Yesterday I read several articles on a religious topic that riled me up. The articles had to do with the release of a report from the Roman Catholic Church was some were calling revolutionary because it included language that softened the words the Catholic church has used for centuries to attack people who had been divorced or loved others of the same gender.
“Why did those reports rile you up, Craig,” you ask. “Don’t they indicate things are getting better?”
Yes and no. Let me unpack the reason for that mixed answer.
The “yes” part of my answer involves the fact that some church leaders who have refused to acknowledge the spiritual well-being of those individuals who were not living either as a heterosexually married couples in their first and only marriage (ideally with children) or as celibate singles. Anyone living outside one of these two scenarios was viewed as morally suspect.
The document released yesterday acknowledged that not every person will find themselves in one of these two scenarios. Gasp! This is indeed a step forward.
Here’s where I get to the “no” part of the answer.
I was EXTREMELY frustrated with the condescending language used to speak about (not to, but about) those individuals whose lives don’t fit neatly in one of their two categories.
While the report did acknowledge the possibility that there might be “constructive elements” in both civil and common-law marriages, it also had to note that same-sex unions are “not on the same footing” as heterosexual unions. This is the equivalent of patting LGBT persons on the head and sending them over to eat at the cardboard table with the uncomfortable metal folding chairs while the adults eat at the big person’s table with the comfy padded chairs.
And in the section marked “Welcoming Homosexual Persons”, the report broke ground by saying, “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.” THEY and THEM. Really!?
It would appear that those preparing the document know very little about the experiences of LGBT persons. I only wish they would have read Williams Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Act 3, Scene 1): “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” I would add, “If you welcome us, do we not like it!”
What really got me worked up, however, is a reality about human nature that is revealed by situations that lead up to the report. The reality in this country is that the three largest Christian denominations– the Roman Catholic, the Southern Baptist, and the United Methodist denominations – are among the most exclusive Christian communities. Two of the three limit the role of women in the church and all three go out of their way to make it clear that LGBT persons are not welcome into the full life of the church. Exclusion in the name of Jesus seems to be a booming business.
It would be one thing if exclusivity were the norm in ALL Christian communities. It’s not, however. There are dozens of denominations that are inclusive – yet many of these denominations struggle to capture the attention of many followers of Jesus.
So why don’t inclusive communities enjoy the same degree of “success” (at least by worldly standards) as those that are exclusive?
I know in my heart and soul that that is a complex question with many answers. My experience, however, has caused me to settle for one primary answer to that question. I want to stress this is only the answer I have arrived at for myself. Others may have a different take on the question.
My answer tells me that most human beings are hard wired to respond to things that are spelled out clearly for them in black and white terms. Do this; don’t do that. Think this; don’t think that. Like these people; don’t like these people. While some in exclusive communities may grumble against some of the edicts, they draw a sort of comfort knowing exactly where all the boundaries are.
It is so much harder to acknowledge the grays (and all the other shades) found in the world. Grays force individuals to grapple with the circumstances they face and even – at times – live in tension. Most folks hate things like “grappling” and “living in tension” – so they gravitate toward communities that tell them they don’t have to grapply – they don’t have to live in tension. Everything has already been carefully spelled out for you.
It can be discouraging for those of us who have committed our lives to first seeing the gray and then living faithfully into it. We wrestle with challenges on a daily basis and join together in communities that are often smaller and have fewer resources. In essence, there are some days when it can feel as if our ability to see the gray feels more like a punishment than a blessing.
So why do it? Why not do what the majority of folks do: throw in the towel and give in to the black and white ways the world loves so much?
Again, I suppose there are a variety of reasons folks might give. My answer has to do with this man named Jesus.
You see Jesus was someone who constantly challenged the thinking of his day and saw the gray areas of life. The black and white thinking told people that people should not “work” on the Sabbath. This was interpreted to include even the preparation of meals. In spite of the teaching, Jesus was comfortable allowing his followers to break off heads of grain and eat them as they walked through the fields. Jesus himself even healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus was clearly comfortable with a gray. And when a Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman approached him requesting healing for her daughter, Jesus’ training had taught him that people from the woman’s ethnic group were not worthy of healing. And yet what did Jesus do? He reached beyond the black and white confines of his training and healed her daughter! Jesus consistently got himself in trouble for refusing to color his world with only two crayons: the black ones and the white ones. He was constantly digging into his crayon box and dragging out other shades of colors.
So while the world may tell us the way to enjoy “success” involves a commitment to color with just two crayons, I will take heart in the fact that there is another who calls us to dig into the box of crayons and use all the shades of color. And while those of us coloring away feverishly with numerous crayons may not have the most people sitting at our table, we have been blessed with Jesus’ assurance: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” I can smile as I look over and ask Jesus to pass me the chartreuse crayon!
See you next time.