Friday, January 12, 2007

The Mask Slips

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has given another interview, which has once again resulted in the extreme conservatives screaming that she is a pagan, a heretic, and similar colorful epithets. What struck me about these passionate attacks was that Bp. Katharine did not say anything in the interview that has not been said before by various leaders of the Church throughout the ages. More specifically, her theology does not differ from that of her predecessors, Bps. Griswold and Browning. So what is fueling these current character assassinations? Nothing else explains such voracious pronouncements except the fact that she is a woman.

Other recent developments suggest that it is indeed gender issues that is behind the current venom being spewed in the direction of our Presiding Bishop. There are a handful of men in the Episcopal Church who continue to attempt to keep women in their place, meaning out of leadership roles in the Church. One of the chief champions of chauvenism is Bishop Iker of Fort Worth, who petitioned the new Panel of Reference to justify excluding women from holy orders. Recently the Panel responded to Bp. Iker's petition, giving their support for the rejection of women priests.

There's a couple of things that are quite troubling about this. First of all, the Panel's decision is contrary to the Canons of the Episcopal Church:

No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.
Fort Worth claims that shipping women with a vocational call to Dallas meets the requirements of this Canon. It may barely pass the letter of the law, but certainly denies its spirit. The Bishop of Fort Worth will not ordain women, and will not allow them to serve in his diocese. These postulants and candidates are sponsored by Dallas, not Fort Worth. And now the Panel has sanctioned this subterfuge.

Since when do we allow another body to dictate how we do things in the Episcopal Church? We might as well stop holding General Conventions, if this is the case. Why allow all four orders to work together to discern the movement of God's Spirit if their decisions can be vetoed by some outside group? Do we really want to establish an Anglican Curia, with the Primates as our College of Cardinals? One would think that our observance of the Roman Catholic Church, which allows a group of celibate men to decide matters pertaining to gender and sexuality, would make it obvious that this is the wrong direction to move.

Then there is the matter of what this development reveals about the exclusionary inclination of the extreme conservatives. Consider Bp. Iker's response o the Panel's report:

This is the first specifically positive development in a long time for those who hold traditional views.

People who want to act in a militant and mandatory way will not be dissuaded. The great value is the moral force of an international forum saying our position is recognized and our provisions adequate. It gives us the moral high ground in all this.
An outside group recognizing your right to be a misogynist gives you the moral high ground? Setting aside that absurd logic, note that this is being proclaimed by Bp. Iker as a positive development "for those who hold traditional views," which can be translated as all of the Network and the so-called "Windsor Bishops." If this was not so, certainly we would have heard some objection to Fort Worth's assertion that they all share in this "victory." I've read much cheering from the extreme conservatives, some of whom claim they are supportive of women clergy (except, of course, for Bp. Katharine), yet not one word of objection regarding Bp. Iker's presumption that they all support his position. One must then assume that they quietly agree with him, but lack the courage to say so publically. After all, it would be poor PR to alienate 50% of the members of TEC, right?

This development should make clear to us all what the real issue regarding our current unpleasantness is all about. The objections to full inclusion of women and gays and lesbians in the Church are linked, as pointed out by Susan Russell:

This confirms what Integrity has long maintained--that scapegoating of gay and lesbian vocations and relationships is part of a wider agenda of discrimination and is antithetical to the Gospel message of Jesus. We believe that excluding a percentage of the baptized from a percentage of the sacraments grieves the heart of God. Whether that exclusion is based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we believe it misses the mark of God's will for God's church. Therefore we do not accept discrimination as a valid theological position; rather we name it as sin...

...Substitute the word 'homosexuals' for each instance of 'women' in the report and the dovetailing of these efforts is clear to anyone familiar with the attacks on LGBT people in the church. The real question now is who is next? It's is not only impossible to predict just how far such efforts to 'purge' the church will try to go, it is impossible to ignore that such actions are patently contrary to the comprehensiveness of classical Anglicanism.
So what is the real issue? As I have suggested before, I think it is primarily about male dominance, or more specifically, fear of the feminine:

"What is driving the intensity of our current church infighting?" Is it really just about what people do sexually with each other?

Probably not. A more likely reason for a significant amount of the negativism is that same-sex relationships violate the rules laid down by all patriarchal cultures about how men and women should behave in relationship to one another. The same rules also narrowly define acceptable relationships between people of the same sex.

Looking through this lens, we can see that the offenses pile up rapidly. If a lesbian woman does not need a man to satisfy her, protect her and keep her in line, the threat of the feminine is there; if a gay man is able to access the feminine side of his being, his every move can be considered suspect and an affront to many. If long-term relationships between two people of the same sex toss the age-old formulas attached to male dominance and female submission out the window, what are we left with? And if we must allow people who are partnered in this way to live openly and with our blessing -- so that we can't pretend that this is not happening -- how offensive is that? It is only offensive if we continue to cling to a patriarchal framework which keeps the feminine in her "proper" place...
Unfortunately, it appears that many among the extreme conservatives believe their leaders' litany; it is all about the bible and moral values. It is sad to see so many being hoodwinked by men who are driven by their need for power and dominance.

What is even more sad is to see how this exclusionary campaign is damaging our witness to the world. As Ruth Gledhill notes:

...Tell anyone outside the Church that you're a Christian these days, and they make one assumption about you. It is not that you are spiritual, or ascetically-minded, or dedicated to helping others, or opposed to the culture of consumerism. It is that you are a homophobe...
It appears as if the Anglican Communion may continue to sanction the need of a small minority of men to claim God's blessing on their pathetic attempts to lord their authority over others.

So, now, among Anglicans, it is appropriate to treat not only gays and lesbians as second class citizens in God's kingdom, but also women. There may come a time in the near future when we will have to seriously consider the cost to our witness to the world if we remain a part of the Anglican Communion.


UPDATE: For further thoughts regarding "considering the cost," see Mark Harris' excellent essay, Enough: It is Time to Move On.

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