Thursday, February 15, 2007

Of Substance

A critical document of substance presented to the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania has just been released: the Report of the Communion Sub-group, which reflects on the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report. This is a classic document of Anglican polity, as well as a real attempt to find compromising (or compromised, as some might say) language by which the Anglican Communion can still recognize The Episcopal Church's place in it.

I don't agree with all its assertions (for that matter, our Diocese dissented from B033, which is a critical resource behind the report), but it deserves a second and third read, as well as some very patient mulling over in the coming days. Certainly, the Primates will do the same. Mark Harris also promises to post more than his early introduction.

Of substantial interest to me also was this interview from the BBC with the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt (and our own Marc Andrus, Bishop of California.) Bishop Scott-Joynt began using the word "oppression" and asserted that a quarter of our dioceses and parishes (and even a larger portion of our laity) are being oppressed by the Episcopal Church because they dissent from the courses of action that we have taken, and they deserve to be part of the Anglican Communion.

Thing is, they already are.

His pastoral tone notwithstanding, I submit that the Bishop of Winchester exaggerates, and also has adopted a misleading stance that I've seen elsewhere in other circumstances, particularly around racism and sexism.

I knew once an avowed white supremacist who claimed he was "oppressed" in a university setting because of his views that the Holocaust didn't happen and that African-Americans should be sent "back" to Africa. There have also been cries of oppression around women being hired over men in the workplace. Reverse discrimination has come up in a number of institutions of higher learning in this country, and Affirmative Action has come under frequent attack for discriminating against the dominant culture and ethnicity in the United States.

It is commonplace, it seems, that dominant points of view, and dominant (sub)cultures, when they begin to lose even a little of their dominance and authority tend to get defensive and claim "oppression."

I want to be absolutely clear to myself and to others that it remains true today, February 15th, 2007, that the dominant view in Christianity has been, and remains, that gay and lesbian sexuality is an aberration, if not an abomination, and can never be expressed in Christian community.

Granted, some who defend these views in the Episcopal Church recently have felt marginalized by their dioceses or the greater Episcopal Church. But does this rise to the level of "oppression" Bishop Scott-Joynt appeals to? I'm not so sure. Members and clergy of our communities who have opposed the recent actions of The Episcopal Church can and have joined with other denominations or openly opposed their dioceses and the actions of General Convention. They have organized networks, moved vast financial resources, and still may back comfortably into being in the "majority" position in the Anglican Communion, and certainly Christianity around the world. They retain the privileges of leaving, even en masse, and taking to litigation when necessary if they want to retain their property. We are surrounded by conservative, Roman Catholic, evangelical, pentecostal, and fundamentalist brothers and sisters who are happy to ally with them and welcome them. And, at the end of the day, many conscientious conservatives on this question of human sexuality, along with conscientious "heterosexual liberals" like me, may return home and enjoy the transparency, legal benefits, and freedoms of our marriages or our chosen lives of chastity and can, in many cases, assume forgiveness and welcome from the Church even if we are divorced, remarried, or even have been in extra-marital relationships.

Yes, I will admit there have been instances in which leaders, both lay and ordained, in the Episcopal Church have been forced from office over this question. "Liberals" can be nasty, too. My point here is that Bishop Scott-Joynt paints with too wide a brush to appreciate the full diversity of experience on the ground. For my part, I know people in my own community who are opposed to the actions of the Episcopal Church vis-a-vis human sexuality, and I work to ensure their place in the full life of our church. I don't always succeed, but I am intentional about this. Some have responded positively to my efforts and remain at the table of Christ with me, as well as with their other brothers and sisters who differ from them.

At the end of the day, though, Bishop Scott-Joynt's assertion of "oppression" protests too much.

In many places, even in the United States, our LGBT brothers and sisters have good reason to worry for their lives and who's watching them and why. There remain very few Christian communities (in many places, there are none) they can enter and be fully transparent about who they are -- and be loved in Christ for that. They know discrimination in the workplace, in the broader community, and even at the restaurant. They know there are many places in the world they cannot travel without being in mortal jeopardy, and their relationships are a priori suspect and therefore must be kept painfully private. They are surrounded by a heterosexist world that says both implicitly and directly that their sexuality is perverse, unwelcome, and dangerous to the well being of the human family. Chastity is often compelled by the greater systems of the Church and society, driving those who are not called to it into secretive relationships. And even in the Episcopal Church, as the report above mentions, many cannot enjoy the full breadth of call into ordained ministry because, regardless of how prayerful and fruitful their ministries are, their committed, faithful relationships, if not simply their sexuality, presents "a challenge to the wider church."

I don't need to continue further than that, except to say that this is oppression.

Again, I will not argue prejudicial treatment has not occurred against conservatives and evangelicals in The Episcopal Church. Nor do I sanction it. But let's be clear: they still, by virtue of their beliefs and practices, have a leg up in the broader society, in the Anglican Communion, and in the world. They retain many privileges LGBT Christians still cannot have, even in some of the most liberal dioceses of The Episcopal Church.

For this reason, cries of generalized oppression here ring a little hollow to me, particularly as applied to over a quarter of the membership in this Province, and lend little of substance to the conversation. Meanwhile, LGBT people around the world are dying every day and being turned away from Christian community simply because of who they are.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Wow. Yeah - what you said!