By Lauren R. Stanley
Sitting in a meeting recently, discussing issues relating to the great sexuality debate, I heard the old bugaboo raised once again:
“Please don’t do this,” one person said. “It will cause problems with the Anglican Communion.”
And there it was: the great “Anglican Communion,” brought into a discussion as though it were some giant standing right outside the room, ready to stomp us and gobble us up like Godzilla in those Japanese films of old.
Which is about the time I lost it. The aggravation caused by invoking the “Anglican Communion” was too much.
You see, I live, as often as is possible, in that Anglican Communion, and for me, it is not some amorphous monster lurking outside my door. It is my home. And I, for one, am getting very tired of hearing the “Anglican Communion” held up as some cudgel over our heads.
There are two things about this invocation that rile me:
First, we are the Anglican Communion, just as much as any other person who worships in any church that is part of the worldwide Communion. It’s not as though the Communion exists outside the United States only; those who belong to the Communion are not “other,” they are us.
Second, when the Communion is invoked in discussions on sexuality, it usually sounds as though everyone in the greater Communion is of one mind, that every Anglican around the world is standing against us in the United States and would like nothing more than to toss us out of the Communion.
The first objection is theological: There are no “us’s” and “them’s” in the Anglican Communion, anymore than there are “us’s” and “them’s” in God’s very good creation.
The second objection irks me because it simply is not true. The majority of Anglicans around the world do not care one whit about the sexuality debate. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of Anglicans around the world do not even know about the debate.
So, please: Let’s stop being so generic in our references. Please, let’s be a whole lot more specific.
Are there Anglican primates who are upset about the direction the Episcopal Church in this country is heading? Absolutely. Are there Anglican bishops upset as well? Yes again.
But the majority – the vast majority – of Anglicans could not care less about this debate.
Because far too many of our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world are dying, and people who are dying tend not to care one whit about someone else’s sexual orientation or activity.
Far too many Anglicans have to worry about where to get enough food to eat. They are struggling, on a daily basis, to care for their children. They don’t have health care. Far too many live in countries where AIDS is ravaging their societies. They don’t have clean water, or medicine, or education. There aren’t enough jobs for them; money is as scarce as food.
Listen to the Rt. Rev. Musonda Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, who is but one of many Anglicans who have come to the United States in the last few years and said the same thing. Speaking at the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in January, Bishop Mwamba said, “The truth of the matter is … we must understand the majority of African Anglicans, about 37 million, are not bothered by the debate about sexuality. The majority of African Anglicans … have their minds focused on life and death issues, like AIDS, poverty … and not on what the church thinks about sex or the color of your pajama pants. Villagers who live on less than one dollar a day aren’t aware this is going on.”
And yet, whenever sexuality is debated in this country, the “Anglican Communion” gets tossed into the argument, and suddenly, we think of our sisters and brothers in Christ as a monolithic “other,” existing somewhere beyond the boundaries of this nation, and the next thing you know, we’ve set up an “us” against “them” dynamic, which breaks community, which must, simply must, sadden our Lord.
Those of us who live “out there” in the Communion, meaning outside the United States, know that the Anglican Communion is made up of people just like you and me, people who want exactly the same things we want: Enough food to eat and clean water to drink; enough medicine so that when their children get sick, as all children do, they can get better; enough peace to be able to walk down the streets of their villages and towns and cities without fearing when the next attack might come; enough education so that their children will have a shot at a better life; enough money to pay for all the other things they so desperately want, just so that they can stay alive.
That’s it. That’s all most people in this world want: Enough. Not more than enough. Simply enough.
I know that as a missionary serving in Sudan, when the topic of sexuality is brought up, which is not very often, people will debate it. They will take their stands, based on Scriptures and culture and everything else upon which we take our own stands. But in the end, the argument is not important to them, because they do not judge the Episcopal Church on this topic only. They have a much broader view of the Episcopal Church than we tend to have of them. They, like so many other Anglicans around the world, see the American Church as a generous and loving one, filled with people who not only care about those in need but who also are willing to do something about that need.
So as we continue discussions about what is happening in the Anglican Communion, as we begin to respond to the latest draft of the proposed Covenant, as we prepare for Lambeth later this year, let’s remember that the “Anglican Communion” is not some monolithic Godzilla-like creature hovering outside our boundaries, waiting to chew us up and spit us out.
Please, let’s remember:
We are the Anglican Communion. And just as we are not of one mind on sexuality, neither are our siblings in Christ.
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is temporarily serving in the United States because of the instability in Sudan.