Friday, 26 June 2015, was a wonderful day for many people I know, love, and respect. The Supreme Court of the United States declared laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in the US to be unconstitutional. People who have been socially outcast have another public sign that this discrimination is not acceptable. Now, we can argue, from another event that day—the funeral of the pastor slain in the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston—that their road is far from over: it has been 148 years since the 14th Amendment; hate and fear have staying power. But it was still a big day.
I have been reading Facebook posts and notes and blogs from very happy friends. The pride parade in New York City on Sunday looked to be an even more grand celebration than in most years. In my heart I wished to be there with them, but I wasn’t, because I pastor a group of Christians in DeFreestville, New York, and I needed to be with them. Many of my Facebook friends have taken advantage of the site’s offer to “rainbowfy” their avatar pictures, or whatever they are calling it, but I haven’t . . .
. . . because I pastor a group of Christians in DeFreestville, New York, and I need to be with them. And as wonderful as they are, as much as each of them are beloved by God, they are not of one mind on this issue. They are not bad people. They are not hateful people. They are people who are having a difficult time wrapping their minds around something outside of their experience. I can understand that, as I had a difficult time wrapping my head around a lot of things when, after a sheltered childhood, I met my first openly gay person. I lived through it, I got past it, and I grew. I now, as the pastor of this group of folks, lovingly push and pull them towards more openness. I preach about loving everyone, including everyone. But we’re not all there yet.
I found myself thinking about my not-there-yet congregation in a way I hadn’t expected as I finished preparing my sermon which dealt, in part with Mark 5:21-43. I began to think about Jairus, upstanding synagogue leader, a man who—as far as we know—always did what he was supposed to, always lived by the rules, had faith in Jesus, and needed the rabbi’s help for his daughter. I am sure he had as much compassion for this woman with the hemorrhage, this ritually unclean woman, this outcast as the next person, and probably more than most, but she had been healed already? Was bringing this outsider in going to cost his daughter her life? I serve and love good, believing, churchgoing people who have understood the world to be one way all of their lives, and who, I think, wonder if God still loves them.
The answer was that Jesus had time for both women; one life beginning after twelve years doesn’t mean another life was to end after that time. God’s grace extends to everyone. This is where Tom DeVries, RCA General Secretary, was so very wrong in his report to the 2015 General Synod: the ropes that hold up the “big tent” which is the church are no less than the grace of God, and to say it has limits is to say God has limits—not a very Reformed thing to say. All over the RCA, classes where not everyone can agree are finding ways to live together in love. Richard Rohr, in The Divine Dance: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity, points out that the sort of dualistic thinking that considers such co-existence impossible is inherently un-Christian: “the foundational Christian doctrine of the Trinity, if actually encountered and meditated upon, is made to order to break down the binary system of the mind—God is three and one at the same time! The Trinity makes us patient before Mystery and humbles our dualistic minds.”
We can and we must live together. The unity of the Church, a central truth expressed both in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belhar Confession, requires us to do so. No council is going to solve this with a right or wrong answer, any more than the Supreme Court could end the secular discussion. Calling for a “season of restraint” that prevents classes and consistories and office-bearers from doing what is allowed by the RCA Constitution and what they are led to do by the spirit is not the answer, especially when they are not the classes or consistories or office-bearer to which those who disagree belong. But neither should we rub “winning” arguments or events in the faces of those who are not there yet. Once we make this an issue of winning or losing in the church, we have all lost.
I see the rainbows. I am glad for the rainbows, and I am grateful for the covenant which we believers know that rainbow represents. Someday, I hope to be able to wear the rainbow. But, if this is, as my Collegiate sisters and brothers say, about “love, period,” then, in love, I have to wait.
I need to be with the people . . . all the people . . . who call me “pastor.”