While there were a few prominent Christian folk (like Rachel Held Evans) who asked what they could do in the moment to be allies - most folk, on both sides of the debate, were perfectly fine to yell and scream at each other without really considering the impact of their words. On anyone. Most folks were more interested in making their point, in being right, and in throwing stones than they were in being a witness to the love of Jesus. And this yelling and screaming, by the way, happens on the backs of people who are already hurting - in this case, the LGBTQ+ population. It happens over top of us - as if we aren't in the room - and don't have feelings or thoughts worth adding to the conversation. In fact, it's a little like parents arguing over a child who's in the room. Except, in this case, the child turns out to be 42 - looks at both parents in disgust - and walks out. This further alienates the faithful among us, and quite frankly, scares off so many of the others who might have been reaching for God.
This infighting does us all a disservice. It's one thing to have a difference of opinion. Even if that's a deeply held theological opinion. God is big enough for all of our beliefs and projections. And the Episcopal Church, I think, is wide enough and a big enough tent for us all to have our own opinions, too. What isn't okay - what our tent is not built to house - is the unkindness with which we argue those positions. What we cannot abide is the damage we do to one another - and to the name of Jesus - when we have these huge, public, battles. We are responsible for our behavior - both in our own tent, and in the wider church. What I don't understand, and perhaps never will, is what folks think they're accomplishing when they participate in big, nasty, horrific, and very public fights like yesterday's battle in the Christian community.
What was accomplished yesterday wasn't that the whole church came to a new understanding of same-sex marriage or LGBTQ+ people. What was accomplished today wasn't helpful, kind, or loving. No one was showed compassion. No one experienced the grace of God. No one was welcomed or cared for - no one heard the good news. No one came to a deeper understanding of God's love or will for their life. No one who participated in the flinging of rocks and insults yesterday went to bed last night more connected to God or their neighbor - even if they did go to sleep feeling accomplished and "right".
What was accomplished yesterday? A production. A production that made people unwelcome. A production that involved throwing around doctrine, insults, and the name of the Lord. An exceedingly public production that brought discord rather than unity, brokenness instead of wholeness, chaos instead of peace. I believe deeply that Jesus wept yesterday - at the damage done - at the stumbling blocks thrown up to those who might (have) come to believe - at the brokenness of the church.
How will the younger generations ever believe that we can love them when we cannot even love each other? What kind of a message do we send to the "un-churched" about our "faith" if we cannot even live by this one core teaching? One of the commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets? Read: one of the commandments on which hangs EVERYTHING we do and claim to be. Jesus tells us to love God - and love one another. These two commandments are the very beating heart of our faith - the beating heart of the church - and the thing that tells the world whether we are Christian or not (see: they will know you are Christians by your love!).
This infighting happens in our congregations all the time on a smaller level. And it's no less damaging. When we gossip, when we lie, when we are exclusive, we hurt ourselves and the life of the whole congregation - and we create obstacles for the people who see our behavior, whether they're believers or not. So why wouldn't it be that - if we do that on the public stage - as we did yesterday - that we wouldn't also damage the image of the church universal*?
We must, as the Body of Christ, despite all our differences and all our challenges, learn to come to a place where we don't hurt each other just to prove a point. A place where we avoid the kind of damage we did yesterday. Damage that will be visited upon all of us - damage untold, really. Because we can't count how many people were witnesses to this great battle who decided that "Those Christians really don't love each other..." or "So much for that..." or "Well, good to know no one's safe there..." or any other configuration of doubt, fear, and disappointment.
Matthew 22 says this:
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
We set the tone for this love here in our own community. And I believe our love can change the larger Body. So as we welcome all people (because that's what we do, here), let's also remember that when we bear the name Christian, our words and actions also reflect on a lot of other people - and ultimately on Jesus himself. When we choose to take up the name of Jesus, our responsibility becomes so much greater. And God's expectations of us are so clear: love first, love last, love always, love so much you sacrifice yourself.
May we be worthy of the sacrifice Jesus made. When we fall short, may we try again. And again. May we be made always into more faithful servants of the good news. Apostles sent to the world, bearing the love of Jesus Christ.
*By that, I mean the whole church. Inclusive of all the faithful, of every denomination, all over the world. All of us. Together.