of young adults are concentrated in the leadership and fellowship of two emerging congregations. The First Presidency’s letter upset many of them because it affected their ministry. These leaders spent hours on the phone, Facebook, and email assuring new friends and members of the circumstances of the letter and their hope for change. Others simply circulated their disagreement and call for action.
Given the impact of these issues in Chicago, I want to try to make a small contribution. In the last two weeks, it’s become clear to me again how the politics of church policy determine these issues. These politics seem to define the future more than faith and human sexuality do themselves.
The church is caught in a knot. The way definitions of sex and marriage polarize eclipses the call to faith in Christ and better understanding of sexuality in our global church. If we were to actually take stewardship of these issues, I think many would recognize an initial response to question sexual policy at all. It’s a rhetorical point at this point, but one we must consider.
It is not that sexuality must remain private. By no means; the fact is sex is very political. Enough questions about human sexuality have been raised in the last decades to transform our very understanding of human relationships, what it means to have prophetic faith, and the meaning of Christ’s ministry through the church. Traditional views, in the U.S. and Canada, have come into question. Eclipsing the purpose of the church, church energy instead is absorbed in managing change.
I mourn that a history of reactionary positions defines the church on sexuality instead of the other way around. Arguably, the entire history of sexual policy in the church can be summarized like this. What is true of American Christianity is true for the Community of Christ church in the U.S. Conservative reactions to shore up traditional positions drive power struggle. Liberals, who spiritually uphold the values of tolerance and acceptance, are increasingly driven to either leave the church out of conscience or oppose the absolutism of the conservative position. None of this is new. But, the intensification of these positions tightens the knot and drives the fear of division. Little attention is given to the fact that these politics distort the very meaning of faith, marriage, and sexuality themselves. They distort the meaning of prophetic ministry and cripple the mission of the church to proclaim Jesus Christ and community.
On sexuality, I believe our church remains largely in the dark. Sex remains submerged in privacy, where Americans like it, except for the politics of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ identity. These categories actually pigeonhole people, erase others (such as bisexuals and transgendered), and prevent open discussion about how faith and sexuality interact in real life. Without this discussion, discipleship is ignored. Worse, ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ wholly define the marriage debate in the U.S. This is precisely the trap church politics are trapped in. From a justice perspective, it makes sense. The question whether marriage is “between a man and a woman” or a civil right open to all is a matter of equality under law. But, this argument suffocates any real discussion about why marriage is a sacrament in the church. In reality, marriage in the church is a ménage à trios, a threesome. The sacrament is a public action in which God is proclaimed and intimately involved. The politics of ‘gay’ verses ‘straight’ must change if the church is to proclaim and testify how the Spirit of God consummates marriage today.
I see the real meaning of faith also getting lost. Profound spiritual questions regarding our common faith and the power of personal testimonies get lost in the politics. On the side of our common faith, what it means to be prophetic and proclaim Christ’s life and resurrection in light of our sexuality and public life is being pushed to the margins. All of this gets contorted in oppositional politics on sex and marriage. Such either/or politics leave little room for revelation. On the personal side, way too few testimonies about how God transforms us in our search for peace and self-acceptance are being widely shared. They are either edited for being ‘political’ or lost in the mix. This is a travesty for a U.S. church longing for signs of life and evidence that God’s Spirit still speaks to us in the world today. Such testimonies would enlighten our situation and provide direction. They point the way to becoming a prophetic people, and could literally save the church. When the debate on sexual policy is at its best, we hear these testimonies and face the real questions.
In praise of Steve Veazey’s April 5th address, I credit the President/Prophet for addressing the use of scripture in the church. Scriptural interpretation plays a direct role in the politics of sex and church policy. President Veazey has called the church to higher accountability. As his sermon states, Jesus Christ is God’s most decisive revelation. We must use and interpret scripture in the light of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. I hold the wild belief that if we took this basic belief of Christian faith seriously, new revelation would happen.
I’ll close with a confession. On the one hand, I confess I have faith regarding the church and sexuality. I believe the future is possible, even waiting. I see it in people’s lives. I see God at work, even amidst the church’s sexual politics.
But, I also confess real despair. When it comes to the politics of these issues, I do not ride a wave of hope. Faith is often a forced decision for me. I feel empty.
The church seems paralyzed by tension. International, ethical, financial, spiritual – the conflicts are everywhere. Our little denomination is bombarded with religious and ethical issues – sexuality, re-baptism, the politics of peace and war, and persistent theological questions about identity and mission. I am thirty five and I understand why people leave. My hopeful words can fall deaf on my own ears. I confess my own cynicism.
I want to have integrity in my role and ministry. I want to support our leaders and I want decision. I personally disagree with the church’s current policy. God has not redeemed the church from its sexual controversy. Like Jacob, I see the church wrestling. (Genesis 32:24-32)
Also sobering, I am full after lunch and so many will not eat today.
When I look at my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the face, I feel ashamed. I wonder if I should leave. When I pray and look Jesus in the face, I ask if I should leave, but that road is not lit for me. Sometimes I want to, but my ego, not my faith lead me there.
When I hear the anger of young adults around me, I share their anger and want to support them. I ask God what to do, and feel called to respond personally.
When I hear the anxiety of pastors and priesthood I serve, I feel love for them, uncommon love. I also search for the Spirit in our discussions. I challenge them with the basic tenets of faith in Christ and press them to embrace the opportunity God is presenting them through the church.
When I spend time alone – feeling the tensions of my role, faith, what the church could be – I feel paralyzed, too. In the feelings, sometimes my mind goes to the Gospels. The circumstances of Jesus’ life come alive for me. I see the controversy. I look for myself in the drama. I know I’m a Pharisee. When I embrace this, a strange peace comes over me. It’s not that my sin is excused. Actually, the Pharisees show me that self-righteousness blinds me to the sin all around me…especially my own.
Then I read what Jesus is doing, in and away from church. It’s amazing to me. I begin to realize following is harder than leading. Perhaps it’s our way out of this knot.