I’m trying something new here this week that may or may not become a recurring element on the blog: Some short reflections on news stories that I feel deserve comment.
Without further ado:
Hospitality and the Billy Graham Rule
For those who haven’t traveled much in Evangelical Christian circles, the Billy Graham Rule is a spiritual discipline practiced by some married persons — men and women both — not to be alone with a person of the opposite sex. As someone who upholds the importance and beauty of marital fidelity, I don’t fault these people for their desire to put a protective fence around their marriage. I certainly don’t think this particular practice the most helpful or mature way of doing so, but I certainly don’t fault the intention. But I’m less interested today in the Billy Graham Rule itself than I am in how cases such as the one that’s been in the news this week demonstrate a bigger failure in contemporary Christian practice and discourse.
The rigid approach to one’s spiritual practices — whatever they may be — on display in this case (and it has previously come up in the career of Mike Pence, the current American Vice President) lacks an important and wise ancient Christian monastic virtue, the principle of Hospitality. This principle holds that one’s own sacred practices should never negatively impact other people.
So, for example, I know of a situation where some well-meaning souls brought a group of monks (!) pizza (!! — monks in this tradition do not eat oils, meat or dairy) on Good Friday (!!! — a day of strict fasting). Despite the fasting that is an essential part of their vocation, and despite the fact that the greasy food would likely make them sick in the most demanding part their year, the monks received and ate the pizza with gratitude. They understood that ingratitude and rejecting the gift would be worse than than breaking their fast.
The point of a rule of life is for it to bear good fruit; and good fruit is first and foremost ‘good’ for others who cross our path.
Going back to the case of politicians invoking the Billy Graham Rule, the problem is that these men are in positions of power — whether in terms of journalistic access or actual policy meetings — and so their refusal to meet with women one-on-one in a professional capacity prevents these women from doing their jobs, and therefore puts them at a disadvantage compared to their male colleagues. This is bad fruit indeed.
I wanted to call attention to this not to make fun of or rail against the Billy Graham Rule but to encourage us all to remember this important principle when it comes to all of our sacred practices and disciplines. These things are supposed to bear good fruit, not just for ourselves, but for everyone. If that’s not happening, then we need to do better. And we all can do better.
More than an Apology
In happier news, the Anglican Church of Canada, which is my ecclesiastical home, extended its previous apologies to Indigenous Canadians for its role in the abhorrent Residential School System to the spiritual teachings the undergirded that system. Outgoing Primate (rhymes with “climate” for the uninitiated) Fred Hiltz, who is a man for whom I have great respect, said: “I confess our sin in demonizing Indigenous spiritualities, and in belittling the traditional teachings of your Grandmothers and Grandfathers preserved and passed on through the elders. I confess the sin of our arrogance in dismissing Indigenous Spiritualities and disciplines as incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus, and insisting that there is no place for them in Christian Worship.” Amen. Amen. Amen.
If the American Original Sin was the desire for cheap labour, the Canadian Original Sin was a sense of entitlement to the land and its resources. As a people we are just beginning our journey of reconciliation, a journey that will necessarily require a genuine repentance for this sin — not just an apology but a new way of understanding ourselves, our political life, and our economy. Sadly, many Canadians are happy just to apologize and think that the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an end rather than the beginning it is to reconciliation efforts.
While I am ashamed for the reasons the Anglican Church has had to be at the forefront of these issues, I am very grateful that we are in fact leaders in our country’s reckoning with the worst features of our past and present. As a further step towards this, the Church this week also approved a motion — with near unanimous support — to create a self-governing structure for Indigenous Anglicans within our Church. This is one small step towards the autonomy recommended not only by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but by justice itself.
A Reminder in Disappointment
Finally, I can’t not mention the failure of the Anglican Church of Canada to pass an amendment to the canons that would have formally authorized same-sex marriages. Canonical amendments are intentionally difficult to pass, requiring a two-thirds supermajority of support in each of the “houses” — the laity, clergy and bishops — at two consecutive General Synods. (Really, considering how hard it is to get even half of Anglicans to agree on anything, it’s remarkable anything ever passes!) After much drama, the amendment passed at the last General Synod in 2016 by a single vote in the clergy. This year, it failed to pass by a slim margin in the bishops. So it goes.
Many of my friends — including many of you who are reading this, both LGBTQ2S folk and allies — are deeply disappointed and hurt by this development. As a gay man, I share this deep disappointment that our bishops weren’t able to get this done. This isn’t a time to philosophize or wax poetic. It’s a time to lick our wounds. It’s a time to live in the hurt and feeling of rejection.
The issue of marriage in the Church is both very complicated — involving Scripture, Tradition, culture, and lived experience — and very simple: Jesus told us to judge everything, including divisive truth claims, by the fruit that it bears.
And so, I’ll say this: If you approach your relationship as a conduit of divine grace; if you receive your marriage as a gift from God; if your marriage challenges you and sometimes crushes you to be transformed ever more into Christlikeness and the person who were created and are called to be; if your marriage bears good fruit in your life and in the world; then your marriage is holy, is blessed by the Holy Spirit, and is a sacrament, whether or not the Church has eyes to see it at this time.
Keep your loved ones close; grieve, weep, rail if you need to. Be good to one another. Love deeply.