Last week, as I listened to a sermon by the Reverend Roger Joslin, my heart was broken. Father Roger told of events that had happened earlier in the year, of the death of Shannen, leaving a partner (Tammy)and two children behind, and of a disabled man and his wife who came to our church for the first time and found a welcome that they had not found in any other church. Both of these things sound like beautiful stories, but like so many, there's an ugly side to them as well.
On one particular Sunday morning, Tammy handed Father Roger a small handwritten note thanking us for the prayers, food and comfort that we had given their family in their time of grief. As a sort of pride in our church filled me in this, I felt sorrow as well. It made me reflect on how our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters are still treated in North West Arkansas. Where else would this family, for that is what they are, have found the ministry of healing and comfort they desperately needed? Outside of a hand full of Episcopal Churches, not very many. Instead they would have been looked upon as an abomination. The words of comfort, if any, would have been laced with the venom of condemnation and scorn. And that is wrong.
Then there was the second couple. Here they were, simple folk who had been outcasts even in the churches they had attended, finally finding a place that welcomed them for who they were, not in spite of it. They had finally found a place where they could belong. But it was snatched from them. After a few weeks Father Roger received a rambling email from them saying they would not be back to our church because of our stance regarding gay and lesbian clergy and same sex blessings. This nearly brought me to tears.
In Luke, Jesus asks, "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? " You as spiritual leaders need to ask yourselves this. Are you giving your parishioners the Bread of Life, the love of Christ, or are you instead giving them the snakes and scorpions of condemnation and bigotry?
The Episcopal Church has made a stand. We are offering our whole selves, scarred and blemished to God by welcoming all people regardless of race, creed, sex, or sexual orientation. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. " We turn John 3:16 into a nifty T-shirt slogan, but we forget verse 17.
Our mission as Christians isn't about condemning others. It's about introducing them to the love of God. How many families have we destroyed, how many children have we killed, and how many people have we turned away from Christ because of our own bigotry? And that is what we have done. We, the Christian community have killed each child or teen that committed suicide because they were told they were an abomination and cast out of their homes. We, who were previously known by our love, have destroyed families by telling our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters that they are not real parents. We have turned people like the Ostermans and the other unnamed family away from God's love by telling them that homosexuality is a disease, an abomination that needs to be cured and eradicated.
This is why I am an Episcopalian. Because I believe that God loves us. Because I believe that salvation is more than just reciting a prayer and joining a church. And because I believe that we all are God's children, and that His love extends to the poor, the disabled, the LGBT community, the undocumented workers, the child that had an abortion, the drunk on the corner, the war veteran with PTSD, EVERYONE. The world needs that message. Will we give it to them, or continue to poison them with hate?