Sunday, June 28, 2015

Episcopal Church's Current Understanding of Marriage Supports "Sacramental Apartheid"

In a recent blog posting, I noted that an Episcopal priest at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church compared the marriage rite in The Book of Common Prayer to the Confederate flag.  According to this priest, just as the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate that must be taken down, so, too, the Prayer Book's marriage rite is a symbol of discrimination that must be jettisoned and replaced with a gender neutral rite.  

Unfortunately, the harsh rhetoric and loony comparisons continue.  According to a Living Church article, for example, another priest speaking before the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage had this to say:

"It is time to let our yes be yes, and end what is nothing less than de facto sacramental apartheid," said the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Church, Pasadena, a member of the marriage task force.

It is sad to see such ridiculous nonsense used to justify sweeping changes in the Church's faith and practice.  But at least the implications of the Rev. Russell's language are clear: "If you disagree with us, then you are hateful, ignorant, discriminatory bigots and the moral equivalent of racists and segregationists."  

It is beyond question that racism and bigotry, and endorsing segregation and apartheid, are evil.  The Church cannot and should not tolerate such evil.  So if the Rev. Russell is correct, anyone espousing the traditional, orthodox understanding of marriage as currently contained in the Prayer Book's marriage rite is endorsing the sacramental equivalent of apartheid, and thus endorsing evil.  Such persons should not be allowed to hold positions of power and influence in the Church.  They should not be tolerated.  

If rhetoric like the Rev. Russell's wins the day, it's hard to see how there can be space for diversity and disagreement.  If General Convention goes down this path, difficult days may lie ahead for anyone in The Episcopal Church who believes in and adheres in practice to the theology of the 1979 Prayer Book's marriage rite.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Episcopal Bigotry: Prayer Book's Marriage Rite Compared to Confederate Flag

Even before the 78th General Convention officially started, things got interesting.  According to a Living Church article entitled "Prayer Book Discrimination?", an open hearing of the Special Legislative Session on Marriage included some forceful comments in favor of clearing the way for gender-neutral language in authorized marriage rites.  

One speaker took aim at the Prayer Book's marriage rite as follows: 

“How long are we going to allow documents like the Book of Common Prayer to contain language that is explicitly discriminatory?” asked the Rev. Will Mebane, interim dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo and a member of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. “Demands for the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate, to come down have been heard. … It is time to remove our symbol that contains language of discrimination.”

So just as the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, the rite for "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" in The Book of Common Prayer is a symbol of discrimination.  Just as we need to take down the Confederate flag because it perpetuates bigotry, we need to do away with the Prayer Book's current marriage rite because it, too, perpetuates bigotry.  

Fr. Matt Marino hits the nail on the head about this over at The Gospel Side:

The dean from Buffalo actually equated the language of the prayer book marriage rite (lifted directly from another "hate document," the bible) used in a church in which 3/4 of our diocese' have same-sex commitment ceremonies to the racially motivated murder of nine faithful Christians assembled in their church to study the scriptures?  That is patently irresponsible, thoroughly insensitive, and wholly unexplainable to my African American friends.

I would add that if Fr. Mebane is correct, then every time a clergy person has used or will use this marriage rite to preside at a wedding, he/she has been or will be actively discriminating against persons created in the image of God.  This violates the Baptismal Covenant promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  Such clergy persons commit sin for which they should repent.  And as proof of amendment of life, they should forswear ever again using this marriage rite.  

Not only that, but if Fr. Mebane is right, clergy who use the Prayer Book's marriage rite are not only sinning.  They are also running afoul of the the Episcopal Church's non-discrimination canon:

"No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons" (Canon I 17:5). 

Using the Prayer Book's marriage rite is therefore grounds for disciplinary action.

And if Fr. Mebane is right, then we have a conundrum to address regarding the theological warrant for marriage included in the Prayer Book's marriage rite.  That warrant reads as follows: 

"The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee" (BCP, p. 423).  

If Fr. Mebane is correct that the marriage rite is a symbol of bigotry, then we are faced with two unpalatable options.  

The first is that the opening exhortation is a lie.  God did not establish the bond and covenant of marriage between one man and one woman in creation, and Jesus did not adorn this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  So in addition to committing the sin of discrimination, clergy using this marriage rite have also been blaspheming by publicly proclaiming a lie about God and Jesus.  

The second option is that the opening exhortation truthfully represents what God did in creation and what Jesus did at the wedding in Cana.  In which case God inscribed bigotry into the very order of creation, and Jesus endorsed that bigotry at the wedding in Cana.  But if Jesus endorsed bigotry, then he was a bigot.  And if Jesus was a bigot, then Jesus was a sinner.  And if Jesus was a sinner, then he could not possibly be the Savior.

What Fr. Mebane said can easily be dismissed as ridiculous.  But that doesn't necessarily mean such ideas won't be taken seriously and acted upon by deputies and bishops at General Convention.  

Lord, have mercy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

St. John Chrysostom: Living With Security

"Living With Security"

Commentary on Matthew 7:24-27

Whereas his teaching has up to now largely focused on the future kingdom, its unspeakable rewards and its consolations, now he shifts his focus to the present life, its current fruits and how great is the strength of virtue within it. What then is its strength? It is living with security, not being easily overcome by any of life’s terrors and standing above all those who treat others maliciously. What could be as good as this? For not even the one who wears the royal crown would be able to furnish this for himself. 

But one who pursues the way of excellence can have this stability, for that one alone is possessed of this equilibrium in full abundance. In the crashing surf of the present circumstances such a one experiences a calm sea. This is amazing. It is when the storm is violent, the upheaval great and the temptations continual that such a person is not shaken in the slightest. This is not a way of living that applies to fair weather only. For he says, “The rain came down, the floods came, the winds blew, and they beat against that house. And it did not fall because it was founded upon the rock.” 

 In referring to rain, floods and winds, Jesus is speaking about all those human circumstances and misfortunes, such as false accusations, plots, bereavements, deaths, loss of family members, insults from others, and all the horrid things in life about which one could speak. Jesus says that a soul that pursues the way of excellence does not give in to any of these potential disasters. And the cause of this is that this soul has been founded upon the rock. 

 Now “rock” refers to the reliability of Jesus’ teaching. For his commands are stronger than any rock. They place one quite above all the human waves of life. For the one who guards these commands with care will excel not only over human beings when treated maliciously but even over the demons themselves in their plots. – St. John ChrysostomThe Gospel of Matthew, Homily 24.2 

Source: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Ia: Matthew 1-13, edited by Manlio Simonetti (InterVarsity Press, 2001), pp. 156-157.