May 24, 2008
I received an email from a man wanting to come to church with his partner and wanted to find out whether they would be welcome and also wanted to make sure that their presence would not make others uncomfortable.
I was able to assure him that he and his partner would be most welcome. I dodged the second question. Clearly most of us at All Saints’ are comfortable enough around gay and lesbian people that we have not departed for places that we find less challenging. At the same time, while we are on record as saying that we do not believe homosexuality is de facto sinful, we are not of one mind as to what that could or should mean.
This has come up recently in a couple of ways. One is a conversation among GALAS about a revised mission statement that would explicitly expand the group from being for gay and lesbian Christians and their friends to including also bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT). The fact that this has led to some discussion, sometimes heated, suggests that we still have work to do. I am comfortable with the language although freely admit to knowing very little about the whole business of gender reassignment surgery, its whys and wherefores, and its effects on those who undergo it and their families. I’m also not inclined to accommodate Christian ethics to the reality of bisexuality. It seems to me that a bisexual person has the same challenge as the rest of us of seeking one person with whom to share intimacy of all kinds in a commitment intended to be exclusive and lifelong. Again, though, I have not yet listened to the personal experience of someone who would define themselves in that way and may have something to learn. In general I like one friend's proposal that all such labels be banned at church.
The other question that has arisen recently is related to our stated belief that gay and lesbian couples should be able to celebrate their commitments to one another in the midst of their community of faith. When our vestry passed that resolution I said that we would not offer such celebrations in the church building until such time as we could do it above board and in full accord with the life of the church. Since that time I have helped two couples to enjoy such celebrations and another is to occur in our parish this month. The question has come up as to why we are still not offering celebrations of commitment in the church, especially in light of the news that Al Saints’, Pasadena will begin celebrating marriages for gay and lesbian couples.. After taking soundings with our parish leadership, clergy and program staff it is clear that while there is a general desire to move forward, and even a desire that we pronounce blessing on such unions, but that there needs to be some process that makes clear why I am changing the current policy other than my sense that we will be waiting for ever given that the church as a whole, the diocese of Atlanta in general and even our own parish is enjoying not having to struggle with issues of human sexuality and unlikely to push for change in the current climate.
I have thought about what might make it timely to change the policy and offer celebrations of commitment in the church (even under the current rubric of response to ‘pastoral need’). One thing that is clear is that we need to see what result, if any, comes from the deliberations of Anglican Bishops at Lambeth this summer with respect to a proposed ‘Anglican Covenant’. A second and subsequent action might be to ask our Bishop to state publicly some standards for such services in the diocese. I have asked for a meeting with our GALAS group on the fall to see what further suggestions they might have.
We must be aware of the wider context of the society in which we live as well. Public debates about gay unions and marriage will have some effect on our life as well. My guess is that if inter-racial marriage is the best analogy for the movement towards the affirmation of gay marriage then it will both come to
In the meantime we have a number of couples waiting to celebrate their commitment ‘at the same altar as everyone else’ and others for whom nothing less than marriage will do. I think the legal status of such unions is important, but will say that liturgically a celebration of commitment looks and feels a lot like a wedding. Indeed guests will sometimes say ‘what a lovely wedding’. The niceties and nuances of distinction seem quite silly in such a setting and they will never satisfy those who are opposed to any public or ecclesial affirmation of gay and lesbian couples. If there is any purpose in our enforced time of waiting, it is balancing the demands of doing what is right with the time for more people to find themselves less anxious than previously about the possibility of gay marriage.