The Episcopal bishop of Easton, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has stripped an 85-year-old priest of his authority to preach or perform the sacraments because he blessed the union of two gay men dying of AIDS.
The Book of Common Prayer, which includes the marriage ceremony, has nothing to say about same-sex unions, but speaks only of "The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind intended by God for their mutual joy, for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity, and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children. . . ." It alludes to Jesus' first miracle at the wedding in Cana, where he turned water into wine, and calls human marriage a symbol of the mysterious union of Christ and his church.
The church has always rejected homosexual unions as contrary to the laws of God and nature, declared sodomy a mortal sin, and caused "faggots" to be burned like witches -- hence the name.
But the mysterious union of Christ and his church is less apparent than the alliance struck up between church and state over the years. It was not Jesus who put the church in business to perform marriages and license who could or could not be mated. The church is a human institution, as wordly as most others, and as such is much concerned with authority -- who is boss, and who has to bend the knee. Like any other CEOs, bishops are bosses who have to make their authority felt and crack down on subordinates who get out of line.
The irony is that Jesus didn't have much time for the chief hTC priests of his own time, and for the Pharisees who made a big deal of religion but were lacking in charity. He also didn't have much to say about sex, which he clearly thought much less important than love -- love of God, and love of one's neighbor. The only sex-related story in the life of Jesus that comes down to us is of the woman taken in adultery -- whom his enemies in the Establishment brought to him to ask if she should be stoned, in accordance with the Law of Moses. Jesus at first ignored them, but when they persisted told them "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone."
After the crowd of accusers melted away, Jesus asked the woman whether anyone was left to condemn her. "No" she said, and he replied, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more."
This illuminating story throws a great deal of light on the true message of Jesus, that charity and understanding are poles apart from the authorities of this world, with their passion for punishment and control, their stonings and burnings in the name of justice.
It is at one with the messages of all the messiahs and buddhas and saints and enlightened ones, that love is the divine principle of the universe, the reason for our being and all being, and the inspiration of our praise and gratitude.
Men and women differ greatly in their tastes and passions, but selfless love of others for their own sake is always good, and selfish love which uses and exploits others is always bad, whether these loves be of man for God, or man for man, or man for woman, or any for any of the creatures we say God has made.
So on whose authority does this prince of the church strike with his rod of condemnation an old man who blesses the union of two true lovers of any stripe, neither long for this life? And which is the true follower of Jesus?
"He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone."
John Brain is a Baltimore writer.