Breaking down borders

June 17, 2006

BordersThe General Convention is certainly having an effect on people.  It is on me, anyway.  My anxieties are heightened.  The time I spend in my prayer life on general convention is… well, a lot.  I am more stressed.  I can't describe why this is so.  I trust that whatever happens everything will be as it is supposed to be, and that whether inclusion wins today or 3 years from now, or 30 years from now, it will win.  I guess I just want it on my time.  Looking around, at least at the online community (which, without insulting you since you are obviously a part of it, does not necessarily represent the entire community), it seems like posts are just a little more heated, a little more quick to attack instead of explain, and, well, more about that later.

 Speaking of the online community, I really appreciated Mark Harris' post about the comments made by the Archbishop of York.  It is entitled "A Failure to Communicate."  I think that is an understatement.  The Archbishop of York, sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered some seemingly stern news, although it is difficult to understand exactly what it was that he was trying to say.  "Windsor is a process," he said on the one hand, and on the other he apparently doesn't like the process that we are following in the wording of our resolutions to enter the process.  Mark notes "the Archbishop was miscommunicating by producing a very loud noise in an otherwise modulated conversation. He was a speaker with the volume turned up so high as to produce distortions."

There was a brief mention of the Archbishop of York in today's Integrity Daily Bulletin.   I haven't looked real hard, but I haven't seen any other reference to these comments so I can't tell if this is hopeful thinking by Integrity or a real change of heart by the Archbishop.  I can't help but wonder, though, if this is the kind of listening that Susan and Louise's video, Voices of Witness, complains has not been happening for the last 30 or 40 years.

It was so telling that the listening process has failed us even domestically when watching the Larry King Live show on Thursday.  Now I'll be the first to admit that I have never had the pressure of being on live television, especially being on live television to discuss an issue of such national and international scrutiny, and I'm sure that is enough to make a person clam up and get their mouth in front of their head.  But I also think that when that happens we can find out some interesting things about the filters that the head applies to the heart.  I think Canon Anderson revealed a few of the things in his heart on Larry King.  When Larry asked him why he stayed he said, "I like a good fight."  Well, A+ for honesty.  I'm not sure if he gets the same grade for theological integrity, but at least he acknowledges what we have known from the beginning- this is not about gays and lesbians in the church, this is not about Scripture, this is not about theology, this is not about reconciliation in Jesus Christ.  This is about something else.  Power?  Control?  Fear?  Whatever it is, it is not about the good news of the inclusive love of Christ, the Christ who died so that all might be lifted up.

And how true that is of many on the right.  It is dangerous to generalize, but here I go…  I administer about three or so websites for progressive Episcopal organizations.  In the last week, as I've mentioned before, I have gotten the most astounding comments.  Things ranging from "you are a big fat dyke" to "we know you are only at convention to have a big orgy."  Is that the spirit of Jesus?  Or even the spirit of Windsor?  Now I don't administer any conservative sites, and I can only imagine that they have similar problems with the radical fringe of the left.  Maybe Kendall Harmon has posts saying "you are a…"????  I don't know.  But I'm sure somebody somewhere gets angry and does something they shouldn't.  We're all human after all.  But I hope it is not there from the left the way it is there from the right.  Just like on Larry King the argument of Canon Anderson when responding to the death penalty for homosexuals didn't make sense, the response to "why do you stay" didn't make sense, while the responses from Gene Robinson and the other pro-inclusion panelists were more reasoned and loving.  The Human Rights Campaign always says in their statements that they are appealing to "fair-minded people."  I pray and hope and believe that "fair-minded" people can hear through the rest of the noise, seeing the words of Canon Anderson for what they are- and the rest of the nonsense of the far-right for what it is.  I think they have made it pretty obvious.

Where does that leave us?  Well, it is obvious that we have a "failure to communicate" across borders.  We have, as Mark Harris put it, a failure to communicate within the convention itself.  But I think it is beyond that.  The listening process isn't working, seemingly anywhere.  We can't listen outside of convention and within our province- Canon Anderson prefers a "fight" to listening.  We can't listen across provinces; lines are drawn along the communion about what is necessary in order to start "listening" rather than to keep listening as a process in order to understand how we, TEC, got here.  It may well be that only the vocal minority is so polarized.  But the danger of that, as we have seen in American politics, is that soon the undecided middle begins to believe that the noise they are hearing is the truth.  It is human nature to fall into the trap of "peer pressure," for lack of a better phrase- to have our reality molded by the perceptions of others.  Without a receptive ear, a process in place to hear diverging points of view, those perceptions get warped.  I hope that is what the Archbishop of York discovered when he spoke yesterday.  I hope that is what we will find happens when we invite other provinces to join in our general convention.

It is amazing to me that somewhere along the way, the actions of TEC with GC2003 have been compared to cultural imperialism.  It is an interesting oxymoron that the progressive left, as TEC is sometimes "accused" of being a participant in, is generally opposed to imperialism of any sort, while the Religious Right (usually associated more with the Orthodox and backers of withdrawing same-sex support) are generally viewed as the base for George Bush and his imperialist policies.  While Gene Robinson has been introduced into the Global Episcopate, it is not unprecendented for other communions to withdraw support for recognition of his episcopacy if they so choose.  Other than that, I really cannot relate to the cultural imperialism, as we have not tried to force any other province to begin to recognize same-sex unions as legitimate.  Conversely, it is other provinces that seek to have their values, their cultural standards that do not allow same-sex recognition imposed here.  Isn't that, in fact, cultural imperialism coming back the other way?  I'm certainly willing to hear why that isn't the case as part of a listening process.

Forward progress has always been a part of our tradition.  Frank Griswold said on CNN: "Jesus says I have many more things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. When the spirit of truth comes he will draw from what is mine or reveal it to you. Truth is unfolding. Isn't it interesting that we learn more about truth in medical areas, truth about the world around us, but we can't learn anything new about sexuality? Isn't that strange?"  There is a scriptural basis for the ongoing revelation of God's being in our world.

I think that fair-minded people understand this.  The challenge is to get out the message that this is not new- change has occurred in our tradition since its inception.  Our understanding of God and of Scripture is much different than it was 2000 years ago.  To deny that is to deny history.  Change is a part of God's plan for us.  It is worth our time to sit down and listen to each other so that we can discern how it is that God is moving us forward now.  That doesn't mean the one-sided listening that the conservatives argue for- where TEC listens to the rest of the communion about "how bad we've been."  It means dialogue.  Shared discussions.  Learning from each other.  Walking together in Christ.  Gaining trust and experience together.  Building relationships.  Understanding that we are all doing the best we can, following the Spirit.  Then, and only then, will we be able to come together in Lambeth, or in a Primates meeting, to be able to fully understand one another.

– Moving forward


2 Responses to “Breaking down borders”

  1. Jim Says:

    Hi Jeff – I commend a post over @ The Rev. Andrew Gern’s blog Andrew Plus . Andrew’s post concerns communications, a via media, between and amongst Episcopalians too. I’m struggling with, as I think you are, the notion that we can hold meaningful conversations these days with one another. Canon Harmon, Canon Anderson, and others with their perspective just flat out think that progressives like you and me are wrong, and immoral. How do we talk with people who view us in this regard? Andrew’s point is that Episcopalians on the left and right of the issues of GC ’06 are speaking over the top of, or ignoring moderates. I don’t know if this is true or not. I just know that tomorrow is going to be a rigorous day there in Columbus, OH. I personally am not thrilled with the re-write of Resolution of A160 but we’ll see how it goes.

    Shalom and Christ’s Grace to you,

  2. Jeff Says:

    Thanks, Jim- I’ve left a post there as well. It is so hard to keep track of everything going on with all the legislation. I am just trying to have faith that in the broadest view, over the longest term, justice will be served. It may just take us a while to get there.

    At least we don’t hear anyone on “our side” saying that we’re in it for a good fight, as Canon Anderson said on Larry King. That was truly disappointing.


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