Monday, February 28, 2011

Preparation for Lent

Civil Unions in the Church of England...?

Ruth Gedhill religious correspondent for the London Times speaks to the Reverend Canon Dr Giles Fraser of St. Paul's Cathedral about proposed legislation in England that would allow for same sex civil unions to be conducted in churches.

Canon Fraser is an outspoken liberal clergyman in the Church of England and he clarifies the church's position as well as his own preferences. Given the controversies over the state of same sex relationships in our civil law, the conversation is quite interesting.



Demise after DOMA?

Today as the United States Supreme Court hears arguments that challenge the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) I had a chance to read this post from last year with some thoughts on the matter of Civil Marriage equality. I understand the discomfort many Christians have with further redefinitions of marriage which is for us not just a civil contract but also a matter of religious conviction. Here are my two cents on the matter...

"...Though many Christians are going to try to deny "the obvious," evangelical leader Dr. Albert Mohler believes gay marriage is going to become normalized: "I think it's clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized and recognized in the culture. It's time for Christians to start thinking about how we're going to deal with that," he said recently on the Focus on the Family radio program.

Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was speaking in response to the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman – in the courts...."

Finally from a prominent evangelical,an admission of what has been clear to many of us for a long time. A secular society which was founded upon principles of equality and has developed along the lines of equal protection and treatment under the law for all its citizens should not enshrine discrimination against the relationships of some. Gay and lesbian citizens of our country should have the same rights to establish relationships which are recognized by civil law, as is already the case in a growing number European countries, Canada and several states of our Union.

Despite the cries and lamentations from many Christians as to how the sanctity of marriage, the church’s sacraments and the nature of the family being threatened, I see no imminent demise of marriage or the family as a result of this. Here are a couple of thoughts as to why:

First of all the uniqueness of the male –female bond is biologically based, inseparable from who we are and how we propagate as a species. Governmental recognition of relationships of whatever kind do not fundamentally change a reality for humans; it takes opposite sex partners for a relationship to bring about new life. This reality is attested to in the book of Genesis and quoted by Jesus when he said “male and female he created them”. Unless humans evolve beyond what seems possible to us now or science makes reproduction obsolete, there is no real threat to the male-female design which is essential to the continued existence of humans. That uniqueness, blessed explicitly by God in creation and obvious in daily life in our planet is not amenable to change by any human made laws.

Secondly, it is not gay marriage or its possible equivalents that pose a threat to opposite gender marriage and families. Non gay men and women do quite well in that regards. Serial monogamy, cohabitation, divorce, the hook up culture so prevalent in our day pose greater challenges to marriage and the family than any gay or lesbian couple wanting their union recognized by law. Even among Christians, divorce and cohabitation before marriage are commonplace. Just considering sheer numbers makes the assumption that the demise of marriage falls on the lap on expanding its definition to include same gender couples is laughable.

I think for those interested in the "Defense of Marriage" honesty requires us to identify the real enemies to defend from! We should objectively place the blame for its perceived demise, where it should lie, with us, not those who have not been able to “get married” ever in our society! With that reality clear in our minds then we can address the crisis in our relationships! Maybe our focus should be on enriching and strengthening our marriages and families, not so much in nay saying the relationships of others.

As Episcopalians we are Christians who hold a sacramental worldview. God is made manifest , reveals himself to us in the natural, the commonplace, and the stuff of this world. He certainly needs no help from us in deciding what to bless, where he should manifest himself or what things he should call holy! Sacraments are for us visible signs of an invisible grace which is God’s alone to grant. The church merely recognizes these occasions; we do not dictate them to God, nor can any government or law making body!

It is for Christians to discern where God makes himself present, yet sincere Christians have at times disagreed as to the particulars. The sacrament of marriage, between a man and a woman, as defined by Scripture, understood in Christian tradition, is one of those areas. For some Christians this can only happen once! Divorce, though legal does not invalidate the sacramental reality and remarriage is not a possibility, in fact it is considered sin. For others, despite the desire of God that marriage be permanent, people often fail and God does grant grace after divorce even for remarriage.

No community of faith is forced by law in our society to perform sacramental acts against it convictions and doctrines! The Roman Catholic Church, despite the legality and prevalence of divorce in our society does not remarry divorcees, whereas many other communities of faith do so. This right of Christians in our society to practice faith without government interference is certainly in no danger from the repeal of DOMA.

Perhaps our confusion comes from the uncomfortable mix of cultural, civil and religious principles when it comes to relationships between people. The state is not an arm of the church nor should clergy be agents of the state for civil matters. If marriage is a sacrament blessed by the Church, then certainly people do not get that at their local clerk of the county court, nor from a notary public. The civil and legal aspects of that belong to “Caesar”, or Obama, the courts, legislators, the voters. None of these have any bearing on what belongs to God alone, nor what Christian communities decide to acknowledge and bless!

Furthermore it takes a couple to form a relationship, and in the end, the love and fidelity they choose to pledge to one another can only be seen and blessed by them and God. Here, neither church nor states have any jurisdiction, because they have not been given the keys nor the control over human hearts!

Christians have a message of love and good news to all people. God loves, he saves heals and he includes. That love extends to people who by nature or nurture perceive themselves to be gay or lesbian. We do the gospel no favors by proclaiming God's love with our lips but with words and action attempt to limit the rights of others in our society even as we ignore greater gospel imperatives facing our world.

I agree with Dr. Mohler that it is time for Christians to start thinking ... Episcopalians have been engaged in that for some time ! If recent polls among Christian youth in reference to this topic are to be believed, they may have made up their minds already and left us all behind. How the Supreme Court will make up theirs will be something to watch!



Friday, February 18, 2011

Politics and Parishes..

As political seasons come and go and Christians become engaged in the political process, there is always a danger for Christians to forget who and what they are, who they follow and to what kingdom they belong. Political candidates often visit churches, some for worship, others for campaigning and, though the church may not endorse any particular candidate or party, all visitors, whatever their party affiliation, must be welcome into our prayer and fellowship!

Here are some wise words which help us reflect and navigate the intersection between parishes and politics taken from; “How to engage in Politics without losing your Soul”.

* Christians must never allow ourselves to equate the biblical Kingdom of God with any human political party or nation.(John 18:36; Isaiah 9:7; Matthew 6:33, Philippians 3:20, Revelation 11:15).

* Christians must never allow ourselves to elevate a specific politician to a messianic or savior status. As Christians, we have one Lord, and we must resist all attempts to exalt any human politician to unrealistic heights. (1 Peter 3:15).

* Christians must not just vote, but more importantly, we must pray for our government and the leaders of all political parties.In our polarized political society, many Christians are tempted to bless the politician or political party they support, and curse the other one they don’t. The Bible is clear, we are to pray for all political and government leaders, even our political enemies (Matthew 5:44, 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

* Christians must never allow ourselves to bring the divisiveness and polarization of political parties into the church, the family of God. We must accept the fact that there will be diversity of political opinions in the church. We must never allow diverse political perspectives to cause conflict and divisions in the church(Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 1:11-12).

* Christians must never allow ourselves to demonize or dehumanize another person,no matter what politician it is – because every single human has been created in the image of God. Christians must not engage in demeaning , judging or being unwelcoming to other people, no matter whether we agree with them politically or not. (Colossians 3:8, Matthew 7:1, James 4:12).
 * Christians must never engage in angry confrontational arguments, instead of being open to learn through civil debate and dialogue. Christians must always engage in politics through a path of reason and civility. (James 1:20, Philippians 2:14-16, 2 Timothy 2:14).

* Christians must never allow ourselves to become so intertwined so closely with one political party that we forfeit our independent identity as followers of Christ . When we do, we lose the prophetic voice to speak and clarify biblical truth to all politicians and political parties (1 Timothy 3:15, Ephesians 4:15, Romans 3:4).

* Christians must never allow ourselves to engage in partisan politics by supporting divisiveness between races, between male and female, between rich and poor, and between the young and old. (Matthew 5:9, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

* Christians must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of simply cursing the darkness through negativity, instead of constructively engaging our world as preserving salt and illuminating light (Matthew 5:13-16).


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Actions and Words-Brief reflection on the Presiding Bishop's Visit to St. Lukes

The Presiding Bishop's visit to our parish has come and gone. The experience was wonderful; great liturgy, bells and smells,lively music, liturgical dance and a beautiful message by The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Yet, after almost three weeks, other than the pictures, there remains very little memory or conversation about the pomp and fanfare of that day. Other things however,remain clear in the hearts and minds of people in this working class bilingual parish...things we still talk about!

First, was the illustration the presiding Bishop used at the close of her sermon! Reading from her prepared notes, she compared Christians to sunflowers always seeking the light of the sun, turning towards it even during the dark of the night ; So are we to always seek and turn toward Christ even in times of darkness and uncertainty. That the altar that day was decked with bright yellow sunflowers, surely a coincidence, made the remark even more memorable!

Secondly was the way she interacted naturally with old and young alike, taking time for pictures, questions conversation in English and Spanish to people from all walks of life. There was the moment she gave communion to Rosa our oldest parishioner at 101, and her foray unescorted into the kitchen to bless and thank the women who labored there. The fact that, she and her husband stayed until all the fancy stuff came down and people began to clean up for the day was so refreshing! She did not act like a visitor that day but became a member of family...our family.

The third extremely memorable image happened at the end of this wonderful but long day. It was an unexpected but joyful sight to watch the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church become a helper, assisting a young woman reset a table in the parish dining hall. I for one, had never seen that in over 40 years in churches. Preachers, priests, bishops, speakers... come, they minister, sample the goodies, thank the pastors and usually leave. Rarely do they take time to go chat or bless those working behind the scenes, nor become one with them as they lend a hand to help. That we will not soon forget!

Thank you Bishop Katharine for your visit, your words and example to us as one who leads and serves...!