What Do You Do When Your Church Schisms Over You?

News yesterday that a group of 700 conservative clergies in the U.S. and Canada have voted to split from the Episcopal Church is the latest and deepest rift yet in the Anglican Communion’s fight over the issue of gay unions and clergy.

For me, this story is personal. I’ve been a fairly active member of the Church my whole life and yesterday’s schism has me feeling confused, disappointed and even, as a gay person, also a little guilty.

The newly formed Anglican Church of the U.S. is the latest move by conservative church leaders to force the Episcopal Church of the United States to shift rightward. In 2003, the church famously approved the ordination of openly-gay New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson and also began recognizing gay unions, though officially it no longer permits priests to perform the rite–even though many continue to do so. Conservative church leaders  in the U.S. began affiliating their congregations with African dioceses as a way to protest the church’s embrace of LGBT people.

This summer, with the global church increasingly dominated by conservatives, especially in Africa, where the religion is experiencing its biggest growth, the worldwide community issued a statement that basically told the U.S. Church that it’s continued embrace of LGBT people put it at odds with the greater church. This being Anglicanism, though- – it was done extremely politiely.

Being raised in the Church, I’ve always been proud of its egalitarian qualities. Formed the Church of England in 1533 as a way for Henry the VII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, the Church is about as democratic as a Christian religion can be. It has no official head, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently Rowan Williams, being the closest thing: a “first among equals.” The Church with its belief that human reason and intelligence has as much a place at the altar as scripture and creed does kept me interested throughout high school and I have great memories of serving as an acolyte at my church, going on camping trips and doing puppet shows for challenged kids through my youth group and learning about both the historical and liturgical traditions of my faith.

I’ve always wondered if the reason I don’t harbor a lot of the dismissive anger that many gay people hold towards Christianity is because the Church I grew up in didn’t seem to have any problem with gays and lesbians. When the son of our youth group leader came out, nobody batted an eye and I remember a trip to Toronto where my parents took us to Church on Sunday only to realize half-way through the service that the congregation was primarily gay men.  When people argue that Christians are instinctively and reflexively homophobic, I feel compelled to argue that in my experience, it’s just simply not true.

In recent years, my attendance at Church has slipped. Partly, it’s the hectic lifestyle I lead, but partly it’s because of the increasing schism happening in my Church– and the strange sense that it’s people like me who’s at the heart if it. It’s awkward having your spiritual family fight over you. I take a lot of pride in the fact that the Episcopal Church hasn’t backed down and reversed its support for gays and lesbians, despite all the pressure that’s been put on it. It was heartening to see the Church release a statement yesterday that read:

“We will not predict what will or will not come out of this meeting but simply continue to be clear that the Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada and La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, comprise the official, recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North America.

And we reiterate what has been true of Anglicanism for centuries — that there is room within the Episcopal Church for people with different views, and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ.”

It’s the whole gay marriage debate write small: The clergies which are departing the Church have decided that they can not live in a world of multiple viewpoints and ideas. It’s strange to me that they choose dogma over fellowship, that they would rather be alone with their beliefs than to be part of a wider community.

The gay community is founded on diversity, but how do we teach that to a wider audience? How do we explain that the sometimes uncomfortable contradictions and disagreements we live with make us collectively a richer people than if we all stood in the corner clutching on to our own sacred cows?

It seems lately that we’ve reached the point of no going back. Be it over Prop 8 or gay adoption or gay clergy, there are those willing to accept diversity and tolerance and there are those who won’t.  Do we abandon the people who won’t listen and dismiss them just as they have dismissed us, or is there another way? How do you love someone who tells you that your love is wrong?