What is going on?
Over the past two weeks I have fielded phone calls from three different young gay men requesting “spiritual safety.” These are not exactly expected, as I am a known traditionalist. The conversations go like this:
Caller: “Hey Matt. So you know how I’m a Christian?
Caller: “Well, I need some Christian friends.”
Me: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”
Caller: “Yeah, about that…as a young gay person who loves Jesus and wants to grow in his faith, I feel like an outcast in my church much of the time.”
Me: “Ouch. Is it really that bad?”
Caller: “Well, when I talk about ‘Jesus, and the power of the Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,’ I get raised eyebrows. When I talk about evangelism, historic doctrines, or believing the Creeds, people tug at their shirt collars…and clergy their clerical collars. They are very excited about Spong, Borg, Crossan and the Buddha, but they get the willies when I want to talk about Augustine, Aquinas, NT Wright and the Messiah.” They tell me ‘we welcome questions,’ but it seems that orthodox answers are the only ones not tolerated.
Me: “I know you well enough to know that bugs you.”
Caller: “Uh, yeah. I joined a church because I want to be Christian. …So, can I hang out with you…even though we are in different places on sexuality?”
Me: “Have we ever talked about sexuality?”
Caller: “No, but well, word on the street is that you’re “not really with us.” You treat me like a brother in the Lord, though, and not like some kind of oddball because I believe the core doctrines of the faith and that the Bible is the Word of God.”
I want to raise a question: How is it that young people feel belittled for being too Christian in a Christian church? And (here comes my conventional logic defying proposition) could orthodox, trinitarian theology be replacing sexuality as a point of alignment for a growing number of LGBT young adult Episcopalians?
I am sure that my politically doctrinaire friends on both the Left and Right are warming up their typing fingers to punch out a fiery response for daring to wander outside of the accepted sexual orthodoxies right about now. But before your fingers fly, let me ask you to put aside the arguments of the past, the ones you have rehearsed and rehashed answers for, and peek around the corner, for just a moment. Think about those three phone calls and ask yourself if they might be pointing at something significant on the horizon…
Imagine that you are a twenty year old Episcopalian. You view the world through post-modern eyes…you place high value on maintaining relationships with people, including those with differing viewpoints from your own. Whether gay or straight, you are coming of age in a world in which, chances are good, that you have not fought over sexuality. In that world, young Gay Episcopalians seem to be seeking out the theologically orthodox for supportive Christian discipleship.
My snarky side wants to whisper, “Gee, that sounds like actual tolerance.” You know, from before “tolerance” was code for “progressive,” when it was a word that presumed disagreement. After all, I don’t have to “tolerate” those I agree with. We already agree. Much has been written about the exclusivity of “inclusivity” – How the only idea that is out of bounds is the idea that some ideas are, in fact, out of bounds. The old and inherently contradictory notion that there is no objective truth except, of course, the statement that there is no objective truth. But now my iPhone call log is showing a growing list of indicators that at least some of the group the Episcopal Church has most tried to enfranchise are feeling disenfranchised. What kind of inclusivity is it that is gives Gay Millennials the experience of being excluded for simply wanting to follow Jesus according to the traditions and doctrines of our faith, as set out in our prayer book and Scriptures?
And does this point to an emerging generational divide within the Episcopal Church? Boomers, for whom winning arguments is culturally quite important, are wired differently from post-modern Millennials. For Millennials, respect trumps truth. They would rather be in relationship than be right. They embrace mutually contradictory ideas without internal conflict. It confuses those over 40 when Millennials report that they are both significantly more pro-life and more pro-gay than their parents. Many boomers are shocked when they hear of Millennials requesting Rite One weddings (including the “dreadful day of judgment”), and that when playing “Jesus Seminar” on the Creed they vote their marbles more orthodoxly than their parents.
I see winds of change blowing into the Episcopal Church. It came in with the Millennials when they walked through the batwings and bellied up to the bar at the last General Convention. Did you notice that GenCon12 voted to become both more progressive politically while, at the same time, holding the line on theological orthodoxy? Did you notice the groundswell to shrink national structures and sell the national Church Center? Did you notice the Acts8 Moment? Many Boomers seemed surprised at those swirling winds.
But none of this should come as a surprise. It is what always happens with the second-generation after a struggle. And with sexuality, in much of the country, Millennials are second generation people. In issues of race, those who fought for equality are shocked that the second generation has forgotten the struggle. With women, young adults have to be taught that gender inclusive language is important…because “when a woman might actually become President of the company or the country,” as one young African American woman recently told me, “pandering to me with language isn’t important.” In the sexuality debates, most Episcopalians now in college have never known a church in which LGBT people were not welcomed. The last conservative church departures occurred when they were in junior high. Gay Millennials are telling us, “We joined this because we want to be Christian.” And my ringing iPhone tells me that, too often, we are making it difficult for them.
As the culture continues to change, will the Episcopal Church keep Gay Millennials? Or will they end up going someplace else – someplace that puts more emphases on their faith than their orientation?
In another fascinating conversation last week, a friend, a woman in a long-term same-sex partnership, told me, “We want our kids in your children and youth midweek programs.” They live close and trust us. They are not going to give our church a shot, however. “We are going to keep driving (40 minutes) to our megachurch on Sundays. We know they are not Gay-friendly, but the preaching and music are great.”
Her statement was a fascinating example of cultural change coming: In a world in which LGBT people increasingly have public affirmation and political protection, they no will longer need the affirmation of the church. When they engage the church it will be because they long for the faith of the church. All of which leaves a question hovering like incense after a high Mass: As evangelicals become less LGBT hostile, will the Episcopal Church hold on to LGBT Millennials?
Is my ringing phone an aberration? Or are we quickly entering a new era in which LGBT people will no longer come to church for affirmation but for transformation? (In fact, maybe they were seeking transformation the whole time.)
And how do we give transformation? What if we simply remember who we are – a prayer book using, Lambeth Quadrilateral believing, transformation expecting church? Ditch the fuzzy Christology, hermeneutic of suspicion, and denials of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Return to basic Christian teaching that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and there is one solution, to be made alive in Christ. Proclaim, without fingers crossed or apology, that humanities’ ills are only be solved by casting ourselves on the mercy of God to receive the gift of salvation purchased on the cross at God’s initiation and God’s expense, “For by grace you have been saved.” I am not arguing for the dropping of the ability to question in the Episcopal Church. We learn by questioning. I merely argue for the charitable assumption of the Great Tradition and, at the end of the questions, the clarity of our leaders to say, “Here is how Christians have clung to God for 2000 years.” To quote Greg Boyd, “faith isn’t about trying to feel certain about your beliefs but being willing to commit to living a certain way despite the fact that you’re not certain.”
A new wind is blowing. One in which young people, including young Gay Episcopalians, will engage with churches because they want help to walk with Christ in a community of other Christ-seekers.
How will the Episcopal Church fare in this brave new world?
 Politically progressive: Same sex blessings, affirming inclusion of transgendered people. Theologically orthodox: No Communion of the unbaptized, Confirmation as necessary for parish office.
 Check out the Christianity 21 Conference and the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, both of which feature unambiguous and unashamed Jesus speak. The way evangelicals talk about homosexuality, or choose to avoid talking about it, and the way most evangelicals treat LGBT persons is certainly changing. Influential evangelical, Tim Keller’s comments in an Ethics and Public Policy Forum is telling of this direction: “Large numbers of evangelical(s)…will continue to hold the view that same-sex marriage runs counter to their faith, even as they increasingly decide they either support or do not oppose making it the law of the land.”
 BCP, 877-8) 1) The Bible as Word of God teaching all things necessary to salvation, 2) The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of faith, 3) The 2 Sacraments given by Jesus for the life of the body and 4) the historic Episcopate as the organizing principle of Christ’s Church)