Monday, May 7, 2007

Anglican Pit Fight

Here's a recent address given by philosopher Marilyn McCord-Adams to the annual conference of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London. I think my respect for her just went down several notches. Though she has some interesting points, she is significantly less than charitable to conservatives in the Anglican communion and persists in calling the conservative view of homosexuality a taboo, oppressive, and other not-so-nice things (without really any argument or actual engagement with the conservative view on its own terms - such as the massive biblical support for it - but then again, that probably wasn't to be expected in an address like this). It was especially grating to see her call the Holy Trinity a "gay man's chorus". Also, I don't think her view of the historic Anglican Church is entirely accurate, but I won't say anything more here about that. For another viewpoint, see here and here. Let me know if there are some other good places for getting points of view on the other side of these issues. Some excerpts from McCord-Adams' address:

Illiberal winds are blowing pernicious policy and polity changes our way. The Communiqué from the Tanzanian Primates’ meeting brought the intentions of those who dictated its content more fully out of the closet. First, it sent the sinister signal that for the forseeable future, full membership in the Anglican communion will require a local church to enforce anti-LGBT taboos: no more episcopal ordinations of coupled gay or lesbian people; no more official or clandestine church blessing of same-sex couples.

The latest wind-tunnel generators have been violations of ancient sex and gender taboos by North American member churches in the US and Canada, and they have added fuel to a well-laid plan by conservatives to take over the North American churches.

The Tanzania Primates’ Communiqué attempts to make homophobia official Anglican policy. In doing so, it only brings out of the closet into the broad daylight, the principles already implicit in Issues, which promulgates a double-standard offering second-class citizenship for coupled gay laypersons but requiring celibacy for gay clergy; in the forced resignation of Jeffrey John from his appointment as bishop of Reading; in the reaffirmation of the celibacy requirement in connection with the recent permission of civil partnerships. Founded rumor has it, misogyny as official Anglican communion policy will not be far behind.

Nowadays, conservatives protest that the use of the terms ‘homophobia’ and ‘misogyny’ is inflammatory, because it suggests pathology, while they regard their positions as conscientious and principled. In a Toronto speech last week, the ABC scolds:

"It’s not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians and nasty people who don’t. It’s a question on which there is real principled disagreement. What are the forms of behavior the church has the freedom to bless, and be faithful to Scripture, tradition and reason? That is the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction."

To this protest, I make three replies.

[1] First, the human condition is non-optimal. We can say it in different ways: traditionally, ‘it’s a fallen world’ or ‘before death, human beings are not yet fully sanctified’; or more colloquially, ‘God isn’t finished with us yet’! Whichever way you say it, part of what this means is that ‘pathological versus principled’ is not a forced choice. The same convictions and practices can be both. Our conservative enemies insist that our conscientious convictions are pathological. But since human non-optimality is no respecter of persons, they cannot consistently claim immunity for the bible’s human authors or for themselves.

[2] Second, I do not use ‘misogyny’ and ‘homophobia’ as expletive slurs but terms with a fairly definite descriptive sense. What I mean by ‘misogyny’ is the (often unconscious) belief that women have to appear smaller than they are so that men can feel as big as they are. What I mean by ‘homophobia’ is the (often unconscious) belief/insistence that LGBT be (or at least pretend to be) other than they are so that others can feel comfortable and secure in their sense of who they are.

[3] Third, my point is not psychological but theological: homophobia and misogyny are contrary to the Gospel because they imprison everyone in lies about who we--each and all--are and about who we--each and all--are meant to be! It is not true that anyone has to appear smaller so that someone else can stand up to their full stature in Christ! It is not true that some have to stay in the closet so that others can be true to themselves. God Our Creator knew what God was doing. God calls us each to grow up into our full stature, and God has a way, God is determined to make a way for each and all to do it at once.

The Church’s sex and gender policies have been and are abusive, and that puts LGBT Christians in a double-bind.

Current Church policy and emerging polity seemingly puts LGBT Christians in a ‘no win’ situation, which is where our enemies want us, perhaps need us to be.

Moreover, God our Creator is too big to be an authority figure. God is of consistent purpose: God does not boss us around on the outside without regard for our inward potential and propensities. God works as an enabler on the inside, a live-in Tutor, designing individualized syllabi, trying to evoke our capacities, hoping to win our ever-more conscious collaboration, sparking our imagination together to create fresh ways to express who we really are, teaching us courtesy to make room for God’s other creatures to be what and who they are as well. For God, it is no fun just to squeeze us into a set mold. God does not have one and only one plan for our lives, some eternal idée fixe of who we are. God made us living and active so that we could add human to Divine artistry and invent new ways to be. Who we really are is both gift and task!

How can we survive and grow as Christians, when the Church has become so abusive, so hostile and hurtful, so opposed to the Gospel?

Renouncing society’s right to say who we are and what we mean, frees us for full communion with Our Creator, with that gay men’s chorus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Anti-LGBT taboos oppress and so betray the Church’s Gospel mission to proclaim release to the captives; taboos imprison everyone and keep us all from surfing in the wideness of God’s mercy. Detached engagement makes us ambassadors for Christ bringing the Gospel back to the institution that doesn’t want to hear it, whose leaders are afraid to see, hear, and act on it.

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