I felt that fear again, and I hesitated before I hit, “Send.”
I had been invited to be one of the area clergy to add her name to the list of those supporting the recent Supreme Court decision for marriage equality. Of course I supported it. The church I serve, the diocese in which I serve, and the bishop under whom I serve all support it. So I hit, “Send.”
But I remembered.
I remembered what had happened when I supported the ordination of The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. I served a parish not supportive of full inclusion. My position as assistant was threatened. I was told my career as a priest would be ruined (“We’ll make sure of that”). When I voiced my frustration and hurt, leaders in the church, both lay and ordained, implied I was at fault because I didn’t keep my opinions to myself. I felt abandoned as a young associate priest. I felt fear. And I note that even with all of the fear I felt, that fear is a small portion of the fear our LGBTQ sisters and brothers have felt for centuries.
Because, no doubt, I could have avoided the pain if I had taken the position of other ordained leaders in the diocese and remained silent. I could have avoided many sleepless nights if I had capitulated to the ordained power players in the diocese, the vestry members, the big donors, and agreed with them.
I could have been a fear-less supporter of a limited view of love and welcome in our church by adding my voice to the many who said things that diminished the dignity of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Yes, I would be fear-less…but I would not be fearless.
Fear-less strives for comfort, for the path of least resistance, for leaving things as they are because, well, they really aren’t so bad for many of us. Fear-less focuses more on how this will impact me rather than how others may benefit, even if (when) I am called to sacrifice. Fear-less is a numb place of ambivalence that wants things to be calm until retirement or until the next bishop or rector is called or when I don’t have to live fully into my baptismal vows because doing so demands some sacrifice of my comfort. Fear-less talks a good game, but when the time comes for public witness or a vote to support fearlessness and boldness, there is no action.
Fear-less is living in the shadow of existence, partially alive. It is an untenable existence contrary to the witness of Christ and the vows we make at our baptisms. Fear-less pretends that fear is a bad thing, and if we salve it with capitulation, we will be just fine, even though we are, in fact, paralyzed with fear.
Fearless, however, names the fear we all carry of not being liked, of making mistakes, of standing at the very edge of creation with our toes hanging off the edge and knowing we are called to take one very big step into newness. I think fearless is not the lack or absence of fear, but the trust we are courageously moving, being inspired by the Holy Spirit and guided by Christ and God into a very new place. Fearless is the holy transformation of fear.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been fearless before. Its Houses have voted, leaning into the newness of creation and witness that only God can see clearly and we could see dimly, but we followed God anyway. The Convention has also been fear-less, talking a good game until time came for action. Then…not so much.
We are called to be fearless again. The Memorial to the Church, signed by over 500 people, calls us to remember our commitment to evangelism and discipleship. Our newly-elected Presiding Bishop preaches with a clear vision of evangelism, of taking the church to the people, where they are. This Memorial, supported by people across the spectrum of the church, calls us to see the fallacy of fear-less, its siren song of comfort and familiarity, of lack of funding because (insert reason here), or of wondering mostly how this will personally impact me as the standard of one’s voice and vote.
The Memorial implores us to embrace fearlessness and boldness in the name and witness of Jesus. We as Christians are called to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil because God, who is bold and fearless in all sorts of mysterious and amazing ways unknown to us, walks with us, before us, and follows us. God’s dream is one of invitation, welcome, and connection for all who seek God or a deeper knowledge of God. And, for whatever reason, God has asked our fearless and courageous witness to realize this dream.
Be fearless. Be bold. As my friend and General Convention deputy Scott Gunn writes, “This is the moment in Convention when we must decide if we are going to be the Convention that protected the status quo or the Convention that fearlessly embraced the call of the Gospel.”
Urge your deputation and bishop(s) at General Convention to follow the Spirit with an unbridled, lavish support of evangelism, discipleship, and witness in their voting. Read the Memorial. Share your support for this fearless witness of love by the Church on social media.
Pray for the Church to be bold, to be loving, to be fearless.
This is the moment to be fearless. Again.