I didn’t realize how spiritually empty I was until I was filled this weekend by spending time with the Kairos team for Wade 22. It ultimately made me reflect on how many wonderful Kairos volunteers I’ve encountered across the state of Louisiana during my “tour” as state chair. People from every Christian denomination, willing to set aside their particular denominational beliefs to join with fellow Christians to do something daring for the Gospel – to actually heed the literal words of the Gospel and Jesus example in his ministry to Dismas on the cross and go to prison and truly be inclusive – to embrace those that society has deemed unfit to live within society and share the Gospel with them.
I’ve previously shared my experiences with Kairos and doing other ministries within prisons on the HOBD Listserv. Interestingly, I’ve had two responses from liberals that have generally arrived in the form of questions. I will address these in turn, as I’ve thought about them this weekend.
If you can set aside all manner of denominational differences to minister in prison, why can’t you set aside differences in theology to remain happily in the Episcopal Church?
An important point is made here. I am able to set aside Marian theology, the Eucharist (both its theology and its centrality to Christianity), speaking in tongues, disagreements over Baptism (agreeing solely that it is important and must be done), apostolic orders (including priesthood and deaconate, and apostolic succession, although Kairos does recognize folks recongized by their churches as “clergy”), to do ministry with other Christians. These are things that either are central to Anglicaism and the Episcopal version of Anglicanism or permissive in Anglicanism as a general rule.
I’ve basically decided that the main differences I have with the Episcopal Church that are irresolveable have to do with Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture. Without those two things, the rest of the issues become absolutely irrelevant despite agreement or permissiveness on the same. Further, agreement on those two things can render the rest of the issues irrelevant for jointly pursuing ministry together.
Then, there is the second question, which is more poigniant.
How can you embrace people in prison, rapists, murderers, child molesters, muggers and drug dealers, and not embrace gay and lesbian Episcopalians who are law abiding contributors to the church?
The folks in prison I visit and with whom I share the Gospel and call them brothers and sisters in Christ have one big thing in common with me. They have messed up royally in their lives, have begun to recognize this, and have further recognized their need for salvation from their sins. We aren’t trying to negotiate a better deal with God – accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, confessing our sins, and receiving absolution from them is enough. No one is trying to have their sins blessed or called not a sin. No one seeks to have their lifestyle affirmed despite what the Gospel says.
For anyone who would wander into a Kairos weekend, a prayer meeting, a bible study, or a church, there should be welcome, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury said recently. In all honesty, based on my experience with Christians of just about every denomination, this welcome is present in the vast majority of Christian churches theologically. Now, not every member or local church is going to be welcoming. Yes, people and even whole parishes/churches fall short. However, from a theological standpoint, Christians know what the Gospel is, and offer salvation in Jesus Christ to those who seek it. That, in my mind, is what Christianity is all about.
I’ve spent many a Kairos weekend with homosexual people. Homosexuality, both consensual and non-consensual, is absolutely rampant in prison. I’ve experienced men who turned away from homosexuality, even having to get a transfer to another prison to get away from a partner, and who are living new lives in Jesus Christ. I’ve also experienced men who refused to turn away from homosexuality, rejected Kairos because their homosexuality wasn’t affirmed, or simply said “this is all nice, but my homosexuality wasn’t affirmed, despite the fact that you have affirmed me a child of God.” For some, homosexuality has become an end all, be all, phenomenon. When the end all, be all, isn’t God, Christianity can become highly problematic.
I think this boils down to a difference in approach. One of humility toward God, Jesus and the cross, vs. one of self-aggrandizement. One of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict you; another of claiming the Holy Spirit affirms your own convictions.
That, for me, is the crux of my problems with the Episcopal Church.
So, I’m off next weekend with fellow Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and non-denominatal Christians to Wade Correctional Center to what will surely be an incredible time with God.
I will leave spiritually filled, yet further heartbroken over my own church, because of my experience. In these last three years, I’ve had the incredible experience of seeing what the Church can be like, repeatedly, in many places. While I wouldn’t trade this experience, seeing it not happen in my own church is my heartbreak.