By Eleanor Johnston - St Thomas' St Catharines
Published: July 2010
Related Topics: General Theology, Leadership, Social Justice, Spirituality
Have the gays of the Diocese achieved their goals? Not really. Okay, let's be honest, not at all. The Diocese of Niagara has agreed upon and published the Niagara Rite of Blessing of Civil Marriage. Right? No, actually. This document is to be used at the discretion of individual priests to bless, for example, a gay couple already married in the civil courts. Priests have been able to bless most anything (such as furniture, hymn books, pets) and anyone (such as those going on a long trip) so why was all this effort necessary to enable them to bless same-sex unions? Furthermore, is anyone performing this rite?
Everyone's tired of the same-sex topic and wants to give it a rest. But if the churches can drop it with a sense of satisfaction that we've made some progress in supporting our gay friends, we are deluding ourselves. In fact, those I've spoken to feel even more rejected, insulted and misunderstood than before.
And individual gays continue to walk away from our communion. To be told that they can receive a same-sex blessing but not be married in the church is the equivalent of the 1950's blacks in the southern states being told that they could take the bus but not sit at the front. Our fellow Anglicans who are also gay are saying, "Who needs this bus ride anyway? I'm walking." The new status quo reached within our Diocese means well (I trust) but doesn't satisfy anyone, especially those who see the establishment feeling smug that they've done something to placate the gays as they move on with relief to something they consider more important.
Years ago, when I first heard rumblings that the Anglican Church of Canada would suffer division because of the dispute over same-sex inclusivity, I assumed that the minority leaving the church would be the liberals. Actually, the congregations that have left are conservatives protesting what they perceive as misguided liberalism.
But there now is a movement towards the development of a liberal breakaway group. More walking. This concept has matured enough to reach my generally un-political ears. Here is a paraphrase of a recent email:
"The leaders of the Diocese are doing their best but what's happening is that many genuine seekers of God's Spirit are being left on the side of the church's road-way simply because they are homosexual. After years of unsuccessful struggle to make the Anglican Church of Canada inclusive, there is now a very serious call to begin an alternative (liberal) church that expresses no protest, politics, or need for property. They are people who simply want to worship God together by sharing the scriptures and breaking bread in justice and love."
If this happens, what will the worship groups of those who've walked away be like? Will they do without priests? Will they want to keep any Anglican liturgies and hymns? Will the Cathedral tell them they have no right (rite?) to call themselves Anglican? On what theologians will they base their liturgy? Will non-gay liberals be welcome? Will conservative gays stay in the established church? These potentially painful scenarios represent our human failure to nurture the needs of all those who are presently called to worship together in the Anglican Diocese of Niagara.
After hearing all the arguments about same-sex rights and rites, I've been waiting to meet a newly-ordained gay priest or a newly-blessed gay couple, and so far neither has appeared on my horizon. In fact, I'm starting to worry about comments I'm hearing that sound something like this: "I'm so tired of all the same-sex talk. It's time to move on." Are liberals just turning a blind eye, giving up out of exhaustion, like the environmentalists who have gone strangely silent on the fate of planet earth?
What we believe, think and feel about homosexuality says more about us than about God's will. Being a liberal or a conservative, in theological and ecclesiastical issues, reflects a person's family background, education and character type, not the person's goodness, intelligence or understanding of the Bible. We might as well stop blaming each other for being wrong on any particular topic. Sadly, because our theology is so central to our sense of identity, neither side can give or take and so we find ourselves at an impasse, waiting upon the Lord.
It seems that we need a wider frame of reference than our currently entrenched belief systems. Humor, compassion, education: these are essential; so too are being open to the Holy Spirit and resisting the temptation to use the Bible as a weapon against other children of God. If we can put an end to negativity, then we can have the energy to rebuild the parishes now enduring the vicious downward pull of disagreement. If we can awaken our minds to the sacred, we can undertake a great adventure together.