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Justice shall flourish … and fullness of peace for ever.

The Utopian vision in Isaiah’s first reading, gives us some idea of what was wrong with the world in the time this text was developed. The writer is longing for the world to be ruled by “wisdom and understanding…counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge an the fear of the lord”. This vision involves a radical sort of justice that looks beyond the shallow and the popular to the deep experiences of the oppressed. Nature itself will put off its need to compete and destroy each other with animals lying together peacefully and safely.
In 2016 a rationalist age of markets and worship of “the economy” and the image of each special individual this both soothes and attracts us but also fails to seem achievable. Of course lions eat lambs, that is natural and we ascribe to “nature” a whole host of negative human behaviours besides. But within the Jewish roots of our Christian tradition is an idealistic call to challenge the current view of “nature”, the essentialist and inevitable acceptance of injustice and inequity. As the people of God, our work is to achieve a more peaceful, wise and just world. The advent call is the call by a vulnerable baby that in Matthew’s gospel overstepped national boundaries to be recognised by foreigners (magi), and hated by the status quo (Herod), that is our Christmas movement to become uncomfortable for the unjust powers of the world and to break boundaries in radical inclusion and openness. If we are lions, we need to pull back from devouring; in so far as we are lambs we need to be courageous and visionary.
Even though the psalm talks about a “king” bringing God back in line with the ruling class, there is an idealistic view here of a king who is ruling for the poor and afflicted. Kingship in this ideal is not the exploitative relationship we often see in the privileged and the powerful of our world, but is a radical challenge to the greedy and the exploitative. “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever”.
This is a useful ideal to aspire to in so far as we are “kings”, in our relationships of leadership and power in our worlds. How do we treat our own children? Our elderly? Our employees or student? How do we “rule” over a group of people, who do we advocate for in our decision making and what values underpin our pronouncements? This is also an ideal worth holding our own leaders to. No-one can rule or govern forever but people and the times they live in go down in history as more or less peaceful and abundant.
The second reading from Romans encourages us to go to the scriptures for instruction, seeing the scriptures as sources of hope and practice. It also advocates harmony between believers, which at times gets interpreted by the powerful in the church as a sort of obedient group-think, but I don’t believe the idea here is to stifle debate and questioning, just for everyone to be considerate and ready to accept compromise so that life and liturgy together may be possible.
The reference to the “circumcised” and the “patriarchs” is broken open by a sudden appeal to the Gentiles, to be welcomed and “at one-ed” with also. The writer here claims that the idea of broadening out the inclusive vision was already written into the heart of the tradition, so the sort of change that accepts the challenge of the other is in no way a departure from the tradition we hold dear but the most faithful following of it. Who are the “Gentiles” of our time? Who do we seek to keep out? Muslims? LGBTIQ+ people? Women who have a vocation to ministry? Single mothers? It is someone who challenges our sure knowledge about the right way to live and the hegemony of our own way of life.
Having focused ourselves on justice and inclusivity by these readings, the gospel sweeps in the voice of John the Baptist giving us our advent call to “repent”. People often seem to think repenting means feeling sorry or guilty but in fact it isn’t a feeling at all it is an action of achieving radical change within ourselves, of turning around and facing the opposite direction to the negative one. Last advent I reflected on the unacknowledged need in me for so many years to “repent” of my heterosexuality, which is not to imply that people who are heterosexual are wrong, but that it was wrong for me and not what God had created me for, I always knew this deeply but in the cowardly way of a child began a path of obedience to my cultural context instead of my calling. Repentance is finding those spots of wrongness inside us, not necessarily “sin” in the sense of doing wrong, but the blockages from God’s grace and hope and the inability to respond to God’s call to live what we were created.
John the Baptist is concerned with more than personal identity-work of course, he is a huge threat to the status quo which is why he is ultimately put to death. But he also reminds us that it is our repentance, the ways we choose to radically alter our way of life toward hope and justice that prepares the way for Jesus/Wisdom to enter the world. John’s radical asceticism is unattractive to the modern gaze. He wears itchy, dirty clothing and eats an inadequate diet. I don’t want to emulate quite the minimalism of his lifestyle but instead I want to let him refocus me on what really matters, not always having the finest materials next to the skin or the prettiest appearance or the most tantalising foods (no not even at Christmas when we hear the call of the “economy” to spoil ourselves and others in this way) but what deeply matters is the repentance that leads to radical justice and hope, the world-altering growth that welcomes into the world God’s Word.
John also reminds us to be wary of relying on our religious pedigree, our alliance with an institutional church and reminds us the survival of the institution is NOT THE POINT since God can raise up believers from the very stones (a theme that is alluded to at Palm Sunday and other places). Our call is to “produce good fruit as evidence of [our] repentance” to actualise God’s reign not to get right a series of rituals and self-aggrandisements. John gives us a terrifying view of a purifying, cleansing, judging God to come- speaking back into the first readings preoccupation of fear of God. The point I take from that is not that God is terrifying and punitive but that there is an implied threat/warning to those who continue to oppress others, especially in God’s name. We can read all the grace and forgiveness and rehabilitation of the sinner in the mission of Jesus (and I do take comfort from this) nevertheless a call to repentance remains and it is a strong demand from God not a half-hearted suggestion. We may repent imperfectly and be forgiven but we outright ignore God and God’s beloved poor (the earth may be included in this) at our peril!
In conclusion I circle back to that beautiful vision of the first reading, of buds and shoots and new growth where we thought we saw decay. The jacarandas were late to blossom this year but they got there. Life wants to spring up and live abundantly. Let us embrace life as we enact and expect the radical transformation of the world from the vulnerable baby who is also the Word.

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Plowshares

I wrote this to share at church, then in the rush I left my notes at home and had to “wing it” at church. Thanks to the supportiveness of everyone it went OK. The photo is a flower arrangement I made for church before being reminded we don’t do flowers in Advent. I rehomed it with my sister, who absolutely deserves flowers!

Today’s first reading always makes me smile and think of the activist movement “Plowshares” who advocate active resistance to war…I felt they deserved a mention.

The whole reading is replete with an active response to God- it is a movement of people, streaming towards God’s mountain to learn and be led to actively change our ways. The symbolism of changing weapons of war to implements of growing food has much to offer and I have made it the focus today for our liturgy which as always centres a communal meal as a symbol of shared abundance in every way.

Turning to the book of Isaiah however, and reading on from this idealistic vision, it all turns very bleak very quickly and that also can be our experience. The transformed reality we celebrate in coming together for communion, is not the lived reality of the world around us- the power-infused relationships, the cynical politics and parsimonious economics of our time. So glib escapist religious fantasies that “it all happens for a reason” will not serve us in our lead-up to Christmas, and if we listen to our tradition we will need this feast to be something more than a “feel-good” fest.

If we stream to the mountain, the sometimes steep mountain that is scripture, we might be looking for instruction, leadership, community, active response, transformation but we do not escape our reality by doing so. Nor do we escape our complex interwoven identities where we are both benefiting in some measure from unjust systems and also perhaps ourselves oppressed (or at least limited) by rigid systems of control.

And then the letter to the Romans bids us to “wake up” from sleep. This is a time for consciousness, not a time to let the familiar and the dear rituals of Christmas lull our consciences to sleep, not to leave it all up to God. Advent is a new year, it’s a time to get serious about the “reign of God” we celebrated last week, to begin again a cycle of movement toward that point toward a not-yet reality of God’s vision realised. Can we see God as a baby that needs our protection? An unborn possibility inside us? A desire for beauty and truth to take over our lives?

In the gospel, two people who seem identical are somehow not. One is “taken” and one is “left”. There is no radical difference we can see between one and the other but perhaps by implication as we go about our ordinary lives in our limited world God can see the details, the good intentions and the small acts of love which may never be perfect but do somehow matter after all. I don’t like the hyper-individualism that seems to come through here, as if I want to distance myself from my sister or brother and be smugly pious. But let’s deconstruct this picture by a return to the image of weapons, transformed into tools for growing food. Then let’s take care to remember that food is for feeding and sharing not just for grasping and selling which devolves food production back into war. Can we transform this image of two women grinding meal, or two men working in a field by refusing to buy into the oppositional, competitive factor? Then, both may come to share in the radical hope of God’s coming after all. Is grace contagious? We can only hope.

So this Christmas, I will eat and drink and participate in the celebrations and I don’t feel guilty about that. But I will give thought to the changing climate, to the impoverished and imprisoned families and try to temper my excess and share my abundance. And this advent I will choose who I wish to be this liturgical year. Come, let us go to the mountain of this tradition/faith we hold together, back again into the heart of our communal longing for all to be right. Let us light in our hearts the candle of hope and allow that interruptive and transformative power in. Jesus, Sophia, eternal Wisdom and Word.

 

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Kings, victims, revolutionaries

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”  (Luke 23: 35-38)

This rings true for anyone who has been in a situation where they themselves are less than perfect but are trying to advocate for others. This sort of attitude goes hand in hand with “deficit models” of the suffering person and various versions of victim blaming.

Victim blaming has never been completely absent in the way we as a society view the suffering, but it seems that at the moment it is once again on the increase. These days it goes together with the idea of choice…”choice” supposedly leads inevitably to “consequence” and therefore all suffering gets traced back to being the product of an individual’s choice. Never mind the fact that the logic here is faulty, I want to look at the way that this is partially true, and yet not a good reason for us to turn away and deny even compassion to the suffering.

You could say that Jesus’ cross was the consequence of his choices too! Had he quietly accepted the oppressive regime of his society and looked away from the injustices and the suffering of others he would have lived out his life in something like peace (the social science critics can argue over whether he would have been comparatively wealthy or impoverished). Then our call to be like Christ, our call to care more for justice and integrity than for the quiet, peaceful life becomes a dangerous choice to make. And we can expect only mockery and condemnation from others when the choices we make entangle us in things that look like “failure” to the contemporary gaze. It is hard to steer a balance then between the idealism of always transgressing and challenging an unfair society and yet not falling into pointless escapism, self-pity and the sort of individualism that achieves nothing. We do also have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. I won’t discuss that but I feel I need to be mindful of it when I am arguing for anything radical.

Because the “reign” of Christ IS radical. I can’t bring myself to call it kingship, I don’t respect kings and I wouldn’t serve one. Christ comes to us as a mentor and model of radical justice and love and the inability to be silenced. As a feminist I recognise the unsilenced Christ, the ever-nagging (against injustice) Word of God as also Sophia, Wisdom in Old Testament terms. I recognise an ethnic minority (a Jew under Roman occupation). A person of dubious parentage, of suspect sexuality and habits. I can read possible signs of depression in some gospel stories, of fear of rejection and abandonment. I can see someone who is an activist, not just an obedient “worker”. I can see someone who breaks social taboos to touch lepers, prostitutes, men and women of all walks of life.

This then, is our inheritance, not some sort of cleaned up and shiny “Christus Rex” using the cross as a pulpit for easy theologies of “Father knows best” but the struggle and filth and sweating-blood as the end to the hard work and misunderstanding of ministry. So what is the good news here? I need to retrace the whole story. Is it the connections with people who loved and nurtured his identity? Is it the ability to touch and be everything that is true, to call forth the beauty from a story, a place, a story? What about the mocked and degraded criminal hanging on the cross has made us decide we believe in impossible hope? Where’s the resurrection in this last week of the liturgical year?

The jacarandas are turning purple, we are going to move into advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of a displaced baby to a young woman with a question mark over her pregnancy and her dreamer/idealist of a husband. We will watch them forced to travel, to flee, to pick up their fragile lives in various places because of hostile political powers. We place our hope and our identity in this family and it is time to call for a kinder, more just world for all the Mary’s, Joseph’s, Jesuses.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done” because your will is a kinder wiser world. Help us unsilence you again, disreputable God. Give us the courage and compassion to bring your transformative peace to our interactions. We seek your reign in our lives.

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Dark Days

“May you live in interesting times” the ancient curse goes and this week more than ever before I can feel it. On a personal note I have issues of the many headed (and always growing new heads) beast of poverty with my fridge broken, my drains blocked, my car damaged by hailstones that make cherries looks small by comparison, debt, fines, and loss of license (so maybe the car doesn’t matter). I work hard enough and long enough to not be getting my academic writing done (nor anything creative) but not enough to survive on. Last night I realised just how much the ongoing and recurring stresses of this year have harmed me but also that I have beautiful friends in my life. I am not just whinging, this is a common theme at the moment among low income earners whose belts are being cinched tighter than is reasonable – and the loss of good health and educational outcomes (for example) that go with it should also concern us when we consider how many like me might have small children. Anyway even middle-aged disgruntled ranters like me matter as human beings.

On a less personal note I can turn to the world of politics where it seems that evil and inhumane madness is running rampant throughout the world- that many people hate the disadvantaged “other” even more than they love their own interests and we constantly vote in madmen (gender intentional and largely justified) who we then use as role models for truly anti-social behaviour and beliefs.

And yet as one of my friends in the Greens reminded on Facebook there are little wellsprings of hope…small triumphs for love (such as “Wicked campers” told they can’t put misogynist and violent slogans on their vans anymore and some US states bringing in preferential voting). Another friend reposted Todd Beaupre’s assertion that: “Tomorrow, I will not define myself by the future President. I will use whatever freedom and privilege I have to keep making this world what I want it to be. Donald Trump is one person in a powerful position, but he will not control my life. And my friends and allies who may not be as privileged as I am, know that I am still here for you. My America means love, positivity, truth, rewarding hard work while supporting those who struggle to keep up, freedom, and peace. I will not be silenced. Hillary may have lost, but there are still many millions of Americans who will show tomorrow and every day after, that LOVE STILL WINS. Who is with me?” (I have no idea who Todd Beaupre is but I thought the quote worth circulating.)

So these friends have reminded me firstly, not to neglect my blog even though I feel full of despair and snowed under, and secondly to take this opportunity to make a commitment that I feel echoes my baptismal and confirmation commitment to walk with God. So I will take a few small moments to try to put that into words

In a world where the hatred of others teaches me anger, I will nevertheless strive to speak with love and kindness.

I will be courageous is speaking out against abusive ways of viewing other people and the world, but I will not seek to humiliate or stereotype those I debate with.

I will look to notice those who are made invisible by discourses of might and privilege. I will give them words of recognition and friendship and silences of deep listening.

I will be kind to myself and pursue enjoyment with my friends up to a point, but will not allow escapist activities or ways of thinking to sway me from the things that need to be done.

I will listen to the people who love me and open my heart to believe them that I am loved and loveable.

I will nurture and strengthen the wisdom, hope and loving-kindness of others knowing that their goodness may build a better world.

I will learn to be better at accessing the help I need from people and grow toward advocating also for others.

Yeah though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I will reorient myself toward the loving God of all good possibilities, of life renewed.

I will do something today that is enjoyable. I will speak to someone today who I love.

I ask the strength of God to achieve this, the compassion of God when I fail in any of these and the joy of God in the living of my commitment to her eternal love. Amen.

And then right now I will do some work on my article😉

 

 

 

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Where do we go with all this?

Wow this first reading and I go back a long way. It was in my children’s bible and I remember reading it and being traumatised all day at school thinking about it (I was only little) and having massive nightmares. I literally thought when I was a child that stuff like this would happen to me…so I can’t find any theology in there (I know good or bad there is some in there) because I feel sort of triggered and yuck from the story. Sorry about that. Not very professional!

I always imagined myself as the mother in the story (probably because it was the only female character). JUST AWFUL!!!! Even now. Maybe especially now.

But it’s been an unusually tough week in a particularly hard year and I am hearing in the second reading that the world can be kind of hostile to people who try to live according to God’s values (I didn’t say I succeed) and who call into question the “common sense” of the world in who they are or what they do. I’d like to be delivered, if not from perverse and wicked people then at least from perverse and wicked systems (but there are people behind the squeeze on low income earners and welfare recipients, it does not happen naturally lets remember).

So the second reading recommends me to be inspired by the love of God and the endurance of Christ. But really, what else is this world and many of its people going to be asked to endure? I love that at Standing Rock so many people are supporting the environmental stance of the local Indigenous people but as we send support from Australia (a good thing to do) Celeste Liddle reminded us that there are parallels over here  We hear less about our own country, the continued injustice and colonial grinding down that is happening in our name. We need to bring the love of God to the face of that Christ-like endurance and not be the wicked and perverse oppressors as outlined in the second reading.

The gospel seems relevant to me in a society that is trying to protect a supposedly “Christian” model of marriage from flowing out to embrace more diverse people’s expressions of love and family. Jesus here is not putting on the serious face about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “sacrament of marriage”. I am not belittling married people who may have lived a sanctified and sacramental life (whether the church recognises it or not). But it seems to me that here Jesus is saying something along the lines of “marriage is a made-up human thing and the greater reality isn’t a particular narrow model of marriage but is eternal life, marriage is sort of a distraction or side issue for the real question.

Now I have to confess I am fairly agnostic about anything happening after we die. I am reading Marie Turner’s book God’s wisdom or the devil’s envy finding themes about life and death in the book of Wisdom, but that is based on Derrida’s version of deconstruction so there are not going to be any iron-clad conclusions there are there? All I can take from it is an idea of this attempt by humanity to dance with God and Wisdom in the face of evil and “the devil” and death and we are pretty clueless in it all. But then maybe we can trust Wisdom to lead the dance and just hold on and not know where we will end up. Can we do that? Sometimes it seems easier than other times!

That sort of positive theology certainly flows out of Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Abounding in Kindness which is full of eco-feminist frustrated but relentless hope.

Yes that is where I want to head in this messy week when I was almost sure I wouldn’t write a thing. All the ways the world tries to colonise and torture us but there is some sort of radical crazy hope. And we need to stop putting rules on other people, stop taking their land or erasing their families or denying the validity of their love. And we need to stop being so hard on our own battered selves too.

Love of God, endurance of Christ. Radical hope that doesn’t yet know itself fully.

 

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What do we mean when we ask for “mercy”?

I am (re)writing my article and job seeking and putting together a liturgy for a few weeks’ time so no proper reflection this week. I am sort of sorry but also conscious that probably noone will miss it. But I will share here a prayer I wrote.

As part of putting together the afore-mentioned liturgy I was reading through reams of “penitential rites” full of “Lord have mercy” (sometimes in Latin “Kyrie eleison”) and not feeling ok about how glibly even feminists take on Kyriearchal language (or at least accept it so long as it is in a dead language).

Even though in my liturgy my theme for reconciliation will be Reconciliation (as in the unfinished business colonial Australia has with the real owners of this land) I wrote an alternative that I may use another time to help me reject the idea that kyriearchy is needed for repentance (which means turning around) and transformation.

I also reflected on the idea of “mercy”. What do we mean when we ask God/Jesus?Wisdom to “have mercy” on us. Are we still invoking those interpretive traditions where God wants to punish us for our sins unless we grovel? Or where God will “save” us from anything unpleasant? So I wondered how to put into words what we might mean by “have mercy” when I feel that the point of a penitential rite is to reconnect ourselves to a more positive relationship with God (as manifest in our lives and relationships with ourselves, others and the earth).

So here is my imperfect attempt, which I may or may not use or improve further down the track.

 

For making you our “Father” so that we might hide behind the helplessness of a child,

for making you our “Lord” so that we might put down ourselves and others in your name,

for expecting you to lead us into battle when you came offering peace:

we are truly sorry.

 

For the anxieties and mistrust that stop us living more genuinely,

for the despair and retreat that stifle our response to your call,

for the profound loneliness of a life focussed on comfort and privilege:

we ask healing and transformation

 

For the days of our life yet unlived,

for our suffering brothers and sisters that call out for us to join our voices and hearts to theirs,

for the good news that has not yet opened every heart:

we promise to enter more deeply when you invite us.

 

Loving God we accept your healing and your call

as we know you accept our good intentions and our love. Amen.

Stef Rozitis 2016

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Living in sin

Today I went to uni to try to work on my so far unpublished article. I have a habit when my brain gets clouded and my body feels cramped of getting up and walking around the lake as quickly as I can to revitalise my body which hopefully makes my brain work again (at least it used to). This time people kept interrupting. Interesting people like the lovely Marxist that wanted me to go to a feminist meeting and some kindhearted young Muslim men who wanted me to attend their “exhibition” the little I saw of it seemed similar to a church service in some ways but with cultural differences. But I resisted all that because time is ticking on my article.

But I couldn’t resist my friend. This was a young man who I know from political circles. He is a lot more involved than I am and works extremely hard in that and he called me by name and asked me how I was and suggested that I needed to sit with him a moment. I was torn because this was my one precious day to study (work had already called me in for tomorrow) but I sat and we chatted.

He eventually shared with me that he had broken up with his boyfriend.I shouldn’t share too many details about someone else’s story (although it was interesting) but one of the causes of the break-up was that the ex-boyfriend (who I think my friend still has feelings of care and perhaps even desire for) “kept thinking he was going to hell for being gay”. Neither of the young men would say they were religious, neither is a member of the church but the one thing they have picked up is this idea of God rejecting them for who and what they are and sending them to hell.

 

Then this young man told me about another friend who travelled to another country to make a life with his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s family. It would have been an act of trust and courage to make this journey, but in my friend’s words “he got dumped”. The bitter thing about this situation was that once again it was because of the family’s religious convictions, because the partner had to hide his true nature and because of talk of “sin” and “hell” that this young man got thrown out by the man he loved.

I realise that we all suffer disappointments in love (whether our partners or our children, our parents or our friends at some time we are all going to feel rejected by someone). We all feel devastated by the loss and the abandonment when someone ends a relationship or moves away or dies and we all keep living and return to loving. And I seriously hope that all these young men will have better experiences next time. But will we let them? Will society allow them to just be? Will the church honour the God who created and loved them rather than some traditional bogeyman in the sky who rejects and condemns?

So then my friend asked me, “Do you believe in it all?”

“In God?” I asked, “I’m a Christian, even though I am a lesbian.”

“No I know” he said “Do you believe in sin”

I didn’t expect the question so I didn’t answer it well. Because yes I do believe in sin but I don’t believe that those boys trying to make meaningful long-term relationships with someone they love is “sin” by any reasonable definition.

I ought to have said that “sin” is in placing needless obstacles in front of people, whether we are preventing a refugee family from settling in our country, preventing a single mum from having enough money to feed her children or preventing a young woman from accessing birth control. Sin is in taking something as beautiful as the love between two friends/lovers and turning it into the fear of hell and the choice to be estranged from your partner or your family and community.Sin is whatever dismantles and blocks the reign of God, it can happen within us when we love ourselves exclusively and disregard others; or when we hate ourselves and get overly critical or neglectful of the first person God trusted into our care (the self).

It is sin to forget to “love my neighbour” who may be different than myself but in God is another “self” to me.

Sin is a lot of things but it is not two lovely boys enjoying a physical dimension to the love they bear each other (nor two women, nor one of each). Sin doesn’t hide in specific sexual acts while we have license to unravel social supports for others and pursue hyper-individualism. I reject that version of religion and God. My God told me she was love. And those boys deserve to be accepted in love.

All of this happened before I had a chance to look at this week’s readings, but I think it fits with them. The hubris of the Pharisee who goes to church all the time and feels superior to the “other” blocks us from God’s grace. Because I AM like the rest of humanity and am implicated in their suffering while I stand idly by or even profit.

God in the first reading hears the cry of the oppressed whatever walk of life they may be in and responds to them. In the second reading the one who was rejected and abandoned by the church community but served God well is vindicated.

The church is heard as a threat and a condemnation on LGB/PT people. It has a loud voice in doing this. I know of a good church family who fail to acknowledge that one of their beloved daughters is in a stable and life-giving relationship with another woman. They have to choose between looking as self-righteous as the Pharisee in the gospel, or losing face to minister to their daughter and welcome a potential daughter-in-law. If they chose on behalf of their daughter and daughter’s partner, they would in all probability lose their community (as the girls did). How can the church do this to people?

We used to take pride that we would be known as Christ’s disciples by the way we show love to others (John 13:35). What happened to that?

I cannot doubt that there is grave “sin” here.