Wednesday, March 09, 2005

And so it begins...

I heard the news yesterday from my friend Sandy M., who's still in Kansas... though I really wasn't surprised, I was particularly saddened.

As this article in the Kansas City Star indicates, Christ Episcopal Church in Overland Park, KS has agreed in principle to withdraw from the US Episcopal Church. As I read that, three words came to mind.

Damn, damn, damn.

You see, this is personal. Christ Episcopal is about 2 miles from my former home congregation, Atonement Lutheran in Overland Park. Atonement's Alpha program, a core piece of congregational revival at my former home church, started as an offshoot of Christ's program. They helped our congregation out when we were going through our re-visioning process; their rector, Ron McCrary, spoke at one of our council retreats. And their congregation has always seemed to have a heart for the unchurched and the nominally-churched. All that to say this: there is much to recommend one to the ministry of Christ Episcopal Church. I can't deny that.

The bad news is, as Bishop Wolfe points out, that this church has been headed out the door for a year, and now (assuming the congregational vote in April follows the pastors and council's recommendation) they're all but gone.

While the article says that there are a number of issues underlying the split, the triggering episode sure seems to be the election of an "actively" gay bishop two years ago. It seems that Christ Episcopal has decided to hang their congregation's future on the theory that "The translators of the [fill in your favorite] Version say that God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it."

The greater tragedy is that when the church schisms over issues related to homosexuality, the two camps invariably look across the divide at each other with loathing, splitting into "How can you tolerate THAT awful sin?" and "How can you leave us over such an inconsequential issue as THAT?" camps. (This sounds like a wild generalization - but in fact, this has been my personal experience with other congregations, too.)

Once again, a church that claims to follow the "love God, and love your neighbor" guy has allowed acceptance of GLBT people and lifestyles to become the ultimate litmus-test of faithfulness, rather than issues of substance like I dealt with over here.

And what's sad is that the churches that seem to have what I want - spirited, contemporary worship, powerhouse preaching, and a heart for welcoming the unchurched (well, the str8 unchurched, anyway) - also seem to have this same hardline understanding about homosexuality. (Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian seems to be an exception to this rule, although their worship style is pretty "traditional.")

The next time Atonement Lutheran calls on Christ Episcopal, will the answer be "Of course, we'll help you out...just tell us what your church's position on gays and lesbians"?

This crap makes me crazy. God, grant me the serenity....


Peter said...

Amen to many of your thoughts, Steve. I have found the same biblical literalism and conservatism in many of the "upbeat" and "with it" worshipping churches, while the mainliners in which i find myself are rather more liberal theologically, and reactionary in liturgy ("Let's do the Time Warp again...!").

Our denomination lost thousands of people and dozens of congregations when "the issue" as it is known came up in 1988. "Schism" was our middle name, then. It is painful, and i well remember the deep bitterness on both sides.

There is a special loneliness for people like you and i who have had to make what i think are false choices between liturgies and theologies we can live with in our worship community. I've chosen (so far) to take the theology and endure the liturgy (even as I subvert it with liturgical drama {twist moustache}).

Michael Dodd said...

In my monastery days, I was surprised to learn that John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church (the present pope wrote his own doctoral dissertation on John's teaching on faith), warned that there are two paths that can lead us astray: one which goes after things of this world and the other which goes after what he calls "goods of heaven." Either path is not the path to God, because they represent the human desire to be satisfied with something less: food, drink, clothes, beautiful liturgies, impressive church buildings, statues, righteousness, knowledge... All these things are good when they are in proper order, which means they are not the ultimate good. It seems to be a painful road for those of us who do love these "goods of heaven" in our religious communities. We have to walk away from them, perhaps, to seek the God of love. Do we dare give up the sonorous language of the King James Version of the Bible? Can we let go of the mystery of the Latin Mass? Do we need the clean lines of a New England Congregational church in order to pray? None of these things is God. I seem shockingly aware of this when I see others tangled in their godly attachments. I am not too good at seeing my own bondage.
My novice master told me that he had learned one lesson in twenty-five years of religious life: Nothing works. Only God.
God, set us all free for you!

Dave said...

Perhaps you should write a no holds barred letter to the pastor and the council telling them what idiots they are. Or even a civil one pointing out the error of their ways. It might make you feel better. And after all, that's what Martin Luther would do.

It gratifies me to see strait people who are so troubled by these events. I've grown to numb disgust myself but it's reassuring to know that it's not all of them.

Hope you're doing well.

Im A Foto Nut said...

Ok Brother Steve....

In response to the following statement,

"Once again, a church that claims to follow the "love God, and love your neighbor" guy has allowed acceptance of GLBT people and lifestyles to become the ultimate litmus-test of faithfulness, rather than issues of substance..."

First of all, what the GLBTs fail to see is that they are ALREADY ACCEPTED by Christ and his church, just as every other sinner in the world is. Christ's blood washes all sin away. As Pastor Joe simplified it, "Lutherans believe that there is nothing to be done to receive the gift of Christ's Salvation, it was already yours to begin with." I take that to mean that Christ accepts me as I am, sin and all. Because of that I will do my best to REPENT and sin no more.

It, however, does not say to me, that Christ should accept me on my own terms. Terms that ask Him not only to overlook my unrepentant sinful lifestyle, but honor it to the point of ordaining me even though I chose to blaintently disrespect His wishes.

Twisting God's word so that one can justify their own worldly choices, is not what He had in mind conserning salvation.

I have felt lead to say this for sometime now, and this seems to be as good a time as any. Have you ever thought that the reason your path to ministery was derailed by God may have been because you yourself got derailed from His will?

Steve F. said...

Of course my ministry career was derailed because of my sin and my failure to do God's will, Tim. There's absolutely no doubt about that. None whatsoever.

Unfortunately for your reasoning, however, the sins I'm paying for are 20 years old, and have absolutely nothing to do with my beliefs about homosexuality. It has to do with twenty-two years of spending money that I didn't have, and not being able to pay it back. It's the sins of greed, drunkeness, gluttony, theft and avarice that I'm paying for - not for my supportive stance toward abominations. (That, and being stupid enough to listen to people who said, "You just need to go - God will take care of the rest.")

You might find it interesting that if I had $80K to wipe my indebtedness clean, I'd be welcomed back into the candidacy process the very next cycle around. I received a note to that effect from the Synod offices this very evening, in fact.

Funny thing is, in my entrance essay to the committee, I talked about finding joy in worship through several Promise Keepers events. During my first meeting with the committee, two different committee members questioned how I could possibly be a part of that organization, specifically because of their stand on homosexuality and how it differed from the ELCA's position at the time.

No, don't you worry - I don't need you, or anyone, to tell me how my thinking, my sinful actions, and my lack of faith in my life to this point has screwed my ministry career. In fact, I've had 17 straight months (pardon the pun) of more or less constant levels of self-loathing and depression focused on that very topic.

You want to point out how far my life is from God's will? Just step to the back of a very, very long line, brother. You're awfully late for that particular party.

But thanks for reminding me - I'd almost gone an entire hour without thinking about it.