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Moral courage: non-evangelical traditional churches have it too.

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01/07/07

At it's prior national convention, The Episcopal Church of the United States approved the ordination of an openly gay bishop, bringing upon itself not only the wrath of those who voted contrary to the majority of those representing congregations all over the country, but of the worldwide Anglican communion itself.

So what did they do for an encore in 2006? This same uppity church had the nerve to go against 2000 years of mysogynistic patriarchy and elect as its national bishop, a woman - one Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, a pilot and oceanographer but seriously lacking - as far as Christian literalists go - those two patriarchal attributes and shaft of righteousness that God did not issue to women ... ever. Having united with a local Episcopal congregation fairly recently myself (1999), I did not do so out of some epiphany that the Episcopal church had a doctrine or belief system totally in harmony with my own or one much closer to truth with a capital T. And there was no epiphanic moment when I just KNEW Jesus was my savior, I'd been done born again and could now qualify for entrance into Reverend Falwell's Liberty University.

Naw... we just joined with the Episcopals out of a desire to integrate with a spiritual congregation in the community into which my wife Lietta and I had moved.

We found the local Episcopal congregation absolutely warm and embracing. Our little congregation is known somewhat as one of the most conservative parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia (Washington). But the average Sunday morning attendance is less than 20 souls.

My wife and I, in our 50's, were for a long time literally the youngest actively participating members of the congregation.

Of those who actively participate, I would estimate the average age to be 75 years. Perhaps that is why I was recently elected as the Senior Warden - the youngest person with sufficient energy to do so. In 1999 we were embraced, loved and repeatedly encouraged to return. When we did, I found that they were in need of a back-up organist and I was able to fill that role.

The Ladies guild needed youthful energy and my wife was scooped up and put to work.

Later on, my wife and I were invited to participate in a program of calling and discernment with the idea that our youth might be put to greater use by involving us in a ministerial capacity. Perhaps one or both of us could begin a program of training to be able to step in when the time arrived as future replacements for our priests.

Both of us were authorized as lay preachers with tasking of giving a monthly sermon.

This alone gave tremendous relief to our priests, who were originally called out of the congregation some 15 years ago when the parish lost its traditionally trained and ordained Episcopal priest. We have two priests in our congregation, one male and the other female. The presence of a female priest is a reminder that the Episcopal Church has a history of courage in dealing with change.

Our female priest is in her 60's, employed in the community and busier than she ought to be with church duties, family obligations and full-time employment.

Our male priest is entering his late 80's and is in declining health.

This congregation has already suffered the consequences of Episcopal courage, having lost several families in the last ten years as a result of the appointment of an openly gay priest, the Very Reverend Robert Taylor, as the head of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral - the first openly gay dean chosen to lead an American Episcopal church.

That event is the reason why attendance dropped down to the less-than-20 Sunday attendance. Those who left the parish were couples of the same generation that makes up the remaining congregation. When your number of active participants drops from the 30's to the 20s you have in fact lost 1/3 of your congregation to Episcopal courage and its radical departure from traditional Christian conservatism.

For those who did not leave the church, regarding homosexuality, these folks have never "been there; done that." Yet what I heard from them for the most part was an expression of reverence for personal choices and a trust that such issues were between God and the individual.

Having taken issue many times with those who proclaim a literal Bible and espouse their own private interpretations of Bible verses in condemnation of those who do not conform, I expected to hear that sort of thing among these, the oldest of our highly "conservative" parish - but was mistaken.

I'm fairly certain that privately, most or all of us who live our lives mostly outside of much interaction with a gay community have personal and meaningful reasons for how we feel - empathetic, supportive or intolerant .  They are, however no more than personal value judgments and we ought to be mature enough to  not elevate our judgments to a  place in a religious context as reasons for condemnation.

We have no justification if we act as accusers based on a personal  moral standard which most tend to assume is of course God's moral standard. Otherwise we couldn't judgmentally condemn anyone could we?

Righteousness in fact is neither a scripturally nor traditionally defined concept that contains a rigid and uniform code of conformity.

But Goodness for the sake of Goodness might very well be.

To focus on being righteous is to focus on and glorify one's self at the expense of the universal applicability of Jesus' life and teaching.  If Jesus could declare to a mortal caught in provocative and mob-arousing sin - all the while staring down a supposed moral majority bent on murder and mayhem ...

"Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,"
where do any of us have the right to go beyond that pattern?

In attempting to do so, we ultimately find ourselves trying to dictate morality to God. We expect God to support our humanly weak judgmental thinking and leave ourselves vulnerable to a moment in time when our  "wrongteousness"  brings us face to face with a revealing to us that we have been tragically wrong and mistaken.

A lifelong judgmental Christian will approach his own demise with an uneasy sense or fear that ahead might lie an immense shock: the prospect of discovering that God has always been a God of Compassion and not a God of judgmental morality.

And for literatists, there would be nothing worse than should such a discovery occur at the supposed bar of judgment when actions are up for review and it's too late to change the behavior. They have a lot riding on whether or not God is as mean-spirited as his literalist children.

Episcopals are numbered among the most courageous American churches who are doing the right things for the right reasons, never going into an endorsement of a gay lifestyle, yet recognizing that judgment and condemnation, if judgment an condemnation is part of being God, is left to a Heavenly Father who knows what He's doing and knows hearts and intents a hell of a lot better than any of us.

There's a conservative movement within the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) to separate itself in a protest reeking of narrow righteous indignation. Their words of reasoning are conservative and judgmental - an almost ignorant assumption that God Himself is conservative in nature, punitively judgmental and obsessed with the details of human intimacy. It's also, like every fundamentalist/literalist church, an entity whose morale values are founded on superstitious assumptions about a world in the hereafter that must by God be a mirror of the world we live in.

The assumption, spoken or left unsaid, is that God does recognize and authorize weak and narrow human perception and in so doing,  endorses disharmony and separation.  This seems to presuppose an all-or-nothing,  either-or supreme and omnipotent creator who delights in blind obedience; who is willing to be bound by mortal condemners when they assign to themselves the wisdom of condemnation.

These self-righteous dissenting leaders may be more sincere than am I who find myself openly critical of their choices. I risk being narrow and judgmental myself if I condemn their actions and erroneously assign to myself wisdom in condemnation. So I try not to  go so far in my indignation as to condemn (and fail more often than not) .

But  I will disagree with moral monopolists.

I am best advised to follow the example in my own congregation, which has already lost 1/3 of its membership in rebellion against a decision of religious policy reached by our Episcopal community's spiritual leadership.

Interesting that according to scripture, should one chose to read Bible verses as literally inerrant, God also lost 1/3 to rebellion and disagreement with His policy.

I wonder about that scriptural 1/3.

Have we any evidence that ultimately they were justified and vindicated by some authority higher than God?

Arthur Ruger 2006

Arthur & Lietta Ruger 2002-2008. The American Choice is a  political internet journal based in Bay Center, Washington. The views expressed not authored by Arthur or Lietta Ruger are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of The American Choice or SwanDeer Productions. Permission of author required for reprinting original material, and only requests for reprinting a specific item are considered.

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