From the Book of Numbers:
Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but instead you have blessed them these three times. Now be off with you! Go home! I said, ‘I will reward you richly,’ but the Lord has denied you any reward.” And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will; what the Lord says, that is what I will say'”?
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 24:19-13 – July 6, 2012)
We’ve been following the story of Balak and Balaam from the Book of Numbers for a few days, although I’ve not been writing about it here. In truth, I find it a little dull. But Balaam’s words this morning strike me as pertinent to what’s going on in my denomination (the Episcopal Church) in Indianapolis this week: “What the Lord says, that is what I will say.” Balaam will not simply parrot whatever blessing or curse Balak wants; he will say what he understands God to want him to say. ~ A lot of resolutions are being debated at the General Convention and many of them will be referrals to standing or special committees and task forces with instructions for study and report. That’s all well and good, some actions of the church need study and careful consideration before they are taken. But all too often these referrals are not for disinterested and unbiased reflection. Take, for example, the question of whether the church should bless the committed relationships of couples who are of the same sex (“same-sex marriage” as some call it). ~ Before I continue, I need to be on record as believing that the church should offer such blessings, just as we do for committed couples of opposite sexes. ~ It is likely that some committee (the Standing Liturgical Commission, probably) will be asked to study the question of our theology and understanding of marriage. Good. But it will probably, in the same resolution, be tasked (in fact, I think there’s a resolution pretty much saying) to report back with suggested liturgies for such blessings. Bad. The outcome of the theological study is simply presupposed in the task! This isn’t a resolution to study the theology of marriage; it’s a resolution to provide a theological justification for same-sex marriage. ~ I suspect that another issue before the Convention, whether Holy Communion should be open to those who are not yet bapized members of the Christian faith, will result in a similar “study-and-report” referral. ~ Committees and task forces asked to do that should not also be given the job of preparing materials which can only be based on a pre-supposed outcome. When the Convention does so, it stands in the same position as Balak demanding that Balaam utter the blessings and curses of his choosing. Committees and task forces need to be free, like Balaam, to say not what the General Convention presupposes they will say, but what they understand God wants them to say. ~ By the way, Balaam had a donkey who could see angels and who tried to steer him away from danger. Most committees also have an ass or two who can do the same thing; pray God they do their job! ~ (Parenthetical closing remark: I don’t otherwise suggest that our committees emulate the confused, untrustworthy, and idolatrous Balaam, a man whom Peter described as being one who “loved the wages of iniquity” [2 Peter 2:15]. But insofar as he spoke God’s message without bias, go for it!)
Father Funston is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.