So, we’re suspended.
Plenty of commentary has already been written about what the primates did, what impact it could have, and what’s in store for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. (This is probably one of the more helpful summaries I’ve read, BTW.)
Some have questioned the primates’ selective application of punitive measures—penalizing Episcopalians for their decision to bless same-sex marriages, while neglecting to penalize Anglican church leaders who have promoted state-sanctioned persecution of gays in countries like Uganda—contravening Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. (I’m pretty sure he DIDN’T say, “Unless they’re gay, ’cause gross.”)
But let’s not retread those paths. That ground has been well covered already. Let’s talk about the real reason we’re having this debate. Sometimes it gets obscured in all the bluster, finger-pointing, and Twitter wars.
In his address to fellow primates—moments before the vote was cast—Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry cut to the heart of things:
Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.
That’s why we’re having this debate. Whatever side you may be on, that’s why this conversation is so important. That’s why some of us feel called to open our arms—and our church doors—to those of other orientations and gender identities.
The question we’re all wrestling with is this: What does it mean to be Jesus to the LGBTQ community?
It’s not about trying to appease culture.
It’s not about craving public approval.
It’s not about being afraid to take a stand that might be divisive or unpopular. (Have you seen what’s happened to attendance figures since the Episcopal Church began moving in this direction?)
Whenever a church or denomination takes an affirming stance, the response is always the same.
Their motives are questioned.
Someone accuses them of “cultural capitulation.”
They’re labeled “cowards.”
The possibility they might have other motives for rethinking long-held convictions isn’t even considered.
And to be fair, at times proponents of the affirming view have opened themselves to this line of criticism—for example, when they frame the debate as a matter of being “on the right side of history.”
History be damned. This is about being on the right side of people.
For Christians, this is about being on the side of Jesus—or rather, being on the same side of people that he is on.
Presiding Bishop Curry’s statement calls us back to the real reason for having this debate. He understands what some on both sides have missed.
Curry went on to say:
While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
We may disagree with one another on sexuality. Some will celebrate same-sex marriage, while others see it as an unacceptable compromise. But let’s never forget why we’re having this debate.
It’s not about accommodating cultural whims. It’s not about being afraid to take a stand. It’s not about pleasing the crowd or making the church seem more relevant or palatable. (Again, see the Episcopal Church’s attendance figures.)
This is not about cultural capitulation. It’s about asking, “What does it really mean to love my neighbor?”
The real question for us to wrestle with is whether this might be the 21st-century church’s “Gentile moment,” a moment when God does something new and extraordinary and unexpected in our midst—like he did two thousand years ago when, to everyone’s surprise, he declared “unclean” Gentiles to be “clean,” without requiring them to renounce their Gentile identity first. (It was this last bit that came as a particular shock to first-century Jewish believers.)
The question to ask is not, “Where is the culture moving?”
The question to ask is, “Where is God moving”?
We may not all agree on the answer. Indeed, it can be dangerous to even ask this question. People I know have been lost friends for asking it. They’ve lost jobs. They’ve been estranged from their families. None more so than members of the LGBTQ community.
But whether or not you draw the same conclusions that many in the Episcopal Church (and other Christian traditions) have, please don’t misunderstand what has prompted this line of inquiry.
To say that it’s capitulation or cowardice is to presume authority to judge someone else’s motives—to judge others in precisely the way Jesus forbade.
Worst of all, to write it off as cultural capitulation is to miss the bigger question:
Where is God moving in this?