Op-ed: Anglicans’ shift on same-sex marriage shows church is evolving
The following is an op-ed written by Rev. Allison Courey, the Chaplain at St. John’s College at the U of M. This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on July 20, 2016.
Being committed to an organization doesn’t mean things aren’t sometimes complicated.
For example, I work at the University of Manitoba, but there are times when I’m frustrated with the institution. I wish there was more funding for student services. I hope one day we don’t produce so much garbage. But my commitment to the university isn’t really about the institution — it is about the people. I believe in the U of M because I’m committed to holistic, accessible education, not because the institution itself is fail-proof.
My relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada has been much the same. As a married, lesbian priest, I have been a minority among churchgoers, not to mention clergy. I have often wondered whether I was investing both my faith and my career in the wrong place.
But I am not part of the church because I’m a conformist. I have pushed against the status quo and asked too many questions from the time I was a child. I am part of the church because I am a follower of Jesus. My younger self was worried about figuring out what “following Jesus” looked like. I feared that if I got it wrong, I would make God sad at best or, at worst, suffer eternal punishment.
After seven years of theological education and coming out as gay, I’ve come to understand following Jesus isn’t like that. Such black-and-white thinking is a moralistic way of seeing the world that has no place in a deeply-rooted spirituality.
Jesus came to teach the way of God — the way of goodness, if you will — in a particular time and place. He showed us what that looked like as an illiterate man in his 20s, a former refugee who spoke Aramaic, living in occupied territory. But I am none of those things. So what does it mean for me to live the way he did, in the 21st century, as a young, gay woman living in Treaty One territory?
Take a look at the people Jesus hung out with. They were at the edges of his culture, often pushed aside and unwanted — like modern-day genderqueer folks, indigenous youth, addicts, and me. The most important things to Jesus were living in harmony with others, with himself, with God, and with the Earth.
Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality. He told us to give our money to the poor and live simply in our community. He insisted we love one another and being a person of faith is not an individualistic venture. The African Church parallels this with Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”
Christianity is a 2,000-year-old religion that has constantly adapted to fit its context. Contrary to popular belief, the religion we have today is much different than any of the forms it took 800 or 1,200 years ago.
As a lesbian who has often felt like an outsider in my small rural community, knowing God welcomes me and created me as whole and good has been a lifeline. Unfortunately, the rest of the “family” has often struggled to understand this. I don’t believe this is because of Jesus, but rather because it’s easy to allow our own fears to become enshrined in the language of religion. Yet this doesn’t only happen in religion — people use all kinds of reasons to exclude or judge.
It has been a hard journey toward realizing I’m wanted and loved by God despite the official non-acceptance of my faith’s institution. But on the ground, there have been many, many individuals who have welcomed me and acted more like Jesus than an institution ever could.
When we thought same-sex marriage was rejected at our national gathering July 11, several of those people literally came up to me and offered me jobs. In essence, they said to me, “Being part of the Church is more about being like Jesus for us than it is about exclusion or conformity.”
Sometimes that’s hard. But radical, grassroots movements have never been easy. Now imagine trying to be true to the cause for over 2,000 years.