Hope on marriage equality: a sermon by the Rev. Tom Jackson

I remember that day well: July 10, 2012. I was sitting in the section reserved for reporters covering the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a reporter, I had a front row seat as the church slowly moved through the vote on a proposed official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions.

As The New York Times reported: “[t]he adoption of an official rite, significant in a church in which liturgy is central, further solidifies the Episcopal Church’s shift to the left on sexual minorities. A day earlier, the church voted to approve a nondiscrimination policy that will allow transgendered people to be ordained to the priesthood.”

The House of Bishops had already overwhelmingly approved the new liturgy by a vote of 111 to 41, with 3 abstentions. People were cautiously optimistic the Deputies would concur. Yet the hall was eerily quiet as the vote in the House of Deputies was announced: 171 yes to 50 no.

We were relieved. But no one applauded or cheered – we didn’t want to upset those who lost the vote. Despite this everyone knew something important had just happened: that our church had irrevocably changed. Even if the new service wasn’t called marriage.

Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the first Episcopal bishop living openly with a same-sex partner, attends the Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three years later, in the next General; Convention in 2015, the church approved a canonical change eliminating language defining marriage as between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorizing two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).

“The resolutions marked the culmination of a conversation launched when the 1976 General Convention said that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the church,” said the Very Rev. Brian Baker, deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage.

“That resolution began a 39-year conversation about what that full and equal claim would look like. The conversation has been difficult for many and painful for many,” reported The Episcopal News Service.

Only it didn’t. You see this year the General Convention was supposed to take us all the way to the promised land of LGBTQ Episcopalians being full and equal members of this church.

Back when in 2015, we decided that individual diocesan bishops still had to approve their use of the same-sex marriage liturgy in their diocese. Of course, the convention directed diocesan bishops to “make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have access to these liturgies.” And that’s what happened in 93 dioceses.

But in another 8 dioceses, the diocesan bishop refused to authorize any same-sex marriages in ‘their’ diocese. This year would, we hoped, fix this. But then, just before the convention started, a trip of three bishops proposed a resolution (see the current text of B012). And at first, it looked like this was just a call to preserve the status quo.

So by Saturday afternoon, I was deeply discouraged. It felt like once again we had started to walk towards the promised land of a full and equal place in the church only to be delayed by compromise.

Worse, by delaying again, I worried our church would squander an opportunity to stand with LGBTQ Americans. Make no mistake: this is a time when the LGBTQ people need our church to stand with them. Many queer folk feel we are under increased attack from the not-so-religious right and our own government.

For ending the right of same-sex couples to marry is a high priority of evangelicals who claim to be Christians. Worse the deciding vote on this issue will now come from a new Supreme Court justice, one appointed by the current President. And that makes the real world an increasingly dangerous and lonely place to be an LGBTQ Christian.

In the real world where we live, preachers who claim to be Christian continue to use the Bible to condemn LGBTQQ people, generating media coverage with their calls for the execution of queer people – of course in the most humane way possible.

In the real world where we live, at least 14 transgender people have died a violent death in America during this year.

In the real world where we live, the rate of anti-LGBT homicides nearly doubled last year: the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs called it “a crisis of fatal violence” against LGBTQ Americans.

In the real world where a majority of LGBT Workers Closeted at the Workplace for fear of losing their job.

This our real world. And it is a time when having the Episcopal Church stand up with LGBTQ Americans would have great meaning. Instead, it appeared we have another compromise, another General Convention when we return with half a loaf.

Then I started to re-read today’s scripture.

King David

I read about Israel’s Great King David, and how “David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.” You see, he didn’t succeed because of his own skill, scripture tells us, he won because God was with him.

I read Psalm 48, which calls for us to tell “tell the next generation, that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.” You see, no matter how dark the day “our God forever and ever. [Our God] will be our guide forever.” You see no matter how long the night, “our [God is] God forever and ever. [Our God] will be our guide forever.” You see no matter how disappointing or foreboding or appalling the actions of our government become, our [God is] our God forever and ever. [Our God] will be our guide forever.” We know “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

And in our Gospel, we hear how Jesus sent out his disciples to live the Gospel and “[t]hey cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

Which is what we are called to do in these terrible times: to live out the gospel, casting out the demons of wealth and privilege and racism and more, so that those who are sick may be cured. We are called to preach truth to power, to stand with those who are alone, and bind up the hearts of the brokenhearted, so that those who are sick may be cured. We are called to come together in community and then live as Christ’s reconciling body in our community, for as St. Theresa said, Christ has no hands but ours.

And as for ourselves, God doesn’t need to heal us completely, to make us perfect, to work through us and making God’s kingdom come a bit closer to our time and place. And as for ourselves, God’s healing grace does not promise us miraculous feats of magical power but rather the strength to keep moving toward the Promised Land one step at a time, always leaning on the everlasting arms of Jesus. And as for ourselves, God’s healing often focuses on giving us what we need to make it through another day. For as the old hymn reminds us: “Just when I need Him most, Jesus is near to comfort and cheer, just when I need Him most.”

And last night, as I worked on this sermon, just as I needed it most, word came that the proposal (B012) is, in fact, a real compromise, that it will extend marriage equality to all of our dioceses, meet the concerns of the eight bishops, and avoid entangling marriage equality with the long-term process of revising the Book of Common Prayer, an effort which may be authorized to being by the General Convention. This is a miracle of sorts, and it offers us hope that moving ahead we will be able to find common ground between the many opposing views in our church. All of this comes “just when we need Him most.”

For we are called to help heal this world, to help bring the Kingdom of God a little closer to our lives in San Francisco, to help heal the victim and the oppressor, always remembering “Jesus is near to comfort and cheer, just when I need Him most.”

Let us pray,

Holy Guardian of the weak, through the teachings of your prophets you have claimed our cities, towns, and homes as temples of your presence and citadels of your justice. Turn the places we live into strongholds of your grace, that the most vulnerable, as well as the most powerful among us, may find peace in the security that comes in the strong name of Jesus Christ. May the church say: Amen!