Monday, August 04, 2008

Lambeth afterthoughts

For the last three weeks, my work for Claiming the Blessing, a coalition that works for full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church (TEC), has been to monitor the press coverage of a conference of Anglican bishops in England. This wingding, which comes along every 10 years, is called "Lambeth" after the official residence (palace) of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The conference is not held at Lambeth Palace as the 800 or so Anglican bishops wouldn't fit in the place, but that's the name. That bit of explanation will give you some sense of the obscure cultural byway this event inhabits, significant as it is to the 77 million members worldwide of this brand of Christians. Good history here.

In a substantive sense, little happened at Lambeth. Bishops talked and perhaps listened. Nobody declared a schism -- except perhaps among the 200 or so bishops who had already created a schism by ostentatiously not attending. LGBT people were not thrown out of the church, though the only gay bishop who cops to being gay, Gene Robinson, was excluded. Lots of bishops, probably most, wish those pesky gay people would go back in the closet -- but since we are here (in every country and continent) and queer and Christian, that's not going to happen. Eventually the absurdity of trying to proclaim a Good News that lifts up the lowly and sets captives free while tamping down pious gay folk will overwhelm even the councils of Anglican-organized Christianity. Bishop Michael Ingham from Canada nailed it:

"If this becomes the position of the Communion, it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation."

I can't manage to get fearful about this.

But digging through all the press coverage, I did learn some things that seem worth raising up here.
  • In the United Kingdom, and maybe elsewhere around the world, Anglicans seem to take a lot more seriously what the Roman Catholic hierarchy thinks of them than any Episcopalians I ever was around. Maybe Episcopal indifference to the RCs in the U.S. is because the denomination used to call itself "Protestant." Maybe it is because in the U.S. context, the Roman hierarchy (though certainly not all Catholics in the pews) has vigorously positioned itself as the enemy of women's and gay civil equality. TEC has a decent if spotty record on these matters. Heck, in this country, the Roman Church is right in there with the Mormons, fighting for reaction. I say this in sorrow, since I learned my Christian activism in the context of Roman Catholicism from the Catholic Worker and Latin American liberation theology.
  • Maybe the fact that we have a powerful right wing in the United States that thrives on encouraging gay bashing makes the Episcopal Church more sensitive to gay inclusion issues than folks in the United Kingdom where gays live under the protection of the European Charter of Rights, as well as national law. Being gay in the U.K. isn't a political issue -- except in the church. That doesn't explain the Anglican liberalism of Canada though, a nation where gay marriage arrived years ago as a consequence of constitutional interpretation.
  • More happily, I learned there's a guy, an "emerging church" non-denominational evangelical, named Brian McLaren, that I'd like to know more about. In general I'm a little allergic to attempts to create sweeping historical categories (except when I indulge myself) but he tweaked my interest with this as reported by ENS.

    McLaren told participants that "on our one planet now we have three worlds co-existing:" a pre-modern world, a modern world and an emerging world. He said evangelism may feel "effortless" when pre-modern people are entering the modern world because "the Christian church so effectively became connected with modern culture."

    Meanwhile, churches in the modern world are either "static or declining," he said, noting that most church growth comes from people shifting denominations and "evangelism is hard to come by."

    I'm comfortable with how McLaren seems to think, his recognition that so much of how we perceive the world, our relations with each other, and with whatever Deity we affirm if any, is a to a significant extent a product of the circumstances in which we live. I experience no conflict in my faith that God inexplicably is with us and in us when I admit that my experience of God is necessarily mediated by my time and place.
  • Headlines about Lambeth tended to read like this: "Gay bishop led to ridicule for Anglicans." Oh I thought -- some of these bishops come from patriarchal societies where being a man who is thought to be receptive like a woman dishonors himself and his clan. And that may be true. But mostly, reading the stories, I discovered the headline writers had been inaccurate and patronizing. The complaint about gays characterized in this language actually was more like [my paraphrase from several articles]: "we live among Muslims who condemn homosexual people as sexually decadent. We lose our reputation for being moral people when you approve this license." The stigma here is at least partially about undisciplined promiscuity in societies where the community trumps the individual, not only about approximating femininity. This doesn't exactly make me feel sympathy with those holding these views, but I shouldn't mischaracterize them either.
  • In a conversation with a Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth in Glasgow, Scotland, Bishop Robinson offered some interesting reflections on how the speed of global communications is changing the material reality in which religious bodies must function:

    I think that one of the reasons that my election and consecration caused such a worldwide reaction versus the election of the first woman bishop, also in America, was that for all intents and purposes the internet didn't exist in 1989. ... By 2003, when I was elected, my election was on every computer screen in the world. [This] also allowed both advocates of what was happening and opponents of what was happening to find each other instantly and to whip each other up into a frenzy and keep that frenzy going. It is a different world and it is both wonderfully so and horrifyingly so. ...What we do and say in one part of the world effects people in other parts of the world. It was not that long ago that what happened in one province of the Anglican Communion didn't matter all that much because it was completely unknown... and now that is simply not so.

    Global awareness brings possibilities for peace -- but also frantically brandished swords. Where'd I hear that before?
All very educational. But thank goodness this Lambeth thing only happens every ten years.


Timothy said...

>"...the Roman hierarchy (though certainly not all Catholics in the pews) has vigorously positioned itself as the enemy of women's and gay civil equality."

Nonsense. The Catholic Church is anything but opposed to women's and gay civil equality. The Church fully supports women' and gays' rights to housing, jobs, food, and equal legal justice. That's called tolerance. The Church's positions provide women and gays with the dignity they deserve as humans made in the image of God.

The Church however does not recognize any right to sin, such as, woman's ordination, abortion, or gay behavior. That would be permisiveness, not tolerance. There's a distinct and clear difference.

God bless...


janinsanfran said...

Although +Timothy denies it, today we see the Roman Church throwing its weight against the right of lesbian and gay couples to CIVIL marriage in California. See here.

If they support CIVIL rights, what do they care?

Actually, this is sad. The Roman Catholic Church in California has been a consistent supporter of human rights for immigrants and of affirmative action to overcome the wrongs of white supremacy. It is sad that the prospect of full civil equality for women and gays makes those old guys in the hierarchy so nervous.

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