September 7, 2023

This Sunday we will hear a lesson from Jesus about how we should approach our sisters and brothers when they sin against us. Jesus makes it sound simple and loving. Working with human beings, though, nothing is ever so easy. With human beings, what feels like a sin to one person, may not to another. With human beings, justice and reconciliation too often work differently for those with power, money, or influence. Sin hurts and when the things we do to find reconciliation don’t work, that hurt spreads.

Over the last weeks our Episcopal Church has been struggling with this question. On August 30 Julia Ayala Harris, the President of the House of Deputies (the House of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention that is made up of laity, priests, and deacons) revealed that she had leveled serious Title IV (church court) harassment charges against a retired bishop, whom she did not name. Those charges were backed up by another unnamed bishop who witnessed the event. In the course of the proceedings, as permitted by church canon, the Church Attorney chose to pursue a “pastoral response” rather than convening a Board of Inquiry who could opt to impose discipline. You can read the whole story here and here.

The hurt in the situation has spread. The primary hurt, of course, was the hurt done to the victim, but there is also hurt in knowing that a brother in Christ would act in such a way. There is a deeper hurt in the realization that someone especially known, loved, and admired by many could sin in this way. There is hurt in the appearance that the system deals differently with those who have power. There is wide and spreading hurt as we realize that the church is still not a safe place for all. 

But with the hurt there is also the beginning of healing. Jesus tells us that when someone hurts us we are first to take the sinner aside and work things out. Then go with two or three others. Finally, as a last resort, we appeal to the whole body. That is what is happening now, and the body is responding. Many bishops, clergy, and laity in the church, people with wisdom, power and authority, are speaking out. They are questioning the system that is in place and examining how to rebuild it in simpler, more transparent, more equitable, and more loving ways. Most importantly, they are reaching out to Julia Ayala Harris and all who have been hurt in this situation to tell them they are not alone. 

All human beings and human systems fail, but the church is determined to fail better. Hurt spreads, but love spreads too, and as sinful, messy, and complicated as human beings are, love lives in the human hearts that make up our church.