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“Even our compassion has been colonized”

“Even our compassion has been colonized”

This piece originally appeared at House of Deputies News

 

by Jim Naughton

 

The Anglican Communion will break your heart if you let it. And it seems these days that you have to let it or leave it, and I choose the former. I love belonging to a global communion of faithful people whose perspectives broaden and deepen my own, whose faith inspires and challenges me, and with whom I can work to make our world a little bit more like God wants it to be.

There are days, however, when our roots seem to run so deeply in the soil of colonialism that we will never outgrow it. There are days on which even our capacity to care for one another has been colonized. Today was one of those days.

This morning, Bishop Josiah Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, gave this address to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council now gathered in Lusaka, Zambia. Among the first topics he addressed was the provisions the Episcopal Church is making for leaders who do not agree with the broader church’s decision to celebrate same-sex marriages. Bishop Fearon meant to praise us, it seems, and to demonstrate to the wider communion that Episcopalians are capable of working together despite deep theological differences. But his speech revealed how deeply suspicious the communion remains of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans, and how eager it is to treat as victims those who have lost nothing more than the capacity they once had to oppress.

For more than a decade, the Anglican Communion has labored to placate the consciences of theologically conservative North American bishops, men who make a comfortable living on their way to generous pensions. Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion send emissaries. Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion extend invitations to private meetings. Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion allow these bishops to speak to the Primates Meeting about the sins of their church and its leaders. The bishops remain disgruntled, and their needs remain uppermost in the communion’s mind.

Compare this treatment to that of Anglicans in other provinces whose liberty and livelihoods are in daily jeopardy because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or are supportive of LGBT people. You won’t find a word about LGBT Anglicans who live at risk and whose churches will not help them in Bishop Fearon’s speech—indeed, he dismissed young African Anglican protestors who assembled outside Canterbury Cathedral in January as mere children who had lived too long away from home to be taken seriously. So permit me a paragraph to tell you about the ones I know.

I have an Anglican friend in Kenya who aspires to study for the priesthood. She sent me photographs on Facebook recently of the jail cell in which she was being held overnight for the crime of sitting at a table in a bar with other women. It was her second arrest for the same offense. I have another Anglican friend in an African country I won’t name who can’t find work, despite being a brilliant teacher and writer, because he advocates greater tolerance for LGBT people whom his government disdains. He and his family live perpetually on the edge of economic disaster. And I have a third friend, a priest in yet another African country, who had his stipend cut for speaking on behalf of LGBT people and was thus not able to afford his children’s school fees and could not buy fertilizer for the garden plot on which he and his family were partially dependent for food.

When I think about people who most need the spiritual and material support a worldwide body of Christians such as the Anglican Communion can offer, when I meditate on people who need protection, who need to be reassured that they are not alone, I don’t immediately focus on highly-educated, economically secure men with significant ecclesiastical power. Yet the communion continues to lavish attention on this group, and the fact that the Episcopal Church is making accommodations for them is held out as evidence that Anglicans can remain in good relationships “across our differences.”

But we are not talking about the right kinds of differences. When we speak of LGBT issues in the Anglican context, there are two kinds of people: Those who are in danger for losing their lives, liberties and livelihoods, and those who are not. And I vacillate between rage and despair over the fact that this latter group remains at the center of our conversation, while the former remains on the margins.

Somehow, the Anglican Communion has argued itself to a place in which theologically conservative westerners are perched at the top of the list of people whose needs must be met, while those who suffer real consequences for attempting to live out their beliefs can be safely belittled or ignored. We have taken the values of the gospel and stood them on their heads.

 

Jim Naughton is a church communications consultant, former reporter and sports writer and founder of Episcopal Cafe and is also a passionate Episcopalian.  He operates Canticle Communications with his partner Rebecca Wilson.

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Jos. S. Laughon

There is an immense richness to westerner lecturing others on colonialism, while ignoring, condescending to, and even fully insulting the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of the developing world. Pretending that theological conservatives or traditionalists have the power in the Global North is being fairly naive.

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Rod Gillis

This is a very engaging article, Jim. Thank you. It is interesting that here in Canada the proposed amendment to our marriage canon has now become a conversation focused on bishops. A dozen or so hard line conservative members of Canada's 40 or so member House of Bishops oppose an amendment that, even if passed, would exempt them and their dioceses from authorizing same sex marriages.

The colonialism issue is interesting. The Canadian church is grappling with wheels within wheels. First Nations Anglicans desire a way to make their own decision on the marriage canon. The stated issue for them is that synodical government is a product of colonialism. However, some young aboriginal "two spirit" folks have suggested that the conservatism of aboriginal communities is itself the result of missionaries from the colonial period.

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David Allen

I think that what is perplexing to both folks in TEC and the more secular in the US is that we don't understand how tribes on each side of an imaginary border approach the issue so differently. First Nation tribes in the US don't have the issues that the First Nation tribes in Canada appear to have. Except those elements of the US tribes who are fundamentalist Christians. So I would be inclined to agree with the two-spirit folks in Canada.

As to synodical government being colonial, it was developed and handed down long before the colonial powers of the late medieval period ventured forth to conquer the world. I would submit to them that synodical government is no more colonial than the Christian message/faith itself.

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Rod Gillis

David, I'm no expert in these matters. I'm certainly not familiar with the position of Native Americans on the issue. What I can say is that the issue of the legacy of colonialism, residential schools, and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada is huge and ongoing in the Anglican Church of Canada, and will be going forward.

There seem to be two related issues, the general conservatism that appears to be characteristic of First Nations Anglicans and the desire of First Nations communities to make their own decisions. I think the latter is the more pressing issue and may well skew the views of non-aboriginals about the former to some extent. I'm unclear about how characteristic conservatism is among First Nations in general. For Anglican groups it may well have to do with which missionary group did the original evangelizing?

Additionally the two spirit voices here, the few I'm familiar with, tend to younger, urban, and not connected with the church.

Also, the more conservative bishops are by no means all aboriginal, although most of those are bishops in dioceses that have significant aboriginal members. So it is complicated with both aboriginal views pointing to colonialism. And you know, both criticisms may be valid.

I think the criticism of decision making and synod has to do with the whole idea of parliamentary style debates, the making of canon "laws", the taking of votes with a winning and losing side. I don't have the impression that the fundamental nature of a synod as a "seeing together" is the problem.

Just to complicate things, Canada's National Aboriginal Bishop ( an American previously in Alaska) is a very prophetic voice and regarded by some conservatives here as a "liberal".

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Daniel Jarvis

Jim thank you
simply cannot be better said

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Bill Christy

I always find it interesting how Christians, and people in general, struggle to recreate God in their own image according to what they want to hear and believe! Although there is not but one original Holy Bible, there are many denominations with different beliefs. With that said, one struggling Christian is no better or worse than any other struggling Christian world-wide. Withholding support from Christians in need elsewhere in the world simply because we disagree with their faith/belief interpretation and life style is Biblically wrong. God sends forth the rain upon the just and unjust alike! All of creation belongs to God, that includes our possessions as well. If we are truly God's children, are we justified in withholding God's creation from someone in need? If we secularly view everything, then we have not yet overcome as our Lord Jesus Christ overcame!

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David Allen

It's interesting that clicking on your name leads to a phishing site warning!

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Bill Ghrist

I think Mr. Christy simply put his email address in the "Website" field by mistake.

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Mark Hunter

It does!

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Lionel Deimel

Further thoughts: The Episcopal Church has been on the defensive for many years. Perhaps it is time to go on the offensive for truth, justice, and Christian love.

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