Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Wasteland of Anglican Rhetoric

Bishop Rucahana of the Anglican Diocese of Shyira of Rwanda has now joined the fray with a terrible accusation of satanism riddled with racism:
Bishop Rucahana said the Anglican Church in Rwanda will not be pushed into adopting the satanic behaviour of the "whites because they are whites".
It is, perhaps, among the most pained and angry rhetoric yet to date in the grand and now terrible affair of an Anglican Schism, even blasting beyond Archbishop Akinola's remarks of a few weeks ago, where we were accused of spiritual imperialism.

Fr. Jake has sounded a response that asks questions with which I have deep and growing solidarity. However, with no offense intended towards Fr. Jake, this is precisely an example of how so many on each side of the Anglican rift are now talking past each other, rather than to the real concerns on the table, let alone the God-endowed humanity of each other.

Archbishops and bishops in the self-proclaimed Global South, along with a number of their American allies, are now resorting to rhetorical knife-work to cut whatever strands of affection were left holding the Communion together. Rather than speaking directly to the question of human sexuality -- which is really only a manifesting issue, after all -- it is easier to demonize their perceived enemies and thereby justify a break. So, like all good politicians, they reach for the easiest rhetoric at hand: that which plays well to their constituents, by appealing to the painful history of European and North American colonialism and then scapegoating lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual Christians with the terrible burden.

I risk dismissing the pain of this tragic episode through such analysis. That is not my intention, either. Behind Bishop Rucahana's remarks are the unspeakable communal pains of genocide: pains which are deeply entangled with the longstanding evils of colonialism that were (and to some degree still are), yes indeed, inflicted by the West and too often sanctioned by the historic Church.

Our quibble with the bishop remains not over this point, but one of proportion. Why, I wonder, must our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and -- to a lesser extent, the Episcopal Church as a whole -- be saddled with the entire burden of an institutional evil that was, for all intents and purposes, inflicted and maintained largely by Northern European men, mostly straight, and now mostly deceased?

But that is too complex a question, for it does not yield to a sound byte, and it does not accomplish the clear purpose that is now at work amongst at least some of the Anglican Global South leadership: that is, put simply, to justify schism, and in the most direct and harsh terms possible.

The only way back to the table will be addressing issues directly, not in this roundabout and distorted fashion, and certainly not -- to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, and indeed most presciently, Ephraim Radner in his recent break with the Network -- with words that rend the Body of Christ rather than build it up. Continuing any pretended conversation in this mode fails to address the real principalities and powers against which we as Christians are called to stand together.

It strikes me, too, that any talk now of "strained bonds of affection" will miss the mark. The bonds are now being deliberately and consciously cut in some places -- out of fear, perhaps, and certainly out of pain and anger. I pray that this is clear, most of all, to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anything less than crystal clarity on this point will only make the conflict worse, it seems to me.

This Sunday, in the midst of a series of apocalyptic teachings, Jesus takes the gloves off in telling us in no uncertain terms that the Gospel may well at times cost us our most deeply cherished family ties. I reckon we are at one of those junctures as a Communion.

So how can we best respond? The examples are already out there to behold: in our Presiding Bishop, amongst a number of the Primates, amongst many in our House of Bishops and many of their sisters and brothers elsewhere in the Communion, and amongst ordained and lay members of the church engaging with our Rwandan and other Anglican sisters and brothers around the world directly, in person, on the ground:
  • To such rhetoric, silence can often be the most charitable response.
  • When necessary, we need to allow people to find the door. We should never be in the business of shutting people in or taking hostages for any cause, even the most noble we can imagine, and that includes preserving unity.
  • Simple charity for those in deepest need: those scapegoated by the present rhetoric as well as the uncountable hungry and suffering around the world who are forgotten in the midst of a caustic in-house fight over red herrings.
Poisonous rhetoric screams for nothing short of a Divine response -- the true judgment and justice of compassion, the strength of the cross, the forbearance of Joseph, Job, and Jesus -- and a continuing patient calling forth of the struggling and pained humanity that is masked and hidden by vehemence and the truly demonic.

We are challenged to call forth and witness the face of God even in our enemies -- for healing, hope, and reconciliation.

No one said this business of sustaining Communion would be easy. But for all talk of narrow paths, this one, to me, seems the brightest in what is increasingly becoming a foreboding wasteland of schismatic Anglican rhetoric.


Jake said...

I agree with you, Richard, to a point.

BTW, you might want to look at this comment in that thread. It gives us some good insight regarding some of the cultural background from which the bishop is speaking.

As the commentor noted, most definately we need to learn to treat each other with more respect. However, that goes both ways.

I need to learn more about Africa. No doubt. But the bishop needs to learn about my culture as well, if there is ever any hope of us co-existing. And in my culture, he has insulted me and treated me with disrespect. There is no worse slur imaginable for a Christian than to be accused of being satanic.

I have stated my objection to his choice of words. I'm more than happy to let it go now. Heaping more disrespect on this situation would accomplish nothing.

C.B. said...

Thank you Richard that was well said and added some clarity to what is going on here.

June Butler said...

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

As we move forward, I don't see a way around taking very seriously those words of Jesus.

Jim Strader said...

Hi Richard - You wrote in your post The bonds are now being deliberately and consciously cut in some places -- out of fear, perhaps, and certainly out of pain and anger.

This Sunday's gospel certainly speaks to the tensions Christians experience within their religious household(s) while striving best to understand the signs of the times. However, your point regarding the lingering effects of British and American colonialism seem on target to me. It is undeniably true that the British empire and the forces of the United States have negatively contributed to the political, economic, and religious realities in Africa. However, these historic truths do not serve as a legitimate theological basis for Global South bishops to slander Episcopalians or remove themselves from the Anglican Communion.

Ultimately, as with colonialism and with globalization, the matters we observe in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda,and elsewhere have much more to do with the acquisition of the Anglican throne than they do with doctrinal differences with you and me. African primates and archbishops are basing their departure (or seizure) from (of) the Anglican Communion upon the condemnation of heretics and barbarians. (e.g.liberal Episcopalians and white gay and lesbian persons and their allies.) Sadly, all Christians only need look at Jesus' willingness to sit with tax collectors and Pharisees alike to learn about and follow our Lord's ability to countenance difference while loving God and neighbor alike.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

I'm just thinking out loud here, but occurs to me that we are looking at this from a media-saturated, spin-doctored cultural point of view. When folks talk about slander and use of words, that assumes that Bishop Rucahana and others are simply using the words as we are used to politicians using them: as tools to accomplish an end. I propose a different view, both more sinister and less: that they actually view homosexuality as of the devil. Really. Truly.

Several weeks ago I posted a blog entry in which I commented on the essay by the Archbishop of Uganda,
Most Reverend Henry Luke Orambi, in which he essentially said that, as I posted "the entire Church of Uganda apparently stands or falls solely on scripture, and thus the 'correct' interpretation of scripture. It is little wonder, therefore, that differing interpretations of scripture would have far more significance for them than for us in the Episcopal Church."

So, yes, we need to learn more about Africa and their cultural context. We also need to learn that they see things far more in terms of a spiritual battle, a battle between good and evil, even God and the Devil, than we "sophisticated" North Americans do. We can probably learn from that, as we often ascribe to psychology what is actually spiritual (and this is coming from a priest with a BA in psychology).

Bishop Rucahana, Bishop Orambi, and others in a largely Muslim-dominated world of actual martyrs really do see the issue of homosexuality as a spiritual battle. Unless and until we understand that, we'll simply ascribe their words to spin and rhetoric.

R said...


Point well-taken. But by "rhetoric" I meant not to imply that the argument we are hearing from some in the diverse African episcopate is dishonest. That would indeed be a contemporary North American cynical point-of-view. But it is still rhetoric, that is language to hammer home a particular point-of-view. Indeed any use of argument from either side is.

I do believe Orombi and others see this as a spiritual battle and believe homosexuality to be evil. But I also see the use of this (and leveraging agreement with this position) to justify a break in the Communion. My quibble is that the latter has more reason behind it than the former.

Surely they know scripture better than to hinge such a schism on homosexuality alone.

Indeed, I think this is a post-colonial reaction with significant (and I'll grant much more warranted) reason than has been articulated thus far.

And to say that the official position of some Provinces is coming from an honest place does little to change the chilling effect, and indeed the destructive effect on our relations with them. Nor does it free lives dismissed without reference to what God might be doing in and through them.

David G. said...

I'm sorry, but quite a few of these Bishops have gone to out of country schools, and learned early on how other countries think.
I think a few of these GS bishops are just...literally: Power Hungry!!
They Got A Taste of these American Spin-Doctors...and liked the feeling. . . .(much like a wayward person trying Meth for the first time). . .
It's a sad story all around, that comes to an equally sad outcome.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

I really do view Henry Luke and Big Pete as a couple of religious hucketers, under educated, and thoroughly unAnglican. Really. Truly.

Does my sincerity make it OK or does that only apply, you know, the other way around?

Just wondering.