Our Vestry and Congregational conversations on the Blessing of Same Sex Unions, while challenging in what they represent in terms of potential change for us, have gone very well. People who disagree with each other have been able to share their points of view and their personal experience. All of that has been done in a respectful way. Hopefully, we have all had questions clarified and learned a bit better where our fellow parishioners stand and what each of us thinks about this complex issue. Certainly one thing has been obvious: we all care deeply about this parish and each other. Talking about hard subjects is always a good thing when done in a prayerful and respectful way.
A couple of people have come to me after attending one of these conversations and said very similar words: “I disagree with the blessing of same sex unions because of the way I read scripture but it’s very hard for me to stand up and say that after someone has shared that their child is gay. It sounds so harsh and judgmental.”
For some people this issue is so very simple. Some see it as a simple matter of treating fellow humans fairly, make the point that Jesus included all sorts of people in his gatherings, and are eager for the church to move on and offer blessings to faithful and committed relationships be they homosexual or heterosexual. Others see it simply as a violation of the way they read scripture and want the church to refuse to move toward any change of interpretation.
For more and more people, however, the issue is much more complicated. The two people who have told me privately that what they believe feels too harsh and judgmental to say out loud embody what the church as a whole has been going through the past 40 years or longer. Traditionally our church has interpreted scripture to be against all homosexual behavior. But, as we have come to know faithful and committed homosexual relationships among our close friends and family members, many struggle with the harsh and judgmental tone of that traditional understanding. We were taught one way. But an inner voice tells us that teaching may have been too harsh and not taken enough into consideration.
For many of us, that’s where we currently find ourselves: between what we have been taught traditionally and what our hearts seem to be telling us. Which one do we choose to follow, the traditional teachings or our hearts?
Maybe it’s not an either/or sort of decision. Maybe we need to continue to examine our traditional view of scripture and dig even deeper into the sacred texts which have formed our doctrine. Maybe we need to study about how doctrine has been formed and reshaped when new information comes along. Maybe we need to listen to each other as we interpret scripture differently. And maybe we need to listen to our hearts and the experience of others. When there are on-the-one-hand versus on-the-other-hand arguments, usually we have to find a way to consider what is in both hands instead of just dumping out one and choosing only the other.
Our tradition is certainly important. And people are important. As we ask if we should move to bless same sex unions, we aren’t suggesting that our whole tradition be thrown out. We’re asking if it should be expanded. Tradition doesn’t look only to what we have done; it looks to what God may have us do in order to live into the kingdom of God.
We stand beside each other with some divided opinions on this subject. The Law is not to thrown out. Grace sometimes leads us to see that we have applied the law in questionable ways. The Law and Grace go together, Christ assures us. Those who want the Tradition to be expanded are not trying to destroy what the church holds dear and holy. Those who want Scripture to be taken seriously are not monsters trying to wipe out a portion of humanity. We are two hands and we are trying to remember that those two hands are part of a larger body, Christ’s body, the Church.
The conversations continue and, I believe, the Church benefits. Pray that we may continue to respect all members of the body equally. Pray that we may listen to the wisdom we have inherited. Pray that we may be open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Pray that we may be the Church in better and better ways.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.