Pope Francis. A pope loved by the people. (ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Christianity could address political chaos
It is a rare occasion that I agree with Michael Coren but I do think he is bang on in this Toronto Star article, Perfect time for the church to show leadership. In it, he argues that in the political chaos we see arising both south of us and across the Atlantic, might be addressed by a Christianity focused on social justice issues.
The liberal Christian church has focused on social and economic justice issues for decades, beginning with the social gospel movement at the turn of the last century. Those interests expanded over the decades to include race, gender, environmental, sexual, and gender identity justice issues as well. Indeed, my United Church of Canada has been a leader in every one of those areas and I’m proud of the work we’ve bravely undertaken over our history.
Christianity most certainly had a role to play in these debacles of democracy gone wrong but it will be scored on the wrong side of history’s ledger. At least I hope it will. After all, most history is written by the victors and, in the immediate future at least, I don’t think those Coren and I are rooting for are going to be doing much writing.
Twenty-eight years ago, I was in my first year of theological education at Queen’s. It was a vibrant time in The United Church of Canada whose General Council – the highest court of the church – was meeting that summer. The conversation was all about the ordination of gays and lesbians, as we then referred to those who didn’t find themselves represented by heterocentric culture.
We hoped that the church would celebrate the leadership abilities of our denomination’s LGBT members and open the channels to ordered ministry to them. This many years later, it’s a moot point, but the tensions were high.
UCC banner at World Pride, 2014
In one class, we discussed the political implications of the report being presented to the 1988 General Council. Maybe it wasn’t yet time. Maybe the church wasn’t ready. We were worried. The rhetoric of the United Church’s Renewal Fellowship and its Community of Concern* challenged the report “Toward a Christian Understanding of Sexual Orientations, Lifestyles, and Ministries” and threatened to remove significant numbers of members, and perhaps even congregations, from the UCC were the report to be accepted. Was the church jumping the gun? Shouldn’t it wait until we were more confident of achieving a positive result?
Our professor asked us when we thought would be the right time if not then. Did we think that fifty percent plus one would be enough confidence to go ahead? Maybe seventy? Maybe, in order to avoid a schism, we should wait until it was ninety percent. That way, we’d save the church while still making the right decision.
In the end, it’s very probable that no one remembers the percentage of the vote that took the General Council and the church by storm that summer. Minds and hearts were changed as individuals spoke their truths to the Council. Commissioners who had left home ready to stamp all over the work of the committee and ensure their report was never accepted, voted in favour. The report was accepted and The United Church of Canada became the first Christian denomination in history to welcome active LGBT men and women into ordered ministry. It was one of those moments that can never again be new; there is only ever one first time.
Photo credit: morguefile.com user Hotblack
For almost thirty years, members of the Anglican Communion have envied the courage it took for United Church to step into that moment. It didn’t come cheaply. The Renewal Fellowship was true to its threats and members left in droves. Some congregations left as a whole; others were split apart, left arguing about who had rights to the building and the communion ware.
I grieve for the Anglican Communion but I grieve more for those within it who are still seen as lesser human beings when they live out their love. I hope, in fact, that the Episcopal Church decides to go their own way, eschewing the damning rhetoric of the Council of Primates. Fixing a date for Easter with other Christian churches and ending “a thousand years of confusion” is a trite piece of business for the Primates to work through when they have refused to make amends for two thousand years of wrong done to those whose sexualities are condemned by an ancient, meaningless text.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Communion, said on Friday that the council was “very careful not to use the word ‘sanctions'” while it placed limits on the Episcopal Church of America’s right to vote on doctrinal matters or participate in ecumenical councils. That’s an unfortunate thing. Because “sanction” means two things and they are contradictory. It would have been wonderful if the Archbishop of Canterbury had said, “Today, we sanction the actions of the Episcopal church,” to which we might all have risen and shouted a grand, “Hurray!” celebrating that the Anglican Communion lauded their courageous actions. Sure, the conservative agitators would be yelling “Hooray!” as well, assuming the negative interpretation of the word, but as the arc of history bent toward justice, they would have been able, in the long run, to save a lot of face.
*I used to think myself very clever for calling the Community of Concern “COC: a male-dominated group” but it was true – the group make-up, that is, not my cleverness. Most of the members of the COC were older, white men. The conservative element within the UCC has now coalesced under a more savvy brand: Cruxifusion. Its members are younger and more diverse but its theologies may be even more conservative than were those of the COC.