(RNS) Lighten up, Ash Wednesday.
A New York-based advocacy group called Parity is asking Christians who favor LGBT equality — “queer positive Christians,” in their parlance — to show their support by wearing “glitter ash” on their foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday (March 1).
I don’t necessarily doubt the advocacy group’s good intentions, but this is a bad idea on many levels.
For one thing, it issue-izes a community/demographic subset, not to mention a solemn holy day. LGBT Christians always tell me they are not an issue — they are people. I think Glitter Ash Wednesday undermines their aims by making them into an issue again. On probably the least liturgically appropriate day of the Christian year to issue-ize anything.
Beyond that, makeup grade purple glitter, even if mixed with traditional ashes, is not an appropriate visible sign of penitence and self-denial.
While there are a few Protestant denominations in which clergy and laypeople are almost unanimously “queer-positive,” there remains significant pockets of dissent even in the few open-and-affirming denominations that exist. Parity, the activist group, “The plan is to have glitter ashes available in churches for the asking. Regular ashes will also be available.” This is going to cause lots of unnecessary and divisive problems.
Sure, some churches that offer red wine for Communion also have grape juice available for people who, for a number of reasons, prefer it for themselves or their children. I don’t think having two lines down the sanctuary aisle — one for ashes and one for ashes mixed with makeup grade purple glitter — is a division churches should flaunt, encourage, or deal with on Ash Wednesday.
Instead of every parishioner lamenting his own sins before walking out into the world in a spirit of penitence and self-denial, church members will be noticing who has glitter on their foreheads and who does not. This is not helpful or appropriate.
Finally, American Protestantism is already divided — visibly and profoundly — over whether same-sex relationships can be holy or are by definition vile sins against God. The last thing we need is fanning the flames of division on Ash Wednesday of all days.
During the imposition of ashes, the last thing we need is a visible, physical, and psychological reminder of the church’s greatest conflict of our time.
It is a moment for unity and repentance for all Christians, gay and straight.
“Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”
“Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
That is enough. No makeup grade purple glitter, please.