11 October 2011

Just what is a gay service, anyway?

A few days ago, the German Old Catholic diocese posted a story on their site celebrating "five years of gay-lesbian services in Karlsruhe". Here is a translation of the text into English:
For the past five years, the Old Catholic parish in Karlsruhe has been host of so-called "Queer Services", which take place every two months in the Old Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Ökumeneplatz. To celebrate this anniversary, Bishop Matthias Ring will take part in the service on 9 October 2011 at 6 pm. The ecumenical project team that is preparing the service is pleased to welcome the bishop of the parish who church has been the venue of the services from their beginning, with no charge for the use of the church or the parish hall.
I'm not going to get into the thorny issue of homosexuality and Christianity here. Suffice it to say that enough heat and light (more heat than light) has been generated in the blogosphere to fire a thousand suns.

But I am perplexed at just what a "queer service" is supposed to be. Which isn't surprising, because I also don't see why it is necessary to have extra "women's" services or services for singles or whatever. The thing is, I find this phenomenon to be very unhealthy, because it turns the Church into little more than a fragmented collection of interest groups each trying to get their special share of attention, and tailoiring "their" services to their own needs -- which practically by definition will be alien, or at best strange, for others. It is a kind of auto-ghettoizing, whether intentional or not.

Yet the Church has always been quite clear that Christ is the Savior of all people. We have no record whatsoever in the New Testament of special meetings just for, say, Judeans or tax collectors or unmarried women over 35 with a car (sorry, chariot) and two cats. On the contrary, we are told explicitly that in Christ, there are no Jews or Gentiles, no male or female, all those divisions are overcome in the form of the Holy Church of God. Every attempt is made to have rich and poor, man and woman, all walks of life represented in each and every gathering. Paul's Epistles repeatedly berate the early congregations for not including everyone and not treating them scrupulously equally, and encourage every effort to bridge and transcend, not cater to each and every person. No special treatment, just one in Christ.

The major concept behind any service, regardless of denomination, and in particular in the Eucharist, is to attempt to create a vision of the Kingdom of God in our limited space. That is impossible if you begin to customize services for particular interest groups. Yes, I'm sure it is useful for marketing and publicity reasons. Yes, I know gays, women, etc., have all been oppressed and treated badly for centuries and could use a bit of special attention and care. Yes, I know that traditional forms of liturgy tend to be male- and Euro-centric and may have little to say to women or children or whomever. That's all well and good. But special services for individual groups is simply the wrong way to go about it.

Certainly the Church should reach out to groups who are or have been marginalized, and should do what it can to welcome them and to reach them with God's message of love and hope. Certainly things could be done to modify the liturgy or practice to accomodate as many people as possible, and attempt to include as many as the Church can.

But the truly exciting, breathtaking part of Jesus' message is not "take us as we are", but "that they may be one". That is the ultimate vision we get in Galatians 3:28 -- There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And again in Romans 10:12: For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. Or most spectacularly in Acts 10:10-16,34-36:
About noon the next day,
as they were on their journey and approaching the city,
Peter went up on the roof to pray.
He became hungry and wanted something to eat;
and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
He saw the heaven opened
and something like a large sheet coming down,
being lowered to the ground by its four corners.
In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures
and reptiles and birds of the air.
Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’
But Peter said,
‘By no means, Lord;
for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’
The voice said to him again, a second time,
‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’
This happened three times,
and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Later, Peter began to speak to the disciples:
‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
but in every nation anyone who fears him
and does what is right is acceptable to him.
You know the message he sent to the people of Israel,
preaching peace by Jesus Christ—
he is Lord of all.’
The vision of us all being one in Christ is what the ultimate attraction is and should be, and we should never lose sight of that, least of all for short-term goals such as pandering to ever-narrower special interests in hopes of filling the pews. The more we divide ourselves, the harder we make it to unite and to make that vision a reality.

No matter how well intended, using a church service to deliberately draw distinctions between us -- even if intended as a stepping-stone to something more -- turns this vision upside down, and ironically delays the ultimate realization by cementing division, rather than bridging it by providing a common home. By providing a service with a label, it reduces its participants to that label. Our home is Christ, not our own ghetto.

There is a perfect example of this -- V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican bishop. From all I have been told and have read, he is a very spiritual and kind person. Aside from his sexuality, he seems to be quite orthodox and even a bit inventive in communicating difficult issues. And gays were understandably happy to have one of their own in such high office. But think about it. +Gene is nothing more than "the gay bishop". You see him on TV and in magazines all the time being interviewed about being gay, but never on the finer points of Christian morality or charity or any of those other things, except perhaps as throwaway questions at the end of the interview. He has been quite effectively reduced to being just gay, and all else is ignored. "Queer services" accomplish the same thing -- an own goal if there ever was one.

Ultimately we all have to ask ourselves: Do you want the people who come to your services to celebrate God, or their own sexuality or gender or skin color? Do we go to church to worship God, or ourselves? Is the Church a vision of the way things are, or of the way they should be?