Family Values

I’ll post the next Sunday Paper Editorial in a few days. In the mean time, like so many others, I feel called to respond to the “Nashville Statement.” Not because I have any profound disagreements with the many other gracious and thoughtful responses out there, but because I feel my peculiar take on these issues of scriptural interpretation and enculturation may, perhaps, add something to the conversation. 

This is a piece I wrote over ten years ago.  I have made only the most minimal revisions to it. The lead-in connects it with the issue of children’s ministries, which is always my first concern.

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Mark, Chapter 10, strikes to the heart of the “family values” debate that is tearing apart our civil society and our churches. Asked his opinion of divorce, Jesus reminds us of God’s design in creation: we are made male and female in the image of God. We are to form lifelong bonds of love. And in the next paragraph, Mark describes Jesus welcoming and blessing children.

In the patriarchal culture in which Jesus lived, divorce could be initiated only by the husband, and it left the wife without status, social protection, or economic support. This grave injustice toward women, Jesus points out, reflects “hardness of heart,” and deserves condemnation. In a different culture, the justice equation may compute differently. Most Christians in our culture now believe that there are circumstances where divorce, however sad, is better—more just—than remaining in an abusive relationship or one in which caring and trust have been violated or lost.

What of “God made them male and female”—the issue that now consumes so much ink, and so much time and energy? What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say?

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FAITH IN ACTION

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In his open letter to the Church the week after the election, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reiterated our commitment, as “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement today,” to living out in full the motto on our signage: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”

The remainder of Bishop Curry’s statement addresses, primarily, the role of the church in society, in the light of the political sea change that our nation has now brought on itself. In a nation torn by competing visions of how we should live, and fed by competing versions of facts and policy and competing interpretations of history and of sacred texts both religious and civic, Bishop Curry issues a call to the Church for a proactive witness on behalf of the marginalized, the scapegoated, and the demonized.

For those of us now in our sixties—the infamous Baby Boomer generation—this document evokes memories, not only of the political activism that engulfed us in our young adulthood, but also of the dramas of conscience from World War 2 and the Cold War whose retelling colored so much of our childhood. And if the divisions in our society continue to harden, as the new president—so unprepared, so vindictive, and so recklessly infatuated with power—begins to flex his muscles, it is not inconceivable that the witness Bishop Curry calls for might lead to actual risk: risk to livelihood, even to personal safety.

And this in turn leads me to ask a related, but different question: If the vocation of the Church (Episcopal or otherwise) is to convey a holy welcome to all in the context of society as a whole, then what does it mean to welcome people into the church itself? What is the Church’s vocation in dangerous and unbalanced times? Does Jesus offer us safety? Can we offer it to others? Or is the Church a community defined by its embrace of risk and danger in the service of its witness?

I went to high school in the late sixties, that long-ago age of idealism and activism, of the civil rights movement and the peace movement, when the Baby Boom was coming of age and beginning its God-given mission of proving to our parents how small-minded and conformist they were, and how much better we would be at running the world once we got the chance. We saw our parents’ generation as fearful and calculating—more concerned to protect their material comforts and security than to live by the very ideals they had taught us. The struggles that had so shaped their world were ancient history to us. Deep down inside, we thought everything bad was as unreal as the Depression and War were to us—as easily mastered as the small challenges of our own sheltered lives. Unlike our parents, we would not compromise our principles in any way. We would be courageous and pure, and we would change the world in ways they never had.

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PHARAOH’S DAUGHTER

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As a White woman working in urban mission with children of color from 1994 to 2008, with a volunteer staff consisting overwhelmingly of White women, I struggled for images of liberation and leadership that fit our experience. The archetypal Bible story of liberation from oppression is, of course, the Exodus. But White people of privilege cannot be Moses to the children we work with: we do not come from their own community, and we cannot wish or will that difference away. As I wrestled with the scriptural story, I found an archetype that powerfully spoke to me, in the person of Pharaoh’s daughter.

Many times during the years I was Children’s Missioner at our downtown parish, I found myself telling her story, and last night, at the Faith Study Group I now lead in a different parish, I found myself telling it again, in light of the urgent concern over racial polarization that now grips our nation. It’s a troubling and deeply ambiguous story; because Pharaoh’s daughter was one of the oppressors, but moved with pity for baby Moses, she brought him into her own privileged world. And instead of being grateful, he ran away, and then he and his God came back and wreaked terrible vengeance on the oppressors.

Is there another way? Can we break the endless cycle of oppression and revenge? Can we help in a way that leads to reconciliation, and not to more domination and resentment? Can we find the humility to serve as Jesus does, with no agenda at all, except to honor what is in each of God’s children?

PHARAOH’S DAUGHTER

Once upon a time, there was a princess.

She was the daughter of a king—a great and terrible king, who ruled over the mighty kingdom of Egypt—and his name was Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh king of Egypt went up and down throughout his kingdom, to see if all was well in the land, and the people orderly and obedient.

And in the kingdom of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, there lived a people who were different from the Egyptians: the people of the Hebrews. For many years they had lived in the land of Goshen, and now they had become very numerous, and filled the land of Goshen. Continue reading “PHARAOH’S DAUGHTER”