Saturday, January 20, 2007

"It's a Justice Issue"

Oh, Really?

For a while now, I've been pondering a question and lacking the nerve to raise it in public. But today I'm inspired by a courageous and thoughtful essay over at Leaning Toward Justice. In his "Comments on Moving Forward in the Church," Jeff (whom I don't know, except as a reader of his blog) courageously raises a question that, he acknowledges, "is bound to stir up a bunch of heated anger from my GLBT brothers and sisters." That's been the source of my hesitation, too: concern not just about the response of lesbians and gay men, but of the many courageous straight folks who have been very articulate supporters.

Here's the problem I have. I hear many important groups like Integrity and Claiming the Blessing argue that full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in our church is "a justice issue." And many of the people I value very greatly in our church also say "It's a justice issue."

But I don't get it. And I wonder: What memo did I not get that I still don't "get" this argument? (By the way, I also never got my own copy of the homosexual agenda, so – obviously – I'm not on the really significant mailing lists.)

It seems to me that the people of God should indeed be working for justice in the civil arena. Dr. King immediately springs to mind as a person who, working out of a deep spiritual base, called for greater justice in our nation's laws. When Christians work through legislative mechanisms for social policies and funding that are "just," I believe they are doing the work of our Lord. Some draw upon their spiritual resources to work on the "liberal" side, and some – drawing from equally valid depths of concern – work on the "conservative" side. [Thanks, TomF, for making me recognize that.] In such cases, the individual's spirituality informs his or her civic action. I understand that. And so I understand that many Christians should and do call for an end to legislation that deprives gay people of civil rights. As Jeff wrote: "I couldn’t agree more that the church needs to be on the front lines of justice."

Conversely, I am way beyond appalled when supposedly Christian leaders advocate the abridgement of civil rights. As people like Dobson and Phelps do in our country, and as Akinola is doing most egregiously in Nigeria. I see no difference between their work and the work of those passing Sharia laws in predominantly-Muslim countries. When church doctrine begins to govern civil society, we are in for nothing but trouble. But I digress . . .

It seems to me that when the Hebrew prophets like Amos and Micah called for "justice to roll down like mighty waters," they were calling for a society in which justice would prevail. Amen to them! Surely it is our call as Christians to see that the "least of these" are cared for. It is our job to see that the weak are protected and that dignity is afforded to all people, since all are created in God's image.

Then I turn to the situation within the church – and more specifically, within our own Episcopal Church. Jeff put it quite clearly when he wrote: "I do not for one minute think we should sit back and yield any of our equality. I just wonder whether or not the church is the right place to be talking about it in such black and white terms."

Let me cut to the chase: I do not see how it is "a justice issue" for this middle-aged lesbian to be allowed to serve as a crucifer or Eucharistic minister or member of the vestry. I don't see how it is a "justice" issue that gay men and lesbians be ordained as deacons and priests or consecrated as bishops. I don't see how it is a "justice" issue if I should find my beloved and seek the church's blessing upon our union. I believe it is a scriptural issue, a biblical issue, and a spiritual issue. But I still fail to see how it is a "justice" issue.

"Justice" is something I seek and which I hope to receive in the civic realm. It's a matter of governance and polity and "rights" and protection from oppression in the civic realm.

But my life within my church is not about "rights." In the church, I seek spiritual discernment and charity – not justice. If arguments are to be made – and they have been, and it appears that still more must be made – for allowing gay people to participate fully in the life and sacraments of the church, then should they not be made from scriptural and spiritual bases, rather than from claims of "justice"?

And it seems to me that such scriptural arguments have indeed been made. To Set our Hope on Christ made the arguments. So did the Claiming the Blessing Theology Statement. Authors and theologians like Peter Gomes and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have searched the Scriptures, and found no prohibition for full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in our church and in all orders of ministry.

Further, I think more and more people in our church have changed their minds after spiritual discernment and seeking. Parish by parish and person by person, individuals' perceptions have been transformed as they have become acquainted with faithful Christians who are gay and compared those lives with the Biblical record. They have rightly perceived the "fruits of the Spirit" in their Christian brothers and sisters who happen to be gay, and hearts and minds have been transformed and opened. I certainly have been blessed to see that happening even within my parish.

Paul makes a wise observation: "Fighting only keeps people where they are – it does not help move our agenda forward over the long term, even though it may yield short-term advances."

I'll close with a few other excerpts from his blog:

But the church is a place to build relationships, not tear them down. The next logical question, of course, is how we, as GLBT people, can build up our own relationships when we do not have full equality. What is our recourse when the church that is supposed to work for justice doesn’t do that?

Again, I think it is to work relationally. It is working for the long-term, laying the foundation for change and trusting the Holy Spirit to work within our enemies to embrace those changes over the long-term.

And this:

Yield equality? Never. God created all of us, and the church has a responsibility to work to ensure that we are all treated with justice. End the discussion and start acting? Not if it means that the foundation for the church–community and spiritual development for all, even those whom it is painful or inconvenient for us to accept–is diminished. But absolutely if it means acting in a Christian manner and finding a solution which can provide both community and justice– I believe that is the prophetic framework of the church that God intends for us to seek. We just haven’t worked hard enough at finding it.
At the risk of making many people angry, I ask: What is the distinction between civil rights and the justice of scripture? And how do we solve such a thorny question within our church?

I expect many of you have thought more deeply about this matter than I have. I hope you'll help me understand the basis from which those who say "It's a justice issue!" are speaking within our church.

I don't mean to be "breaking ranks." But, like Jeff, I fully expect to catch some flak by asking this question.

Addendum: What kind of synchronicity is happening in the liberal Episcopalian blogosphere? Just after posting this piece, I read JM's latest post at Another Episcopalian Blog; JM has had a Solomonic dream. Let's keep talking.


Blogger Cranmer49 said...

Hmmmmm. Your rights in the civic realm, I think, are a matter of law. But law is not necessarily just, nor is our legal system about justice as much as it is about equal rights. That's one of the reasons obviously guilty people get off -- because their rights have been violated -- and why innocent people are incarcerated -- because their innocence has not been proven to satisfy the law. But supposedly, everyone has the same rights and they are protected by the government. But that doesn't sound like justice.

I suspect matters of justice transcend secular and religious institutions. Perhaps our baptismal covenant might help to better understand justice in the context of our Christian faith.

It also might be helpful to the discussion if you were to define justice as you understand it. And then maybe you could expound a bit on the line from Micah -- the Lord requires us "to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with ...God." What does justice mean to you in that context?

1/20/2007 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a case of what I call "the basic pronounal character" of words. Unless I know what is in the your mind when you use a word - I don't know what you are talking about. As cranmer49 says - seems you are looking at justice in a purely secular legal setting. Justice, right relationship, rights, fairness have overlapping meanings and spill over into all areas of life. When we seek justice - we seek a balancing of relationships to one another and the Holy and creation. At least that is my idea about it. In the Bible there is no separation of civil and religious society - so the idea is grounded in both in those cultures. Now we have split the state and religion (TBTG) so must seek justice in both places.
Another point is that the church is an institution and institutions need continual transformation to remain just. They suffer from power creep - moving to injustice easily unless there is reformation. So whether you seek justice in church or society - it changes everything.

1/20/2007 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever terminology we use - civil rights, human rights, justice, mercy - the questions facing Christianity are: What qualifies us as Christian? Do we share fellowship with those who don't meet that qualification?

Justice, to me, is a living out of my beliefs based on the Anglican three-legged stool: Bible, tradition and experience. If I love God and I love my neighbor as myself, I want everyone to have the same rights and privileges that I have - and more for both of us.

I don't believe that ceding my beliefs in the name of unity will actually create a unified church. I think that will create a stratified church where some are more equal than others. That's not loving my neighbor. Allowing my Christian neighbor's beliefs is both merciful and loving. The Hebrew word often translated as "mercy" can also be translated as "steadfast love" or "loving kindness".

Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

1/21/2007 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to be writing this a lot today, but I think I agree with both you and Jeff when you separate out the civic and the ecclesiastical. I wouldn't be totally happy in a church that denied ordination and marriage to LGBTs, but I could accept it just fine if in return, Christians would work for the civil justice issues instead of making me constitutionally incompetent to enter into contracts, as recently happened in Virginia.

I could believe it's about Scripture and not bigotry then. Sadly... I just don't believe that right now.

1/21/2007 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Kate said...

About half of our membership and priest left to begin an Anglican church over a year ago. It has been a beautiful experience to watch new members join since - among them gay and lesbian members who feel comfortable that they have a church home where they will be truly accepted.

Also in our congregation are Episcopals who might not necessarily agree wholeheartedly with the church's ordination of Bishop Robinson except that he was democratically elected by the people of New Hampshire. Together - amid some differences of opinion - we worship, we pray, we take Communion every Sunday. There are deep and lifelong bonds (and new ones forming) between those who would disagree on this issue.

It is maintaining and building these devoted relationships, rather than breaking apart at the places of disagreement (which most of the world is so dead set on these days) that makes the Episcopal church where I believe we can find the message that the world is hungry to hear. That, to my mind, is true witness.

And it is in these relationships, not in a dedicated march toward justice within the church that may drive out disagreement, where the seeds of full acceptance will grow roots so very deep that they're not going to ever budge.

1/21/2007 7:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm grateful to all of you who have replied so thoughtfully to my remarks. I am still pondering my reply. You have given me much to think about. Trust me when I say this: This is a question that is troubling and challenging me most profoundly in these days.

Some remarks here make me want to argue. Most make me want to think more deeply.

Let us all continue to think more deeply about this matter. I'll have more to say in the next few days.

1/21/2007 8:39 PM  
Blogger Jeff Martinhauk said...

Thank you, Lisa, for picking up my thoughts and expanding them so well.

I just want to add that it was never my intention that the church stop working for full inclusion of GLBT people in all the rites of the church-- to Pisco's point of marriage (NOT just blessings) and so forth. My point is that we don't get there through fighting, we get there by laying the right foundation for change. I had quite a long post about the developmental framework for acceptance of differences the day before this post, but is a bit academic, I'm afraid.

At any rate, who, in the broad middle of the church so necessary for its survival, wants to be in a church plagued by constant court/ecclesiastical battles and fighting? Shouldn't the church be able to resolve its conflicts through more relational means? That was my point. While those of us (including me) on either end of the spectrum work out the way forward, we cannot risk losing those in the middle who say things like, "I love the gays, but I'm tired of the fighting."

There are claims that we can only do that by further damaging those of us GLBT people already oppressed, but I would argue that in the church many people that are in dioceses in such situations that are GLBT have already left the church, so we have some time to heal things in a more holistic way.

And while we are working on solving these problems relationally, we should lay down a proper foundation so that the next generation of priests and bishops are able to accept differences between people so that whether straight, gay, black, white, rich, poor, man or woman, they are accepted as full and equal children of God.

That is my vision, anyway, and I invite others to pray, reflect, and think about it as well.


1/21/2007 10:12 PM  
Blogger Jeff Martinhauk said...


My post for today refers to this post.



1/22/2007 1:17 PM  
Anonymous sharecropper said...

Missing you - no posts for a week? You okay? Prayers!

1/27/2007 9:29 AM  
Blogger revsusan said...


Read "A Letter from the Birmingham Jail" and get back to me.


1/27/2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Dear friends -- I am sorry I have not been able to post a reply or any new items on my blog. Blogger has blocked me out until and unless I convert to the vaunted New Blogger. I'm stuck and paralyzed, both here and at The Episcopal Majority. For now, I can only communicate through the "comments" function. God willing, someone will come to my rescue and help me figure out how to "archive" the two blogs before I trust Blogger to do the conversion.

I am not a happy blogger this week!

1/27/2007 10:11 PM  
Blogger Grace said...


Get one of the young people computer geeks in your congregation to help. Whenever I have trouble, I grab one of my young sons. They know more about these computers and blogging than we forgot.

Glad to hear things are fine, otherwise, though!!


1/28/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger Grace said...


Get one of the young people computer geeks in your congregation to help. Whenever I have trouble, I grab one of my young sons. They know more about these computers and blogging than we forgot.

Glad to hear things are fine, otherwise, though!!


1/28/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger Share Cropper said...

Lisa, you can save your blog entries to MS Word by highlighting and copying them. I know this isn't the same as archiving, but you could reenter them if the conversion did not go well. We miss you!

1/29/2007 8:27 AM  
Blogger Suzer said...

Lisa --- pleeeaaaase switch over already!!! I'm going through withdrawal! ;)

2/09/2007 6:31 PM  
Blogger Saint Pat said...

Lisa? Are you OK? You've been disturbingly quiet. Prayers for you, your health and your computer.

2/10/2007 3:40 PM  
Anonymous fs said...

Lisa, I agree with you about the word "justice." It is a civic word, not a spiritual word. Thanks for bringing that out; it has bothered me pretty much subconsciously for a while now. Unfortunately, KJS uses phrases like "social justice" as a kind of shorthand for loving your neighbor and helping others. I don't think she's a word person, so when she says it, I think she means it spiritually.

Also, it does seem that justice, loosely defined, is one of the outcomes of people treating each other the way Christ asks us to treat each other. So there's a tie-in.

2/21/2007 1:43 AM  
Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Justice is keenly related to shalom, to a sense of wholeness in creation. This is why ++Katharine draws from both justice and shalom language.

Furthermore, this is fundamental to the character of God. The righteousness of God flows forth to establish righteousness on the earth. Righteousness is not merely some abstract moral/ethical state. Righteousness refers to relationships, namely, right relationships between people. That is why Amos demands righteousness and justice, not because it is the "moral" thing to do, but because righteousness and right relationships between social classes, right relationships in economic practices, is central to the call of Yahweh to his community.

In our day and age, the church is called to work for righteousness, for justice. That means working for right relationships between people, for not creating systems of inequity that demean or devalue the image of God inherent in our sisters and brothers.

So justice is not the property of society or of the church. Justice, righteousness, shalom is the property of God and it flows from that center to permeate both civic and ecclesial society, working to create right relationships in both because justice in both spheres deals with people created in the image of God.

2/23/2007 11:45 PM  
Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

While I am familiar with the argument from justice with regard to the full inclusion of GLBT people in the life of the Church, I am unpersuaded that "justice" so narrowly defined by progressive advocates is worth breaking apart the church, which itself seems a great injustice to people like me who simply want to be faithful and loving to people on both sides of the great cultural divide. I've written a little on the alternative to "leftist separatism" and "right-wing secessionism" here:

Reactions to the Communique

I've been concerned since the St. Columba's gathering that The Episcopal Majority is being co-opted by separatists, who are a far cry, it seems to me, from where the majority of the Episcopal Church really is.

2/28/2007 8:42 AM  

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