Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is there no balm in Gilead?

A couple weeks ago, those of us who use the “semi-continuous track” of the Revised Common Lectionary heard Jeremiah’s plaintive question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (8:22) That is my question today for the Church, particularly for the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and the leadership of the Anglican Communion. Is there no balm in Gilead?

Intellectually I understand the gist of the statement of the House of Bishops issued yesterday (here). I understand that, as Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori said in her “Word to the Church (here),” it affirms the status quo. I can even understand the political necessity of saying certain things in certain ways so that certain people in the larger Communion can hear them and giving the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury something to work with. I even get the very real concern of keeping the Communion together for the sake of mission throughout the world. I, too, in spite of everything, want to be a member of the Anglican Communion.

And, yet, is there no balm in Gilead?

Let me go so far as to say that I am willing to make sacrifices—I would have walked out of this Church a very long time ago if that were not true. I am willing to accept that there is a cross in all of this mess that I must stand at the foot of, and even a back (mine) on which some compromise must be built for a time.

And, yet, is there no balm in Gilead?

The sacrifice is hard and the back is sore, really very, very sore.

And, yet, is there no balm in Gilead?

Here’s why I keep asking the question:

It is of fundamental importance that, as we continue to seek consensus in matters of human sexuality, we also be clear and outspoken in our shared commitment to establish and protect the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, and to name and oppose at every turn any action or policy that does violence to them, encourages violence toward them, or violates their dignity as children of God.

Having just stated the ways in which they feel the Church must continue to violate our dignity (how, in our tradition, could withholding the public celebration of our relationships and prohibiting our share in all aspects of the church’s ministry be thought of as anything other than a violation of our dignity?), the bishops then promise to oppose violating our dignity. That violates our dignity.

And then,

We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.

But we are not full participants in the life of the church. You yourselves have just said so.

This gap between word and deed, reality and wishful thinking, is untenable. It is monstrous in how easily it seems to have been perpetrated. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Wishful thinking is reality because we say so!

Two sentences would have been a balm in the form of some sense of honesty and compassion. To the first sentence quoted above could have been added, “We believe this journey we are on as a Communion is itself a journey toward making that dignity a reality in our own midst.” And to the second, “We offer our profound apology to our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers that we continue to fall short of this Gospel.”

That’s it.

You see, the gift lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have been giving the church for the past thirty five years is honesty. It is something that the church has always struggled to keep at the heart of its message and mission. This has never been a surprise because honesty is hard for religious people who want to believe they can make themselves right, convincing God to love them. Jesus taught us that. The church has had a tough time admitting it is a flawed, human institution and therefore solely dependent on Gods’ grace for its very existence, much less its salvation.

We have been trying to teach you that honesty is the most painful thing in the world, and the only thing that can save us, because dishonesty is fundamentally the spiritual denial of grace itself.

Honesty is the balm in Gilead.

Please stop telling us things you think you want us to hear and start telling us, yourselves, and the world the truth. It really will set us all free.

But hear this clearly, a dishonest church is a dying church. Where there is no balm, the people perish. A word of truth and a word of compassion will not only be our comfort. It will be our resurrection.


murat11 said...


I completely agree: the audacity of proclaiming against and then fully supporting apartheid is absurd. Go on ahead and do their ghastly deed, without trying to hide behind sentiments that they are in no way willing to stand up for.

And I am sorry that I feel this way, but here it is: I feel that it is unconscionable that any historical victims of prejudice and racism should in any way support this continued apartheid.

Jim said...

Fr. Michael,

Well and truly said my friend. I conclude that some bishops will do anything to punch that ticket to Lambeth. ;;sigh;;


Tobias Haller said...

Dar Michael,
Thanks for this. I would have been much happier with a note of apology than a note of [false] affirmation. Being "real" is more important than being "nice" -- and I think some of our bibhops haven't learned the hard fact of that difference.
God bless you and your work and ministry,

J-Tron said...

I see why you feel the statement is contradictory. And I think that the two sentences you suggest would have been helpful. Perhaps it was a mistake for the bishops to not acknowledge more explicitly the gulf between what they are doing for the sake of the Communion and what they hope the Communion can become.

But I don't think that this statement by the bishops is either dishonest or contradictory. It's important to remember that the actions the bishops are taking are in response to the pleas and demands of the rest of the Communion. In other words, it is not the will of the House of Bishops to refrain from blessing same sex unions or consecrating gay and lesbian bishops. They are doing so because they are being obedient, because of a greater love for the Communion, in the hopes that the Communion will find a way forward despite so much effort to the contrary.

Therefore, it seems to me entirely fitting that they would spend much of the document restating their support for the dignity and equality of gay and lesbian people. And yes, that dignity and equality is threatened by the actions being taken, but not out of a desire on the part of the bishops to do so. Call that cowardly or wrong headed if you wish, but it is not inconsistent.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Michael, what you say the bishops could have done is exactly right.

They could have told the truth.

Did they think we would not take note of the contradiction?

Clark R. West said...

Dear Michael+,
Thank you for putting into words exactly what I have been feeling. I am deeply angered and frustrated by the complicity with evil and cowardly double-speak of the Bishops statement. The time has come to move forward into full inclusion. Thank you for your grace filled words and tremendous leadership in these trying times.
Your brother in a holy hope of new life for our church,