Why do we stay? Why do we pay?

image001It’s a good question. Why do we – queer people and women and people of color and our allies and progressives – stay in The Anglican Communion?

And, the second is like unto it: Why don’t we take our money with us when we leave? Or, at least, divert it to those places in the Anglican Communion which have nothing to do with supporting the very structure that oppresses queer people and women while turning a blind eye to the genocide in their own provinces?

All over the Internet, both these questions – actually, they sound more like angry statements of retaliation – are being asked by Episcopalians and Anglicans. It’s especially painful to hear this coming from some elected leaders in our church.

It’s understandable. When people are in pain – especially when this fresh pain touches the old pain of insult and exclusion – there is a tendency to lash out.

“You can’t exclude me! I’m leaving!”

“You can’t hurt me! I’ll take my money and hurt you!”

It’s understandable. Not very emotionally or spiritually mature, but very understandably human.

Pain can be pretty debilitating. I know when I’m in pain, I get scared. When I’m scared, I feel cornered and small. I don’t want anyone to come near me for fear they may take advantage of being vulnerable. So, I push them away. I take the offensive as a reflexive, defensive position.

I growl. I hiss. I clench my fist. I bare my teeth.

I do that rather than whine. I can’t stand whining. I dislike it most when I hear myself do it, but I don’t like it one bit when others do it, either.

While asking these questions is understandable, it has to be noted that nothing better feeds the homophobic, anti-progressive/liberal narrative that queer people are self-centered and narcissistic and immature and their allies are misguided idiots than these two questions.

No, I’m not suggesting that we “suck it up and deal with it”.

Or, “get over it”.

Or – you knew this was coming – “Let it go. Let it go-oh. Let it go!”

So, why do we stay? Why do we pay?

There are lots of reasons Here are a few:

  1. image002It’s not yet clear what the GAFCON Primates did, exactly. Even to themselves.The best explanation I’ve read is “No, the Episcopal Church Has Not Been Suspended From The Anglican Communion.” Their action is as complex and nuanced as the Anglican Communion itself, and the vote of an “overwhelming majority” of Primates represents a wide diversity of thought and purpose among themselves.The truth is that the Primates do not have the authority to either provide “consequences” or “sanctions” to anyone outside their own provinces. They are but one of four “Instruments of Communion” and only represent one of the four orders of ministry.It is not yet known how the other three “instruments” will respond to this action – especially the Anglican Consultative Council. We are represented on the ACC by┬ánone other than Gay Jennings, the President of the House of Deputies, and she has absolutely no intention of not showing up and not using her voice and vote in representing the position of The Episcopal Church.All will be revealed, eventually, but at this point, there’s probably a whole lot more drama than any real sanction or suspension or damage to our standing in The Anglican Communion – except what we allow to be imposed upon us.
  1. image003Leaving is exactly what the GAFCON Primates want us to do.They want to humiliate and intimidate and bully us into submission to their understanding of the Gospel. “Submission” is one of their favorite words. They talk about “submitting” themselves to “Jesus as Lord” all the time. They also like the words “obey” and “obedience”.The thinking goes along the lines of humankind being possessed of “total depravity” (See: Calvinist theology which animates their understanding of religion and spirituality) who have to “control their impulses” (Translation: only being with one woman) and “submit” to the “authority of God” (as they understand God – male, of coures) and “obey Scripture” (as they understand its revelation to them).We leave, they win. Not only the “argument” but the Anglican Communion, as they get to define (or redefine or reclaim as recompense for colonialism) and dominate.It’s also sets the stage for a very dangerous precedent, centralizing power and authority and turning the Primate princes of the church into popes. That’s far worse than long-considered-dead Anglican Covenant could ever achieve.
  1. image004Staying is what the GAFCON Primates fear the most.Perhaps the most disingenuous part of the Primates statement is that they desire to “walk together”. That is the very last thing they want. Unless, of course, we walk their way and on their terms. They know that’s not going to happen.When queer people and women and our allies and progressives stay in the Anglican Communion, the GAFCON Primates have to walk with us. They don’t want to do that. It’s so much easier if they can insult and intimidate us into leaving. That’s what bullies do. That’s why there are “consequences” and not “sanctions”. They know they have no authority to “impose discipline” upon us.Their hope is that, if we are “humbled” over these next three years of what they hope will be “ecclesiastical time out”, then we will come to our senses and change our canons at General Convention in 2018.We won’t of course, but they live in “sure and certain hope” that we will. Their greatest fear is that we won’t and we’ll stay and then they’ll have to eat their own words about wanting to “walk together”.

    I will never forget the words of John Guernsey, then priest in TEC and deputy to General Convention and now ordained bishop in Uganda and first bishop of the ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. He simply could not believe that Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of NH would be approved by General Convention. I remember him, actually pale and blinking in disbelief, saying, “I never thought you all would stay.”

    We have. And, they hate that the most. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t keep trying to get us to leave.

  1. image005Our generosity is an embarrassment to the GAFCON Primates.Yes, we should continue our pledge to the Anglican Communion. I know. I know. It’s counter intuitive. I confess that I have spent years scratching my head over “words of wisdom” in Scripture which encourage extending generosity to one’s enemies.Proverbs 25:21-22 says: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.”And then there’s that passage in Matthew, chapter 5, after the Beatitudes, in verses 38-48, where we are admonished not to “resist an evil person” and, when slapped, to offer the other cheek and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”This is amplified in Luke 6:27-36, and Paul echos the teaching in Proverbs when he writes in his letter to the church in Rome (12:20): “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

    It takes a great deal of emotional and spiritual maturity to understand kindness and generosity in the face of cruelty and oppression is its own reward. It takes years of practicing that spiritual discipline to know that generosity in the face of a heart made small and shriveled by a strict adherence to the ‘letter’ and not the ‘spirit’ of the law provides its own form of punishment to the oppressor.

    Their faces burn with the hot coals of embarrassment, because we are living the faith we profess.

  1. image006We are either the “one, holy catholic church” we profess in our Creed or we are not.If we withhold our pledge to the Anglican Communion, we are no different than the dioceses we criticize for withholding their pledges to The Episcopal Church, or parishes that withhold their pledges from the diocese, or individuals who withhold their pledges from the congregation – all because of theological differences. Or, more trivial disagreements.A pledge is more a reflection of our relationship with God than it is to the institution. “God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45). If we rejoice to say that, and to proclaim God’s unconditional love for us as an expectation others demonstrate for us, then we have to be willing to do the same.It’s either “unconditional” love or unconditionally everyone – or it is not.We can not demand what we are not willing to give.

    We’ve been here before. We may end up coming here again. Perhaps in three years time. Perhaps sooner. That ought not set limits on our generosity. We ought not allow it to compromise the fullness of the cost of our membership in the Anglican Communion.

    Generosity in the face of oppression is one of the costs of discipleship.

    It is also one of its greatest rewards.

  1. image007There is great power in martyrdom.There is a part of me, in my more generous moments, when I want to thank the GAFCON Primates for what they have done.They have made us martyrs. In making us martyrs, they have aroused both sympathy and empathy for us around the world – even among those who are neither Anglican nor Christian.Just the other day, the Episcopal Bookstore got a call from across the Pond for all 175 lapel pins with shield of The Episcopal Church. Seems that a group of Church of England clergy want to wear them and hand them out to others at their next gathering, to show solidarity with us.The leadership of the United Church of Christ just issued a statement, standing in support of and solidarity with The Episcopal Church. I have no doubt other denominations will follow suit.

    Indeed, I have no doubt more provinces around the Anglican Communion will issue statements of solidarity – along with their intention to change the canons of their churches to allow full sacramental ministry to all of God’s children – including marriage equality.

    Ruth Gledhill, former religion correspondent for The Times who now writes for Christian Today, was deeply moved by the grace and generosity of spirit of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. She’s a lovely but tough woman who has had a front row seat to the Anglican culture wars since the early days. She wrote, in part:
    The saint emerging from this sad hour is not the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor any leader of the Global South churches.

    It is the Primate of The Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

    The holiness in him and in his words is tangible. It is a genuine turning of the other cheek. He is not threatening to walk away, he is pledging his Church to walk together with all the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

    It is his grace in the face of terrible rejection that shines out from this whole sorry episode.

    I mean, seriously, people. There’s no denying the power of that.

    We marvel at the stories of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance against the cruel and oppressive forces in India. Our hearts are stirred by the images of young black students being taunted as they attempt to desegregate a lunch counter or, with arms linked, march on Washington or Selma in Martin Luther King’s applications of Gandhi’s non violent protests.

    This is how it works, folks. This is the power of civil disobedience to the oppressive structures and forces in the Anglican Communion.

  1. image008This is part of our vocation as Christians who are Episcopalians in the Anglican Communion.Just listen to what Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop who, himself, is a product of the Civil Rights Movement, had to say. You can catch the video and full statement here, but it’s these words that stir my heart:We are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on. And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people. And maybe it’s a part of our vocation to help that to happen. And so we must claim that high calling; claim the high calling of love and faith; love even for those with whom we disagree, and then continue, and that we will do, and we will do it together.I’m going to be so bold as to claim that, I believe that if we’ve been paying any attention at all to the last 40 years of the work of the Spirit in our midst, it IS in fact, part of our vocation to make the Anglican Communion a place where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

We are baptized into the priesthood of all believers.

We are very members incorporate in the body of Christ.

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

No one can take any of that from us.

This is why we stay. This is why we pay.

Because we all has not yet been revealed.

Because if we leave, they win.

Because generosity is its own reward which is pleasing in God’s sight.

Because we must live with our lives the faith we profess with our lips.

Because Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.

And, as our own Blessed Louie Crew Clay has of’t reminded us, “The meek are getting ready.”

We are Christians who are Episcopalians who are Anglican.

We can do no other.

 

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton

 

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