Give Thanks For This Kairos Moment of LGBT Inclusion

For Thanksgiving, More Light Presbyterians have released an important statement “Giving Thanks for Change in Our Church“:

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s extravagant love for all of God’s creation…no exceptions, no one outside of God’s embrace. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s sustaining grace in and through difficult times, loss of those we love, illness, economic hardships and war. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the peace that passes all understanding that comes from trusting that God’s redemptive love and justice is at work in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our Church and in the world.

The rest of the statement is worth reading, but is specific to the Presbyterian General Assembly’s approval last summer of 10-A, on the ordination of openly gay or lesbian pastors. Thanksgiving is a specifically an American observance. The principle of recognizing and giving thanks for progress, though, is an important one for all who are queer in church, anywhere in the world, as the evidence for progress is strong, across all major denominations and regions of the world.

Sometimes this is dramatic and hits the headlines, as in the ordination of openly gay or lesbian bishops, or approval for same sex weddings, or blessing same-sex unions, in church. Sometimes, it is less conspicuous, as where there is not  a new decision, but a gradual shift in emphasis by some Catholic bishops from outright condemnation, to more attention to the quality of relationships, and the importance of “dignity, compassion and respect”. Sometimes, it is marked only by local, personal experience, as individual church members and their families find that in many congregations (admittedly not all), they are able to worship and participate with full acceptance by fellow parishioners. For many people, this direct experience at parish level is far more important than the theoretical pronouncements from church leadership.

In the UK, one of the most prominent opponents of the LGBT- oriented Soho Masses is William Oddie. In the Sept-Oct issue of Faith Magazine, he rants once again about the continued existence of these Masses, and the role of the English bishops in supporting them. (Like the other opponents of these Masses, he totally ignores the even more important role of the Vatican itself, through the CDF, in their support). Introducing his lament, he refers to this time (of toleration for the Masses) as a “defining moment” for the English Catholic Church.

The affair of the Soho Masses has rumbled on for years now; and it has become one of the defining issues of the Catholic Church in England at the beginning of the new Millennium. That sounds a little pompous, maybe: but I predict nevertheless what, at my age, I will not live to see – that when the history of the English Church in this dire period for its fortunes is written, this subject will merit more than a passing footnote.

The question the affair poses is very simple: are those set in authority over us, the bishops, at this juncture in our history prepared to defend the teaching of the Church as though it were indeed, as Catholics have always believed, part of a body of faith given by God and not constructed by men?

When I first saw this, my immediate response was that he was grossly overreacting. On further reflection, I think he is right, but probably not in the way he intended, and not only for the English Catholic Church. This is not (as he thinks) about the bishops supposed failure to defend teaching “given by God”, but about moving away from sexual prejudices that were constructed by men, justified by distorted translations and misinterpretations of  a selected handful of Bible verses, and erroneously presented as central to Christian faith.

There is a much bigger, worldwide movement under way here, towards a more authentic understanding of Scripture and theology, and towards full inclusion for all in Church. William Oddie described this time as a “defining moment.” Theologian John McNeill has described it in more precise theological language as a “Kairos Moment“, a time ripe for transformation.  The Holy Spirit is everywhere to be seen, nudging us along the paths to change that are possible and appropriate in specific denominational, local and family circumstances.  It is incumbent on each one of us, queer and straight ally alike, to reflect and discern the ways in which we can best co-operate with the Spirit in her work.

Let us give thanks for the opportunity – and for my American readers, have a great holiday weekend.

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