Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What are they so afraid of?

An interesting conversation the other evening with someone calling long-distance in the hope I’d be ready to join her in a point-by-point tussle with the House of Bishops report on what they insist on calling ‘Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church’.
‘Haven’t you even read it?’ she asked with some incredulity, a frustrated rustling of her thoroughly notated hardcopy version in the background.

‘Skimmed it,’ I admitted. ‘It’s really doesn’t interest me-‘

‘-What.... wait a minute, what’s going on here? When you and I first connected online it was just how much you obviously care and the standard you hold our Church to which had me sending you that first e-mail.’

‘That was before Lambeth,’ I reminded my friend.

‘So how about answering the question then... what’s going on that you’ve only skimmed what just might be the most prophetic challenge to date to the Anglican purity police?’

‘Hardly prophetic, and you’re forgetting ‘Claiming the Blessing’ and a lot of other great work by Integrity USA; to say nothing of the witness of The Chicago Consultation- now that’s living into a new day for our Church.’

‘O.K.... So tell me.’

‘You could start with the title- ‘Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church,’ not only is it implicitly hetero-centric in its methodology; our church is once again objectifying my people according to their genital combination. Likewise the title completely overlooks the fact that the vast majority of LGBT people are still outside the Church because of the hurt, discrimination, objectification and rejection they have experienced at the hands of that same Church. Talk about a convenient omission.’


‘This title is not only an insulting & dishonest representation of the current reality, it suggests the whole exercise really isn’t going anywhere.’

‘Same-old, same old you mean?’

‘Exactly- where’s even the slightest suggestion of something new- of a prophetic possibility?’

‘Well it is meant to be a discussion paper?’

‘Without any real methodology it’s meaningless. If you just throw it out there without either a supported context or the accountability of a timeline nothing really has to happen- no consequences.’

‘Such as?’

‘Where’s the website for people to register their life experience and their insights from reading the report, to share their sense of where our Church is being led? And just exactly where is this paper supposed to be heading? Without an open frank engagement which is able to benefit from the insights and experience of all the faithful it’s essentially an empty exercise. Even worse would be if it were simply voted on by the House of Bishops- talk about curia syndrome.’

‘Curia syndrome?’

‘When certain quarters within our Church forget themselves and start acting like some outpost of the Vatican.’

‘Wow... so how would you have cast the exercise?’

‘How about calling it exactly what it is supposed to be- ‘A New Thing’?’

‘Open-ended enough for.... prophetic possibilities.’

‘And the recognition of the hurtful and exclusionary experiences of the Church by too many LGBT people.’

‘No hetero-centric objectification there... so why d’you think they settled for what they did?’

‘Because maybe, just maybe in some quarters, certain individuals still don’t really get what’s going on in our Church?’

‘Sounds like our old conversation about magisterial or experiential theology- patriarchy or the people of God.’

‘Exactly! Either the Holy Spirit is alive and very much at work in our lives and in our Church-‘

‘ – doing a new thing.’

‘ - or the value and meaning of our lives have to be governed by a bunch of pre-Reformation clerics who believed the world was flat.’

‘You know something; you just might be right about that “curia syndrome.” The moment you mentioned ‘magisterial’ the image of the current pope came to mind.’

‘The hot button issues for me were the conservatives resorting to natural law as a standard of any value in a discussion of faith, that and the repeated use of the word ‘normative.’

‘Comparing us to penguins I call it.’

‘Ironic that they published during Lent too.... As if what happened Good Friday and at Easter didn’t once and for all overthrow natural law as a standard for anything in Christian Life... And normative! The term just doesn’t apply if you truly believe in the Incarnation and the crucifixion of the very Son of God-‘

‘and his resurrection!’

‘Exactly... and even penguin colonies include monogamous gay relationships.’

‘They’re really scrambling, aren’t they?’

‘Scared witless, as a certain friend used to say.’

‘Scripture does tell us it’s a terrible and frightening thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

‘So... what you’re really saying-‘

‘- is more of the same old-same old. Magisterial patriarchy or experiential faith, that's what's going on here. Recognizing and embracing the implicit sacramental nature of the lives we’ve been given, or trying to filter twenty-first century life through cloistered, patriarchal minds of the magisterium. Listening and engaging with the people of God as partners in the Body of Christ or secret committees handing down pronouncements.’

‘There’s Rowan’s old listening exercise again-‘

‘- and just how much has anyone seen of that?’

‘You know, sometimes you really don’t help... I mean, what am I supposed to do with this?’ An audible thump on the other end of the line as she obviously slams down her hardcopy on her table or desk. ‘I mean, I can’t just ignore it. We’re supposed to be discussing the danged thing, and even then, what is any of that ever going to change?’

‘A couple of hearts perhaps, and that would be a start.’


‘How about asking the congregation what they want to do with it, how they want to handle the report?’

‘At least this time we won’t end up with two of the congregation coming out to everyone.’

‘Not those two at least.’

‘You know... that was really a transformative moment- for most of us at least. I mean one of the men was going through a divorce none of us understood. It reminded me of Gene’s story, when his wife stood there beside him, holding his hand as he shared with us.’

‘Talk about a new thing.’

‘I still tear up talking about it.’

‘I can hear your sniffles.’

The conversation didn’t end there. Among other things my friend shared with me the sheer blessedness of her early morning walk with her two dogs at the beach; her and her husband watching the sunrise and sharing a thermos of coffee. We prayed together, celebrated the blessedness of our connection, and our love for our Church, but even now, days later what keeps coming to mind is my friend’s question- ‘what are they so afraid of- the conservatives?’

Oh, and that’s another thing, the two of us have recast our vocabulary for this current discussion in our Church. It’s not even real conservatism- they’re traditionalists. And ‘liberal’ is a complete misrepresentation of our experience and understanding. For a couple of minutes we toyed with ‘experiential Christians;’ my friend, reminding me she was born below the Mason-Dixon Line even floated ‘real-time Anglicans.’ Nothing quite captured the sheer wonder of trying to mindfully step each day into the inescapable sacrament of our lives.

But it will come, as long as we’re open to it. It always does.

Before originally posting this, as I always do, I’d passed it by my friend who assured me I’d captured the essence of our sharing.

Since then, we’ve spoken twice:

When she called to share her experience of presenting the report without editorial comment to her congregation, asking for a sense of what they might like to do with the opportunity.

‘What was really incredible was at both services the clear sense was people want to engage with it- to study it and then get together to discuss it. A couple of people really pressed for my take on it, but I told them, I wasn’t going to be saying anything until I’d heard from each and every one of them. So we’re distributing it electronically tomorrow- Monday; and hardcopies will be available at the office.’

The second call was just last evening, when among other things she reminded me of just how little real analysis or editorial comment there’s been online about the report.

‘Maybe you were right- it’s really got little or nothing to do with the real transformational process going on.’

‘It’s the old magisterial way of doing things, and just maybe the people of God have essentially gone beyond that- a long time ago.’

‘By their fruits,’ my friend reminded me, resorting to the shorthand of good friends.

And yes, before we closed off we prayed together- for her particular pastoral concern, for many we both love, and for the Church- hard to live with her, but... well you get my drift.

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