Stop colluding with bullying

By Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield
7 Mar 2007

An Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

We write to you to encourage, strengthen and support your ministry with our prayers. We would like to suggest that as faithful Episcopalians we stop playing these games of attention-getting. What do conservative primates get out of condemning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? Media attention. What does it cost them? Nothing. So what’s their motive? Attention from western media to be sure. And the sense of power that comes from bullying others.

If you went into a sandbox in which some bullies said, “you can play here but your sister can’t”, would you stay in the same sandbox? If playground bullies are not willing to have all the members of the family in the sandbox then let’s leave the sandbox. We can create another one. We help neither ourselves nor our sisters and brothers if we do not have the courage of our convictions to leave the sandbox. We will no longer pander to those who want to be noticed by the world’s media.

We can become a place where Episcopalians who want to get on with protecting the environment and promoting the rights and dignities of all human beings can live and thrive. Is it an accident that God has given LGBT people to the church already baptized as full members into the body of Christ? No, it is our gift to the world. We must continue to ordain LGBT people and bless same sex unions because such people and such unions are gifts of the Spirit. And who are we to reject gifts of the Spirit?

We speak a resounding "No!" to more funding for discussions about ordination of LGBT people or the blessings of same-sex unions, and a resounding "Yes!" to continuing those ordinations and blessings.

Jesus declares emphatically in Luke 14.26 that whoever comes to him and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even life itself cannot be a disciple. In this text and in other similar passages, Jesus promises that divisions in households will occur as a result of heeding a call to follow as a disciple. Such a follower is called out of a household, away from father and mother, even wife, children, and brothers and sisters, in an extended family.

Such a person overturns blood ties to follow a command of open table fellowship in which Jesus insists that invitations to a meal should be extended not to friends, brothers, rich neighbours or relatives but to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind who cannot reciprocate.

Jesus never says that everyone should be one happy family. It's time to take these words of Jesus about division between members of the same family seriously.

The world marches ahead of the church on many moral issues. Reactionary leaders of many mainstream religions, including Roman Catholicism, Islam, and the Anglican Church, have vitiated their moral leadership by maintaining positions that do nothing to relieve oppression, but rather serve to confirm powerful heterosexual males in their power, at the cost of women, children, and sexual minorities of the world.

Where religious regimes like the Taliban are permitted to keep women in poverty and oppress them, those religious leaders, and others who fail to oppose them, have forfeited moral leadership. Where religious leaders fail to condemn on moral and religious grounds the recent murder of women like Zill-e-Huma, the social welfare minister in Punjab, they have forfeited religious and moral authority. Her murderer declared that women occupying senior positions was against the rule of God, and was an attempt to subjugate men.

Religious leaders who do not speak up on behalf of oppressed minorities everywhere, especially those in whom society has no interest, have forfeited their moral leadership in the world.

The Episcopal Church has been in the sandbox with bullies far too long. It is time to stop ‘negotiating with terrorists’ and allying ourselves with the spineless, and focus instead on doing some good in this world. The stakes are too high. With the passing of this generation into another one, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender question will be moot. If there is another generation on this planet.

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© The authors. Deirdre Good is Professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary, New York City, and author of Jesus’ Family Values. Julian Sheffield works in financial services and supports not-for-profit organizations in Maine, USA. This Open Letter was first published on Professor Good’s personal weblog, and is reproduced with grateful acknowledgement.

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