By The Rev Carlton Kelley
The Church throughout our entire history has dealt with issues that have caused conflict to one degree or another. Saints Peter and Paul had a very serious disagreement about whether it was necessary that male converts to the faith of our Lord be circumcised. Obviously, Paul won the day and we now look on this issue as one of the growing pains into a new way of living forgetting how divisive the church’s affirmation of Paul was. Some of the assumptions underlying Peter’s insistence that males be circumcised were that only men were really “worthy” of being inheritors of the kingdom and that women received their status from men.
We now believe that women have an independent status apart from men and that all baptized believers have an equal share in the kingdom of God. Women were the first witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection and Mary was the first “apostle” or messenger as she was sent by our Lord to proclaim his resurrection to his male disciples who were in hiding. The church has only recently started to treat women as full and equal partners in the Lord’s work equally capably as men of being bishops, priests, and deacons. That controversy has not yet subsided in parts of our Communion and the wider church as people still believe that women should “be silent in church” and aren’t capable of being ordained leaders. People began leaving the Episcopal Church when women were ordained. Even if it were possible, the church could not return to those days of inequality because the full light of the Gospel has shined on this issue.
People of the GLBT community now face a similar challenge to claim full and equal status. Since the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 only one woman has been ordained to the episcopate who is a lesbian and she serves as a suffragan or assistant bishop. There have been a number of gay men who have been candidates for the episcopate, but none have come close to being elected as diocesan bishops. Despite this, everyone knows that the church has had many gay men in the ranks of the ordained for centuries. The startling and telling difference is that the truth was not being openly spoken. There was a general agreement among the hierarchy “to look the other way” so as not cause embarrassment to the church. We are now telling the truth about how we are. That is the one difference. The truth is the most powerful and liberating thing we can know because all truth comes from God who wills that we all be free and fully alive. As St. Paul reminds us in Galatians “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm and do not submit yourselves to the yoke of slavery.”
It is my firm and unchangeable conviction that the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, is leading us into all truth. Is it painful and difficult? Yes, for all of us – for those who are GLBT and those who are not. Is it essential for the church to proclaim that the Body of Christ includes all the baptized? – without doubt.
The church has been no stranger to controversy in its past and there is no reason to assume we will be free of it in the future until the fullness of the kingdom of Christ is revealed. God in the power of the Holy Trinity is always with us. We have no need to fear.