July 21, 2007

Bishop John Shelby Spong at the Dignity USA Conference

For those of you who don't know, there are GLBT Roman Catholics who are out and working for change in their church. Their organization, Dignity USA, has this for their vision statement:

DignityUSA envisions and works for a time when Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics are affirmed and experience dignity through the integration of their spirituality with their sexuality, and as beloved persons of God participate fully in all aspects of life within the Church and Society.

The organization, which has been around since 1969, recently held their annual convention in Austin, Texas. Their keynote speaker was the well known author and retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. Over at The Wild Reed, there is extensive coverage of his comments, and I encourage you to check them out, but this excerpt really jumped out at me:

Dignity’s members are not threatening to leave their Church, they are threatening to stay! “This is our Church too,” they say, and “the hierarchy cannot define Catholicism in such a way as to exclude us.” They live out their Catholic lives in faithfulness, not in order to be troublesome, but to help to bring to Catholicism the inclusion that is called for in the gospel of Jesus. They are confident they will win this struggle for the soul of their Church and are encouraged by the incontrovertible fact that changes in consciousness are never reversed.

Inevitably every part of the Christian Church will lay aside its homosexual prejudices and embrace its gay, lesbian, transgender and bi-sexual brothers and sisters as the creation of God, the beloved of Christ and as those empowered to be all that they can be in the Holy Spirit. Benedict XVI is not the voice of the Catholic future; indeed, he will ultimately be little more than a negative footnote in Catholic history.

Every prejudice that is publicly debated is already dying, so this victory is inevitable. Diehard, retrogressive elements in every Christian Church lose ground daily. They will not prevail in this struggle. Christians cannot continue to sing, “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come,” and not live out that invitation.

The embarrassment of the Christian Church in our time will not result from the feared split over homosexuality; it will result rather from those Christian leaders who continue to value unity and institutional peace over truth and justice. Those are the people destined to discover that they do not, cannot and will not own the future. That future will belong to DignityUSA, to John McNeill, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Daniel Helminiak and their counterparts in every Christian tradition, who act without fear to make the Christian Church whole and to call it to be a sign of the Kingdom of God in our divided world. Indeed we live today at the dawn of a new era.

The comments of Pope Benedict that Bishop Spong referred to was his recent statement reminding everyone of the belief, held by the Catholic church for centuries, that it is the only truly Christian faith. That belief is clearly stated in the Nicene Creed that is recited at every Mass, one which I echoed (with some reservation) for several years after being received into the church (and since leaving it). There was no new ground broken here. Rather, it was an old row being replowed.

Thankfully, I believe no one man or group of men have all the answers, and that there is more than one path to God. I also firmly believe and know in my heart that there is a path for my GLBT brothers and sisters to come as they are into fellowship with God. I pray that Bishop Spong is correct and their full inclusion into the church is inevitable.

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