08 August 2012

What She Said

Last night, what she said, kept me awake.

What she said, brought me to my deepest prayers in months.

What she said caused me to shed a tear for the state of my church.

What she said was just in passing, but it haunts me still this morning.

"I never thought I'd be more welcomed in the military than I am in my own church.
It'll be me they target until they find someone else who is 'less than'."

Oh church --

How we have failed her.
How we have failed to be true to who we are!
How we have gotten lost in this world!

Last night, I was reminded that our roots are as the outsider.

I started thinking about the history of my denomination - those who were unwelcome in the church that had raised them because of their beliefs about the Table.  Our deepest roots say the outcast is welcome at the Table.

I started thinking about the history of my nation - it is a story of the continual outcast.  The native americans were run off their own land; blacks were 3/5 of a person; women couldn't vote; asians were subjected to conditions we would now consider inhumane; women were to stay at home; segregation; interracial families; aids patients; homosexuals.  Since white Europeans first landed on this continent, we've been trying to get rid of everyone who isn't "like me."

I started thinking about the history of my gender - it wasn't that long ago that the idea of a woman as senator or deacon or even architect was completely out of the question.  Women were teachers, nurses, secretaries, wives/mothers, or spinsters.  That was it.

It wasn't that long ago that a divorcee' could never consider serving on a church board or as deacon or pastor.

It wasn't that long ago that I couldn't be ordained.

Our history begs to find the sin of the other.

Last night, I hadn't heard anything I'd never heard before.
But last night, what she said changed my perspective.

Last night, my prayer was, "God, when will this end?  How long will we be a people committed to excluding and abusing?  How long will the church find someone to exclude?"

And more frighteningly, "Who is next, God?"

Who is next? 
Who will be our next target as "other"?
Whose actions will scare us so much that we have to shut our doors and insulate ourselves against them?
And when will we demand that it stop?

Regardless of what the talking heads tell us, this is not a political issue.
This is not about "them."
This is about us.
The church.
The body of Christ.
The hands and feet of the Jesus we claim to serve.

The Incarnate God who was himself an outcast to his church.
The very human Holy One who ate with sinners.
Who broke the Sabbath laws.
Who refused to live by the Holiness Codes.
Who shared the Table with his betrayer.

When, my dear church, will we be brave enough to live like Jesus?

Forgive us, God.
Forgive us, my sister.
Forgive us, please.

That there may never again be someone 'less than'.........


Jordan Blevins said...

Thanks, Erin, for sharing. I have lots of thoughts on this. The first is that a lot of what you say rings so very, very true. And I share so much of your frustration.

The first thing that pops into my mind is just a reminder that as much as we want the church to be better than the society in which it finds itself .. it is made up of the same people. And these kinds of shifts in discriminatory thinking, even if not especially in the church, take a long, long time. That isn't an excuse, and please don't hear it as that, but it is an important thing to remember with the amount of pain things like this cause.

The second thing I think is that we have to continue pushing, to continue talking. And one of the key distinctions we have to make is around the nature of the conversations we are having. The first one involves the civil institution of marriage. That is a political issue, and the church needs to stop getting involved. It is used to light a fire under people, but the right of people to federal and state benefits should not have anything to do with how a faith community defines the sacred institution of marriage.

Another distinction we have to make is one around whether or not we think homosexuality is defined in the bible as a sin or not, and whether or not the church discriminates based upon that. I don't think we are going to stop having the conversation around the biblical interpretation of whether or not homosexuality is a sin (not that I think we should, but I don't think we are going to reach a conclusion on that anytime soon). But we have to stop letting that be an excuse for continuing to discriminate against children of God in our churches. Whether or not you believe homosexuality is a sin has nothing to do with a persons ability to stand before God at the table, or serve God in any capacity (whether that be ordination, teaching a youth Sunday school class, or whatever). Untill you find me leaders in the church who are without sin, your ability to serve God and be who you are in the church is not dependant upon your being sinless.

I think the broader discrimination and biblical interpretation questions will take longer, and involves a larger cultural shift - much the way womens rights and racial discrimination have (which are still problems that need solving!). People will always have the right to believe whatever they want. But that doesn't give us a society the right to discriminate in our laws, or us as a church the right to discriminate in our practices. Those are the kinds of changes we can make now, even while we are in the midst of continuing to push our culture to one of greater acceptance and inclusion.

KateMac said...

What you wrote is just amazing. I have never considered the possibility that homosexuality is a sin, and I attribute that to being raised in the DOC denomination, which is so accepting of all people. I have many friends in the LGBT community, and just as in the straight community, they represent a broad spectrum of faith, morals and lifestyles. But as a Christian it is so painful to me to hear them tell of how they have been treated by other Christians and churches. I agree with Jordan that we cannot let the discussion about whether homosexuality is a sin (as defined by interpretations of the Bible) stand in the way of us acting like CHRISTIANS and welcoming them to share in our faith lives with us. I also agree with Jordan that there is a huge difference between gay marriage being defined by the state, and a church or minister having the right to refuse to perform a ceremony based on their personal belief in the sanctity of such a marriage. In truth any marriage is a legal contract as recognized by the state. A straight couple can be married by a judge, or by a minister and they are still legally defined as "married" by the state, with all the rights and responsibilities of that definition. All we are asking as advocates, friends and family of LGBT is that they are afforded the same civil right to define their union as a marriage by the state. Whether or not their union is celebrated in a ceremony with a minister should be up to them, and individual religious communities.

I am also saddened that our definition of "Christian" has been hijacked by politics. The "them versus us" mentality doesn't serve anyone, and is a waste of time and energy when there is so much we need to be truly addressing to serve God to our fullest. It is also further turning people off to the idea of church and faith at a time when we need to be far more open and accepting of those who are lost.

When I tell my children, and even many of my friends who are just 15-20 years younger than me, my memories of how women and African Americans have been treated earlier in my own life...the prejudice, the denial of equal rights in jobs and community organizations...they are stunned. "Why would they do that?" they ask. Indeed...and in coming years they will look back on this time and say, "Why did they do that?" in remembering events like the Boy Scouts keeping an antiquated policy against gays and lesbians being part of their organization, and the whole Chik-Fil-A hoopla.

Again, thanks for your eloquent essay. And thanks for the discussion.