Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On making room

I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: We Anglicans need to learn to acknowledge each other, and to come to terms with the fact that our unique movements and perspectives are all a part of the Church of England. I want to see a ceasefire between the Continuing Anglican movement, ECUSA, and the growing ACNA. Each Sunday we say the same prayers in church (or rather: the sentiment behind them and their meaning is the same, regardless of whether your English is 1928 or 1976 or whatever the AMiA is currently putting together). Christ is not limited to the Bread and Wine in our own enclave- He is present with all of us.

At the same time, I find myself grateful for that diversity, because it doesn't exist in other faith communities - e.g. the Latter-Day Saints, or the Roman Catholic Church . However, Election Year Madness is upon us, and it's becoming clear that the lines that divide our politics run through our churches too. Two of my favorite bloggers have had some especially great points: Jonathan Martin on how often political platforms have been wrapped up as items of faith and Justin Lee with a call to see those we disagree with as real people. There's not much that can be added to their excellent thoughts.

I see a need to learn how to make room for people to disagree with us - as I've discussed with my nonreligious officemate, I do think this applies to society as a whole, but I think it applies even more to the Church. It's hard for us to accept that someone can love Jesus and disagree with us about Calvinism, women in the ministry, gay rights, etc.

It's simplistic....but I think there *are* guidelines for how we judge others and how we should handle disagreements.

  Galatians 5:19-26. "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery;idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh style with its passions and desires.Since we live by the Spirit,let us keep in step with the Spirit." 

 Romans 14: 13-21 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

All I can say is that I've seen fruits of the the Spirit on both sides of the debates- but rarely in how the people on opposite sides treat each other. Can we make room for each other in the Church? Is there room at the foot of the cross for all of us?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Coming out of the closet....

The other day J and I had a get-together at our place. An old friend of mine came- one who I went to high school and then college with (then, I finished college and went on to grad school, while he dropped out, and eventually tried to complete his bachelors degree at another small Evangelical university in my new city. Yeah, there's a little more to the story.) Anyway, he was talking with grad school friends, and questions came up (like "how did you survive high school?" which might be a topic for another post). He mentioned that lately, he'd been solidifying his beliefs on evolution and women in the church and the crisis he'd faced realizing that there was more than one Christian perspective on these issues.

Now, evolution and women in the church, or gay people in the church, honestly, are not hills I'm willing to die on just yet. Partly because I think that HOW we treat other Christians who disagree with us is far more important than what we actually think on these issues, and partly because they aren't things that come up at work/school every day. I think I'm still more uncertain than I'd like to be about these things, but wherever I come down on any given day will never cause a faith crisis.

But there's another issue that has shocked me with what I really think, and that I've struggled to accept that I (and the vast majority of the Christians I know) come down in radically different places: not only am I pro-contraception, I am pro-choice. Yes, my small handful of readers, I am outing myself as a pro-choice Christian- a combination I didn't even think was possible a few years ago.

There are a lot of things that changed my mind- partly, the reality that pregnancy is a lot more nuanced than the way it's portrayed by the anti-abortion community. Most women who choose to terminate a pregnancy are already mothers, for instance, not irresponsible teens. Pregnancies take place in women, who live in families, which are part of communities- we can't just look at a pregnancy as woman vs fetus. And there are so MANY possible outcomes to a pregnancy- it's not just a choice of terminating a pregnancy or  happily raising a healthy baby - there are adoptions, miscarriages, stillbirths, women who die in childbirth, gestational diabetes, post-partum depression....that's a lot of risk to ask someone to take on for a potential life. I'm not comfortable with making someone assume that risk unwillingly. And also- late term abortions? Usually, they're for medical reasons. Women generally don't let a pregnancy progress to 20 weeks on a whim, and I really don't think the government has any place in the midst of an already heartbreaking decision on between a woman, her partner, and physician

I think about the stories Christians celebrate- the stories of Tim Tebow, for instance, or the families who knew their child would not make it to term, or would not live for more than a few hours. And what makes these stories inspiring is the *choices* those people made. These women and families took on superhuman burdens, because of their faith and convictions and were sustained by God in the process, and it's beautiful. But should that burden be imposed on those who do not choose it? I don't think so, particularly given the insanely high costs associated with extraordinary medical care.

And it didn't help that my friends who are most opposed to abortion are the same people who are most opposed to social programs and policies that make it easier for  low-income women and couples to raise children.

I learned about the risks associated with unsafe abortions , and this changed things even more.

Also - abortion and contraception aren't specifically addressed anywhere in scripture. I've done enough research on the use of traditional plants as contraceptives and abortifaceants that I'm pretty darn sure the Israelite women were using them- and this practice isn't addressed anywhere in Scripture. I have to think that if God really cared about this, He would have *specifically* addressed it in Scripture, rather than allowing there to be room for misunderstanding.

Finally, there's the reality that if I *were* to get pregnant today, I don't know what would happen (This is why we use three methods of birth control). My husband and I aren't sure we ever want to be parents, because we're not sure we'd be any good at all at parenting. On top of that, we're graduate students, and the financial stress we face is pretty incredible. If we chose to have a child, it would have radically life-changing consequences. But even more than that- I'm in really lousy health right now, thanks to three months with no medication. My body's not a terribly hospitable place for ME to hang out at the moment, let alone a fetus. My own tissues are destroying themselves, and I'm reminded of this by the  frequent waves of nausea washing over me, accompanied by stabbing pain. I'm not sure it would be physically possible to carry a pregnancy. I don't know what my husband and I would decide if we did find ourselves pregnant- but whatever the decision, it would be hard-won, through prayer, conversations with priests and doctors, and honest soul-searching. And  I would be grateful that there *would be * a choice - that our course of action would not be constrained by regulations that know nothing about us or our situation.

I am a pro-choice Christian...this doesn't mean that I support abortion as an "easy out" in all cases, but that I, as a voter, do not want the responsibility of making anyone's decision for them. And let me add that I'm in favor of preventing as many abortions as possible- through contraception, through social programs that support families, through reforms that make adoptions feasible for more families.

But....this is all extraneous to my point: I feel like that voicing this position would result in people praying for my salvation and kicking me out of their churches and circle of friends, regardless of how much I have thought about it, or why I hold it. And that is hard.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I can't tell you how old this man is....all I can tell you is that I seem to see him once a week or so during the school year. He stands silently in front of the student union with  his shaggy hair and  long beard. He carries signs, and pamphlets, with things like "Yahweh is the way" "Do not be persuaded by false gods," and scripture verses from Romans. He drives an old grey truck, covered in bumper stickers that say the same thing- I saw him passing through my neighborhood as he was leaving campus one day.

At first, when I saw him, it made me scared and uncomfortable - I've had more than my fair share of bad experiences with Christians, especially the Evangelical and Pentecostal flavored ones. So I'd duck my head and  make a wide, cautious circle around him to avoid any chance of being handed a pamphlet

 One day, it dawned on me. "He must really love Jesus, to stand here, every day, holding this sign." I quit walking so far out of my way to avoid him, and then, I started whispering a prayer- just "God, you know him. Be with him." I started having crazy visions of asking him to grab a cup of coffee with me. A couple weeks ago, as I was running late to a meeting in the library, I screwed up enough courage to make eye contact, and smile at him (yes, I am that much of an introvert). He smiled back, and the smile lit up his whole face- somehow, I knew  he was just glad he had been seen. 

I don't know how this story ends. All I can say is that I hope, one day, to offer him that cup of coffee, and to ask him about his story. I'm not the sort of person who talks to strangers easily - my friendships begin cautiously and slowly. But this man loves my Father, and that makes him part of my family - this crazy, mixed up family that is the church, holy and catholic (yes. Lowercase c here). That knowledge is changing me. 

And that's all I have to say...that I am haunted by this man, who looks crazy, but who I know deeply needs God's love. And that I'm learning how bad I am at simply giving God's love to others. I have come to see Jesus in him....and so far, I've been able to do nothing but cry and pray.