I need the language of Dickens to describe the scene I witnessed some time ago. A couple of older clergy, who had a bit of liquor to loosen the tongue, were having a rather irreverent and loud conversation about things religious: a church organist, a bit too pious church member, a sermon by a neighboring pastor who quite embarrassingly and repeatedly mixed up “night gown” and “evening dress”. It was all great stuff, rather loud and certainly not meant for ears that could possibly be scandalized. This was especially true when the conversation wandered into whimsical stories of
The Ignorant Church
After the “hilarious” turn to angels and how they reproduced on the head of a pin, the conversation took on a pseudo-intellectual tone. “I read this sermon given by Rev X who went to great lengths to describe the church as the Bride of Christ….” I had no idea where this was going in the world of comedy. Pastor X was described as going on to describe vividly the Church as the Bride of Christ. However, the Church was best manifested in its priesthood (which at that time was all male). With careful timing, the speaker slowly enunciated the punch line of the story. “It seems that the Reverend believes that a male in love with another male is the highest expression of Christianity. Rumbling ribald laughter all around! Even those at a distance but obviously listening, laughed sheepishly. It was one of those near blasphemous stories that many were embarrassed to laugh out loud.
Clearly this was an absurdity. That was the humor. One of the great analogies was being skewered by this twisted “symbolic” logic. It was an open attack on same sex love with no expectation that anyone would object to why it was absurd. Surely, no right thinking person would suggest that homosexual love could possibly be used to describe the love of Christ for his church.
Was I horrified, offended? Yes, by the misuse of this very traditional analogy of the relation between Christ and his church. Was I offended by the assumption that the homosexual reference was funny because it was so absurd to apply to Jesus and his church? No. I made no remonstration…I did not stand indignantly, or even walk out or mutter a quiet disapproval. For you see, my mind was not clear or better. I was ignorant.
Yes, I had been trained in seminary, had studied morality. I had been over the unnatural acts connected with sex, but never discussed sexual orientation. I had never had reason to go anywhere but along with the prevailing attitudes. I knew that “it” was a sin and certainly a lifestyle that followed that path was vile. And this was the common teaching of Christian denominations.
I should note that there are other parts of the conversation that are now disturbing but at the time were common enough, e.g. the idea that clergy somehow represented the Church is one. While something gnawed at me while I was party to the great laughter, I found no witness from the Church to counteract that ironic and destructive attack.
The Lazy Church
Life goes on. I received a call from a friend with whom I taught in NJ. She told me that a fellow teacher had died of AIDS; it was 1983. I taught with him, had a drink or two with him, and learned a great deal from him. But I never thought to judge him as gay. My friend on the phone was embarrassed for my naiveté. “Everybody knew!” He was such a good teacher, a good guy. It never registered. I take it as a blessing that I was not given to judge. And again, even after that, at my brother’s 40 wedding anniversary, I was again confronted with my ignorance. Each member of his family gave a short talk about their parents. The youngest spoke of my brother’s goodness in accepting her dear girlfriend as her “life roommate”. I missed the only slightly veiled reference to her companion for life. Once again I was embarrassed as this was explained to me.
Where is the (C)church in all this? I was evolving out of ignorance but not because the Church was leading me. I always had this idea that the Church was some kind of Platonic structure that existed in a perfect world and would speak wisdom to the market place and I would be wowed by it. Church is no such thing. Too often it can be counted on to support whatever is the status quo. I was a good member of that Church. I went to church, I gave at church. I felt bad for the poor, smugly felt superior to those who failed in life. The Church supported me, made me feel strong when weak, and frankly superior to others. This church might be called a lazy man’s church. It is found in the meetings (among all kinds of denominations) whose purpose is to cover an area of human living that needs covering. Various denominations offer hymns, prayers, liturgy, preaching that caters to the self-interest of the congregation…prayers to avoid trouble, prayers to get us through, prayers to ward off problems. Good singing, creative preaching – all go into a “good” Church.
But how do major changes happen in and through the Church. How does the Church enrich our lives? There is another dimension to Church. The evidence exists historically. You can take major changes from allowing charging interest, to condemning slavery, confronting women’s role and marriage itself. But the lazy man’s Church had supported women being chattel, property, had supported the rule not to educate women, men’s superiority – with further examples down to the present day. That Church was both the supporter of the status quo And the source and support for better Christian ideas. Those Christian ideas that were in the face of the world that the Church lived in, I call that the prophetic church.
The Prophetic Church
Why should the church care about marriage? When my values that I have had for years, are challenged … when the ordinary life that I live is confronted … when my neighbor is suddenly not the loop of friends who think alike … when the country is criticized for lack of Christian behavior … when violence is not lauded … when help is required to be given to the seedy side of life, then one is confronted with the prophetic side of the church. Specifically that prophetic Church challenges the lazy man’s Church concerning same sex marriage.
I had forgotten that I am not a church member for my consolation, but I am a church member because Jesus called me to visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, give to the poor, and love those who despise me. That Prophetic church comes from the heart of the followers of Christ. It is not some figment of intellect this church, but it is made of members next to me, who confront my ignorance, confront my laziness. The prophetic church has a voice, and it speaks today to many subjects: one of which is marriage.
You see that story of the Reverends with its crude humor, really was in an ironic way, for me, a prophetic voice that took a long time for me to hear. The outrageous image of two men in love is no longer absurd as an image of Christ’s love for his Church, but is valid. Until I can, as a church member, see the imagery of two same sex couples united in love as a clear analogy of the love of Christ for his Church, then I still am ignorant and lazy. I and miss the message of the prophetic church to us today. That story now resounds in my soul as is given by Amos and is not funny but real and accurate.
The prophetic church teaches the Love of Jesus anew in its embrace of gay marriage.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?