General Convention Reflection
The Rev Robin Jennings
St. Francis in the Fields, Louisville, KY

Delivered to 400+ parishioners, the evening of September 7, 2003

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart always be acceptable to you dear Lord, our strength and our redeemer."

I want to thank you all for being here tonight. Your presence is a witness that we care. We care for our families and we care for our church family. A church family that is here gathered at St. Francis in the Fields. A church family that includes gay members. A church family that is also part of a diocesan, national, and worldwide family. I stand here not alone but with a family of some 77 million Anglicans, as well as with a great cloud of witnesses and a communion of saints who surround us and who are with us here tonight. The presenting issue that brings us together is the recent American Episcopal Convention in Minneapolis that meets every three years. This year, within the context of the 10-day meeting the convention approved the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire an openly gay man living with another man. In addition, a proposed liturgy for same sex blessings was given to local dioceses to give some sort of liturgical expression to that relationship.

I wrote to you last week saying that I opposed these actions and that tonight I would share with you my thinking on the matter. Now, some of you may be thinking why bother? Others of you may be thinking it is a little late. Still others may be thinking get over it. Obviously, I can't get over it and that is why I am here. Also, I don't believe it is too late. One thing I am sure of-perhaps now more than ever-is that this is God's church and God is Sovereign and with God it is never too late. God is at work doing something wonderful right now. God is out in front and will meet us tomorrow.

So why bother? Now, that to me is the question. Let me tell you why I bother. First of all, I don't mind saying it like this, but this is my job! No better job than working for your Heavenly Father. God gives me a pastoral responsibility that is at the heart of what I do. As some of you know, I probably have gotten over 100 phone calls in the first week of Minneapolis and 130 e-mails. I went home at about 8:30 one night and I told Mary I felt like a piece of burnt toast! I know that many in our parish are quite upset and angry which makes tonight a pastoral responsibility. I also know that there are gays in our parish who are not sure what to make of me. There are parents and grandparents of gays who are struggling with this issue not just tonight but every night. That is my pastoral responsibility as well. I also have parishioners who say to me, "I agree with Minneapolis. I am proud of the Episcopal Church." And that comment requires a pastoral response as well. So that is why I bother. In fact, I would call tonight not a pastoral response, but a pastoral crisis.

Some will caution me and say don't use the word "crisis" that the word crisis is too inflammatory. I use the word crisis intentionally and within the context of the Chinese symbol of yin and yang. A crisis presents us both with danger and opportunity. Tonight, I would like to focus less on the danger and grab hold of the opportunity of this crisis and use it as a teaching opportunity.

I want to unpack the decisions made in Minneapolis from a theological, biblical, and sacramental viewpoint and from our understanding of church structure. This is more than simply a "conservative" or "liberal" issue, which is the way the media has portrayed this crisis. And it is not just the media.

To set this Minneapolis Convention in context I would identify three cultural trends that came together simultaneously in Minneapolis like the perfect storm. The three cultural trends that permeated the convention and the decision are (1) individual rights, (2) modern psychology, and (3) tolerance. Let's look at each one for a moment.

The individual rights argument says that this matter is no different than the struggle blacks and women have had with their rights. In fact, I have been called "bigoted" and "racist" for the stance I have taken. Now, I do not pretend to be a student of the law. I haven't read verbatim the Supreme Court decision in Texas. I'm not all that clear about the courthouse drama that has taken place in Alabama with the Ten Commandments. I will say that the founding framers of the Constitution knew from experience that politics and religion are like a match to a powder-keg and the separation of church and state is a principle that protects us all. It is a safeguard for both the church and the state. It draws a clear boundary. It is seemingly clean and precise.

But the problem comes not when you separate church from state, but when you separate religion from life. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." That is a moral commandment. It has to do with our moral behavior. Most of us can keep our pants up and obey that Commandment and feel pretty good and self-righteous until Jesus comes along and says, "whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart." (Mt. 5:28) Now we are talking about sin and all that separates us from God and our neighbor. You see, pornography may be legal and it may be an acceptable form of my rights and freedom of speech. But simply because it is legal, and simply because it is my right, does that mean it is then moral? Jesus calls us to an ethical standard of morality that finds us all in need of salvation. So when people tell me that Gene Robinson has a right to be a bishop and that by opposing him, I am somehow denying his rights, I say Jesus didn't die for our individual rights. Jesus died for our sins. When we turn Minneapolis into simply a matter of individual rights then I John pegs it in the first chapter: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (I John 1:8)

So, let's look at the second cultural trend, modern psychology. Modern psychology no longer treats the homosexual orientation as an illness. In fact, the church is the sick one especially if we transfer all of our illnesses and project all of our sins and all of our phobias on to the homosexual scapegoat and victim. I am not a lawyer nor am I a psychologist. I know that Sigmund Freud had issues with God. I also know that psychology has freed up a lot of our inhibitions and our compulsions and our libidos. We are no longer Puritan! Mild understatement, wouldn't you say? Modern psychology has brought us the sexual revolution and we have come a long way from the birth control pill to now viagra. BUT realize the sexual revolution has also brought us the largest number of unwed mothers, unprecedented statistics of divorce, obviously since Roe vs. Wade the greatest number of abortions, and of course tragically AIDS-not only here in America but throughout the worldwide church. I would like to introduce the word "sin" again at this point in the discussion, even though it probably makes us feel guilty and it is not very affirming towards our behavior. But you got to admit, within the last forty years we have had sex on the brain. If I see a picture one more time of Madonna lip-locked with Brittany Spears I'm going to lose it. I'm offended and rather than accepting this sexual freedom, it is now becoming for me more and more unacceptable. I've had it. To those who say to me sex outside of marriage is OK, I say "no it is not." Jesus did not die for our sexual liberation. He died for our sins.

The third trend that collided with individual rights and with modern psychology at Minneapolis is tolerance. People who are tolerant are nice people and they say nice things like, "let New Hampshire do what New Hampshire wants to do." It is a laissez-faire approach to life. By the way, among other things, I have been called "intolerant." But that is OK. Because the problem with tolerance, as I see it, is that tolerance is not just passive but tolerance is very permissive. Being "inclusive" is the mantra of this permissive culture. So if I am eating dinner at a restaurant with my family and the guy next to me starts smoking even though there are signs around that say "no smoking" you will find that I will not be very tolerant nor will I be very inclusive. Tolerance is a very cheap virtue because all things are acceptable when you practice tolerance. If I do not say "no" and establish boundaries then I am in effect saying "yes" and giving approval not by my actions, but my inaction. We are called by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. Nowhere does the Bible say we are to tolerate our neighbor.

These three cultural trends then, tolerance, modern psychology, and individual rights, really teamed-up and did a number on Minneapolis and usurped biblical authority, sacramental theology, and church polity or governance. In ten days this convention attempted to dismantle not just a 2000-year tradition-because we are part of the Judeo-Christian tradition which includes the Old Testament and the New-but on CNN right before your eyes we saw an entire belief system revised. For some it was simply breathtaking. For others, it was the height of hubris, pride, or arrogance. Some were quick to claim the Holy Spirit. I would say it is more like the spirit of our times.

For the sake of tonight let's quickly turn then to this discussion on revision. There is a theological movement afoot that began back in the 1960's that many of you will recall was the theology of the death of God. Some of you have shared with me an editorial written by Harvey Cox who wrote eloquently about how the Episcopal Church has avoided schism. Harvey Cox is a revisionist theologian. Jack Spong who is familiar to some of you comes out of this same camp as well. Revisionist see Holy Scripture as essentially human documents that were written a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, one Episcopal bishop said, "well, we wrote the Bible the first time, we will write it again." Gene Robinson echoes this sentiment when he was quoted as saying, "scripture is still being written."

A revisionist begins his or her task by deconstructing scripture and then reconstructing scripture with one's own experience. For example, how do you explain the Virgin Birth? Well, a revisionist might say the Virgin Mary was not really a virgin. She was raped. Women were oppressed and victims then as they are today. God works through oppressed women like Mary so they can give birth to something new and be liberated from all that oppresses. See how that works? Read the DaVinci Codes. It is a runaway bestseller. I read it on the beach this summer and loved it. It is, however, fiction! It is a novel. It is a revision. A revisionist, by trade, sets the weight of scripture aside and is then free to develop a new ethic for a new day. A revisionist is not accountable then to tradition or to scripture. A revisionist is accountable to reason and experience. Listen carefully to Gene Robinson. He agrees that his opponents are right that his election (and I quote) "was contrary to the church's tradition"... but he added, (and now listen carefully) "just simply to say that it goes against tradition and that it goes against the teaching of the church and that it goes against scripture does not necessarily make it wrong." That is a revisionist at work.

Reformed theology of which the Anglican Church was born comes out of a reformed theological background that was shaped by the Reformation. Theologians I read-albeit back in the Stone Age-were Rheinhold Neihbur, Paul Tillich, and Karl Barth. All three of these men were German. All three were horrified and indelibly marked by their experience of World War II Germany and by the Jewish holocaust. They turned, however, to scripture for meaning not to experience. All were clear about sin and salvation because of Scripture. Karl Barth when asked to sum up his several volume set of church dogmatics said simply: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Hear that accountability to Scripture? Jesus loves me not because I think He loves me. Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me He gave His life for me.

Look at the differences then between the reformed and the revisionist theologians and you will see how this debate swirls around Gene Robinson. Traditional Christianity professes that a sexual relationship is limited to marriage-and believe it or not I will have to define marriage in a minute. The revisionist assumes that all persons are entitled to sexual gratification whether they are married are not. (Why? Because modern psychology says so, sexual expression is an individual right, and for Pete's sake let's all be tolerant.)

Reformed Christianity holds up as a model for sexual intimacy as that between a husband and a wife. Revisionist, remember, want to be free of models, definitions, and biblical standards for sexual intimacy. Traditionalist would say, "control yourself." Revisionist would say, "express yourself."

Why am I taking you through all of this? Because either our morality is a biblical morality or it is not. Either our morality is justified by scripture or it is not. I do premarital counseling. A young couple comes to me and they want to get married in six months. They fill out a form. I look at the form and it shows they are living at the same address. I ask the question: "Are you living together?" Usually, the girl looks down and the guy looks up and is ready to square off with me. So, I'll ask the prospective groom "why are you living together?" Inevitably I am either told "it is convenient", or "they are saving on six months rent." You all, when did our morals come down to a matter of convenience and since when were our morals not worth much more than six months rent? Revisionist theology links itself to a situational ethic. Reformed theology says sexual intimacy is limited to marriage. Jesus didn't die for our convenience. He didn't give His life for six months rent. Maybe, I'm getting too old!

Come back with me to Minneapolis and you will see where this revisionist theology played fast and loose with our values and with church tradition, scripture and our sacramental theology.

Let's start with the sacrament of marriage. "Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his first miracle at a wedding of Cana in Galilee." The traditional view of marriage is that God the creator blessed the joining together of man and woman, Adam and Eve. This bringing together of opposites, male and female and uniting them so that two became one was symbolic not of simply a sexual ethic, but it was a symbolic way of describing the very image of God. The Book of Genesis has two creation stories. Both stories reinforce this point that the male and female bear the image of God. If you follow the Genesis narrative carefully, you'll see that each new stage of creation is more advanced than the one before. First, all is formless, empty and dark. Like an artist working with clay, God forms light and dark, land and sea, earth and sky. Fish and foul are created in a poetic description and in one creation story Adam appears first and yet Adam by himself was not good enough for God! God wanted something better. Man is incomplete without woman. So God the creator puts his finishing touch on creation with Eve and for this reason Genesis tells us, "a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and they will become one flesh."

In the Gospels you will find Jesus reinforces this teaching by saying, "Have you not read that God who made them from the beginning made them male and female and said, "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh they are no longer two but one flesh. And then Jesus adds: "what God has joined together let no man put asunder." Our bishop and other revisionist will say that Jesus never spoke on the matter of same sex marriages. What the tradition of the church teaches, however, is that Jesus fulfills both the Law and the Prophets, which embraces this very basic doctrine of creation and understanding of marriage. Nowhere does the Bible permit, much less, bless same-sex marriages.

Now, this is far too simple of an outline I admit. But when people say that Biblical authority has been undermined by the Minneapolis Convention, I hope you hear this as not just a homophobic cry from a bunch of right-wing fundamentalist. A very serious rupture has occurred in our understanding of biblical authority, sacramental theology, and consequently church polity or governance. The rupture is so great that legal cases are being developed right now that say the American Episcopal Church by its actions in Minneapolis ceased to exist because it has abandoned the Apostolic teachings of the church. That is pretty strong.

I have been told that I need to chill. I also have been told that this is an issue only 50 year white men are upset over. I know there are other ages who are upset. In fact, I had a young mother in our Mom's Group ask me: "just what is the church's teaching now on marriage?" I do about 25 weddings a year. Multiply that over 25 years of being in the ministry and I trust you will understand why I want to be clear about the church's teaching on marriage. Traditional Christianity professes that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sexual intimacy is limited to marriage. Sex outside of marriage is not blessed. Sex outside of marriage may go on all the time but don't ask the church to bless it.

If you wonder what the Church teaches, take one look at the Catechism (p. 861) What is Holy Matrimony? "Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows."

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Sacraments are designed by their very nature to literally help make sacred God's creation. At the heart of a sacrament is love. The love we refer to as Christians is sacrificial love or agape love. Sacrificial love makes sacred the sacrament. As Jesus gives of himself so we give of our lives. That sacramental pattern is given to us for the betterment of society so that our life is not self-centered, but centered upon God. What did the Minneapolis Convention do? The Minneapolis Convention tried to revise the sacrament of marriage-not based on scripture, or the tradition of the church, or biblical morality-but on individual rights, the sexual revolution, and tolerance.

Let's quickly take the ordination of a bishop as another sacrament under revision and then I will turn it over for questions. The bishop-elect is charged in the following way: "You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church; to celebrate and to provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and deacons and to join in ordaining bishops; and to be in all things a faithful pastor and a wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ." (BCP p. 517)

The word "Episcopal" comes from the Greek "episcopas" meaning bishop. An Episcopal Church then is literally the bishop's church. The bishop is an important symbol for Episcopalians. Don't get me wrong. We don't worship bishops nor do we idolize them as in false idols but we do look to them as leaders. Do I hold a bishop to a different standard than other public figures? You bet I do! Do we have gay congressmen? Sure. Do we have gay leaders of banks and industry? No doubt. But when a person is ordained they are given a Bible not just to set on a coffee table. The ordained person is given a Bible with these words: "Receive this Bible as a sign of your authority." I'm sorry. But without the Bible the ordained person has no authority. Based on the Examination of a bishop and from our understanding of the sacrament is that unlike a politician or a business leader there is no separation between one's private life and public life. Granted, it may be a double standard, but it is a double standard that Jesus established long ago reminding us that what takes place outside reflects what is within.

So the bishop is called to provide a wholesome example. The biblical tradition for this wholesome example is found in I Timothy 3:1ff. The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way-for if someone does not know how to manage his own household how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil."

A bishop was thought of highly as a leader of the early church. By his wholesome lifestyle he modeled the Christian life for others. As this pertains to Gene Robinson, a traditionalist would say he is not providing a wholesome example. Divorced and living with another man, of course, does not rank high. Nor does any sexual expression outside of marriage provide a wholesome example. Again, the question has been raised by some of you what if I left Mary and lived with another woman? Do you want the answer? I would be shot! But seriously, the argument runs if we allow this, then why not polygamy? This matter of wholesome again is not just about being a nice guy. Wholesome is derived from the same word as whole or complete. The story of creation again reminds us that the union of man and woman is a sign of completeness.

Will you guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the church? I have already touched on some of the faith issues that surface with Gene Robinson having to do with such basic concerns as the authority of scripture, our understanding of marriage, and the doctrine of creation, so let's look at unity. Shortly after being elected, Gene Robinson was asked what about Episcopalians who might leave the church. His response was "they are the one's leaving, not me." When asked about Episcopalians, who may have trouble with his living with another man, he said "that is their problem." Give Gene Robinson credit, for if nothing else, he is unabashedly open and honest. Unity, however, is again not one of his strong suits. Many of you know that a meeting will take place in Plano, Texas this October 7-9. These are traditionalist and mainstream Episcopalians who are gathering to look for ways to realign the Episcopal church in America. Later on in October, a meeting of Anglican Primates will be held in Canterbury. No one can predict the outcome of either of these conferences but I do not think it will be pretty for the American Church. Anglican bishops, as an example, at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 by a vote of 526 to 70 declared that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture. That was simply homosexuality. That was not a vote about a homosexual bishop. What does this mean? It means that the worldwide Anglican Church could disassociate itself from the American Episcopal Church. What a lawyer could then do with that word "disassociate" is anyone's guess. I say this not in a threatening manner, but as again, an expression of the reality that says the "unity" of the church has been broken.

Last point: discipline. True story. A friend of mine, Ci Jones was rector in Trinity Church in Russelville, Kentucky. He was young and he was handsome. He played the guitar. He was cool. He was a pilot and had his own little plane. He also had a young woman in his parish who could not pledge money to the church but would instead clean the church. She began as well to clean the rectory. This was in 1982. The ways of the flesh and the devil took over and Ci and this young woman had an affair. Ci was married. He called the affair off and he and his wife underwent years of counseling. In 1986, Ci was called as bishop of Montana. The people loved him because he understood small parishes and he had a plane. The happy story did not last as there was conflict within the diocese in 1998 that would be considered mild by today's standard. It got personal, however, when the young woman who Ci had an affair with in 1982 revealed this indiscretion to the leadership in the diocese. In no time at all, Ci was presented to the House Bishops for discipline-this being only three years ago mind you-and the bishops ruled that Ci Jones had committed offenses unbecoming and immoral and he was deposed. The message of discipline the bishops were sending was clear. Sex outside of marriage was cause for dismissal. Fast-forward three years and Gene Robinson who is living with another man has now been made bishop. Church discipline, I guess, like beauty is now in the eyes of the beholder. You ask me what I think about Minneapolis? It simply does not add up.

So, what is the teaching opportunity in all this? I think a wake-up call has been sounded. The Diocese of Kentucky is at a crossroad. As you know the Minneapolis Convention abdicated a national responsibility in many respects by allowing dioceses to do what individual dioceses want to do. We need to learn-right now-from Bishop Gulick what his plans are now for the Diocese of Kentucky. Will he allow for the ordination of gay priests living in an openly monogamous relationship in this diocese? Will he allow for the blessing of same sex marriages in this diocese? We need to hear from him this month. Many of you, especially those who cling to traditional values and consider yourself mainstream, have felt like you were not represented. What this crisis has taught me is that I think you are very capable of representing yourself. Write, call, e-mail the bishop. His address is on the bottom of the handout. This month is important!

It is important that we speak not only with our lips but also with our lives. I will not permit a same-sex blessing to take place at St. Francis in the Fields. But in saying that, I hope you hear it does not mean we are anti-gay at St. Francis. It does mean that we hold up the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Now if the state passes same-sex unions that is the states business. We are separate. Our business is to love everyone who walks through these doors-it doesn't mean we have to marry everyone. Yet, everyone will hear the proclamation of the Good News, and everyone will hear the forgiveness of sins, and everyone will hear the promise of New Life.

I'll tell you what else this crisis has taught me. I realize I care more deeply about the thirty babies who were born at St. Francis in the last six months and these young families who are looking for a secure place that allows for a biblical viewpoint to be expressed. These young parents have learned from a previous generation the pain of divorce. They have seen what sex outside of marriage can do to a family and they want no part of it. Many of these young families follow in the wake and the statistics of the sexual revolution. What this has taught me is that rather than spending all this time debating same-sex marriages how about if we sponsor more workshops and training on Christian marriage? Rather than reading the front page of The Courier Journal for an understanding of the church, why not read the Bible? I have over 120 parishioners signed-up for Tuesday Morning Bible Study who want to grow. So rather than fixate ourselves on the declining numbers within mainline denominations why not help this church grow so we can offer a different model? In place of this discussion on homosexuality, what if we started talking about what a Christian father looks like and how we might further develop our men's ministry? Rather than focusing all of our attention on changing the politics of the church why not invite someone to ALPHA and lift up our primary mission of trying to change lives? Let's keep the mission of St. Francis in the Fields steady as she goes, charting a course through the turbulent waves of these changing times assured of only one thing and that is Jesus Christ is the captain of this ship.

A final word of encouragement: it comes from the writer to the Hebrews, from the thirteenth chapter of the eighth verse: Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) And again, from Hebrews, chapter four verse 12: For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Word of God is living and active right here and right now. And for that I thank God for your presence here tonight. Thank you!

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