July 4, 2000
GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The Rev. Dr. George F. Regas
Rector Emeritus, All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA
We are here today to say the debate is over.
The fact that bishops, priests and laity are here in Denver at this General Convention to debate once again whether gay and lesbian persons are acceptable is obscene.
The debate on the homosexuality issue has become a primary source of suffering for millions lesbian and gay people.
Over my 28 years as Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, California, I got acquainted with a larger number of gay men and lesbians. I know them up close and down deep. They are beautiful people who live holy and virtuous lives. Then love God deeply and try to live to God’s glory.
But there is no way to describe adequately the humiliation, exclusion and rejection most of these precious children of God have experienced in the Christian churches and throughout the structure of society.
These gay and lesbian persons have frequently been told by their families that they don’t belong to them, by some churches that they are perverse sinners because they express their love for each other, by the Vatican they are told they are intrinsically disordered, by some in the medical profession that they are sick, by the Boy Scouts of America that they are not "morally straight", they are not clean, and by the former President of the United States that they are not normal.
The brutal way these children of God have been excluded from normal life is breathtaking. Homophobia is the last respectable prejudice – one seemingly sanctioned by the Church and the State.
We will no longer sit silently as our gay brothers and lesbian sisters are condemned as having immoral relationships and their ministries are denied. The debate must end.
Rev. James Lawson, my long-time friend and a close colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the civil rights struggle, made a comment not long ago that still reverberates in my mind and soul.
The gay community’s struggle for civil rights is even more difficult that our black community’s struggle. We have our families and our churches to help us. The gay community has neither."
We must change that here in Denver at this General Convention.
We can no longer tolerate a rhetoric that lacerates the souls of our gay brothers and lesbian sisters. They are precious children of God, created, redeemed and accepted by our God. Hatred is the depravity, not the choice of whom to love.
Some are gallantly working for justice for gays inside the Convention Hall. Some of us are outside saying, no more debate, no more stalling. Open your arms and your hearts to welcome gays and lesbians into our Church’s ministries.
The most popular religious song in America, hands down, is "Amazing Grace." Get a bunch of Christians together and they want to sing "Amazing Grace." But what bothers me is that too few really understand that grace is the most radical concept in the Bible.
At the Core of the Christian faith is the simple and profound assertion: God loves you just as you are. In the Gospel of Jesus, the first and last word is "grace." This is unconditional inclusive love and generous acceptance is not marginal to our religion. It is central to our beliefs.
God accepts us as we are – gay or straight. This radical acceptance is of the total person – body, mind and spirit. Grace is total acceptance.
Is that a God’s way – can it not be practiced in the Church?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a long-time friend from the day I met him in South Africa in 1978, struggling to end the vicious apartheid structure of South Africa.
More recently, this fighter for justice moved into another dimension of apartheid – homosexual behavior. He opposes the official position of the Anglican Church in South Africa, which forbids homosexual behavior. "We’ve made celibacy obligatory for homosexuals and I am uncomfortable with these restrictions on homosexuals." He opposes those restrictions, he says, "because physical expression of the sex drive in a loving relationship is important to becoming fully human."
Yes, this amazing man would bow before his lesbian and gay sisters and brothers – people of precious worth, holy vessels of the living God.
The clearest way for this loving acceptance and inclusion to happen in our church is blessing the union of same sex couples who are committed to life-long fidelity and love and allowing the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
I believe that these acts – ordination and blessing – are the clearest symbols that the Episcopal church can offer that these precious children of god are fully accepted into the live of the Church and are loved unconditionally by God, just as I am loved and accepted.
But what about the Bible? Lambeth said all of this is incompatible with scripture. And there are bishops, priests and laity inside that convention Hall who are saying the Bible doesn’t allow us to act in this radically inclusive way.
Let’s be honest about the Bible. The Episcopal Church does not hold to biblical inerrancy. I don’t know anyone who still publicly advocates slavery or stoning to death an adulterer – both urged in the Bible.
One day the famous theologian, Paul Tillich, was accosted by a Bible waving fundamentalist. "Professor Tillich, do you believe this book is the word of god?" The wise theologian responded, "Yes, I do if it possesses you rather than you processing it!"
The Bible is central to my life as a Christian. It is the foundational document for our church. But if we take the Bible seriously, we cant read it literally and dismiss what we’ve learned in the centuries after the Bible was finished.
Today we know gay and lesbian couples who live deeply in committed lives of love and integrity. This sexual orientation and its expression in an honorable relationship was not the subject matter of the biblical writers. However, the really serious problem for Christians who live by "The Book" is not how to square homosexuality with the seven passages in the Bible which on the surface seem to condemn it – but rather how to reconcile the rejection, prejudice, and cruelty of homosexuals with the gracious, unconditional love of Christ.
Pivotal to the sacred scriptures is the centrality and primacy of justice.
Blessing same sex unions and ordaining practicing gay and lesbian persons are acts of justice, acts of liberation, and as Dr. King said long ago, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."
Many want this General Conference to be peaceful and serene, with no divisiveness and conflict. Yet the imperative of Amos thunders through this place: "Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
One thing we know is antithetical to scripture: it is injustice – the treatment of human beings as inherently immoral – a bondage that excludes gays and lesbians from the holy of holies.
Let’s be a Biblical Church and hear again the imperative of Amos – "Let justice roll down like a river."
And when the Church acts to allow blessings of same sex unions and ordination of practicing gays – it is affirming a God who is not static, only speaking 2000-4000 years ago, but a living God who is revealing new truths to us now.
If the bishops and priests and lay delegates listen carefully, above the competing pressures of this groups and that, they will hear the still small voice of God from the prophet Isaiah whisper to them, "I am doing a new thing," and they will respond faithfully to the call for justice.