God is good. People make mistakes.
In Inuvik in 2012, at the Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools, Archbishop Terry Finlay said with powerful humility and honesty, “We made a mistake. We have failed the Church.” He was responding to the call for our Church to acknowledge and to begin to rebuild relationships from the pain, grief and genocidal damage of colonization, in our case done in the name of Jesus. We as a Church have acted in spiritual arrogance and ignorance in oppressing, denying and robbing the God- given gifts and inherent rights of language, faith, culture and land of the peoples of Turtle Island.
I am afraid we failed the Church again at our General Synod 2019, held this past July. Once again, we have acted in spiritual arrogance against those made in the image of God, this time our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and two-spirited siblings in Christ, in denying the validity and sacredness of their love within the sacrament of marriage. By doing this, we have also undermined the integrity of our Christian communities in inclusivity across racial, geographical, economic and social divides. We are excluding where we are called to include, and it is wrong.
With a solid one-fifth of the Church op- posed to equal marriage, it is clear that we as a community are struggling to see God in the faces of one another and to recognize the intrinsic value in God-created difference. We as a Church are also wrestling with our theological understandings of salvation in relation to human sexuality. God does not make mistakes. How can we come to see our differences as a rich gift from our Creator, who made people and saw that they are good? How can we redeem ourselves when we have so harshly worked to dehumanize our siblings? What are the first steps we need to take in working towards reconciliation and right-relationship with those whom we have pushed to the margins? How can we decrease our human nature fearfulness and increase our Holy Spirit-inspired loving?
Saint Julian of Norwich teaches us that in the best cases, our mistakes bring us to self-knowledge and a humble seeking of God. In this painful and gut-wrenching case, what can we learn about ourselves as individuals, as Christians, as Anglicans, from this General Synod process? How can we move forward, recognizing that we have trespassed upon our own spirits when we have marginalized the vulnerable and the oppressed? Where are we being called to see and hear God’s heart beating in our communities, in our families, in our own selves? How can we move away from making legislative decisions about such significant and sacred matters?
It has been revealed to us through the past 50 years, with theological stumbling blocks around re-marriage of divorced persons to this current and ongoing struggle for equal marriage, that the whole Church holds marriage to be sacred. However, might it also be emerging that we are creating idols of ideals? Can we be fully human when we continue to deny others their humanity? In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s teaching on “ubuntu,” he says: “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. In other words, we need one another in order to each discover our magnificence and allow it to shine by what we do with our lives.” (“10 Pieces of Wisdom from Desmond Tutu on his Birthday,” article, October 2015.)
It is my responsibility as a bishop to be a defender of the faith. What does “defense” look like? And especially, what is it that I am defending? The prophet Micah calls us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” (6:8) Is it humble to make decisions on behalf of God and other people, about the sacredness of their loving relationships? When is it kindness to listen to my siblings with my deaf ears and my hard heart, an unwillingness to have my mind changed? How is it justice to marginalize those who are actually beloved of God, made in the image of God, our own family members?
In the expansive and inclusive experience of becoming fully human, we both make mistakes and we are encouraged to abandon fear. It is often fear that binds us to narrow paths and judgements. It is freedom in Christ that opens our hearts to new understandings of how God operates in our lives. Christ teaches us to unbind the chains of righteous indignation, to bless those who curse us, to heal the one on the margins and to welcome and feed the strangers in our midst – to treat them like family, as indeed you are “all my relations.”