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ISSUE 120 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/17/2006

Church prompts change

By Kathryn Sederberg
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 17, 2006

For over five centuries a man has presided over the Episcopal Church, a denomination to which more than 2.4 million Americans belong today. Nov. 4 marked a noteworthy milestone for the Episcopal Church, as Katharine Jefferts Schori was invested as presiding bishop. I commend the Episcopal Church for once again shocking traditional, conservative church members with its recognition of changing social norms. This kind of change is needed in many of our nation’s religious institutions, institutions where there is an unfortunate pervasiveness of traditional and outdated doctrine.

During Jefferts Schori’s investiture as bishop at the National Cathedral, she delivered a sermon in which she quoted Robert Frost, who wrote that “home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.”

Jefferts Schori continued by explaining, “We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming!” She characterizes our role as Christians as requiring us to “help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.”

This is what I believe the Christian message should be. It seems all too often that Churches are exclusive, when all we want is for everyone to feel loved. Why exclude anyone based on race, gender or sexual denomination?

In November 2003 it was once again the Episcopal Church making a move that provoked controversy the world over by ordaining Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop. Note that I am repeating what many members of the press stated: “openly gay.” Of course there have been gay bishops before! But the religious community’s “hush hush” policy had prevailed until then.

Why hide homosexuality? Isn’t it worse to have the public disgrace of sexual offenses, like we have seen all too often from the Catholic clergy? It seems to me that many of these problems would be solved by allowing clergy to marry or to be openly homosexual.

Robinson said, “We're going to be in heaven together, and we're going to get along, because God wouldn't have it any other way. So, I figure, if we're going to get along in the long run, we might as well practice right now.”

During a sermon last June, Robinson compared today’s social issues with those of a less open era: “Think of the things you and I believe and think today that we could not have imagined years ago. We used not to be outraged at black folk being made to drink from separate water fountains. At women not being deputies to this General Convention, nor priests standing at God’s altar. Nor differently-abled folk being able to get into our churches.”

Robinson then added that our thinking has changed with God’s help, “Calling us away from our narrow thinking, and more nearly into the mind and heart of Christ.” Does Christian thinking encourage us to be exclusive in any way? No. Any Christian should promote the feeling of love, the feeling of inclusively and brotherhood.

At this college, many of us aspire to follow a Lutheran tradition. The figure of Martin Luther is very inspiring. He saw injustices in the Roman Catholic Church and hoped to make reforms that would reconcile his beliefs with the Church. A revolutionary during his time, he denied the pope’s exclusive power to interpret Scripture, translated the Bible into German, and married a former nun, Katharina von Bora.

Hundreds of years later, the Roman Catholic Church has changed in some ways. Mass is no longer held in Latin and everyone is encouraged to read the Bible. But clergy still may not marry and there are no female priests. To me these seem like elements of Church doctrine left over from the Dark Ages. Religious institutions unfortunately do not evolve at the same pace as changing social norms.

I find stories like those of Martin Luther, Gene Robinson and Katharine Jefferts Schori inspiring. They give me hope that institutions like the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church or the Roman Catholic Church can change to conform to changing social standards. I hope that it will one day be undeniable that sexuality, race and gender are not important before God.

Copy Editor Kathryn Sederberg is a senior from Duluth, Minn. She majors in German and in Franco-German studies.

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