Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Bishop's Wedding Band

"Do you know the General Rules of our Church?" the bishop asked us as we stood before the Clergy Session.  "Will you keep them?"

These General Rules originated in John Wesley's Methodist Societies, and one of them is a prohibition of "The putting on of gold. . . ."  This is under the heading of "doing no harm."  I was taught in seminary that it had to do with Wesley's insistence that he could not wear gold when his neighbor had no bread, although I don't actually recall reading that in any of Wesley's writings.  (I'd be happy if someone were to tell me where that might be found, if it is true.)

Anyway, the irony is that both the bishop and I (and others of my fellow ordinands) were wearing wedding bands made of gold.  None of us were winking and nodding at each other when we were asked those historic questions and when we answered in the affirmative.  We understood that our context is not that of Wesley.  We understood that the specific rules Wesley imposed on his Societies are not timeless, whereas the General Rules to do no harm, do all the good we can, and to stay in love with God (to use Bishop Job's updated language for the third General Rule) ARE timeless.

So when bishops claim they have no choice but to follow the specific letter of canonical law regardless of whether doing so is an act that does harm, I think they have their priorities backward.  Covenants are living and changing, made of flesh and blood, bone and sinew, love and grace, and not simply words in a book.  So I'll continue to wear my wedding band without the slightest feeling that I'm threatening the integrity of our clergy covenant by doing so, and I'll continue to minister with and to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and without reservation.

What it means to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God changes over time.  Look at our bishops' wedding bands and think of the harm it does to LGBTQI persons to deny them their right to wear one.