Thursday, March 22, 2007

Peace Be With You. And Also With Them.

As someone who was raised Anglican Episcopalian, watching as the Church struggles to avoid a new "reformation" or schism over the issue of homosexuality within its ranks is deeply painful. Though my belief in religion has waivered in the past few years, my belief in God has not, and my love and nostalgia for the Church in which I was reared continues to this day. I went to an Episcopalian Church, attended an Episcopalian parochial school through 9th grade, and was baptized and confirmed in the High Church. Seeing my beloved childhood spiritual home under attack from outside forces (the world wide Anglican church) and inside (conservative homophobes) is discouraging and infuriating.

The church where I was reared as a child, though it had its faults, was always one of compassionate acceptance and tolerance. Even among the oldest, most conservative members, in my youth, I never heard a negative word openly spoken about homosexuality. However people felt in deep in their hearts, they knew better than to speak it aloud and give it credence in the light of day. Of course, this was the Anglican Church in Los Angeles, and if a church in Los Angeles becomes gay-hostile, it can kiss goodbye a huge chunk of its congregation, both homosexuals and sympathetic straights alike. And with the members go their tythes. That can hit a church right where it lives -- in its coffers.

That hasn't stopped certain L.A.-based Presbyterian churches (which shall remain nameless for the moment), taking their cues from the national synod's formally adopted policies, from attempting to eliminate homosexuals from its congretation by subtly changing policy to purge them from positions as elders and laypeople in positions of power. I'm happy to say both the Episcopalian church and the Presbyterian church to which I have belonged as an adult have adamantly resisted this small-minded mini-Inquisition.

I loved being in Church. I still love being inside a Church, especially my churches, one Episcopalian and one Presbyterian. There's a comfort and safety I feel in church that I don't feel anywhere else. I can say anything to God, and He'll listen and love me anyway. I've had very little in the way of unconditional love in my life, except from God. I would never presume to believe that anyone who came humbly to any of His houses and confided in Him would get any less than I. I'm just not that special.

I feel for the conservative Christians who've been so brainwashed by television pastors and the White House that they just can't bring themselves to love without judgement, to tolerate that which they do not -- cannot -- understand. Tolerant acceptance does not mean that you must adopt an experience as your own. I don't understand the experience being over six feet tall, but that doesn't mean I can't accept people over six feet tall, and allow them to be as tall as they were destined to be without judging or condemning them. I would have thought that the Jesus Christ that all those Christians have such a "close, personal relationship" with might have gotten that point across. But as is true of most people in relationships with others, most Christians only think they understand Christ. The sad truth is, they've done with Christ what they've most likely done with their spouses, parents and children -- applied a thin veneer of their own design to the surface of the other person to build them into someone they can understand and accept. Unfortunately, as with any veneer or neat, fancy finish, it obscures the real thing. Harsh of me, perhaps. Still, it is what I see unenlightened individuals do to each other (and to God) every day. I always come back to Anne Lamott's quote from a priest friend of hers: "You can be sure you've created God in your image when God hates all the same people you do."

The Anglican Episcopalian and American Presbyterian churches are on the verge of serious schism over the issue of homosexuality. When it comes to the "gay issue," I like to return to the words of Jesus Christ on the subject. Or, rather, I would like to return to the words of Jesus Christ on the subject, if Christ had actually discussed it -- which he didn't. Doesn't that tell those holier-than-just-about-anyone-else Christians that maybe their off-base here?

I feel bad and sad for them. I hurt for them. How exhausting it must be to carry such fear and hatred around. I should know. They way they feel about gays, I feel about our current government. So I can safely say that they are lost in the hearts, and no amount of outside prayer and well-wishing can save them from themselves. God knows I won't try. I'm in no position to judge them. But they have built themselves a labyrinth* that they'll have to find their own way out of, step by step and row by row. And since they've chosen to separate themselves so wholly from the love of their God, they shouldn't rely on Him to pull them through this one. Sometimes even an unconditionally loving Father has to let you flail on your own, so you'll learn what you need to learn to live well.

So I can only leave them with what I know from childhood -- the benediction that my beloved reverend, Dr. Alexander Campbell, said at the end of every service over which he presided, whether it was weekdays in chapel or Sundays in church:

"May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you His peace."


* The labyrinth is considered by many Anglicans to be a sacred symbol. Having its origins (for Anglicans at least) in the ancient practices of the Gaelics and the Druids, "walking the labyrinth" is considered a means of meditation and relfection where a person can find his spiritual center and reconnect with the true nature of God. It is believed that the practice of growing hedge mazes at English castles, like the famous one at at Hampton Court, sprang from the desire for a place of peaceful contemplation.

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