What now? The Episcopal General Convention and the SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage decision

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A generational explanation of lgbt church engagement and my conspiracy theory that millennials will be used to drive a boomer/Xer agenda.

If you are new to this blog you should know two things: First, I am an ecumenical pragmatist. I am always looking for a way forward in unity. Second, I am a futurist. I am always wondering what the unanticipated consequences of today’s actions will be tomorrow. Things are never as rosy as they appear to the winners, nor as grim as they appear to the losers. With those caveats out of the way, let me offer a reflection upon this morning’s SCOTUS same-sex marriage decision upon our church deliberations this week…

For thirty or more years the Episcopal Church has championed the cause of lgbt people. One of the Episcopal Church’s charisms is the desire to push the boundaries of the tent of grace as far as it can be pushed. This charism arose from our English established church roots that put Protestants, Catholics, and those for whom the church represented the national aspirations of a people at prayer in the same building. Into this “we can all worship together” ethos came the Builder Generation and their “what people do is their own business” ethic. The Builders were followed by Boomer generation “justice” clergy who gave lgbt people voice when they were at the periphery of the culture. Conservatives sneered that lgbt folk only joined churches for social acceptance. And, given the very human and universal desire for inclusion, surely there was some truth to that suggestion.

But the world changed. Lgbt people have gained cultural acceptance. This change coincided with generational shifts: Millennials, for whom the old categories of “right” and “left” only work if you are a product of either a progressive or conservative fundamentalist university, think much more like the Builders (“your life, your business”) and much less like Boomers and Gen Xers (“I am right, you are wrong. And since you are wrong, you need to be fixed.”)

In these shifting generational sands, I noticed an increasing number of lgbt people joining churches that are welcoming but not affirming. Then I noticed an increasing number of evangelical churches becoming affirming: two poles appear to be merging. This is not received as good news by either suburban evangelical power brokers (for whom this represents a loss of cultural status quo) nor mainline power brokers (for whom this represents the potential loss of a carefully cultivated constituency). But it is surely happening.

What does this new world mean for young lgbt Christians? I suggested a year ago in a post entitled “Will the Episcopal Church keep gay Millennials?” that lgbt Millennials would not stay in a church that is not theologically robust and is politically narrow. Lgbt Millennials, like other Millennials, are voting with their feet that they want sermons with stronger scriptural underpinnings, more rooted in the ancient wisdom of the church, more theological content…sermons that are deeper and, gasp, longer. Lgbt Millennials, like other Millennials, have no need to engage the church for social acceptance. They have that. In other words, Millennial lgbt people think more like their generation than their minority identification. If you accept that orientation is a minority, like race, lgbt Millennials think more like assimilated immigrants than first generation immigrants. In light of this changing milieu, I suggested that lgbt millennials might bail out on the Episcopal Church because we are too fuzzy on our scriptural and traditional roots – too much about Boomer and Generation X division politics and not enough Builder and Millennial generation “agreeing to disagree.” I watched this firsthand in a meeting a month ago between lgbt business leaders and twenty young evangelical clergy. Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian said, “Look, we don’t want to go to mainline churches with a fuzzy gospel. We may be gay, but we are evangelicals.”

My post last year had an interesting outcome: Nearly a dozen young gay clergy contacted me offline to say that they were having trouble staying in our church because of the rampant heterodoxy of their clergy elders. If two people contact me on a post privately I struck a nerve. But this was nearly a dozen. Clergy!

Why share all of this? Because in the euphoria of today’s SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling, our convention delegates, who tend to see the issue of sexuality as their Selma, will feel a groundswell to change marriage canons and begin the process of prayer book revision – Two issues that threaten to squeeze another 100,000 Episcopalians quietly out of our midst over the next decade. People, I might add, that are serving, tithing, faithful church members.

To my progressive friends: You got what you wanted – both in the culture and in the church. From today forward, same-sex marriage is the law of our land. Lgbt people are already, and in the future will increasingly be, either joining us or leaving us because we are a church that proclaims the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. You don’t need canonical or prayer book changes.

What we really need today is for an lgbt delegate to stand up and say, “The world just changed. We don’t need the church for acceptance. We have that. We need the church to be the Jesus loving, God worshipping, body of Christ she once was. That is what will bring us and that is what will keep us.”

No matter what you are about to be told at GC, this is a generational shift not a theological one. In your Convention deliberations, I fully expect (and accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist on this point) that an uber-politicized, super-minority of progressive-fundamentalist millennials, fairly un-representative of their generation, will be the ones tasked by their Boomer and Xer elders with carrying the legislation and begging articulately for canonical and liturgical revision. They will be given the heady task of marching forward to microphones to exuberantly implore you for “long overdue sacramental justice.”

When that happens (and I am certain it will), delegates, resist them. Remember the reams of data you have read on the Millennial generation. Real Millennials like old words and traditions. Real Millennials like diversity. Real Millennials are ok with disagreement. Real Millennials live in a world that lacks neatness – they do not need canonical consistency. Real Millennials, to quote a Millennial friend in the midst of a disagreement with another Millennial, say things like, “I think you are really weird on that issue and I’m not really sure what the solution is, but I know a great craft pub in an old warehouse around the corner. Want to grab a beer?”

So resist the urge to make the world a neater, cleaner place for a generation that is looking for a more ancient, higher quality, more relational church. …A church that is a lot like the one we already are.

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16 thoughts on “What now? The Episcopal General Convention and the SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage decision

  1. I generally love your posts and I follow you with interest. But can you explain how lgbt millennials want “stronger scriptural underpinnings, more rooted in the ancient wisdom of the church, more theological content?” It is that very content and ancient wisdom that stands in opposition to them unless they do damage to the clear meaning of scripture and twist historical facts.
    Also, you seem to be quite worried about losing 100,000 conservative Episcopalians (and their money and service). Let them go where they can worship and serve best, joining other Anglicans who have fled TEC. It seems to me, you simply can’t have it both ways. In this instance there is no via media.

    • Hi Gayle, a good question!

      There is a majority at the GC who seem to want conservatives gone, or to be unaware of the effects of their actions on the conscience of conservatives. There have been many conservatives who have already taken them up on the opportunity for TEC to be, to quote one of our seminary profs, “a leaner, meaner church.” However, most millennials I speak to, gay and straight, want the church to be the church. Not to become their culture or do church by cultural focus group. If TEC leaves alone doctrinal documents (ie prayer book) the remaining conservatives can stay while progressives continue their innovations.

      Lots of Anglicans have fled TEC, but the door has begun to swing both ways, with some rejoining. I have had four people who are ordained or in ordination processes with ACNA call and request meeting with me about the possibility of moving into TEC.

      The ground is and will continue to shift. In my mind it is in the best interest of the kingdom of God for both branches to be as healthy and creedal as possible.

      Did I get close to an answer?

      • Close, but my main point was in questioning your statement that lgbt persons want to get back to scripture and tradition which would seem to be contradictory to their progressive position and is actually where conservatives plant their feet. Maybe you just mean they want the church to preach the love of Jesus (as opposed to social issues) without preaching about sin, etc.?

        • The LGBT millennials I know simply think Paul wasn’t referring to monogamous same-sex relationships. They want robust preaching of scripture, including sin. It is why they are joining evangelical churches. They have what I think is a blind spot on sex. I certainly have plenty of my own blind spots.

        • Hi Gayle,

          As an LBGT Christian I agree with Matt’s assessment here. I would say my understanding is that there is no conflict with scripture and my sexuality or my expression of that sexuality in a loving, faithful, monogamous relationship. The problem lies within the understanding of Scripture that the church has taught. But this is not a new problem. We’ve experienced this issue in terms of slavery, interracial marriage, the leadership of women in the church, divorce and remarriage, and even our understanding of the relationship between politics and the church. In each of these instances it has been the responsibility of the Church to incarnate the gospel in our contemporary world while at the same time holding on to scripture, tradition, and reason. I do not need to pretend that the church hasn’t been anti-anything in order to honor or desire to be connected to the legacy of the church at large or it’s traditions. A “baby with the bath water” approach may be easier for many, but it doesn’t feel very authentic or true. It’s too convenient and doesn’t give enough credit to the intelligence, passion, or orthodoxy of many of my LGGT Christian counterparts.

  2. Matt,
    Will the lgbt millenials stay in the traditional church you say they are seeking if that church teaches them the biblical truth that homosexual behavior is a sin? And that it is to be repented of, then refrained from? Or will that traditional church have to change to accommodate them?

    • I don’t know what individuals will do, I am saying that the old lines are much fuzzier with the next generation. For example, there are now plenty of out LGBT millennials in non-affirming churches. One church in Phoenix had 30 couples come to a meeting with the staff for a dialogue on “How can our church be welcoming without being in scriptural agreement on your relationship?” That wasn’t all of the LGBT people in the church. Just the ones who showed up. That conversation isn’t happening 5 yrs ago. Matthew Vines is meeting with young evangelical conservative pastors in Phoenix. They had a very cordial “we don’t agree on this, but what do we agree on and what can we agree on?” That is a conversation that probably doesn’t happen the same way with non-millennials. The ambiguity of it is too much for most Boomers and Xers who want to say, “pick a side.”

  3. Even if you say it fast, that does not change the word of God . It is an abomination to the Lord!!!
    Other consequences can happen. A man in his late forties who never had a good job that had health insurance or paid into Social Security ,depending on his father, employer might be required to give health insurance and S.S. benefit would be extended to him ,assuming his father help a very good paying all of his life. This would be fraud.
    You may say can the blood of Jesus reconcile the LGBT to God .Paul said ” do not keep on habituallly sinning”

    • Hi Harold. Like you, I seek to surrender my life to the scriptures as I read them using a “clear meaning of words” hermeneutic. Many claim to love Jesus and to be surrendering their life to him, and show evidence of that in many ways, yet maintain a same-sex sexual relationship. In my own mind I liken it to other sons…racism is an example that comes to mind: If salvation is based on freely receiving grace through Christ, there will be a lot of people in heaven who did not do a very good job of loving their neighbors as themselves. Either way, my job is to teach teach the whole counsel of God and let people respond to God as the Holy Spirit guides. I try to be faithful in my part. What God does in others’ hearts is between them and their maker. I am willing to listen and to love. I cannot change holy writ or 2000 of unbroken Christian tradition.

  4. Truly excellent reading here; thank you. Raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and an Episcopalian for a dozen years I struggle with such fundamental change though realize it’s inevitable. And I am trying hard not to have a “knee-jerk” reaction to the Convention’s decision on same sex marriages in the Church. Having supported civil unions since before they were a reality I am still unsure about my Church performing same sex marriages. Surely there is room under God’s tent for all but cannot help thinking we’ve moved from tolerance to endorsement; the first was voluntary, the latter by edict. I don’t pretend to know what God approves of or wants us to do relative to this particular subject and feel neither the Supreme Court nor the Episcopal Convention have any special enlightenment in this area either – though it was considered by only the latter – hopefully. There is comfort in your premise that those who love the Lord and cherish Christ as our Savior should find affirmation among fellow parishioners. It’s preferable to consider the issue in context of Christian fellowship rather than in the light of politics and social pressure which I fear may be the more accurate, and less desirable, drivers for these changes. I look forward to reading you regularly.

    • Hi Bryan. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have competing inclinations: one is that what is most important is not where we stand but how we treat those who do not stand where we stand. The other is that we may have just, in the words of one wise rector friend, “called a circle square.” I too see a difference between “making accommodation for” and “making a model of.” One seems to be a pastoral and charitable move. The other more like hubris.

      • Thank you Matt. I guess I am somewhere between calling a circle square and understanding it’s more important to treat others with dignity and respect regardless of how far apart we may stand. Leaning and working towards keeping the tent flap open, wider, more often. I think I should be embracing this in the spirit of affirmation and accommodation, as you mentioned, and not endorsement – just not sure what the difference is and if they are important. My wife an I are raising a nine year-old in the Episcopal Church and that just became more challenging. Today’s world requires lots of answers to our son’s questions but our church has served as a foundation and was source of few truly difficult explanations. I fear that’s about to change in important ways. I really appreciate the insight you have shared here.

        • Hi Bryan, It does get complicated, especially when parenting. I definitely think that pastoral provision and welcome are values as the body of Christ. So is orthodoxy. From where I sit (having watched 30 yrs of young people making dangerous sexual choices they often later regret) it appears that we may be moving from one over reaction to another.

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