Monday, May 28, 2007

Lambeth Invitations: A Personal Reflection (Fly)

by the Rev. David K. Fly

When I was a little boy, I was afflicted with that little boy problem of saying mean things about people who were different than I was or people I didn’t like or people I just didn’t know because nobody like them lived around me. And invariably, when I said such things, my mother would say to me, “David, you’re bigger than that.” And I must have said mean things quite often, because she said it enough that it got indelibly stamped on my conscience.

Later in high school, in the mid-1950s, when the world started coming apart down in Little Rock, Arkansas, just 100 miles or so from where I lived, and President Eisenhower was sending troops to deal with the violence surrounding the integration of Central High School, I encountered a football coach who also taught social studies – a man who became my hero. Pat Steele was a young white guy from Little Rock who had taught in the schools there and had not only witnessed the events that had happened there, but could interpret them for us kids who lived in lily-white Monett, Missouri, and who, for the most part, parroted our parents’ prejudices. Essentially what he said to all of us was, “You’re bigger than the narrowness your lives will be if you continue to mimic the attitudes of your elders. You are bigger than your prejudices. You can come to know a world in which all people are treated with respect.”

It was also during that time that I read a couple of books that changed my life. One was by the Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas, the Right Rev. Robert R. Brown, who wrote in his book Bigger than Little Rock about our Church’s involvement in the events that were changing our world. As I read his book, I had a vision of my Church stepping into the most controversial issue of the time and acting as an agent of healing, transcending the alienation created by racism and calling all men and women to be brothers and sisters. The other book, Light the Dark Streets, by C. Kilmer Myers, spoke of the Church’s ministry to the outcast in New York City – a ministry to the so-called “untouchables” of our society. And I was proud of my Church. I was proud that it could rise above a society that seemed to tolerate such painful divisions and proclaim a kingdom in which each of its citizens was given an honored place at the table.

There are moments when we, as individuals or societies or churches, are called to be “bigger than that.” They are usually hard times because we are called to put away views that we have lived with for a lifetime and see things differently. It has been that way from the beginning. People have attempted to define who was “in” and who was “out.” One of the big discussions in the Old Testament is whether God’s revelations are meant for the Jews only or whether the Jews have been favored by God to be the messengers of a much broader message to all of humankind.

Those kinds of disagreements were still going on in the day of Jesus. There were all sorts of arguments for exclusion: folks who didn’t keep the rules; folks who were considered foreigners; the Gentiles; the Samaritans, those people who were a sort of mixed breed; and the list goes on and on. Jesus didn’t seem keen on getting in on the debate. What did he say? Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” “All!” Jesus said, “All.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that in an incredibly radical statement. And we’re still having problems with it. Nobody is excluded from the love of Christ. God in Christ is calling us to be bigger than the narrowness of our own prejudices.

As I ponder the Archbishop of Canterbury’s refusal to invite the Right Rev. Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference, I am saddened because it reflects the narrowness that has begun to characterize the Anglican Communion. Orthodoxy has been reduced to one's views on human sexuality. A Communion that has been characterized as being big enough to accommodate all sorts of diverse views, a Communion that incarnated the qualities of comprehensiveness and inclusiveness, has become a small place dominated more by prejudice than by the love of the Gospel of Christ.

Here we are again at Pentecost, that powerful moment when the fledging Church was called by God to grow bigger by reaching out to all people. Peter reminds those who were there that God has declared that “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” “All!” There is that word again. A tiny but mighty word that should make those who think they know God’s will tremble. And yet, as Bishop Tutu says, in the Anglican Communion, “we seem hell-bent on excommunicating one another!”

In my years as a priest in this Church, I’ve lived through a lot of meanness on the part of church people against one another, but the level of nastiness seems to have reached a new low. Frankly, it puzzles me. It puzzles me not because I’m surprised that people disagree with one another over the issues of sexuality. I understand and appreciate that. What does surprise me is that I’ve always experienced my Church as being “bigger than that.” I’ve known my Church could rise above its disagreements and find unity in the Christ who has called all of us to be brothers and sisters – even when we don’t like one another! We’ve said we want to have a discussion in which the issues of sexuality can be understood and appreciated. Yet, we will not invite to the table the very people who should be a part of that discussion.

God has always surprised us. Just when we think we know what God’s up to, God changes the rules on us (or at least the rules we’ve decided God has immutably decreed!). So I’m not worried about what the Church is going through right now. I’m not worried because I remember a time when I was a boy and was given a vision by a young teacher who believed in a country that could be bigger than Little Rock. I’m not worried because, throughout my ministry, I have caught sight of the world envisioned by those clergy who wrote in the '50s of a world in which there were no outcasts. I am convinced that God is saying to the Church something like my mother once said to me: “David, you’re bigger than that.”

Perhaps the Lambeth Conference is the first place to live up to God’s call.

About the Author: The Reverend David Fly, a retired priest living in Missouri, is the President and co-founder of The Episcopal Majority. During his active ministry, David served in urban, rural, and campus ministries. He was elected five times as a Deputy to General Convention. Since his early retirement in 1998, he has been in demand as a preacher, teacher, and conference leader. He is the author of Faces of Faith: Reflections in a Rearview Mirror (Church Publishing Inc.), and his essay, “An Episcopal Priest’s Reflections on the Kansas City Riot of 1968,” was published in the January 2006 issue of the Missouri Historical Review.


Anonymous Radford Bunker said...


I think we can agree on this:

" Nobody is excluded from the love of Christ. God in Christ is calling us to be bigger than the narrowness of our own prejudices."

No one that I know of is saying that homosexuals are not children of God, in fact one on I know holds themselves out as a "better" of those who feel attraction to the same sex. What we are saying is that acting on such impulses is a sin.

The Old Testament, the New Testament, and even Lambeth 1.10 all agree homosexual acts are sinful.

Let us look at a parallel situation, just to take out some of the emotion. Say that I am an alcoholic. Does this mean that I am divorced from the love of God - no. Does it mean that when I go and drown myself in the cool golden liquid of a twelve pack of beer, embracing the intoxication and loss of control, falling into a stupor that I have sinned - oh, yes it does.

Should I expect a diocese to elect me bishop while embracing my sin not as a sin but as God's choice for me - no. Should I demand that the church come up with some rite to celebrate my embrace of this "sin" - no. Should I expect my brothers, my priests and my bishop to help raise me from that condition - YES.

Most of all, when I fall on my knees before the Lord and account for myself and try to justify all that I have done with the phrase "well YOU MADE me that way" do you honestly think it will be judge acceptable in his sight.

What you demand of the church is what your mother would not give you. You demand unconditional acceptance you sin. Your mother would not give such to you, and she offered correction. The church should not give in to sin, and should offer its sons and daughters help in turning away from it.

We are all sinners, and have failed in the sight of God. No man, save Jesus Christ has been without blemish. Jesus is the model we should aspire to again and again. Each time we fail, each time we get up, ask forgiveness of our sins, and struggle on towards him.

Yes, David, the Church needs to be "bigget than that." It needs to be bigger than to given into what is popular with the world.

Peace be with you,


5/30/2007 7:46 AM  
Blogger The Registrar said...

The most annoying thing about the celebrants of exclusion is that they continue to wish us peace and praise us for our earnestness while attempting a kind of mugging of our good will. This is a far more simple issue than all of the complicated rhetoric would indicate: God has called us to love one another. God has not called us to love those we like or agree with. On this issue we should all be fundamentalists. That says to me that no person seeking to serve the Lord can be turned away. It is that simple.

5/31/2007 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When "The Registrar" says that "no person seeking to serve the Lord can be turned away. It is that simple.", does it mean that "The Registrar" would ordain as bishop the active and unrepenting alcoholic in the example by RSB???

5/31/2007 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Jim Masters said...

I receive daily e-mails from Integrity, for which I am very grateful. Really helps me keep up on things about which I would just as soon not be having to keep up on. (Yegods! what shall I do with that in light of the old grammatical rule that prepositions are the wrong part of speech to end a sentence with? Maybe "up on" isn't really prepositional here. Besides it isn't even a sentence.) But to go on. Integrity urged me to write to Rowan Cantuar, expressing my dismay at his exclusion of +Gene from Lambeth, and "be polite," they suggested. Rowan Cantuar apparently receives no electronic mail, only snail mail. So I have not written to someone who has not developed competence in modern electronic technology. What I wanted to say to him was much shorter and even less polite than what Sarah Asquith said in her letter in the June 2007 Episcopal Life--that the ABC is "pastorally incompetent to a Monty Pythonesque degree." When I told a friend what I wanted to write, he said, "That won't do, Jim; you'd better not." So the Archbishop will probably never learn of my dismay.
Blessings, Jim

6/04/2007 2:30 PM  
Blogger C. Andiron said...

Registrar, it's not a question of simplicity. It's a question of definitions. You use the terms 'love' and 'serve the Lord', and have your own implied concept of 'sin' which interacts with your thoughts above.

Have you ever worried that maybe revisionists have substituted their own un-Biblical definitions for these terms that contradicts the Biblical definitions?

6/04/2007 4:22 PM  

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