"On GC 2006"
There has been a great deal of talk around the Episcopal Church concerning the "sacrifice" made at this year's General Convention by the GLBT community and those who seek their full inclusion. There are some deep incongruities in the rhetoric, though, that I want to try to bring to light. From there, I hope to examine why it is that it was possible for so many folks to vote against their own desires to see inclusion.
There is a fundamental, structural difference between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice described at General Convention. In the sacrifice of Jesus, which is surely commended to us as example in Scripture, Jesus dies because he will not abandon his vision of the kingdom, his preaching of the Good News. In the "sacrifice" at General Convention, the GLBT community is sacrificed for the sake of "unity," ("A place at the table" is a phrase I've read a lot, and one that makes me cringe.) or for the sake of "the Communion." (Which bears greater resemblance to Caiaphas in John 11 than any other biblical example I can think of. "But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed."" John 11:49-50)
Unfortunately, many of our GLBT sisters and brothers have been convinced that their self-giving can preserve the Communion, and that their refusal to do so can mean its end. A lot of them, with great courage, voted for the new resolution proposed by the retiring Presiding Bishop. I want to honor that courage, but I also want to say that they have been misled. This courage was misspent.
This gift of themselves as sacrificial lamb is akin to the practices of human sacrifice abandoned by the people of God. In those sacrificial systems, there was still a belief that the death of an innocent could bring peace, and the victim often agreed with the basic premise, no matter their regret as being chosen for the task. Such sacrifice does not bring peace. Jesus died to end this sort of sacrifice.
Jesus gave himself, but not as sacrifice in this sense. He allowed himself to be murdered to end the notion of "murder for peace." He did not seek out death, he suffered it so as to end our perception of its efficacy. This is why, in the end, the Church turned away from intentional martyrdom as a means of witness. It is one thing to refuse to yield one's God in order to live, and to suffer death as a result, it is quite another to walk up to someone with the power to kill and say, "Kill me, I want to witness." Doing the latter assumes that such a death heals. It may bring a short term "peace," but in reality it only defers the violence.
We have, as a Church, sacrificed not only our GLBT sisters and brothers on the altar of "unity," but we have sacrificed our souls. This is the cost of saving one's life. You lose it. It would be different if we could honestly say that we don't think inclusion is God's will for us, but most of the people who voted for the new resolution couldn't truthfully say that. They believe that inclusion is God's will for us. I guess they'd say they just believe it isn't God's will for us "now."
As far as I can tell, "now" is the only time in which God works. Yes, there will be a future, and there is certainly a past, but God is. God acts in the now, loves in the now, creates in the now. Jesus is very clear about not worrying about the future. He is equally clear about God's forgiveness of the past. What matters is now. God's reign is very near, among us, now.
But we have decided, as a Communion, to sacrifice some in the now for a future of being included ourselves. We have chosen a present that does not really reflect whom we find God to be.
I'd like to venture a couple of (probably offensive) suggestion about why I think that was possible.
One of the reasons was Justice. We have grounded much too much of our conversations about inclusion in language of justice. Like the "rule of law," justice only brings death. (Romans 7:10) Justice evokes the power to coerce others into doing what we think is "just." It promises shame to those who are "unjust." It goes against the very Gospel we seek to preach.
Justice works in the head, not in the heart. Justice is about balances and compromises, and because most of our conversation about inclusion focused on justice, we could sacrifice a few here for some greater justice in the future. The head will allow us to do such things.
But the heart will not. Love includes. Love has power to change hearts. Justice can only change behavior. And love is what broke the hearts of those who voted for the resolution, even as justice demanded it. Yes, demanded it. Justice can demand a short term sacrifice for a longer term "good." Love does not. Love lives in the now, because God is love. Love suffers in the now because justice demands it, but which side of that equation did God select in Jesus? In the end, we chose the other side.
The other reason, I think, is The Bible. That is, too many of us have accepted uncritically the historical-critical approach to Scripture, and this has attenuated its power to move us. In this, the AAC seems to have it right. Of course, I read the Scriptures quite differently from folks in the AAC, but I read them as though every word were breathed by God. We do not do that much, and so we find ourselves standing (as the "conservative" folks suggest) on some pretty mushy ground. When push came to shove, our feet weren't on rock, and it was easier for us to budge.
We have not yet developed a Scriptural argument that does more than "permit" the full inclusion of GLBT persons into the Church. We have not discovered in the texts themselves a spirit that yearns for it. Many of us think it's there, but we just can't find our way to it, largely because we study it with the blinders of Bultmann and the rest. We seem terrified that if we read every word as authoritative, we'll have no choice but to join the "right."
This just isn't so! In fact, if we read the Scriptures as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, allowing Jesus Christ to remove the veil from our eyes, we can clearly discern the God of Love at work throughout, restoring and reconciling. What we can also see (and I believe this to be intended by God) is the human turning of God into an instrument of violence. Both are present in the text, both intended, both heuristic, but only one reveals the God of Jesus. The other reveals me.
But we have gotten into a habit of turning away from texts that bother us, writing them off as "mythical" or the result of "redaction." And because we do, the texts no longer inspire in us the courage to trust the God of the Present in the present. We don't encounter a God of power in the texts a lot of the time, and when we do, it's that God of Justice that let us down before.
We have sold our souls for a place at the table, but even this God can, and I believe, will work to our good. I do not despair, but neither do I want to call this "sacrifice" something desired by God.
In His Peace,