I love weddings. Relationships built on love knit the human community together as a species – ever growing through the generations into a unifying, woven tapestry of diversity.
The Episcopal Church has a broad understanding that the tapestry of humanity woven together through love is the Body of Christ. Selfless love – an ideal lifted up through the self-sacrificing nature of marriage – serves as the metaphor of Christ’s union with the Soul and his eternal commitment to the Beloved. The power of weddings to unite people across divisions of culture, race, religion, nationality, time and orientation of love makes John’s story of the wedding at Cana a very appropriate setting for Jesus’ first public sign of the inward grace of God within him.
The Sacramental Union of Christ with the Beloved human soul within the mystery of God should not be confused with the socio-culturally applied term of ‘bonds of affection’ – frequently used to describe the relationship between member churches of the Anglican Communion. The following statement is shared from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s web page:
The Anglican Communion is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships—the “bonds of affection”—between its members worldwide. These are strengthened when Anglicans meet, informally and at such formal gatherings as the Instruments of Communion. President of these Instruments is the Archbishop of Canterbury who acts as a unique focus of unity.
When the Primates of the Anglican Communion met in January, they did NOT seem to be acting out of either a generous theological understanding of marriage or even the simple hospitality that Christ asks of his followers in loving their neighbors. Despite claims of a shared commitment to be in relationship, it’s clear that the Primates have upheld an “us v. them” mentality when it comes to The Episcopal Church.
In a room full of heterosexual men – as the gathering of Primates was – it appears that the term “bonds of affection” is intended to apply only to a select subgroup of the Communion worldwide. For example, for many of the Primates, “bonds of affection” are not meant to include women in leadership, gay men (much less lesbians), and transgendered persons. “Bonds of affection” in the Communion are meant to be non-sexual as well as non-spiritual and are, therefore, virginally academic.
Actually loving one another into becoming the Kingdom of Heaven is very difficult work. It requires the courage to embrace differences as God-given, allowing mercy and truth to meet, witnessing peace and righteousness kissing one another unashamedly, and getting between the sheets of our own vulnerabilities in order to create a greater strength together based in Christ’s passion and love. Anything less is just a bad date.
The wedding at Cana invites us all to drink deeply of an infinite cup of salvation extended to all people – not because they deserve the best vintage but because God is a generous host and God’s Son is a loving husband to us all, regardless of our gender. For, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female – we are all one. We are – all and each of us – the Bride in the wedding at Cana. However, I am unwilling to, “Lay back and think of England,” as the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be asking The Episcopal Church to do.
We are – all and each of us – additionally called (as followers of Jesus) to emulate the work and sacrifice of Christ’s life on behalf of the marginalized in human society. On this Earth, we are called to do the preparation work of the Groom by building Our Father’s House of many rooms on Earth.
As an “instrument of unity” of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby seems more concerned with keeping his Primatial gentleman’s club in good order than in bringing restorative justice to LGBTQ people. He is, “Deeply sorry for the pain that the church has caused LGBTI people in the past – and the present – and for the love that too often we have completely failed to show in many parts of the world, including England,” but he is not sorry enough to stop the abuse within the Communion.
As in many dysfunctional systems or families, the member who presents that there is a problem is usually the one who is alienated and punished, while the abuser remains in place and even claims the moral high ground.
Characterizing the Primates Meeting, Welby writes, “We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organize ourselves.”
Go ‘should’ on someone else, Archbishop Welby. TEC is not the problem in this situation, but the blackballing of TEC by the Primate’s Meeting is far out of bounds in all the many ways that there are of maintaining bounds.
Here’s the thing about the Primates Meetings in general – a Primates Meeting as a body doesn’t have any authority to make binding statements of any kind about anybody or anything within the politics or beliefs of the Communion. Not even our own Primate has the authority to make binding statements on behalf of or to The Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope, and the Primates are not a curia.
As Rev. Mike Angell has well summarized, “The [Primates] gatherings began in 1978 at the invitation of Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for ‘leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.’ They did not begin with, nor have they ever been given, any sort of legal or canonical authority. They were created to be a bit of a retreat and a place for bishops with a great deal of responsibility to share life and experience.”
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) would have to voluntarily agree to what is being requested by the Primates Meeting. Furthetmore, TEC has representatives on the ACC, including Gay Clark Jennings, President of TEC’s House of Deputies of The General Convention.
The Anglican Communion is in the midst of the work of transformation within the backdrop of a greater historical period of global, social change. However, as Presiding Bishop Curry has said, “It may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.”
In a sermon that I gave on January 17th (Epiphany II) following the Primates Meeting, I offered a reflection on the events, within the context of marriage customs of First Century Palestine. (The sermon is available here on YouTube). Among other wedding customs, after the formal engagement of marriage, the Bridegroom would leave the care of the Bride to her family in order for to prepare a place in his father’s house for his Beloved so that when the wedding ceremony was completed a year later, the Bride could be brought to a home prepared to welcome her.
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are challenged by Christ to make room in Our Father’s House for all who hear Christ’s call of Love. For some time, TEC has been spiritually building a place for our LGBTQ members. My parish church and many of our Episcopal churches are (even now) rooms in the house of God where Christ embodied in the community welcomes them. The water of our Baptism is not intended for upholding old ways of doing and being, purity codes that enforce an exclusive priesthood or closed community of “chosen” believers. Rather, like the wine at the wedding at Cana, our Baptism is meant to transform us into a community of celebration, in union with Christ and witnessed before God – for all people.
For as challenging and painful as it has been at times, I am very grateful to God for having the opportunity in my life to: advocate for marriage equality in the State of Washington; sign my name to General Convention resolutions last year that literally ‘made room’ in our language around marriage for recognizing same-gender union as marriage; and for presiding at same-gender marriage rites in the Church. I am the one that is transformed with the blessing of every couple. What I see standing before me is the story of Christ’s love and God’s abundant Grace that is freely given. Such grace is not for me to constrain or to condemn in favor of institutional bonds of affection.
Our relationships as the Anglican Communion are worth preserving only insofar as we are mutually committed to building up the Kingdom of Heaven by adding rooms onto God’s House in every generation.