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The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Politically Correct

We have heard a lot about political correctness recently, mainly from a candidate for President. I suspect, though, that outsiders who look at the Episcopal Church see us as a bastion of political correctness, a place where nice people say nice things to one another and don't rock any boats.

One Episcopal joke (OK—I'm spoiling the punchline) has an Episcopalian missing out on heaven because of using the wrong fork on a salad.

And it's easy to see our advocacy for gay rights and full inclusion of women in leadership as attempts to "go with the flow" and just be nice to one another.

That's not how we do doctrine. Our process for dealing with truth has sometimes been called a three-legged stool, but that analogy doesn't quite work, for it implies that all three legs (scripture, reason, tradition) are equal. Scripture is the overwhelmingly important one, so the analogy should be more like the old-fashioned stool one used to find at lunch counters: one main pillar embedded in the floor (scripture) and a couple of side supports (your legs) that you use to balance yourself. The good thing about the three-legged stool analogy, though, is that it works against the tendency some have to pluck one verse out of the Bible, read it in modern English without discussing its historical context or linguistic background, and apply it as an unchanging rule. Here are a couple of examples to show what I mean:

Women in the church. We often hear, for example, of I Corinthians 14:34, which says that women should keep silent in the church and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which says that Paul would not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. But what about all the important women in the Bible, including some who had a great deal of authority? What about the passage that says in the Kingdom of God there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28)? What about our own ancient history in which it was common for Celtic Abbesses to be persons of authority over both men and women? What about the modern missionary movement, which would have been impossible without female missionaries? Obviously, some thinking beyond a one-verse proof-text is necessary here.

Gay people and sexual minorities in the church. Once again, we get a lot of one-verse proof-texting. I'll just point out that the Leviticus "anti-gay" verse (18:22) uses the same language that is used for banning the eating of certain food, that the most-quoted New Testament verse in I Corinthians uses very unusual language that a Greek-speaker would not ordinarily use in discussing gay people, and that, by Paul's time, the real sexual transgressions of pagan society included ritual prostitution (some of it forced) in the worship of pagan deities. Forced temple prostitution is not what happens in the USA. I don't know how much weight we can put on it, but when Jesus healed the Centurion's servant, the Greek might indicate that the servant was actually a young slave who had been bought to be a lover. We certainly know, however, that the early church venerated Saints Sergius and Bacchus, who have normally been assume to be a couple.

Taking the heat for being politically correct

On both of these issues (and on several others, including our advocacy for civil rights and for the rights of immigrants), we have actually lost members who preferred the status quo, and pursuing justice on these issues has involved a lot of study, argument, and prayer, so it's not really correct to say we are advocates "just to be nice." We do these things because (after a lot of soul-searching) we're convinced that God is leading us to do the right thing.

Political correctness and the modern debate

OK—this is the part you thought I was going to write about. I'm old enough to remember when the default pronoun for a situation in which we were discussing generic humanity was "he." In the early days of the feminist movement, we struggled with a lot of silliness (for example, those who would write by alternating pronoun gender, paragraph by paragraph), and a lot of trivial campaigns (for example, the move to change the helper at a football game from "water boy" to "water person" and changing the name of an access hatch from "manhole" to "person hole").

But consider the roots of all this. How many female doctors, after struggling through medical school and residency, had to point out that they were "real" doctors and not nurses? How many divorced men can only see their children a few days a month because the mother is the "real" parent? How many Africans cringe when a Christian preacher makes reference to a heart that is "black with sin" and needs to be "washed whiter than snow"?

There is something basically loving and Christian about moderating one's language so as to avoid hurting or insulting the listener. And this isn't a matter of being spineless, but of standing firm for the truth that in God's eyes, people matter and we have no right to hurt them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Orlando Attack

To recap—especially because these comments might be read some time in the future—the material below refers to a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, June 12. In that attack, over 100 were shot, and more than 50 died.

Our Bishop, Mark Hollingsworth, has published this excellent response to the massacre. I have only a few things to add:
  • News media and politicians, ever eager to get in the first word, instantly published speculations about the motivations of the shooter. Because of his name and his religion, he was instantly labeled as a radical Muslim terrorist by some. Reality is more complex than that, and his motives might well include self-hatred for his own homosexuality. We just don't know yet because the event is so fresh in our minds. It's only been three days. We shouldn't rush to judgment.
  • Religious figures have rushed to demonize Muslims and gay people as a result of this attack. They should know better. Self-appointed prophets of doom and hatred have little to do with the Christian message.
  • Gun control is a topic which will come up again, and the extremists claim that we should actually have more guns, and that proposed background checks on buyers and bans on military-grade weaponry would not have stopped this attack. They are right, but they miss an important point. Seat belts have been required in cars since 1968. Did the death rate from car wrecks go down instantly? No, because a lot of cars still didn't have them, and there was a lot of public resistance to using them. What we have seen, though, is a declining number of deaths and injuries over the last 48 years as occupant protection became more of a priority and seatbelt use became more universal. It's the same story with guns. Passing laws to control availability of guns, especially of military attack weapons, will not instantly decrease the number of deaths, but it will be the beginning of a process. We have seen resistance to changes that will improve public welfare from tobacco companies, from coal and oil companies, and from gun and ammunition companies. We mustn't let their desires to make money overwhelm our need to live quiet, peaceful, healthy lives.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MAC and Gun Control

St. Matthew's is part of a group called the Mission Area Council (MAC), seven nearby Episcopal churches who meet to exchange news and plan for such things as outreach and mission. (One of our upcoming projects is to assemble Welcome Kits for refugees—such things as pots, pans, blankets, and household items.)

At our regular meeting last Thursday, we decided to begin a letter-writing campaign to state and national legislators demanding meaningful action to regulate the sale and distribution of guns and ammunition.

The rhetoric you hear from those in favor of gun ownership all sounds as if we must be prepared to defend ourselves against terrorists banging down the doors of our houses and a national government that has lost its mind and is attempting to enslave us. The truth is that guns are a far greater danger to the family of the owners than terrorists or criminals are. So far this year in Ohio, five children and youth have been killed by gunfire and fourteen injured. Numbers for adults would be far higher.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Don't all Christians hate gay people?

In a word, no.

With all the media attention that's been focused on same-sex marriage and the restroom issue, it would be easy to get the idea that antagonism toward sexual minorities is foundational to the Christian message. It isn't. In fact, Jesus said nothing about such topics, and the New Testament writers only touched slightly on them. (And there are serious questions about the translation of some of the Greek terms that seem so obvious in a modern English translation.)

(It's also worth mentioning that news media focus on sensationalism and conflict because such things drive up their audience numbers. That's how a relatively small number of screaming church members get so many headlines on gender issues.)

Who we are/how we work

Generally, big issues of doctrine and policy are decided in the Episcopal Church from the top down. (Note: This is what "Episcopal" means: We are governed by bishops.) Since 1976, we have been officially committed to the idea that "homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." Here is the official statement on our denominational website plus some helpful links.

Within our own Diocese (that's the group of Episcopal parishes in the north half of Ohio), we don't have another official statement—the national one is good enough—but our bishop is on record as a supporter of full equality for full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. As an example, here's his letter to the Diocese, written just after the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage.

Back at St. Matthew's

Inclusion is such a total non-issue for us (we've been working on it for 40 years!) that you have to be a real Sherlock Holmes to find the LGBT people in our midst. As a congregation, we really do try to practice our denominational slogan: The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. Here's the way our Diocese website says it:
You will find us to be old and young, male and female, gay and straight, single, married, divorced, and widowed, white and black, CEO and unemployed, rich and poor.

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