Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Anglican Communion Has The Force

My brother-in-law, Steve Mesler, just published a modest proposal on his Huffington Post Blog about the economic value of legalizing Gay Marriage. It's a fun and friendly piece and worth reading.

When he told me his idea for the post I told him about a homily my father gave (my father is an Episcopalian Priest) while I was visiting him on the West Coast this past spring. As it happened while I was out west he married a young couple. Because I was there, and available, and his son he asked me to assist him during the service (this entailed wearing a frilly red and white alter boy outfit straight out of Heaven Help Us - I so love my dad).

Steve ended up quoting my father's homily at length, The part where my dad spoke about gay marriage in particular. I thought I would just post a bit he did not quote in his post (but he does provide a link to my fathers' entire response to his request for the homily).

Before the wedding I was pretty much obsessing about the fact that I was going to have to appear in public dressed as an alter boy so had not thought to ask my dad what he was going to talk about. When the time came he spoke at about the Church's long struggle to incorporate sex into religious life. He pointed out that the early church was apocalyptic, so all sexual unions were suspect:

There are plenty of signs of patchwork efforts to reconcile biology and apocalyptic expectations, but nowhere are there any indications of church “blessings” of sexual unions – of any kind, never mind same-sex. Other sex is not necessarily better, may be more troublesome, and leads to all kinds of new questions. It might be fun to ask the fundamentalists what they make of Paul’s (that’s Saint Paul’s) warning that a man who resorts to a prostitute for sexual union becomes “one flesh” with her.

Somewhere in the 10th or 11th century – at least one thousand years into this so-called Common Era some newly-married couples began a custom of presenting themselves in the “porch'’ of a church, where, at the end of the Liturgy, the presiding and assisting Clergy came, from the altar, said some prayers and sprinkled them with water of blessing, then leading them back up to the altar rail to make their communion. (Still, the blood runs thicker than the Holy Water, was the cynic’s way of assessing the value of these rites.) “Not that there’s anything wrong with this” was the message (to anticipate Seinfeld), even though monasticism is still better and a way of gaining credit on the divine ledgers.

Now, another thousand years have passed. Old ideas about marriage, its nature, its social purpose, its stability, and its sanctity have been steadily questioned ever since the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the discovery of reliable birth-control. This has occasioned a great deal of uneasiness, as any disruption of custom and expectation is bound to do, and with this comes viewing with alarm, denunciations, and rear-guard efforts to paste up the shreds of patriarchal history.

Knowing this, there is certainly a touching confidence revealed in the continuing idea that sacred ceremony can serve to safeguard any personal (and commonly all-too-often impermanent) efforts at fidelity and solemn covenant. When same-sexed couples who treasure each other’s being in the world want to present themselves somewhere regarded as sacred space, and to act in what they want to be a sacred way in declaring their desire to love and to cherish each other throughout the vicissitudes of mortal life, it seems grudging to argue that they must be refused whatever strength and consolation may come through a priest’s prayers and acts of blessing. We can only hope that now, in a turbulent time of change, it may help them, when they encounter refusal, to remember that for one thousand or more years any sexual union of any kind was refused this blessing.

My father the Rev. Robert L Powers marched in Selma Alabama in March of 1965, answering Martin Luther Kings call for religious leaders to join him in and support the Civil rights marchers. I am very glad that he and the Anglican Communion are are out in front again. There is more to read. Again I urge you to check out Steve's post.

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