Most mainline churches tend to be both theologically and politically liberal, so it has always been an odd fit for me considering that I tend to be socially liberal but a tad more conservative. One of the things I have seen in this more liberal church is how much emphasis they place on two things: love and justice. My liberal brothers and sisters tend to believe that Christian are called to love everybody and that everybody is welcome in the Church. I totally agree with that. Second, they place a belief in justice for those who are oppressed and that is also something I believe in. However, I tend to think at times we don't see the limits of either value. As a seminary professor once told me, justice and reconcliation (or love) can't be reconciled. I would add that they are held in creative tension and to rely too much on one is dangerous. With that I agree as well and this comes into play in the current debate concerning the Episcopal Church in the United States and the role of gays and lesbians in the church.
As you might well know, the the Primates (head of churches) of the Anglican Communion met in Tanzania recently. They gave the American branch of the church and ultimatum: stop ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions or leave the Communion.
Like I said earlier, this isssue could put love and justice at odds with each other. One the one hand, there are many Episcopalians that want to find some way to remain united despite the differences. They believe in trying to be loving even when they don't agree. And example of that comes from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She notes:
A parallel to this situation in our tradition might be seen in the controversy over eating meat in early Christian communities, mentioned both in the letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. In those early communities, the meat available for purchase in the public market was often part of an animal that had been offered (in whole or in part) in sacrifice in various pagan religious rites. The troubling question in the Christian community was whether or not it was appropriate to eat such meat - was it tainted by its involvement in pagan religion? Did one participate in that religion (and thus commit apostasy) by eating it? Paul encourages the Christians in Rome and Corinth to recall that, while there may be no specific prohibition about eating such meat, the sensitive in the community might refrain if others would be offended. The needs of the weaker members, and the real possibility that their faith may be injured, are an important consideration in making the dietary decision.
The current controversy brings a desire for justice on the one hand into apparent conflict with a desire for fidelity to a strict understanding of the biblical tradition and to the main stream of the ethical tradition. Either party may be understood to be the meat-eaters, and each is reminded that their single-minded desire may be an idol. Either party might constructively also be understood by the other as the weaker member, whose sensibilities need to be considered and respected.
God's justice is always tempered with mercy, and God continues to be at work in this world, urging the faithful into deeper understandings of what it means to be human and our call as Christians to live as followers of Jesus. Each party in this conflict is asked to consider the good faith of the other, to consider that the weakness or sensitivity of the other is of significant import, and therefore to fast, or "refrain from eating meat," for a season. Each is asked to discipline itself for the sake of the greater whole, and the mission that is only possible when the community maintains its integrity.
Using text from the Apostle Paul, she tries to uphold the idea of keeping community in the midst of differances. That is obviously a Biblical tradition and one that all Christian should respect.
But are there limits? My take is yes. There are times that trying to keep the greater whole together has to be sacrificed for the sake of justice.
The Anglican group, Integrity, which works for gay/lesbian equality, was less charitable than the good Bishop. Their news release states:
“The primates of the Anglican Communion have utterly failed to recognize the faith, relationships, and vocations of the gay and lesbian baptized,” said Integrity President Susan Russell, responding to the communiqué released today from Dar Es Salaam.
The Rev. Michael Hopkins, immediate past President of Integrity had this
reaction: “Jesus weeps, and so do I. If the House of Bishops (or any other body with actual authority in this church) capitulates to these demands and sacrifices gay and lesbian people to the idol of the Instruments of Unity, it will have become the purveyor of an “anti-Gospel” that will (and should) repel many.”
I don't think there are easy answers here. Reconcliation is important and I think more than anything we should try to hold together. The church is not made up of people who all think the same and we are much richer when we are diverse. However, at what point must we sadly, break relationship for a while? When someone makes unreasonable demands and could inflict pain on another, is it not time to chose justice over love?
Love and justice are always in tension. I think at times we are going to lean one way or the other. My own view is that the Episcopal Church hold fast to their gay positive views and if it means they have leave, then they have to leave. However, they should do it lovingly and to always extend a hand of welcome in case they come to themselves. I believe as Christians we are called to love in all are actions, even when it means breaking relationship with someone for good reasons. What bothers me about the Integrity statement is that it is all justice with little love.
One thing that I wish pastors would do more is preach and teach the "greyness" of our Christian walk. We mainline Protestants think that we can love and welcome everyone and have justice, but things don't work so well easily in real life.
I have no idea if this all makes sense to people, but I just had to share.