The bishops – liberal and conservative – met this week. They reached the same conclusion that we lay people reached earlier: unity is less important than principles. Although their statement reflected concern for each other; they found no way out of the conflict within the bounds of the Episcopal Church.
Dialogue is great; each side understands how much the others values mean and what they mean. Dialogue does not mean agreement nor resolution. Neither does time, which they recommend. Time does not heal all wounds. Time does not constrain people to agree. Although time does give us a pause to reflect.
George Dance, in writing about the 9/11 disaster, quoted psychologist Rollo May, in his book The Courage to Create: "Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight." Dance continued, “It is lamentable that we did not allow that pause to move us toward a new response. We experienced terror, but we also experienced an outpouring of good will from the entire world. The pause gave us a chance to choose which stimulus would determine our one response. We could choose to respond to the good will, or to the terror. Even in our response to terror, we could choose to reverence the good will extended to us, or to indulge our fearful impulse.”
I fear that both sides of this difference in the Episcopal Church have reacted with our “fearful response”, but both have continued to do the work of God in the world. That work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick and dying – that work – the work of loving our neighbors. Or at least, loving most of them. I doubt that any church has withdrawn its funds from AIDS care, but they have said that homosexuals are second class Christians – sinners who must change their way of life. Our fears will trump our good will eventually because the liberal and conservative bellows are both working to fan those flames of fear.
I’m for including everyone in God’s promises; I even believe that everyone will eventually be included in “heaven”, whatever that is. It’s not my problem to decide who will and who will not be included. My problem is how to love those who are not so loveable and to comfort those who are sick in body, mind or soul. In Psalm 130, the poet writes, “if you, O Lord, were to count sins, who could stand?” The face of God is face of each person on earth. Each has goodness and each has sin.
I do choose with whom I associate, but I pray each day for forgiveness for judging those that I leave out of my circle. It is easier to practice my beliefs and my ministry when I am surrounded by those like me. Oh yeah, I need challenging sometimes; I need the times of trial; and I pray that God will deliver me from evil.
When the church has divided itself into sections that agree with one another, when all the dialogue is said about this topic, when we settle into a new prayer book and hymnal, we will all be children of God just like we are now. We will have sinned; we will have done good. We will have favored some and alienated others. We will be humans seeking to become more like the God we know.