There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
This week the Christian world watched with no small measure of awe as the Episcopal Church (USA) named a woman to serve as their presiding bishop.
This was only the first is a series of remarkable events to occur.
The Episcopal Church also decided not to back down on an earlier decision made to allow for gay bishops. That decision has caused controversy in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Regardless of that, Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke for millions of Christians when she told CNN earlier today:
I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each of us comes into the world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us.
"Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people, and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of their own gender."
An equally important decision was made today by the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Local congregations will be granted leeway in ordaining gay and lesbian clergy.
Both decisions have been attacked already by the Religious Right. Focus on the Family e-mailed out a statement to supporters today which read in part:
Melissa Fryrear, gender issues analyst at Focus on the Family, said homosexuality is clearly not the "gift" Schori thinks it is.
"There is nothing in God's Holy Word that condones homosexual behavior," Fryrear said, "much less that a homosexual identity is something genetic or God-given. In fact, Bishop Schori only needs to read through the first few chapters of Genesis to see that it is very clearly outlined that God's created intent for humankind is male and female as complements, and God's created intent for sexuality is only between a male and a female in marriage."
Much has been mentioned about the decision to name Katharine Jefferts Schori the first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The Republican Party-aligned Institute on Religion and Democracy - a group founded by political activists with the goal of undermining mainline churches - immediately took aim at her call.
But for IRD, Katharine Jefferts Schori is the wrong choice not only because of her gender (IRD is led by a man ordained in a breakaway Presbyterian church opposed to the ordination of women) but because of her support of the Millennium Development Goals - goals adopted to fight poverty. Heather Cayless wrote on the IRD website:
The National and International Concerns Committee held a hearing on Monday morning, June 12, addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) as set forth by the UN. The aim of these goals is to eradicate global poverty. On first glance, it is greatly encouraging to hear people young and old willing to make sacrifices in order to assist their neighbors. A student said, the MDG's are a "vital part of church mission." We as Christians are called to care for the poor, and to shelter and protect the vulnerable. Participating in the MDG's is one way the church can partner with others to help those who have less, but as one young woman gave her testimony during the hearing she said, "If these eight points (the MDG's) are achieved we will have a great world." I found myself wondering, is that really true? Will poverty reduction and ultimately eradication really give us a great world, a world of peace and constant fellowship with our neighbor?
While many here at General Convention and those in the secular world choose to believe that these things are true, history and current international affairs tell us that to hold such a view is utopian and dangerous.
Cayless accuses Episcopalians of putting their faith in fighting poverty above their faith in God.
IRD has a long history of opposing programs designed to help eradicate poverty and an equally long history of backing economic policies that benefit the wealthiest at the expense of the "least of these."
What these different votes continue to illustrate, however, is that the mainline Christian community is increasingly willing to act in support of God's call for us to be a people of justice (Micah 6:8). Praise be to God.
Let our prayers continue to be with the people of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church as they make these historic and critical decisions.