Sunday, June 25, 2006

Holy Indifference: A Response to B033

Holy Indifference
A Sermon for LGBT Freedom Day
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Rev. John Kirkley

Jesus said, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) Amen.

On Wednesday evening, shortly after 6 p.m., the Very Rev. George Werner declared the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church adjourned, and banged his gavel. It was finally over. I had served as a deputy during the final session of our Church’s triennial legislative meeting, and in the course of the day I witnessed a blood letting, as the dignity of the ministry of lesbian and gay people was sacrificed on the altar of the Anglican Communion.

My sisters and brothers, the Episcopal Church is like the boat in today’s Gospel story, battered by the stormy sea of the Anglican Communion; and like the disciples then, the Church today is caught in the grip of fear. Slice and dice the words however you will, on Wednesday our Church agreed to an open-ended ban on the consecration of openly partnered gay or lesbian bishops. This was done on the last day of legislation at the eleventh hour under duress, in an unconscionable exercise of coercive ecclesiastical authority on the part of our Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold. It was done with the complicity of the Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and of more than 75% of the bishops, lay and ordained deputies of our Church.

Why did this happen? Because fear triumphed over faith: fear that the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson has set off a reaction that will lead to the breaking apart of the Anglican Communion. Presiding Bishop Griswold admonished the House of Bishops that, if this ban were not passed, the Archbishop of Canterbury would not invite them to the next Lambeth Conference of Bishops. This happened because The Great Tea Party held every ten years at Lambeth was thought to be more important than the mission of healing and reconciliation to which Christ has called us.

Yet, even more disturbing to me than the brutal bullying that forced this sacrifice upon us was its basic dishonesty. Beloved, the Episcopal Church really does desire to fully include gay and lesbian people in its life and ministry. Of that, I have no doubt. But in the midst of this great storm on the Anglican sea, in which so many fear that the Church is perishing, we lost our courage and compromised our fundamental baptismal promise to honor the dignity of every human being. We gambled that a lie would ensure our survival as a part of the Anglican Communion.

Trust me: it will not. In fact, the storm is only gaining strength, because this sacrifice of gay and lesbian people only emboldens the forces of misogyny and homophobia poisoning our Church. Indeed, the clamor of schism grows ever louder. Nothing was or could be gained by this cruel and misguided dishonesty.

Now, it is very easy to be scandalized by such a state of affairs, to wonder if we will ever learn what it means that God desires compassion and not sacrifice. I have found myself experiencing a variety of responses over the past several days. My first response was anger. How could Christians do this to each other? After all these years, I’m amazed at my own capacity for naiveté. I was outraged by the spiritual violence I had seen done to some of the leading voices for justice in our Church, many of them gay and lesbian people, who were co-opted and coerced into violating their own conscience, made captive to the fear and anxiety of our leaders.

I was numb with anger. As I walked off the floor of the House of Deputies, my friend Elizabeth Kaeton walked over and hugged me. I whispered in her ear, “Elizabeth, I’m too tired to feel anything.” And then I collapsed in tears. Underneath my anger was a deep well of grief, a grief that I still carry. I mourn the pain visited upon you, my beloved friends, who have borne so many burdens placed upon you by this Church. I mourn the pain visited upon blessed Gene, the Bishop of New Hampshire, who was betrayed and left hung out to dry. I mourn the loss of trust in Bishop Katharine before her primacy has even begun. I mourn the loss of integrity and credibility with which our Church can minister to a suffering world.

I know that I am not alone in this grief. I am consoled by the solidarity of so many of our sisters and brothers, gay and straight, and especially that of our bishop, Marc, who surrounded us with his love and care in Columbus and who already is calling us to prophetic witness for justice. I carry my share of anger and grief, yes. But slowly and with great difficulty, I am coming to believe that Jesus is inviting me and you to move through our anger and grief to respond to this storm in another way: with holy indifference.

Notice how Jesus responded to the storm. He was not fascinated by its power, enmeshed in the drama that was unfolding around him. Neither was he reactive, expending energy being defined over and against the storm, captivated by its power in yet another way. No, for Jesus the storm held no allure, generated no disgust. It had no power to press his buttons one way or the other. His response was one of holy indifference.

By indifference I do not mean to imply uncaring disconnection or withdrawal. Jesus did not ignore the storm or its effects. Nor do I mean by indifference to imply a kind of contempt, as if Jesus was simply above it all, condescending in his response. What I mean by holy indifference is a capacity to remain connected without anxiety: to respond from a place of inner peace, the still center of our being in God.

What this means for us today, in concrete terms, it so be able to respond to the storm raging around us with compassion, resisting the temptation to treat our leaders with contempt or withdrawn from the Church altogether. This may seem a nearly impossible expectation, until we remember that the Church, indeed the whole creation, to the extent that it is in the grip of fear, is part of the old reality that is passing away. It no longer has a grip on those who have been marked by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever in baptism, unless we allow it to. We are part of the new creation that is coming into being, and it is from that place of freedom in Christ that we can become holy indifferent to the storm.

This is the stance of faith that refuses fear. It is from this perspective that St. Paul, himself no stranger to persecution and rejection, could proclaim: “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacles in anyone’s way, so that no fault can be found with our ministry” – and so it is with the ministries of those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. “We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:2b-3a, 8b-10)

To the leaders of our Church I say, “There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours . . . open wide your hearts also.” (2 Cor. 6:12-13) Beloved, like St. Paul, we have the freedom to respond with holy indifference to the storm raging around us because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. We are nobody’s victim. Our identity and security is given to us by a Love that has nothing to do with the fear and violence directed at us.

We need not be defined by the storm, captivated by it in fascination or revulsion. As James Alison has said,

“Just because some of our hierarchs seem unable to dare even to offer us the sort of Eucharistic space which is our baptismal new-birthright doesn’t mean that our consciences need be bowed down by, bound by, all that heaviness of decline management, that defensive bureaucratic inability to negotiate as adults with adults. For that heaviness and inability says something about them, and need say nothing about us.” (On Being Liked, p. 111)

While some of our hierarchs are busy trying to manage the decline of the old creation that is passing away, let us respond with holy indifference, relaxing into the new creation bursting to life within us and around us. While others speak of sacrifice and crucifixion, let us give ourselves over to the Resurrection life that is God’s great gift to us in Christ Jesus. While others sow division, let us be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation.

This morning, I invite you to gather in the Eucharistic space around this table, this space of joyful thanksgiving for who we are as God has created us and redeemed us to be, loved by God beyond our wildest imagining. This is our baptismal new-birthright and WE MUST CLAIM IT. Come and lay all your anger and grief and heavy burdens on this altar. That is the only sacrifice that God wishes us to make. In the fire of God’s consuming love, let all that violence and shame melt away, refining us to become icons of holy indifference so that we may respond with compassion to the groaning of our suffering world.

In the midst of the storm, Jesus gently says to us, “Peace. Be still.” ( Mark 4:49) Amen.

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