The Rev. Keely Franke
February 13, 2011
My husband, Carsten, and I moved to Minnesota almost eight years ago now. We’ve made it through seven long winters. Well, six for me. I skipped one by going to seminary in Texas for a year, which he never lets me forget. At the time we moved to St. Paul, though, I went on the web in search of an Episcopal Church in the area. I found several but it was there I found St. Mary’s which had a female rector. A female pastor of any kind was something I had never experienced before and off we went to see what this was all about. Carsten was convinced immediately, me on the other hand it took a couple Sundays before I finally admitted it might be a good fit after all.
That summer the Episcopal Church was holding its General Convention in Minnesota. I didn’t go because I didn’t really know what it was. It was almost unfathomable to me that a church can have a democratic governing system where both the clergy and the laity are allowed to vote on issues and make rules.
It was the summer of 2003. It was the summer we elected Gene Robinson to be the bishop of New Hampshire. The first openly gay, non-celibate man in a major Christian denomination to be elected bishop. For some it meant that they would leave the Episcopal Church. But for me this radical welcoming of all people sealed the deal, I was staying. And the Episcopal Church became my home.
It didn’t take me long to realize that not all the members of the Episcopal Church were happy with this decision and some still aren’t. But as a church body we made a decision that summer to support the full dignity and inclusion for all of God’s children, even those from the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community. And we’ve stuck by that decision.
Justice for people who identify themselves as gay or transgender is the human rights issue of the day. We can hardly turn on a television or a computer without hearing and reading about it. Most recently we saw the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military. Prior to this the first official study was done and an overwhelming response came back saying that having openly gay members in the army in fact does not affect the moral of our troops.
But we have not just heard success stories either. Mostly we’ve heard stories of teens being bullied and committing suicide in our very own country and of gay rights activists being killed in other countries such as Uganda and Honduras.
It is the story of David Kato I want to share with you today, because it so closely affects us as Anglicans and as human beings. A couple weeks ago David Kato, a gay activist in Uganda, was beaten to death at his home with a hammer. Just days before Rolling Stone, a Ugandan newspaper, called for his death by hanging. Then, as Canon Giles Goddard of Inclusive Church England describes it, David Kato “was bludgeoned to death in his home in Uganda.”
David Kato was an Anglican. And the current bishop of the Church of Uganda refused to send a clergy person to preside over his funeral. Rather he sent a lay reader. A lay reader who proceeded to turn his funeral into an anti-gay rally and refused to bury his coffin. So instead friends of Kato’s carried his coffin to the gravesite where a different bishop, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, joined them. Bishop Christopher is the former bishop of the Church of Uganda and has become a great supporter of LGBT rights. There at the gravesite Bishop Christopher, dressed in his purple vestments, had this to say: “God created you. God is on your side. This is the gospel I’m preaching.”
When we hear the gospel today many of us feel almost abused by Jesus or at least that he had completely unrealistic expectations for human beings. There is hardly any topic that gets us as riled up as and more upset than the topic of divorce in the Bible. This is largely due to how certain Christians have used these verses. However, it’s not lust, adultery and divorce I’m talking about today. But rather this idea of murder.
The Episcopal Church has received a lot of flak from other Christian denominations since including gay and lesbian people fully in our church. It is often said of those Episcopalians that anything goes. In the Sermon on the Mount a similar thing has been said of Jesus. The other religious leaders of the time were basically saying of him, yeah with that guy anything goes, he doesn’t even follow the law of the Torah anymore. Jesus in return gathers a group of his disciples together and says this to them: Do not think I have come to abolish the law. I have even come to strengthen the law and to fulfill it. And in today’s gospel we get a glimpse of this.
Jesus says, you have heard it said you shall not murder. But I say to you if you are angry or insulting of another you have already murdered. Many of us don’t worry too much about murder because it’s not something we generally see ourselves doing. Murder is something someone else does. Something that happens outside of our neighborhoods and maybe even in some faraway place like Uganda. But Jesus says, no, even how you think and speak matters. If you are thinking and saying angry, insulting, evil things about your brother or sister you are just as likely to have committed murder.
The Anglican Church of Uganda is supporting an incredibly anit-gay government in Uganda. Before the death of David Kato, Uganda was close to passing a “kill-the-gays” bill. A bill which has been funded with millions of dollars by American Evangelicals. Christians who preach that being gay is an abomination. Whose words and money have lead to a bill that will make being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender punishable by death in Uganda.
One question for us here at St. John’s who has chosen to be in relationship with Uganda is this: How do we, a Christian community, support a different view of the gay community in Uganda? Especially when in just a few days Uganda will hold elections and will likely reelect a government which will enact the death penalty for our gay brothers and sisters.
If Jesus were to have preached the Sermon on the Mount in our day, he would have a different rallying cry perhaps, but the message would be the same. That is how you think about your brother and sisters and the things you say about them matters. Things thought and things not thought, things said and things not said, actions done and especially actions not done can lead to murder. In all of the sections of our gospel today Jesus is merely crying out – love matters. How we think, speak, act and treat each other matters. Love matters.
Every Sunday we begin our service with the collect for St. John’s praying that we might welcome all people into this community of faith. One recent member of St. John’s, Antay Bilgutay, who last summer moved to Dallas, bless his heart, wrote this about going to communion for the first time in his life as an adult, gay man:
“There in my cupped hand, I received the wafer. And no one scolded me or removed me from church. I was welcomed, along with the wealthy dowagers and the young parents, the old man who hobbled with his cane and the 40-something woman whose face lit up at the sight of the Eucharist. Then I sipped the wine.
I had fantasies of that first Communion being transformative. That the Holy Spirit would enter my body and angelic harps would play and I would see the world anew with the wisdom of the ages. None of that happened. But I turned around and saw the congregation, and for the first time, it wasn’t “me” and “them.” It was “we” and “us.” And maybe that was all the transformation I really needed.” This is all the transformation the world desperately needs, Antay.
“The only two prayers,” Anne LaMott writes, are “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You” and “Help, Help, Help.” Help us, O Lord, to love ourselves, our neighbors, and You this day with unfeigned hearts. Amen.
Excerpt taken from Antay Bilgutay’s essay “We and Us” (see the March Evangelist).