13 March 2007

Politicizing the sacrament?!

I just ran across this provocative (adjective chosen carefully!) piece of writing at StandFirm. Matt Kennedy has written a screed about "rainbow warriors," or people who wear any kind of rainbow insignia at communion services. Here's a sample:

Those wearing a rainbow sash or insignia publicly declare that: 1. they unrepentantly and willfully reject the clear teaching of both the Scriptures and the Church and/or 2. that they are themselves willfully and unrepentantly engaging in homosexual sex.The display represents an attempt to abuse the Lord's table for political gain and public notoriety. If permitted it will cause great injury to their own souls and to the Body of Christ. As ordained ministers of the gospel and pastors of a flock it is, in my opinion, our duty to prevent this abuse.

Ah, where to begin. First, I already took a deep breath before I began this posting. Second, said a quick prayer for a spirit of charity. Third...

It should be observed that Matt's fearless leader in global schism has already demonstrated mastery of politicizing the sacrament, and I agree completely that a celebration of Holy Communion should be just that. Would that all the priamtes, to name but one example, agreed with this sentiment.

Let us suppose, for the sake of this discussion, that I conceded the point that the Bible absolutely supports Matt's position on human sexuality. The Bible says much, much more about scandalous wealth. Should we not approach the Holy Table wearing $200 shoes or a $500 suit? That seems to be much more problematic, biblically speaking, than any infraction of sexual morality. Let us further suppose that I stipulated that those in GLBT relationships were sinners. Who better to approach the Holy Table and feast on Christ's body and blood. Is it not, after all, the call of the church to redeem sinners, not to be a community of the imagined pure? (I think a quick read of the Gospels will support my point here.)

Now, suppose I agree with Matt that rainbow flags are symbols of sin. Should we not then apply his logic to other symbols of sin? There are many advertising logos (say, Nike) which are readily equated with sweatshop labor. Shall we excommunicate those wearing Nikes? What about those bearing the symbols of empire-building, global exploitatoin, and military might? Shall we exclude those in uniform or wearing a flag pin?

Ah, ridiculous, isn't it. Matt is demonstrating, by handy counter-example, why we need to work for a church that lives out the Gospel truth. Jesus said the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor. He spent his time on earth showing us how to do that: always truthful, always ready to invite the outcasts to the banquet, always critical of the self-righteous religious establishment, and always reaching out his embrace to the whole world. That's our model of the church, I think.

For the record, I fully agree with Matt that the sacrament should not be time of poltical protest. I would never participate in an overt political action at a celebration of Holy Communion. It's not the place. I might carry a placard on the church porch, but not inside. I wouldn't encourage anyone to wear a rainbow sash or any other sign as a symbol of protest, but as a priest, my only words when they approached the altar rail would be "The Body of Christ."

UPDATE: See the comments for conversation with, among others, Matt Kennedy. I attempt to clarify what I've said as well. Thanks to Matt for reading this blog and taking the time to respond here. I'm in awe of his ability to produce so much content and to stay in so many conversations.

13 comments:

GroundedintheGospel said...

"Jesus said the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor. He spent his time on earth showing us how to do that: always truthful, always ready to invite the outcasts to the banquet, always critical of the self-righteous religious establishment, and always reaching out his embrace to the whole world. That's our model of the church, I think." Strangely silent about purity, about Jesus' endorsement of marriage for sexual unity . . .

GroundedintheGospel said...

PS The Primates in no way politicized the sacrament. Read the instructions in the BCP about repentance, or even the words of comfort in Rite I. They earnestly think that we and +KJS are unrepentant. By OUR own standards it would be wrong for them to participate--or at least a reasonable case could be made for that. Their earnestness is clear evidence that they are not politicizing it. Further, what gain would they have, politically, in doing so? None, really. They simply believe we are in great error. They may be wrong. But they have not politicized communion as I see it. If those opposed to the Primates did some self-examination they might ask--and I mean this quite apart from my snarkiness--"Is it right to shamce someone into taking communion?" If I have had a blow-up with a Christian brother or sister and say, too quickly, let's take communion . . .is that fair? I think not. If someone refrains from communion there is only one response: to pray and be quiet about it.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Grounded in the Gospel--that's hogwash. You are supposed to judge your OWN fitness for communion. Not someone else's.

If what they had been saying was, "I am angry with my sister and therefore I am in no fit state to take communion", that would have been a different kettle of fish.

But what they said, in essence, was "She's an unrepentant sinner and I wouldn't be caught dead at the altar rail with her."

That was not their place to judge, but they did it anyway, and in the most public way possible. THAT is "politicizing the sacrament"---or at least making it all about them, rather than about our Lord.

They have had their reward...

Wayne said...

Wormwood, I agree with you. Fr. Matt, however, is using his authority as a priest to deny communion.

I am appalled by his proposed draconian action. And if you have the stomach for it, go visit "that" website. I carried on a fairly lengthy e-versation with Fr. Matt, but was flamed so many times by others (not, I must say, by him) that I simply became exhausted. The commenters are livid about the rainbow project. Livid!!

It would be laughable if they weren't so serious.

4mrwrdn said...

It's interesting that Fr. Matt says that he doesn't have a problem communicating smokers although smoking is clearly a deadly lifestyle choice and second hand smoke has been shown to harm others.

Ann said...

As one of the public faces of Rainbow Presence, I am sorry you see it as politicizing the Eucharist. The idea emerged from all over the place as a way of saying "I am here among you, a member of your church not an "issue" but someone you know and hopefully welcome." For allies it is a quiet way to say to brothers and sisters "I am glad you came to church today." It is not a protest, or war, or a demonstration - but a small way to love your neighbor as yourself. We did not call our ministry of presence "Rainbow Warrior." We chose Rainbow Presence. Rainbow Warrior was thrust upon our ministry by those who want to ridicule us. But I don't mind, as the Rainbow Warrior in one Native American tradition is the person who will bring the healing of all creation and reconciliation of all peoples.

Scott Gunn said...

Ann,

I'm not sure if you were referring to my original posting or to grounded's comments, but I'd like to respond if you're addressing me.

My main point was that it's scandalous to excommunicate people because they appear wearing rainbow sashes or anything else. We have no right. Moreover, if we are going to start excommunicating people (which , again, is not something I support), we'll have to worry about a lot more than people wearing pins or sashes.

My second point, which I didn't make very well, is that I don't think it's very mannerly to appear at a celebration of Holy Communion principally to make a disruptive political protest. I'm certainly not suggesting that all rainbow-wearing people fit into that category! In fact, I think it's great for every to be able to be who they are when we're together. That is precisely the point of inclusion.

If I had been awarded a service medal or if I were a sports fan or if I belonged to a religious society, I might wear pins. Or I might wear a rainbow flag or a red ribbon. No one, I was trying to say, should be excluded for showing us who they are. On that we are in agreeement.

In my Anglican way, I was trying to find a tiny bit of agreement with Matt (which I still hold), that I don't think the Eucharist is a great place for a political demonstration. However, as I concluded, if I were the priest, I would never excommunicate someone for any demonstration, and certainly not for something like wearing a rainbow ribbon or sash.

I was thinking of some loud protests we've had in RC churches in Boston. I don't think it's exactly good form, but I absolutely do not think protesters should be denied communion. I didn't make the point that quiet displays (or even subtle protests) should not be ground for exclusion, because it's hard for me to even grasp the idea that the uses you cite would be problematic. Sigh.

Does that make sense?

Ann said...

Yes, Scott, that does make sense and I can see your point and also Matt's. I have written privately to him about all this. Matt has opinion, which is what we value in the Anglican ethos. He would be welcome to take communion in any church where I serve even wearing a Stand Firm t-shirt!!

Scott Gunn said...

Yes, Ann, imagine what people would make of a rainbow-colored Stand Firm t-shirt. Maybe that will be a sign of the apocalypse -- or of an Inclusive Church.

Now that we've traded comments, I have learned about your Rainbow Presence. Seeing what all the fuss is about, this is just even more silly. I don't know how on earth someone could imagine that Christ's sacraments should be denied for something so peaceful -- and so holy -- as to encourage people to just be who they are.

Anne Kennedy said...

Just a brief comment...not so sure it is a correction, but I sense it may be. Please do note that in the article, I was not suggesting denying communion to people on the basis of the insignia alone, nor even on the sole basis the abuse of the sacrament it could (and I understand your point here Ann+) represent. The reason is twofold:

"Those wearing a rainbow sash or insignia publicly declare that: 1. they unrepentantly and willfully reject the clear teaching of both the Scriptures and the Church and/or 2. that they are themselves willfully and unrepentantly engaging in homosexual sex."

In step 4 of the process I outlined there is in an interview wherein those wearing rainbow attire who do not fall into any of the two categories described above will certainly be recognized and invited to the rail.

In short, no one will be denied because of the rainbow insignia in itself, but rather because of what the rainbow insignia represents.

Matt Kennedy

Ann said...

Matt - thanks for writing. I do understand your point of view but do not agree with it. As a priest I see myself as more of a maitre d' at God's Banquet, where the Host, Jesus, has invited people to dine with him, rather than the Gatekeeper trying to keep out the riff raff. I preach the Gospel and let Jesus do the judging.

Scott Gunn said...

Matt,

Thanks for visiting us and for commenting! Glad you're part of this conversation.

I'm wondering if all people who "unrepentantly and willfully reject the clear teaching of both the Scriptures and the Church" should be excluded from Holy Communion? That would include, I expect, those who fail to give their coat to one in need when asked, those who judge others, and those who fail to pray in secret -- to name a few scriptural examples.

If only the holy elect are invited to communion, I'm afraid most churches will quickly empty. If other sinners (people who are greedy, for example) are welcome at the Holy Table but not those whose conduct you judge problematic are excluded, I'd like to know how you decide which sins merit excommunication and which ones don't.

I'm with Ann. It's not my place to judge (I'm on solid Biblical grounds here). It's my place to offer God's love to the whole world, and to invite people into holy fellowship with Christ's Church (also on solid ground there). As Ann says, the sacraments are God's, not ours.

Peace,
Scott+

Anne Kennedy said...

Scott,

As I wrote to Ann+ earlier, it is generally assumed that when the congregation and clergy say the confession that they mean it…unless there is incontrovertible evidence suggesting otherwise.

For example, if baptized, confirmed parishioner leaves his wife and takes a mistress, shows up for Sunday services, kneels, confesses his sins with the congregation, but then refuses to make peace with his wife and presumes to approach the rail for communion holding his mistress’ hand, then there is more than sufficient reason to suppose that the man has not in fact repented of his adultery. No doubt many priests would want to follow a process like the one I outlined in my article in such a case and if, in fact, after a brief interview it turned out that the man intended to carry on with the affair unrepentantly, believing his new relationship to be “blessed by God” most would not commune him.

I think the insignia demonstrate the very same thing. I understand that we differ with regard to homosexual practice but simply because a group challenges established teaching does not mean that the challenge is necessarily valid. Just because, for example, the man might sincerely believe that his adultery is holy and blessed does not make it so. He is bound by the clear teaching of scripture and the unanimous teaching of the Church until or unless he can demonstrate conclusively that the bible does indeed affirm adulterous relationships. The burden of proof, in other words, is on his shoulders.

In the same way, the burden of proof in our case falls on those supporting same-sex behavior and I think by most objective measures that burden has not been met to the satisfaction of Christendom. The Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Reformed, and Anglican and even the vast majority of mainline protestant Bodies have hardly been persuaded by the novel teaching.

You ask:

”I'm wondering if all people who "unrepentantly and willfully reject the clear teaching of both the Scriptures and the Church" should be excluded from Holy Communion? That would include, I expect, those who fail to give their coat to one in need when asked, those who judge others, and those who fail to pray in secret -- to name a few scriptural examples.”

Absolutely. if a group of Christians committed itself to work against the poor and declared that they would no longer give to those in need because God had blessed greed and selfishness and when confronted they refused to repent of this, definitely they ought to be refused. Moreover, if a group were to proclaim that human beings ought to form human judgments about right and wrong, good and evil, apart from the Judgment of God as it is revealed in the scriptures, and then suggest that it is good and holy to apply these human judgments to others, then most assuredly, they ought to be confronted and, if they refuse to repent, then denied communion.

Certainly.

But in my experience most people come to confession willing to acknowledge and repent of sin. Even if they fail during the week few gluttons or smokers or alcoholics or sexual addicts or addicts in general would argue that their behavior is good and blessed and refuse to ask God’s mercy and forgiveness. I have not met with one that would promote his behavior to others. Most people, hopefully ourselves included, are more than ready, like the tax collector, to say, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”.

The apparent absence of that attitude among those advocating the Rainbow Presence is what I find particularly distressing in our present situation. No acknowledgement of the sinfulness of the behavior promoted and, even worse, a commitment to promote its acceptance and normalization.

You said:

”If only the holy elect are invited to communion, I'm afraid most churches will quickly empty.”

Amen. That is right. We are all sinners. We are sick. Christ is the Great Physician. The Church is the Hospital. But if you reject the Physician’s prognosis and refuse his healing, then there is not much hope.

“If other sinners (people who are greedy, for example) are welcome at the Holy Table but not those whose conduct you judge problematic are excluded, I'd like to know how you decide which sins merit excommunication and which ones don't.”

I think I’ve answered this above but just in case let me reiterate. Most greedy people agree that greed is wrong but most would likely deny that they are greedy. Few greedy people would launch a campaign in support of greed. Nevertheless if, say, a greedy landlord is confronted (something I’ve done before) and he refuses to soften his heart and perhaps kicks a brother out into the cold and then presumes to come to the rail, most certainly that would be cause to deny communion.

You say:

”I'm with Ann. It's not my place to judge (I'm on solid Biblical grounds here).”

You are absolutely right. God alone is the Judge. The reasserter position however is that the Lord has already revealed his judgment with regard to the behavior you promote in the same way that he has revealed his judgment with regard to greed, slander, adultery, etc… It is not “judging” to recognize when a husband has committed adultery nor is it “judging” to call him on it. God has made the judgment.

“It's my place to offer God's love to the whole world, and to invite people into holy fellowship with Christ's Church (also on solid ground there). As Ann says, the sacraments are God's, not ours.”

AMEN