I finally saw Michael Moore's profound and controversial film "Bowling for Columbine." My heart ached for so many reasons, but watching it here, in Canada, one can't help but be drawn to the frequent and glowing references to our country. I found it almost distracting. The hyperbole was so effusive it made me blush—red, of course, and with small white maple leafs.
It is a curious thing to see how others see you. I recognize some truth in the stereotypes. We really do think of ourselves as a fairly agreeable, hockey-mad, rather humorous people. But are we also a people who struggle mightily with weighty social issues and disagree with one another for many reasons. We like to believe we are a progressive nation but it should come as no surprise that change comes to us in labor-intensive births.
Those of us in the United Church of Canada will always remember 1988 as a kairos moment. It was when our church made a definitive statement that sexual orientation would be no barrier to full membership within the church. And it was well understood that full membership meant no barrier to ordered ministry. Anger and celebration moved through the church in an awkward dance. Some left. Some rejoiced. Many pretended it did not affect them. One colleague of mine maintains that we have been in post-traumatic shock ever since. But something happened this summer, and if the congregation I serve is any indication, we have changed.
As a consequence of a superior court interpreting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian government appears bound to recognize same-gender marriages. As one might expect, reaction has been broad and vocal and the churches are at the fore of the discussion in a way that is most, well, un-Canadian.
With a plethora of opinion, comment and argument surrounding us, I asked my congregation to consider the issue in the middle of a hot and relaxed summer. (Meeting-free summers are the reward for enduring winters in this part of the world.) I was concerned for their response, but the one word that best describes it was—respectful. One suspects that in ways mysterious and meaningful, we have changed.
And we have. I would not call my congregation a leading advocate for gay rights, but when we speak of recognizing gay and lesbian people as members of our congregation, there is a murmur I take for resonance. When we speak of gay and lesbian people in our families and/or circles of friends, there is recognition. When we say sexual orientation is a crucial concept for biblical interpretation, there is agreement. We have changed, but when? And how?
The United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ share more than the same initials. We also share a recognition of the validity and authenticity of the nurtured faith. Epiphanies along the journey to be sure, but we share an expectation that, with time and care, one can grow a mature Christian faith. Similarly, I have found that time and care and the prodding of the Spirit have brought about profound change in the life of the congregation I am blessed to serve.
Some say Canadians are reserved by nature, that we don't like to speak too highly of ourselves. That may explain a delight that borders on discomfort when an American filmmaker puts us on a pedestal, even if only to make another point. In our best times, we possess a nurtured patriotism that is deep and sound, while calm on the surface.
Nurtured faith acts the same way. It may not be as dramatic, obvious or exciting as sudden conversions, but it is true and deep and serves us well. And it changes us into the accepting and affirming people God is determined to change us into.
The Rev. Michael Wilson is pastor of Charleswood United Church of Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Focus on Faith is a reader-written column to help others grow in their faith. We welcome submissions from clergy and laity.