Sunday, 3 August 2008

Lambeth: The answer?

With the advent of the rains for which some have been praying, there’s a sad feel around everything today. I’ve noticed one or two on the edge of tearfulness, as Bible Study groups meet for the last time. There is some concern about whether we’ve got The Answer. This is particularly so among the English. As people of the middle ground, we like to think we’ve got the answer to most things, and very irritating it is, sometimes, for the rest of the world! The reflection document will be an interesting read — all the drafts are publicly available on the conference website, I believe, so anyone who wants can see how it’s shaping up.

One comment haunts me. A wise Jamaican suffragan said “What we gotta fix is our attitudes.” The highlight of the sparsely attended and very tedious sexuality hearing was a Tanzanian brother who pointed out that Homosexuality is in no way a gospel issue, but one of “ethics and leadership.” The anger that stewed and bubbled around this is to do with our own cultures and contexts, our fears and anxieties, not the topic. This conference has demonstrated how much greater our community in Christ is than those who would tear us apart.

And, make no mistake, there are ambitious and egotistical lobby group people out there, exploiting the situation hard, lobbying, manipulating — wittingly or unwittingly doing the Devil’s work. Someone spoke yesterday of some man with a blue press tag in the Keynes concourse, not gathering information, but lobbying hard and handing out party literature. This is the work of the Devil. You know it by its fruits — mistrust, irreconcilable anger, strife, emulations. The hallmark of the Enemy’s activity is accusation, half-truth, innuendo, sectarianism — all the works of the flesh named in Galatians. We cannot stop the Enemy’s activity, but we can identify it by its fruits and be wise about its source.

So we gotta fix our attitudes. God has been informing and healing them, and we have been able to taste here a bit of what it would feel like to be a healed community. Another phrase in my mind is from the part of the Joseph story in Genesis where he says “God let these bad things happen to you, but for good.” The rabbi drew it to our attention, and it’s a curiously compelling soundbite that has intrigued me ever since I first bashed through the story in Hebrew, word by word, as a student at Cambridge.

Is that the answer? It’s one answer. I’m just off to say goodbye to my bible study group, which will not be easy without tears. Liberal, Conservative, black, white, one in Christ. It won’t be easy. It’s gotta be done. We couldn’t fix our attitudes; but God did — now it’s over to us. Go home and think different. Model love. Be led by the Spirit. See how that changes things.


Anonymous said...

I can hardly thank you enough for keeping many of us who have prayed with love and longing for the 2008 Lambeth Conference so superbly informed as to
its progress.

So much of the content of your Retreat, and the many discussions and addresses, is at the heart of what it means for all of us to be Christians in the early days of the 21st century. Many of your readers are very well aware of the enormous difficulties that face our bishops, as well as the joys.

Bishop Alan, you have favoured the entire Church with your kindly reporting. I've been following your reports daily and have so much appreciated them. How am I to summarise them, for myself and others? Today ("with a little help from a friend") you made the summary for me. "We gotta fix our attitudes." Amen to that. And if we find ourselves able to shed a tear or two upon meeting sometimes, as well as at our partings, all the better. Farewell tears will water seeds sown in this conference that WILL bring blessing to the world. Thank you, from the heart.

Anonymous said...

Someone spoke yesterday of some man with a blue press tag in the Keynes concourse, not gathering information, but lobbying hard and handing out party literature.


Erika Baker said...

I'd like to know which "egotistical lobby groups" you're referring to.

It's one thing for 650 middle aged men and a handful of women to meet and discover listening for themselves, but it would be quite another to criticise those deliberately not invited to the process for lobbying. I hope that's not what you were trying to do.

If "Go home and think different. Model love. Be led by the Spirit. See how that changes things" means "I will now go home and transfer the same process to those we have been talking about but not with" I should be delighted.

If it merely means "you out there, we've done the best we can and it's been really good for us, so please be quiet and don't rock the boat", I shall be less enthusiastic.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan,

You write beautifully and you clearly had a transformative experience praying and learning among your brothers and sisters (except for +Gene who was excluded).

I, on the other hand, have had an agonizing two weeks. I'm a partnered gay man in TEC. I work as a pastoral psychotherapist to earn my living, in my lay ministry I sit on the vestry of my parish, run the adult education program, the congregational development committee, and sing in the choir.

At the same time I wonder why I should stay in the Anglican Communion. Having read ++Rowan's final presidential address, I felt despair and sickness at his lack of generosity. How would it have harmed him to acknowledge the many gifts and good service that partnered gay people have brought to the communion? Or that we live not as mere objects of episcopal pastoral care, the objectified products of 'innovation' but that we serve Christ and help the Church fulfill her mission?

He's determined in his kindly, inexorable way to build unity in Anglicanism by making my relationship, obtained like that of most Christian gay men through a difficult and painful process of prayerful self-acceptance, a marginal and contingent thing. I don't minded being reviled and persecuted for Christ, but I do mind being reviled and persecuted by the servants of Christ.

It's hard enough living in the ascesis of a monogamous, committed relationship without the chief pastors of my own Communion making me constantly feel like crap. I hate having to cling to Christ despite you all, not because your words, prayers, blessings and actions help me to serve and be faithful to my God and my spouse.

I'm 45, tired of being the subject of this discussion rather than a participant. I guess I should be glad that some of my bishops in TEC and others around the world defend me but why should that be enough? Why are the gay people here in the US who get beaten up and kill themselves of less value than the Christians in Africa who suffer ridicule and violence because they are part of a 'gay church.' I've spent countless hours as a therapist helping gay men and women recover from physical and spiritual violence and my Anglican Communion is part of the problem, not part of the solution. People in pain, don't need millstones hung around their necks.

I am in such pain because of how your colleages treat me and people like me. I'm writing you because you're unusually accessible for a bishop. Why should I stay in the Anglican Communion? What does this group of Christians offer me that I should put my time, talent, and treasure at their service?

My rector says that "God is faithful, even when the Church isn't," and while I'm sure that's true, why shouldn't any sane and healthy gay person go serve Christ in a church where there isn't all this hatred and fear.

Is there a good reason for a gay person to stay Anglican?


Anonymous said...

Is there a good reason for a gay person to stay Anglican?

Stuart, I have spent a lot of time wondering about that myself, and I am coming to the conclusion that no, there is no reason for us to remain in a church that has spent the past five years debating, before the whole world, just how filthy and vile we are and how sternly those who love us must be punished.

I can be hated plenty without going out looking for it.

I cannot tell you how many times over the past five years I have regretted ever having loved this church. I cannot count how many tears I have shed over it.

Rather than give in to blackmail, I hope that our bishops will have the courage to say farewell to Rowan and his tea party and strike out on their own. The world needs a western expression of Anglicanism (as opposed to this monstrous hybrid of fundamentalist protestantism and crypto-Romanism that Rowan is trying to force on us) and TEC and the ACC can provide it.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for comments I'm struggling to keep up with, through pressure of time around the end of the conference. Please excuse rather generalised response from me. I don’t know who our mystery visitor was, though I do know they were abusing their tag and shouldn't be accredited. I can't believe it was a professional journalist. If I were Lootenant Columbo, I'd have to say there are only two or three people in the world who would fit the bill, I suppose, but I don't know for sure. It's not my srgument.

Stuart, thank you so much for your moving personal story. The more one moves from the circle of nearest and dearest to friends, to congregation, to diocese, to global church, the harder it gets. To do stuff you need to engage more different people. The trouble is, the people you don't engage don't go away, just fade from your consciousness as people you have to take seriously. Your testimony speaks of how horrible it is to have that done to you. I can't imagine the pain in the heart of God, who has to see the world through the eyes of millions of people in whom he enfleshes himself who are marginalised — the child in Darfur, the victim of homophobia, the person trapped by addiction, the driven yuppie on the early morning train, the guy s'he walks by into the city wrapped up in cardboard by the roadside. We can't help them all, all the time, just one or two of them seome of the time. And we can only help them insofar as we have received grace ourselves, and we only seem to be able to receive grace usually in very small packets, ourselves. I do know the big picture will only sort as people make good decisions about the small pictures. God has to cope with the whole picture. Those of us catapulted into a place where the global perspective suddenly became paramount not marginal have sensed how damned difficult it is. I can quite understand anyone feeling they can't cope with that big picture... I think what Rowan's trying to do is see this whole; he may not have succeeded, I own. But unless it moves forward globally, the local could just carry on being the entrenched local postion of a few, and that's another form of marginalization.
Presuure groups? I think when someone bears witness to their own story, I feel drawn in and want to respect it. Their mebers' stories are vital to the process. Insofar, however, as they become mechanisms for ignoring others, they reinforce the problem, especially as the compacting process that any phalanx has to adopt provides protection, but also makes it easier for others to fail to see the individual and stereotype — in this way they can be a small part of their own problem.

One of the more misunderstood and maligned groups in the big world out there, if I may say, has been TEC bishops. This has only been made worse by the perceived imperialism and aggression of US foreign policy. All I can say is please try and be kind to your guys. They have worked damned hard here, to represent a Westernized form of Anglicanism, but also to understand and open their eyes to the real world beyond. That's where we all have to live in the end. They have to find ways of encouraging local authenticity in the real world. Or they can go entirely local and just say ”screw the real world.” That would go with the foreign policy, I suppose. As this process happens, slowly and painfully, the healng begins to happen within the whole world, to the whole world.

The other option, I suppose is the RC one where you just say all LBGT people are “objectively disordered” and there's nothing to talk about; It's easier to do that in many ways, but less fruitful, because in the end there has to be change and it's those on the painful frontier who will open up the world, not the people who stay at home.

Erika Baker said...

Bishop Alan
thank you for your considered reply.

I can understand that you respond far more to personal stories than to pressure groups. I think most people do, and that's probably why Lambeth has been such a success and why our local church is such a success.

On the other hand, I believe you are asking for a lot. At Lambeth, all parties to the conversation have made themselves vulnerable by being open with each other. One partner's vulnerability was honoured by the other in the way they reciprocated.

I am a very confident woman, resting in my faith, deeply at ease with talking about myself. And I have told my personal story often, in private and on public fora. It has often left me drained, public property, something for the vultures to pick over.

Because the reality for us is that we rarely speak to people like you who are truly willing to engage. We are talking to people who accuse us of whingeing, special pleading, ignoring God's will in favour for our own individualism, of being unwilling to bear the cross every Christian has to bear.
In return, we never hear of other people's personal experiences. It's natural that we shouldn't - they're straight, so what is there to say. If we were talking about something they were struggling with, we might get to hear personal stories, but we're only ever talking about the part of our lives the church is struggling with.

My personal honesty has been repaid by the church hierarchy by virtually being sent to the back pews. My partner, a Reader for many years, has not been relicensed, I was told there was no need to complete my final few weeks of preparation as I would never be licensed as long as we lived together openly. How we could possibly lie about our lives in a small village, even if we wanted to, is beyond me.
When my older daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia and began a gruelling 2 ½ year treatment cycle, my local church rallied around and showed us what is best about Christianity. The official church continued to see us only in terms of our sexuality and refused to look beyond that to the actual people we were. Whatever stories I told of the love it takes to get 2 children through this experience, the love it takes to support a mother through it, were dismissed as irrelevant because the church insists on seeing who we are in terms of sex alone, and committed parenting doesn’t fit the picture.

And while we supported Davis Mac-Iyalla at huge personal cost (and even more personal gain!) and tried to be there for him and all this Nigerian lgbt friends, we were told that we should back off because we were endangering the lives of straight African Christians – at the very moment Davis was actually attacked and stabbed in broad daylight in Togo. African lives had never been part of the conversation until straight African lives impinged on the conscience of the church, although Davis had been in real and actual danger for 3 years, and although not a small part of this danger came from the vile rhetoric against him from his own church.
I have had telephone conversations with a frozen fearful man because he had just received a death threat delivered to his exile where he thought he was undiscovered and safe. I know what his fear looks like, smells like, feels like and sounds like. And I know how helpless I am, how totally powerless, at least at that moment. Love and prayer is all we can give. But it is far less than people like him need.

And so we need the pressure groups. We need them as support groups for us, and we need them to carry our banner when we're drained, feel hopeless, brushed aside by people who always find a reason to shove us into last space. The argument can be theology, tradition, undermining family values, being generally yuck inducing, endangering straight Christians somewhere else, we've even been accused of causing floods not so long ago. And all the while I’m just quietly living with my partner and my 2 children, cats, dog and guinea pigs in a small English village, doing all the normal things village church congregations do.

And so we need pressure groups to put the theological side of it, not just the personal. We need those who have the ability to be physically present where we cannot be present. We need our combined financial resources to put up a small counter balance to the financial might of those who will not listen to us.

Please, don't be quite so hard on the pressure groups, without them we would be completely invisible.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Erika, Im so grateful to you for this dialogue. It sounds as though there's a level on which the classic English implicit approach does create space to be who God made you to be, but only up to a point. At which point I can understand you crying out “how long, O Lord!” and trying to do something about it. I am sure your impact on other members of your parish, just being the person you are and not allowing yourself to be redefined by others' fears, is doing real good. I can understand you need all the encouragement you can get...

And some of those Aftican stories are frightening, and need to be told. I've noticed Amnesty is taking up the baton a bit. That may be a point of challenge for some of our African brethren. Another interesting revelation of this Lambeth to some African brothers was that there are gay Muslims in the UK — in their local context that is not heard or understood. And the other was the prime important in many African contexts of polygamy and simple gender issues.

I get the impression you've had a busy couple of weeks — go well and rest deeply!

Erika Baker said...

Bishop Alan
"I get the impression you've had a busy couple of weeks — go well and rest deeply!"

In fact, I shall be going on holiday for a fortnight tomorrow, so I shall literally take you at your word.

Thank you again so very much for engaging, for sharing that extraordinary Lambeth experience with us and for being so open to life, to love and to Christ. You are a real inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Alan, the remark about American foreign policy has been made quite a bit, but for anyone who is even slightly informed about what has happened here in the U.S., it doesn't hold.

In truth, the so called "orthodox Anglican" movement here is a creature of the hard political right. Spend some time on their discussion boards and you will find that they, for the most part, think that George W. Bush is the bee's knees and the Iraq War such a splendid success that it should be expanded to the rest of the Middle East.

The people footing the bill for the "realignment" are the very same ones who fund the far right's other activities--names like Coors, Scaife, and Ahmanson--and their purpose in undermining the mainline churches is to make them, as the evangelical denominations here already are, wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party.

In short, those who think that, by kicking The Episcopal Church, they are sticking it to George W. Bush are actually crawling into bed with him.

Alan, I do want to thank you for keeping us posted on Lambeth. I have become a fan of your blog and now check it several times a day. You (along with Nick Baines) have given me so much to think about, including my own prejudices against evangelicals. Here in the U.S., as I noted, the word "evangelical" is pretty much synonymous with "hateful right wing Republican," and the only Anglican evangelicals I knew anything about were people like Bob Duncan, Tom Wright, and Martyn Minns, enough to make anyone run the other way. You have certainly forced me to rethink some opinions, and I do appreciate that!

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