I received a letter at the church office this week. It concerns the upcoming votes in my denomination on the matters of ordination standards-- whether we will allow GLBTQ people to be ordained to the offices of the church, including minister of Word and Sacrament.
The letter was from a coalition of churches which are organized along racial/ethnic lines-- one particular ethnic group. They want the governing boards of every church in my denomination to read the letters telling of the impact a vote for inclusion will have on their churches.
We [fill in ethnicity and denomination here]'s strongly believe that God will bless the [denomination] and we will have prosperity if we love the Lord our God and observe his commandments, decrees and ordinance (Deuteronomy 30:15-16), and when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
I too believe that all people should love God and obey God's commandments. I too believe that Paul was right on target in his theology of the incarnational nature of faith: as Beloved says, we are what we do. But I do not believe one bit that God's love for us or God's intention to bless us and make us "prosper" are tied to our worthiness as defined by one standard which, in all truth, is quite arbitrary: the standard of sexual behavior and identity. Arbitrary, please understand, because it has been cherry-picked out of scripture to trump all other conditions and actions.
Yesterday's New York Times featured a blogpost by Stanley Fish, an academic about whom I know very little. But I was intrigued by his take on the current kerfuffle over Senator Barack Obama's replacement. Fish uses Augustine's arguments against the Donatists-- those who believed the efficacy of the sacraments were contingent upon the moral rectitude of the priest who was administering them-- to argue that Gov. Rod Blagojevich has the right to make an appointment to the United States Senate. The office of the governor is what contains the power to make the appointment, Fish points out. Not the moral character of the governor. The office.
The same is true for the ordination of ministers and other church officers. Our ability to preach and preside over worship, to administer the sacraments, and to serve both the local church and the denomination are not dependent upon our morals. The office is bigger than the people who fill it, and our authority comes not from our "perfection" but from that of Jesus Christ. Should we aim to have people fill those positions who are doing their very best to lead good and moral lives? Of course we should. But when good people are divided-- and my church is divided pretty much down the middle-- should even a 51% majority have the ability to declare that all gay and lesbian people (who are seeking to live moral lives as God created) them are unfit for ministry on principle? Should that 51% get to declare that a woman in a committed relationship with another woman is by definition immoral and unacceptable material for the pastorate?
I am supposed to share this letter with my governing board. Honestly... I don't want to. It feels like emotional blackmail. I am proud of the job LGBTQ folks and our allies are doing to advance the cause of full inclusion. We are inviting people into conversation, as I described here. We are not threatening to leave if things don't go our way (though the losses of God's beautiful servants from my church over the years are steep). We are willing to bend and to wait and to be patient. We are not saying we don't want to be in communion with anyone. We are letting everyone have their say. I wonder when the gifts we offer will be deemed acceptable?