An Ethical Musings' reader sent me the following query:
I attended a small Episcopal church today – the last Sunday before a married gay Rector is in charge.
My brother in law and I discussed his concern that gay sex is a sin and he cannot take Communion from a sinner. He is not a homophile; his concern is only that a married gay Rector is a sinner. He quotes the Bible, he has prayed for guidance, he has gone on the internet to research this issue, et al. Gay sex is his issue.
I told him that this is an issue of controversy and many leaders of all religions have taken seriously the issue of gays and their roles. The Church, as have other churches, have made the decision that gay priests who are married contribute to the faith and can perform all rites of the Church – a prayerful decision, not one of political correctness.
Here is my response:
If your brother in law cannot receive Holy Communion from a sinner, then he is unable to receive Holy Communion – ever. There is no bishop or priest who is not also a sinner. Attempting to construct a hierarchy of sins is exceedingly difficult, probably impossible. If for the sake of the discussion one accepts that gay sex is sinful, then is that more sinful than a nominally celibate cleric lusting after his/her parishioners of the same (or opposite) gender, frequently and repeatedly committing mental adultery, even as s/he distributes Holy Communion? If for the sake of the discussion one accepts that gay sex is sinful, then is a married gay or lesbian priest more sinful than is a priest in a heterosexual marriage, but who is truly gay or lesbian, who frequently and repeatedly commits mental adultery with parishioners of the same sex, even as s/he distributes Holy Communion? The questions that one must answer in constructing a hierarchy of sins are endless.
Once the taxonomy of sins is complete, one might draw a line separating the acceptable sins (those that a cleric can commit and continue to function) from the unacceptable sins (those that a cleric may not commit and continue to function). Who is to draw the line? What are the criteria for deciding where to draw the line? (This process is similar to the distinction that the Roman Catholic Church has drawn between venial and mortal sins.)
The Church is a human institution, comprised of pilgrims who are also sinners. Sometimes the Church makes great choices, e.g., the full inclusion of people regardless of race. Sometimes the Church makes sinful choices, e.g., its support of slavery for centuries. In either case, the Church, imperfect as it is, remains the body of Christ. Time will reveal, with clarity, whether the Church’s decision to include fully gays and lesbians is right or wrong. In the meantime, the Church, imperfect as it is, remains the Church.
I, for one, am confident that the Church's full inclusion of all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation best incarnates God's love that welcomes and embraces all of God's children.
(Incidentally, questions and suggestions for future Ethical Musings' posts are always welcome.)