Over on Facebook, I am in good conversations with a couple of folks. One is a lesbian who is offended by my position on marriage, the other a fellow priest who is thinking out loud as well. They are giving me some good pushes to express what I believe (or am coming to believe in some cases).
In the course of those conversations, which have become pretty long threads, I have been exploring a few different ideas and I throw them up here only because they might be useful to your own thinking out loud. I don't claim that these are definitive answers, and I can see some "holes" in them, but I think that I am onto a few ideas worth sharing. In no particular order:
1) I'm struck by how little "Christians" make of the big gift, which is the presence of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament when we get together. Instead we are fighting over entitlements to clergy titles and ceremonies for our personal stuff. I mean, why should I need a certain aspect of my life "blessed," if the whole of my being is in the presence of the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit? Why are we fighting about this or that ceremony when we are invited to share the Body and Blood of Christ? Maybe that's why so many young people find church "boring" - the adults aren't even engaged in the great reality and dwell on trivia. That's why so many people speak of being "spiritual, not religious" - because the "religious" people have no vital spirituality.
2) I keep thinking of the Bible passage in which Jesus said, "The prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before the religious leaders, because the prostitutes know their need of God." Jesus hung out with absolutely everybody. His apostles, if you look at possible implications of their names and backgrounds, were an assemblage of people who would not normally mix. But here's the deal: Jesus didn't go around telling them, "OK, I'm gonna whip a ceremony on you and tell you that you're holy." He didn't say, "OK, because the religious authorities are too puffed up, I hereby consecrate all of these prostitutes, just as they are, as religious leaders too." (He could have - "temple prostitutes" were known in many of the old civilizations.) Nor did he declare prostitution a holy vocation to "affirm" the prostitutes. What made the prostitutes or any of us holy was a) recognizing that we've wandered far from God and b) recognizing Jesus as the Way back. If we demand all kinds of ceremonies and stuff to declare us holy, is it because we really don't recognize our own distance from God, and think we're entitled? Or is it because we don't recognize Jesus with us as the Way, and we think we need the other stuff? Something doesn't track in the LGBTQI( ) religious argument - it seems like puffy self-justification on the one hand or profoundly primitive anxiety on the other.
3) But the gays, lesbians and assorted other capital letters are not the "problem." The marriage mess is a straight problem. It was heterosexuals who decided on "trial marriage" and serial marriage, rejecting Jesus' description of a life long husband-wife bond established by God "in the beginning." (BTW that's the best counter when somebody justifies gay marriage with, "Jesus never said anything specific about homosexuality." The answer is, "Right, but he did say very specific affirmative things about what God created marriage to be.") But back to my point - if marriage is not what Jesus said, and it is just a temporary contract one makes for personal satisfaction, then why shouldn't gays or anybody of any description have access to it?
4) This leads me into my most contentious idea. At some point, churches have to either get out of the marriage business altogether, or else say, "We tried the cultural model and were cavalier about divorce and remarriage. We repent and from now on will not bless marriages for people who've been divorced." Two objections were immediate on the Facebook threads, a) what about all the hard cases, like people who were abused and b) how will we get those divorced people to come to church? My thoughts on a) are: don't base your standard on the hard cases. The 50% divorce rate indicates that most divorces are symptoms of poor relationship choices or skills, not emergencies. There can be gracious room to honor hard cases, but, let's face it, folks who know anything about abuse will tell you that a person who divorced one abuser will often find another one for marriage #2, or 3, or 4... How about a message of repentance and maybe the suggestion of a single life as holy? As for b): I go back to point 1 above. If we aren't reaching folks with the message of Jesus, if we have to "meet their need" in hopes of making them "come to church," haven't we missed the point? Which gets me into another thought...
5) Churches that grow spiritually and numerically often make significant, sacrificial and challenging demands of their people. Jesus spoke of a hard road to a narrow door that few find. His disciples are supposed to "carry the cross." But many of the old denominational churches have bought the common argument, "If we make demands, people won't come/will be offended/will leave." (That's in play with gay marriage, BTW - "If we don't allow it, all the 'young' people will refuse to come to church!") The favored clergy personality is people pleaser, not teacher and leader. The result is that these churches don't offer any compelling, life-changing message to unchurched people. Few people come and the ones that do tend to be high maintenance people sense the church's desperation to "find members to pay the bills." These folks need endless coddling while they make demands and take offense at things. Piss poor disciple material.
6) As you might discern, I am leaning more and more toward that great, vapory cloud of people who are "spiritual, not religious." The Episcopal Church talks about being this, but a "Presiding Bishop and Primate of All the Americas" or whatever the hell it's called, with a bazillion dollar secret budget to go around suing people, is the worst of "religion" as many folks understand it today. Institutional, self-serving, out of touch, ad nauseum. I'm tired of fighting over this or that little factions demanded rituals and affirmations when we can't even come up with a coherent message about Jesus.
7) But just for the record, let me say that "spiritual, not religious" is a bunch of BS the minute you name it as a belief system shared by two or more people. Jesus himself said that his spiritual presence would be real when "two or three gathered in his name," a point the Presiding Bishop was after before she got into stupid ideological comments about how personal faith in Jesus is "heresy." "Religion" is the shared expression of spiritual experience. The minute you say, "Hey, I meditate. Wanna join me every Tuesday at 2?", you're into religion. The question always becomes, "When are the externals of the 'shared expression' eclipsing the inner reality of spiritual experience?" The Episcopal Church is so overlaid with externals that I despair of it ever recovering life in the Spirit. And no, I don't for a minute buy the myth that the LGBTQI( ) subculture is inherently spiritual. 40 years in L.A., dude. They're just people - and they screw up spirituality with the best/worst of us.
8) OK out of gas for now. Maybe more later. Maybe not.