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The Oasis: Let the Circle Be Unbroken

I stand at the door and knock

I stand at the door and knock

On May 30th my wife and I were blessed to attend “Let the Circle Be Unbroken”; a Festival Eucharist celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Oasis. The Oasis, a sanctuary ministry for the LGBT community took form and was founded by the humble and holy saints of the tiny but mighty in spirit All Saints Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two decades ago, as the AIDS epidemic continued to cast a pall over the gay community and the World Health Organization still considered homosexuality a disease, All Saints realized the crying need for a ministry of inclusion for the LGBT community. The foresight of their loving witness of a radical hospitality of inclusiveness and joyous celebration of diversity; still stands as a blessed light to an LGBT community that continues to be excluded, attacked and oppressed by religious bodies, governmental decrees and cultural practices throughout the world.

The Sermon was delivered by Bishop Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong was instrumental in the formation of The Oasis ministry. He has long been an advocate of reform in the church by ordaining women, Gay and Lesbian priests and for his theological writings on scripture and his apologetics of a Christianity that transcends the limited bounds of fundamentalism.

I expected that Bishop Spong would exhort the gathered to continue the fight against the denial of full equality for LGBT people. I feared the forces of reaction were gathering following the California Supreme Court action to uphold the legality of Proposition 8 that prohibits same sex marriage. This judicial affirmation seemed to energize momentum for a movement intent on withholding a basic civil right to LGBT people. But true to his nature as an optimistic contrarian, Bishop Spong exhorted service celebrants to “claim the victory” in LGBT civil rights. He refused to empower the forces of reaction instead acknowledging the ascendancy of enlightenment and change during the twenty years of the The Oasis ministry.

Bishop Spong began his homily stating “by the time a cultural or institutional injustice is debated in public, its power is waning”. He recounted the struggle and process to ordain the first openly gay priest, the late Rev. Rob Williams who was instrumental in the formation and establishment of The Oasis Ministry. Spong reasoned, religious orders throughout history were rife with homosexual clergy. Yet homophobic public pronouncements condemning the practice were vehemently upheld with a theology interpreted through narrow lenses of biblical certainty. Bishop Spong noted that the ordination of an openly gay priest was an indication that the church was finally becoming honest with itself by acknowledging that homosexuality has long had a presence within the church.

Institutional transformation is not easy nor painless. Prophetic leaders that effect change by standing on plainly evident truths more often then not find dishonor in their homeland. Bishop Spong went on to explain how this ordination led to his censure by the Episcopal House of Bishops. Its a fascinating retelling of the fallout from Bishop Spong’s action and an example of the fiat of institutional power. Censure is exclusion and its more then a little ironic that the House of Bishops would resort to the tool of exclusion to block and forestall gay clergy and The Oasis ministries that witness for the absolute necessity for faith communities to be inclusive.

Bishop Spong spoke of the painful process the diocesan clergy committee went through as it sought to reach a decision on the Ordination of the Rev. Rob Williams. The shackles of culture and long held beliefs forged in furnaces fueled by misconception and prejudices are a strong chains to loosen. Bishop Spong spoke of a 4 hour luncheon meeting rife with high emotions, threats and finally a resolution. After much debate and heated discussion committee members were moved to conduct a reasonable and dispassionate examination of the candidates qualifications on the content of Rob Williams character not on his sexual orientation. This empowered some committee members with the strength and courage to change their negative vote to an affirmation of Rob Williams as a worthy priest that can bring his unique gifts to serve all Gods children.  It was a milestone in the history of the Episcopal Church. It opened the door to numerous ordinations of Gay and Lesbian clergy and the eventual call of The Right Reverend Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire to become their Bishop.

Gene Robinson’s installation as bishop has forced the church to reexamine its institutional DNA. It is a reexamination that is not complete and has created fissures in the Episcopal Church and in the broader worldwide Anglican Communion. Gene Robinson’s exclusion from last summer’s Lambeth Conference was as astonishing for it’s pettiness as for it’s cowardly subservience to political expedience. Clearly the reexamination needs to proceed. The Oasis, it ministry and supporters stand at the door and knock. Asking that the reexamination open doors to a radical interpretation of what it means to live into the inclusive love and hospitality exemplified in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Oasis Ministry calls us to return to the simple precept of Jesus instruction to love God with all your heart by extending that love to others.

That is the only way the circle can remain unbroken. The unbroken circle informs our faith practice and commands us to recognize and extend all rights and privileges to all Gods children regardless of sexual persuasion, gender or race. A justice denied is an abomination God’s wisdom corrects. To be sure, God is faithful to the beloved and our faith in God’s wisdom is our sanctuary.  Our heart felt prayer and fervent wish is that those who have hardened their hearts through the practice of exclusion will see the light of God’s wisdom and understand that it is an abomination that God’s children can no longer suffer.

On this Gay Pride Day of 2009, marking the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we pray that the Lord continues to richly bless the ministries of The Oasis. We lift up all those who remain burdened and injured by the oppression of injustice to be freed from those unjust burdens and be healed and made whole from their wounds inflicted by those acting in ignorance of God’s abundant and all encompassing love.

God Speed Oasis

You Tube Music Video: Joan Baez, Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Risk: civil rights, God’s love

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June 29, 2009 - Posted by | Bible, Christianity, Civil Rights, faith, gospel, institutional, LGBT, love | , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I saw this on Louie’s FB page and decided to come by and take a look see. Thank you for this, my friend. God Speed to you.

    Comment by Elizabeth Kaeton | January 26, 2010

  2. You are most welcome Rev. Kaeton. The Oasis ministry exemplifies what I believe is the central message and meaning of Jesus Christ’s ministry. Acceptance, inclusiveness and a passionate pursuit of social justice informed by boundless unconditional love.

    You may also be interested in the post concerning last years Gay Pride parade and Bishop Robinson. Living Water can be read here: https://riskrapper.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/living-water/

    BTW: Love your blog. Will be visiting often.

    Peace and prayers beloved,

    jbm

    Comment by riskrapper | January 26, 2010

  3. I just stumbled on this and wanted to thank you for this wonderful account of our 20th anniversary. I shared the link with our Facebook “fans”.

    Comment by Christian | October 18, 2010


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