Monday, September 03, 2007

Fundamental Differences

A friend of mine put forth the idea that Bishop Iker had every right – in fact, might have even felt compelled – to attend and participate within the consecration of his “good friend” Bill Atwood. She stated that if she had a friend and colleague that was being consecrated as bishop in whatever denomination or faith, she would feel inclined to attend and participate if asked. I can understand that type of friendship. It is the love of another, the putting aside of differences to be in unity for the sake of love itself.

Many people have used war type metaphors to describe the current situation in the Anglican Communion. I really detest that usage but I fully understand it. I mean, after all, we have several generations of people still living today that were raised in the “Onward Christian Soldiers” mode of religion. It is simple to say we are fighting a ‘battle’; we are marching “as to war” in this “fight” for the Glory of God. Having been raised in the Southern Baptist Church with mission – that is, saving souls for Jesus – a primary goal, all of the language is very familiar and it is extremely simple to relapse. None the less, I will attempt to refrain although it often feels as though I have been in a skirmish, for certain. Some of us - no, actually the entire church, are in a situation that calls for us to move forward, now rather than later. This place, just like the places before it, is a dangerous place.

If I had a friend whose fundamental ideology was so diametrically different to mine to the point that I felt her/his thinking and actions could do damage to the ideas and people for which I so vehemently worked, I cannot see that I could lend credibility to his/her endeavors by actively participating in her/his consecration. Attend...maybe, as a friend in the audience – no argument. Participate…no.

To participate in that consecration, one might assume that the one participating agrees with the reason for the occasion. This we know, Bishop Iker does indeed agree with the reasons for Bishop Atwood’s consecration. His letters, his sermons put forth that very belief. But was his participation at the consecration detrimental? In my opinion, yes. He is supporting something – an “agenda” that is harmful to not only me and countless other gays and lesbians in this church but also to our families and friends. For those seen as “the Church” to promote an agenda which allows some to perceive hatred as acceptable, it is not only detrimental but reprehensible. By his actions, he promotes a church that agrees with extreme punishment for its gay and lesbian members simply because he feels that we need to be sympathetic to their culture and the dilemma imposed by Islamic law. He supports a totalitarian system that disallows the God-crafted individual ability to read and interpret Holy Scriptures. He attempts to return to a time before the Reformation wherein the clergy were the ones to interpret – the people had only to listen and obey…or be excommunicated. Lastly and actually least important to my personal way of thinking, by his participation in this ceremony, he undermines the authority of the Episcopal Church by supporting a church that would take over its property without a blink of the eye. Or right. The people of those properties being taken are a moot point, not because they are undeserving but because they have already left the Episcopal Church by their own free will. The people who disagree with them have been cast off and aside. And has been repeated numerous times, people can leave the Episcopal Church; the property cannot.

To the question of whether or not the actions of the Anglican Church of Kenya/Uganda/Nigeria are actually detrimental to the life and way of the Episcopal Church, that depends upon whom one asks. Probably not to a whole lot of folks in the church as a whole. Life goes on. Schism happens. Just a day in the life. To a person living in a fairly conservative diocese with a bishop she or he likes and respects and who returns that feeling, one is probably not too threatened. To that person living in a diocese at risk of being one taken over by that foreign missionary bishop, it is another thing entirely. To the woman who sits in the pew Sunday after Sunday, living with the constant fact that she did not answer the call that God put to her because she had a husband, children and lived in a time when it took extraordinary efforts for a woman to be ordained, it is another story indeed. To the young seminarian abruptly kicked out of the ordination process because he made the “mistake” of falling in love and being open and honest about his life, it matters greatly. These are real people. They are not alone in Fort Worth. Nor are they only in Fort Worth. There are many more. To the scores of dozens who duck their heads and try to go on about life, this is just one more event in a long line of events.

Personally, I feel that the actions of ACK/U/N are very detrimental. It hardly matters which foreign church is consecrating which US missionary bishops. I believe that they have a true agenda of colonizing (oh, and yes, I do know that will raise the level of conversation for some). I believe that the ignorance and fears of a great many people are being played upon and exploited at the expense of a minority. And yes, they are a minority. Regardless of the fact that the Anglican Church in different countries in Africa are growing at amazing rates, this does not mean that this church is healthier or more holy or more scriptually in tune than the Episcopal Church. It means that people are starving and dying and have need of community, of a spiritual sustenance, of God. So, yes, of course they are growing. In times of strife, attendance in churches all over the world increases. Look at the church numbers after 9/11 here in the US. Is the growth good? Yes. Is it due to the holiness of the leadership and their homophobic rendering of Leviticus and Romans? No.

It is a given that 83% (or somewhere close to that) of the Fort Worth diocesan delegation votes each year at diocesan convention in favor of anything put forth by the bishop or his “people”. Maybe the number is even higher than that. It is also a given that the number of parishes demanding that they are not a part of the Network or the schismatic actions of the diocese are …well, just one or two. But how many have a fairly equal number of people pro and con? How many parishes have a good number of people who are not even aware of the fact that Bishop Iker went to Kenya or why? That does not mean that the majority of people in this diocese agree with the bishop’s stance on many issues. It does not mean that 83% of the 19000 or less in the diocese desire to leave the Episcopal Church because Gene Robinson is a bishop in New Hampshire. What it means is that many of the parish delegation votes are chosen by a select few within a parish and that these are basically the same people every year who cast the same “I support MY bishop” votes. Sadly, what it means is that there aren’t enough people in Fort Worth who are actually willing to do something about it…it is just easier to lie in the bed they allowed to be made for themselves.

Some can justify the idea that Bishop Iker was a participant in the consecration of Bill Atwood as a missionary bishop in the Anglican Church of Kenya. We can refrain from using war language. We can go on our merry ways, living our daily lives, hoping for a crumb under the table. We can be quiet, sit down, be good for now and just know that one day…some day in the future, the younger generation is just not gonna give a damn about the issue of gays and lesbians – or women for that matter – in the church. It will one day be a moot point. Meanwhile, we can choose to be suffering martyrs on down the road for a cause that will one day right itself, whether or not we kick and scream right now. (Did it ever occur for any to wonder just why it is NOT an issue for the younger people right now???)

Or. Or…we can talk about it right now. Right here. In the very place that we sit, stand or walk. At every opportunity. At every crossroad. Regardless of how many we “turn off”; no matter how many we push away or bore – chances are, those never really understood the oppression anyway and possibly never will. Chances are, many of those people don’t even see it as an issue of justice anyway. We may still wind up as martyrs…but at least we will actually have a reason for the martyrdom – at least in some eyes.

Yes, there are issues that seem so much larger. There are hungry and abused children everywhere. People live in homes that should not be allowed to stand, much less be lived in. Little girls are sold as maids, as sex slaves, as workers all over the world. Little boys live on the streets of South America and too many other places as prostitutes. Babies cry all over the world because their mommies are gone, working or dead to drugs or AIDS. There is pain and suffering everywhere. These are things against which we should be working.

Yet who are we to classify the suffering? Who are we – the privileged, the over fed and well watered, to determine which child of God is considered dispensable, less worthy than another? When we see it, can we judge it less important? When it stands in front of us, do we cast it aside as moot simply because there are other issues?

I have been told that I cannot be the do-all end-all person. Ok. I can realize that as a reality. My ego is not that large, nor my energy levels that high. I have been told that I need to choose between the many different ministry issues available. But what if I choose Justice? Is there any issue of hunger, dirty water, sale of children as commodities, poor housing, bad government, unbreathable air or poverty that is not one of Justice first and foremost? Does not the issue of oppressing people because they are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered fit into that too broad category of Justice Denied?

It would be nice to just not talk about it; to believe that it is not an issue now because it won’t be one in the future however soon or far away. It would be wonderful to just go about serving in a parish or a diocese and just do the work that is before us – the so called “business of the Church”. I can assure you, gentle and not so gentle readers, I would love nothing more, regardless of what Bishop Iker describes as my penchant for seeking publicity and furor. I would love to just do the work that I so deeply desire to do – putting forth all my energy into helping overcome the fundamental issues that create an environment in which poverty can breed. So many people feel the same way, whatever their individual call. But we can’t get around this ‘non-person’ issue that is tossed in our faces at every opportunity, sometimes by friend and foe alike. We are not important enough. We are not worthy enough. We are not suffering enough.

Just how does one know when another’s suffering is enough? How do we find the scale to measure that? Is there a fundamental scale of measuring?

Fundamental differences too often mean the difference between life and death.

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