Dear Andrew Sullivan,
: Your church is causing you pain and conflict as you decide whether you can continue to belong to an institution that now calls you, God’s child, evil for your love. Today, you wrote:
…this debate is not an abstract one for me or for many others. Our very integrity as human beings and equality as citizens is being weighed in the balance by others with enormous power over us…. It’s hard to describe the agony gay Catholics are now in; and I’m facing a pretty major life-decision. In this, you need quiet to listen to God and pray sincerely for his help in the struggle to maintain a good conscience and lead a moral life.
When the Pope declared homosexuality “evil,” you wrote:
Leaving the sacraments would be a huge blow to the soul; but the pope just called the love I have for my boyfriend “evil.” That’s a word he couldn’t bring himself to use about Saddam Hussein. How can I recognize what I know to be true with what the Pope has just said? I cannot. It doesn’t leave many options but departure.
: I would leave. I left my church, the Presbyterian, over this same issue because I did not want to raise my children in an atmosphere of hate and bigotry against gays, an atmosphere in which mere men put themselves in a position of judgment over their fellow man and thus in a position over God. It was hard to do; my own sister is a Presbyterian pastor and she has fought this issue bravely, from the inside. So far, she and her allies have lost but they keep fighting.
I decided not to fight. I left.
: Rossi just wrote about this on her web site. It’s not an abstract issue for her, either.
She was inspired by the Hasidic Rebel, who wrote his creed on his weblog:
:I believed that distinctions between good and evil and between right and wrong were within each human’s conscience if they are truly sought out. And I believed that no ideology’s truth can be so wholly absolute as to require its adherents to compel everyone else to join.
Rossi has written about her own jarring path to and from and to Judaism and here she says that she has gained insight from friends who had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of them preaches to other Witnesses:
he left a recent sermon for me to read
and the part that got me
was where he said any religion that
forces one to lose ones individuality
we are all different from one another
we can not be shoved into one mind
: Today, the Episcopalians are voting on whether to allow a gay clergyman to become a bishop. If he is successful, many Anglicans from around the world have warned of a schism in the American church and a split from the worldwide church.
So we have gay Catholics deciding whether to leave the Catholic church over the condemnation of gays.
straight anti-gay Episcopalians deciding whether to leave the Episcopal church over the acceptance of a gay.
We have many other denominations locked in battle over the issue.
I fear we will look back in a generation and mark both splits in churches and the accelerated decline of church membership and belief to this time and this issue.
So be it.
: Maybe this won’t happen. Women in the clergy (a big issue for the Episcopalians that I covered as a reporter just a generation ago) did not break up churches or implode the faiths.
But this is different; this is deeper; nobody called women evil for being women. This is about the rightful claim to morality and humanity.
I know that I recently sermonized about the need for the major faiths that are frequently at war — Jewish, Christian, Muslim — to recognize their shared heritage from Abraham and God so that we become less alien, so we cannot continue to kill each other. I argue that we need to inch closer to each other. But I don’t argue for one big faith. Rossi’s and the Hasidic Rebel are right: We cannot all be shoved into one mind.
So here, I think that splitting off is, if not good, at least necessary. It is a matter of conscience. I could not continue to support the Presbyterian Church when it would refuse gays ordination. I wish the fight had not continued within. I wish we who fought this issue had left as a group. Instead, I had to leave alone.
: My only advice — and I’ll admit that it’s advice from the reform tradition — is that your relationship to your church can end but your relationship with your faith or with God need not.
I left the church in which I was raised and joined a small Congregational church where no one is making this an issue, where I am confident that no one would be allowed to make this an issue. My parents, I’m proud to say, did likewise.
Now, five years later, I can say that the anger fades. The disappointment fades. The faith need not.
So, Andrew, I would not pretend to tell you what to do and I would never proselytize you or anyone to another denomination. All I can say is what I did and what I would do: I would leave the church, but stay with God.