I’m a little reluctant to write this post. I find myself in the paradoxical position of knowing both too much and too little. Too little because I haven’t followed the politics and drama of the Anglican Communion closely since the Windsor Report era. Too much because, nevertheless, when I start talking about the roots of and reasons for said drama, it’s hard to stop. Feeling that I don’t have time to offer a reflection that meets my own standards, it’s tempting to say nothing at all.
But two of my kind and faithful friends have messaged me this afternoon asking me for thoughts. I reckoned the least I could do is to gather in one place the thoughts I’ve already shared in various Facebook threads.
Here was my initial Facebook post as the news of the Primates’ sanctions against TEC was breaking.
“The Primates (heads of churches) of the Anglican Communion, meeting this week in England, have asked the Episcopal Church to step back from involvement with the Anglican Communion for a period of three years – continuing to participate, but not representing the Communion in ecumenical/interfaith bodies or participating in Communion decision-making processes.
“I think this is probably the compromise that Anglican Communion leadership felt they had to make in order to keep the more conservative leaders and their churches at the table, and to try to keep holding together this unwieldy and diverse body – perhaps long enough for us to fumble our way back to some sense of a unity deeper and more robust than the unity of polity, policy, or hermeneutic.
“Is it sad? Sure, a little. Is it unexpected? Not particularly. Will it affect my ministry, my life and work as a priest of God’s church in Madison, WI? Very little.
“I am the mother of a straight white male. One of the most important things we’re trying to teach him, as he becomes a young man, is the value of being an ally. Standing up for your friends who are girls facing sexism; kids of color facing racism; queer kids facing homophobia; differently-abled kids facing all kinds of barriers. Being an ally, we tell him, means there might be times when you get in trouble or have to deal with some crap, because you’re standing with your friends. That’s OK. In fact, it’s better than OK. And we won’t be mad.
“Bishop Curry, General Convention, Church of mine: I’m not mad. <3
“EDIT: Upon reflection I think it’s important to add that I don’t believe this action at the level of the Primates either significantly inhibits our capacity to engage in mutually-supportive, mutually-learning relationships with Anglicans in Africa or elsewhere in the world (any more than all the previous chapters of broken relationships have), NOR does it in any way free us from the responsibility of seeking out and living into such relationships. My personal experience has been that my faith, my worldview, and my love for the Anglican way have all been deepened by the time I have spent with Ugandan and Tanzanian Anglicans. My greatest grief and concern, at every chapter of this long and messy journey, has been the responses on the American Left that boil down to, Well, who cares what those Africans think anyway? Who needs them? That is not OK, and actually does make me mad. :-)”
I shared these thoughts in response to a post quoting Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon’s statement that the West is “imposing the LGBT lifestyle” on Africans:
“That’s been some African church (and political) leaders’ lens on the situation for a long time. My hunch is that it first took shape in the intentional alliance-building work that took place between American conservative Episcopalians and African Anglican leaders in the run-up to Lambeth 1998. Making the case to African bishops that whatever was going amiss in the American church, would soon be exported to their churches, was a big theme at the Anglican Life & Witness conference in Texas in 1997. But I think that perspective, presented by conservative American leaders, made a lot of sense to African and Asian church leaders, given their experiences of colonialism and cultural/economic neocolonialism.
“We have to think about our global partners’ broad experience of Western and specifically American cultural imperialism to understand that statements like this may really feel like a true description of the situation to leaders like Fearon. They perceive tolerance and even romanticization of GLBTQ folks as a value that’s coming into their contexts by way of international media. Saying that homosexuality is being imposed by the West is a sort of shorthand for what they really mean: that they feel that acceptance of homosexuality is part of the Western cultural and political agenda being pressed upon their people and nations. African nations receive TV and movies and magazines and all kinds of cultural material from Europe and America. We could probably point out some elements of the lifestyles and values promoted in our popular media that we’re not so crazy about either – in fact, we probably agree with our African brothers and sisters on some of it…
“TL; DR – Fearon may really see the issue this way, and from a certain lens, he may not be entirely wrong. I say that as an ardent ally of LGBTQ folks and advocate for their full inclusion in the life and sacraments of the church, who also believes that we Americans haven’t always been real great advocates for our convictions in the context of these international relationships…
My friend Jonathan offered a relevant aphorism from the great state of Texas: “Colonialism is like skunk spray that won’t wash clean.”
Look, I don’t usually do this, but if you’re really interested in understanding the roots, dynamics and discourses of all this, you should probably just read my book.
In concluding these fragmented, unhelpful and doubtless unpopular thoughts, I would like to say that it sure is hard (and has been for the past decade-plus) to hold these both/and spaces…
believing BOTH that my Church’s affirmation of GLBTQ folk as full and equal children of God and members of the Body of Christ has been a movement of the Spirit calling us into a fuller understanding of the loving purposes of the God we know in Christ Jesus, AND that our delight in the grace and freedom we have found through this movement has sometimes tipped over into pride, scorn, and condescension towards those whose convictions are otherwise;
believing BOTH that we are accountable in some profound sense to our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world – I think often of Rowan Williams’ phrase about how we find ourselves in solidarities not of our choosing – AND that that accountability does not take the form of limiting our church’s freedom to discern the Spirit’s work among us in our context;
believing BOTH that our church’s inclusion of GLBTQ people is pretty much our business, AND that African leaders have a true and important word that we need to hear about Western cultural arrogance, imperialism, and ignorance regarding the broader impact of our actions and decisions;
believing that BOTH some African church leaders’ language about GLBTQ people, AND some American Episcopalians’ language about African Christians, are degrading of children of God and demand reflection and repentance;
and, really, in the simplest form of all,
believing that we are and will be most fully the global Body that God calls us to become when BOTH GLBTQ Christians AND those of conservative convictions (Nigerian, American, Ugandan, …) are all somehow, someday, fully heard, known, valued, loved.
This is messy, hard, sad stuff. Joy anyway, in the immortal words of Louie Clay.