Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, a way of life

Bishop Singh: A Lenten Message of Love for our United Methodist Siblings

March 5, 2019

Dear saints in the Episcopal Church,

As I write to you about another concern, I ask that we keep our thoughts and prayers with those impacted by the devastating tornadoes in Alabama and elsewhere this past weekend. 

The recent decision of our siblings in faith, the United Methodists, to stay with their traditional position that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” has left many in the church devastated. I was deeply pained and know most Episcopalians share my heartache. Let us be sure our dear United Methodist saints know we stand in solidarity with them at this time. I urge all of us to offer generous pastoral support to our ecumenical neighbors who are hurting from the decision. I also encourage you to be present with them as they make the difficult journey forward. I have written to Bishop Mark Webb assuring him of our prayers and support for the days ahead. Let us love as Jesus loved and move with each other as companions on the way.

Let me use this opportunity to share a small portion of my spiritual autobiography as we stand on the threshold of Lent, to explain why I think and feel the way I do, and how I came to this place. I came to be welcoming of people who are gay, lesbian and transgender because I believe it is the right thing to do. Growing up in South India, I knew a thing or two about feeling rejected, invisible, and considered to be of no value. When my dad walked out on us when I was 11, God was my first refuge, and the church became a sanctuary. While growing up I would discover that the church in India played a pivotal role in respecting the dignity of people outcaste as “untouchables.” Dalits, after centuries of indentured slavery, are in the process of reclaiming their God-given dignity. Welcoming those who are different, however, was not a smooth or easy transition for the culture. Even the Dalit parai (drum), for instance, was not played in church when I was a child. Increasingly, it is now heard in village churches! 

When a culture believes a particular community is polluting it, the normative majority resists welcoming and incorporating that community. We continue to see a similar dynamic in the predominantly white Episcopal Church struggling to integrate African-Americans and ordaining them, even when we also have the Absalom Jones story in our foundation. We have other stories of struggle related to ordaining women, as well as ordaining and marrying divorced and LGBTQ persons. 

I am a follower of Jesus, and my position on this issue is orthodox—not in the ecclesial sense, but in the sense of Christ’s core teachings to love. I believe it is just rational, as well. It is all about loving people and resisting hate, which is evil. So, I call upon all people to holiness of life; holiness grounded in love that does not patronize from on high but loves in the way that Christ values all people in community.

In February 2015, I stood with a few Episcopalians in a slave-holding dungeon in Ghana, at Cape Coast Castle where the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission had a Chapel overhead. For approximately two centuries, the Eucharist was engaged at that altar as thousands of people were held in slavery a floor below. They misused the Bible as a pretext to dominate and treat some human beings as less than human. Slavery was endorsed by the church based on a self-serving interpretation of Scripture. Christians have used scripture as a bludgeon and harmed women, people who are divorced, and many others. But we have reached a vast consensus that Scripture teaches us to see the inherent value of every human being as a child made in God’s image. All of us need the redeeming love of Christ. LGBTQ persons are sinners just like me, but to call their sexual orientation sin is like saying my brown skin is a sin. Homosexuality is proven credibly by science not to be only a choice. God has made some people beautifully this way, just like God has made me brown and beautiful. 

I have met incredibly holy people who are gay or lesbian. Some of the most dependable leaders I have met in the Episcopal Church are gay and lesbian. I celebrate LGBTQ persons who are single by choice or in monogamous relationships and give of themselves for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus. Holiness of life is essential, and we are all called by Christ to pursue it. That is not the question here. The question is if we are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ persons as beloved children of God.

When we do not make room for LGBTQ persons within the life of the church, we are not only preventing them from participating fully in becoming Beloved Community, but we are rendering that community unholy in doing so. Paul’s teaching on the litmus test of discipleship in Acts 11:9 is significant here, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This too is a kind of abandonment of the least of these. When the word of God is seen in parts, we can be misled like we were when we endorsed racism, casteism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination for centuries. The damage caused by such culturally and historically misplaced, baseless, and judgmental positions will continue to be felt for centuries. The love of Christ needs to be shared without distraction and internal divisions with a world hungry for genuine love. As a follower of Christ, I find this unreasonable position that my fellow Christians take to be very sad. 

Finally, in my opinion, any church that does not evolve with attention to its scripture, tradition, and experience/reason, is a church resisting faithfulness to Christ. I find the Episcopal Church, while not perfect, to be making progress in this area because of how it is evolving in addressing racial equality, divorce, gender equality, living into the dignity and integrity of LGBTQ persons, same-sex marriage, etc. In each of these issues, the evolution was in sync with the core scriptural notion that we are called to value the inherent dignity of every human being. This is our timeless good news!

Please bear in mind that this is not acquiescing to popular culture but instead countering the perception and reality of scripture and tradition abused by Christian and other faith ideologies of dominance around the world in the name of holiness. Even in countries like India where Christians are a minority, many Christian leaders teach collusion with the broader culture of patriarchy and “traditional” notions of the family by condemning LGBTQ persons as antithetical to Christ’s teachings. Ironically, Christ’s teaching on homosexuality is totally silent though his teaching on money/mammon is not! We conveniently ignore his teaching on greed. St. Paul teaches us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discernwhat the will of God is—what is good, and acceptable and perfect”—Romans 12:2. 

I grew up in a culture of intolerance to LGBTQ persons mostly based on cultural and religious ignorance. I have had to critically discern, research, study scripture and engage LGBTQ persons to come to this place of enrichment. Everyone can do the same. We have siblings in the Anglican Communion who don’t agree with some of our views on scripture, tradition, and reason/experience. We are in missional partnership with them while hoping to journey together toward the common ground of loving one another as Jesus loves us. Guarding the dignity of every human being, theirs and that of all LGBTQ saints, is one of the best ways forward. Therefore, please urge our beloved United Methodist siblings to stay in the arena and fight the good fight where they are. We are here to support! I offer these thoughts and experiences humbly to you as my prayerful reasoning. Have a Holy Lent!

Your fellow servant in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh