Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When joy causes pain

I am pondering what it looks like to be charitable to those with whom I disagree on very serious matters of theology when an event finally occurs that is cause for celebration for me but is cause for mourning for others who disagree with me. Specifically, I am thinking about how happy I am that an out partnered priest in a same-sex relationship has been called as rector in a diocese that has up until now been in a state of suspended animation. Every LGBT person in the Holy Orders process has been on hold, and no new LGBT clergy have been welcomed into the diocese during those years of stasis. But that stasis is now breaking up like static breaks up a radio broadcast. Certain things cannot be held in check no matter how tightly you squeeze. You can’t control the static, and you can only do so much to block it out.

I am reminded of the words from Amos 5:24, uttered by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., which were memorialized at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Maya Lin installation: “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” The stasis that is ending is being washed away, stone by stone from the stack where each stone was meant to add to a defense against change. There has been a diminution wrought by the inexorable passage of time, the changing of the guard in some places, and the movement of other ecclesiastical bodies that parallel the subject diocese. My children and other twenty-somethings tell me the LGBT topic is a non-issue for them. Surely they are the voice of the future.

There was always an inevitability to the stasis breaking up even as there was much gnashing of teeth, anger, disappointment and despair on all sides of the arguments. Very real human stories of tragic proportions litter the landscape everywhere. Careers have been truncated, hopes dashed and faith abandoned. Combatants on each side have described events leading to these changes in the language of war: fight for, battle of, competing churches, stand firm against, evil forces, etc. Extreme behavior has arisen that called forth extreme responses: church trials and civil lawsuits (an oxymoron if there ever was one).

Now a voice of compassion, which I respect deeply, has spoken out about exercising restraint in our rejoicing, because the cause of our joy is the cause of others’ pain. At first blush, I can see the wisdom in what appears to be an act of compassion for those with whom I disagree theologically. But it doesn’t feel right as I let the admonition to dampen down my rejoicing settle inside me. I think about the miners trapped as a group in a mine, and as the rescue effort drags on through long, heart-wrenching hours, eventually there is a rescue. Only one survives. The others have all perished. Should the survivor and his family not rejoice, since he was found, because the others were lost? How should the survivor and his family respond compassionately to the families of those who were lost? Conversely, how should the families of those who were lost respond to the survivor and his family? Who should show charity to whom? What is authentic behavior, authentic love for the other? Should my experience of loss offset your experience of joy?

Well, I’m told, the analogy doesn’t work, because everyone was praying not only for the survivor, but for all the miners, that they would be found alive. In the theological scenario that is being lived out in dioceses across the country, not everyone is praying for the LGBT clergy, that they would be found worthy to serve Christ’s Church, that they would all have a call to serve at the end of the day. Indeed, some are dismayed that there even exist LGBT clergy, because from their perspective the LGBT individuals shouldn’t have been ordained at all. As I read and listen to those who find my approval of LGBT partnered clergy as being wholesome and holy, wrong, I am aware that for them, it does feel like they’ve experienced a loss, that they’ve lost the contest to have their church hold onto a deeply held religious tenet.

I think it’s appropriate to suggest that there should be no crowing about the washing away of the stasis and the advent of a new order of things, because that would indicate an adversarial perspective when it’s not a matter of winning and losing, despite the reality that there are people who feel like winners and losers. I agree that it’s not helpful to anyone or the community to call the other side wrong or evil, because judgment is reserved to the one who created us all and is not our purview however much we might try to appropriate the right to judge.

I also think about the newly called priest in the same-sex relationship and wonder what would be a proper pastoral response to her and to her new parish. If your mother dies around the birthday of your child, what is your parental/pastoral response to your child? How should your spouse or other adult relative or friend show charity to you and to your child? Just thinking about that raises the specter of all the psychologically damaged people who have suffered because someone important in their childhoods couldn’t shower them with love and joy at their causes for celebration at the same time that those adults also suffered from their own feelings of grief and pain at their losses that happened in the same timeframe.

I have no doubt that I will chew on this subject for a long while. But right now, I have to say that I’m uncomfortable with the admonition not to celebrate the joy felt by many who share my convictions regarding LGBT partnered clergy.

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