Where does it leave us? We don't know very much about Jesus. One of the Scripture readings this morning at my church, the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels, was the story of the wedding in Cana. I was reminded of what I wrote about it the other day, but after church as we were talking, a visitor approached our priest and asked him a question. It seems that she has a young child who has not been baptized. This kicked off a whole discussion after he answered her question, which was: if my baby were to die unbaptized, would he go to hell?
The answer of the Episcopal Church to this question is an emphatic NO. And the reason is very simple: the Episcopal Church, like other denominations, does not rule its membership by terror. The young lady who was talking to our priest has been put in an untenable position by her parish priest, who refuses to baptize the baby because he was conceived out of wedlock. At the same time the priest tells the mother that should her son die, he is condemned. This is the kind of religious terrorism--I don't consider that too strong a term--by which some denominations try desperately to keep their parishioners in line.
But it will have the exact opposite effect. Our priest's answer to her question made quite an impression on her; it seems possible that she will gravitate towards the Episcopal Church to look for a spiritual home. What she will find in our church, as she would if she looked into the United Methodists, the Lutherans or the United Church of Christ, is a community of love.
The Christian faith does not rest on exaggerated portraits of perfect celibacy and virginity that shame the rest of us. Only the Roman Catholic Church portrays Mary and Jesus as perpetual virgins; outside of their denomination the belief has no value. The example of a virgin mother as the ideal for women everywhere is a contradiction in terms; who can attain to virgin motherhood? Those of us who are mothers achieved it through sexual union; there are no exceptions. What is the spiritual value of perpetuating shame and hinting that if we would be perfect, we ought to achieve virgin motherhood instead of indulging the lustful flesh--pure Neo-Platonic hatred of the self and the body. Such a belief has no place in the Christian Church.
The Christian Church is, and should be, a community of love. We have nothing else in common through all the denominations that human egotism has imposed on the broken body of the Church. And it is that very community of love that, when Christians fail to show it to the world, provokes our worst critics.
Now that the Westboro Baptist Church has become the face of evangelical Christianity, what else does evangelicalism look like but a community united in hate? Now that Franklin Graham is denouncing his own nation and giving America up to hopeless depravity, what does the Graham Evangelical Association look like but a community of despair and hate? When you put a liberal Christian on a talk show and s/he speaks of Christian love, the callers are quite likely to ask just who it is that Christians love. Christian spokesmen make a point of public denunciations of everyone from the President to different communities of Americans (gay Americans, immigrant Americans, other denominations). Just who is it that these people who call themselves Christians actually love--the people in the other pews of their church buildings, and to hell with everyone else?
Christianity is not a functional entity unless it embodies and practices love towards the rest of the world--not only towards those who are most like ourselves but those who are least like us. The out-and-out hate that is expressed continually by the evangelical community gives the lie to the love of Jesus. If Jesus doesn't love everybody, then he doesn't love anybody, for who can stand up with a clipboard and tell God whom he may love unconditionally? Unconditional love--where have you seen it lately?
Yet your Mormon "missionaries" will tell you that they hold out your only hope of salvation, while they cheerfully consign everyone else to perdition. Want to get in good with the only group that is going to heaven? Wait, no--it's actually the Southern Baptists and their "missionaries," or the next time that the local self-promoting bible preacher drops by you can get in on the ground floor of his new group. Or go ahead and wait for the Jehovah's Witnesses, who will tell you that yes, it's true, everyone else is condemned except them.
Then you can go wherever the endorphin level is highest and get intoxicated with Jesus. This is a sad story. It is nothing like the self-loss of being part of something that is bigger than you are. Forgetting yourself is the last thing you will do in these groups that preach themselves into addiction with services two, three and four nights a week.
We could speak to this young woman today and tell her that St. Michael's is a community of love. Our priest could say that to her because the Episcopal Church is the voice of tolerance and inclusiveness in Christianity today. Along with other liberal denominations, the American Episcopalians are now standing firm against the Anglican Communion, which will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into inclusiveness. We stand against the Anglican Bishops of Africa, who prefer "kill the gays" laws to unconditional Christian love.
How can we sing a song that begins with, "Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world..." and then say to a young woman that if she doesn't get her baby baptized it is condemned--and on top of that, refuse to baptize the infant? How can a church tell a cohabiting couple that they must get married in order to be in good standing, yet refuse to marry them?
Priests and bishops can somehow feel comfortable telling their LGBT parishioners (if any) that it's okay to participate if they never have sex again as long as they live. And are those gay priests in the Catholic Church about to come out and demand tolerance from the Vatican? I don't see any sign of it. Even the African bishops will not take a stand against the thousands of closeted gay priests and bishops in Catholicism. There is such a thing as going too far.
If the Christian Church is not a community of love it is not a community at all--we are deluded. But please know that there are such communities all over Tucson, who extend a welcome to everyone who cares to visit. Such communities of love include the Rincon Congregational Church, the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, local Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and all the Episcopal churches in town. If you are looking for a spiritual home, please don't get sick of the evangelicals in the media and give up.