Thursday, September 06, 2007

Making Our Stand with Dignity

There's been quite a bit of discussion over the last 24 hours regarding Bishop Orama of Nigeria's disturbing remarks. There have been condemnations of the declaration that gays are "unfit to live" from all corners of the Episcopal Church. For that we can be thankful.

Yet, even in light of these condemnations, this incident has given me cause to wonder if the sentiments expressed by Bp. Orama are really an isolated incident, or are they more broadly accepted, but just not so bluntly stated?

Mark Harris points us to an interesting article in the Boston Globe, which includes this paragraph describing a reporter's experience at St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Nairobi, Kenya:

...Criticizing the Episcopal Church's embrace of gays and lesbians, the Rev. Samuel Muchiri told the 1,000 worshipers "we in Kenya feel this is not what God wants." An usher advised a visiting reporter to "remember that Sodom and Gomorrah was demolished because there were homosexuals." Another warned that the reporter could be assaulted if he asked worshipers about the issue, and said that America's permissiveness toward homosexuality had led Osama bin Laden to attack...
Where are they getting these strange ideas? To some degree, they are probably being taught this by their leaders. For instance, in the same article, the Archbishop of Kenya made the following statement:

"God cannot be mocked," said Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya. "Here, in the context of Kenya, if we take somebody who is polygamous and we make him a lay reader or a priest, we would be doing the wrong thing. . . . If I know somebody is a homosexual, and I make him a lay reader, or I make him a priest, or I make him a bishop, I am sanctioning what he is doing as right. I am saying 'no' to this, and the church is saying 'no' to this."
Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, is also notorious for his hateful words regarding gay and lesbian Christians. With leaders like Nzimbi and Akinola at the helm, it is not surprising that bishops and clergy might feel free to perpetuate ideas such as gays and lesbians being unfit to live, and that they could be assaulted because they caused 9/11.

I think that the leaders giving either explicit or implicit permission for such rhetorical violence is a big part of the problem. But I think there is something more to it than that. In the Boston Globe article, the Primate of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables, know as one of the more careful voices among the extremists, points us towards that "something more":

..."Sadly, the sexuality issue isn't the issue - it's about Scripture," said Archbishop Gregory J. Venables, the primate of South America. "What's happened in the States is that they've moved away from the view that God has revealed himself in Scripture, and they're rewriting that with post-modernity relativism"...

The erroneous accusation that "the States" have "moved away from the view that God has revealed himself in Scripture" might sound like nonsense to us. Most Episcopalians that I know, including myself, affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be regarded as divine revelation, which completes natural revelation. Our difference of opinion is over the matter of how we interpret this revelation.

And, it is on this point that the Global South extremists find allies among some North Americans.

This causes some problems in the current discussions regarding rhetorical violence, and gives us reason to seek further explanations regarding some of the condemnations of Bp. Orama's remarks. Anglican Scotist offers us a good explanation of why this supposed stance rooted in "biblical authority" is problematic:

...When push comes to shove, and Bishop Orama's remarks constitute a shove, does the Gospel vision of these--or any--Separatist, Anglican, biblical conservatives have the resources to issue a specifically Christian moral repudiation? Can they do better on this count than, to choose another extreme, Borg and Crossan?

Show me. I do not think you can do it, because any sound, specifically Christian moral argument that implies the events of GC2003 are permissible for Christians counts as an utter failure of the Separatist biblical vision. In other words, to make the argument condemning the bishop's remarks, you will end up conceding too much, and if you do not conceed too much, you will not be able to condemn the remarks.

Where is the crux of the problem? The problem is that Bishop Orama has the Bible--as construed by responsible Separatist interpretation--on his side. Leviticus is clear:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

All Scripture is of a piece, and Christ did not come to obliterate any part of the Law--not a single iota! Bishop Orama respects the Bible enough not to claim to be a biblical Christian and just pretend. His Bible says homosexuals must die--what does Father Harmon's Bible say? Or Griffith's? After all, Scripture is clear in Leviticus. The difference might be simply that Bishop Orama has the courage to be consistent and lift up his vision of Scripture for all the world to see, whereas other self-styled conservatives insist on hiding this unsavory part--ashamed--under a bushel.

Careful: an appeal to Authority, like the authority of a great old interpreter, is a fallacy. You'd have to extract the authority's argument and let the argument stand on its own merits, and you had better hope it stands.
The reality, which most thoughtful people accept without a second thought, is that scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, but also includes lots of other stuff as well. The argument has never been "The bible said it, I believe it, that ends it." Otherwise, we'd be executing disobedient children, to give but one bizarre example of the biblical mandate. The debate has been over how to define what exactly is "necessary for salvation," and what is "other stuff."

Apparently, there are some bishops, such as Orama, who have not been informed of this particular nuance in the discussion regarding scripture. That is a rather frightening realization, it seems to me.

Regarding our continued discussion of this topic, I want to draw your attention to a recent reflection from Elizabeth Kaeton entitled What the Anglican Communion Can Learn from Dog Fights. Elizabeth affirms what the Anglican Scotist has pointed out:

...People like Fred Phelps don't make up the hateful words on the signs they hold up during the funerals of people with AIDS or soldiers who have died in Iraq. That self-proclaimed but unlicensed minister of God takes them right out of "The Good Book."

It is Levitical logic, of course, almost pristine in its purity and simplicity. Indeed, some of us in the LGBT community have said to our orthodox and conservative sisters and brothers that if they really believe every literal thing in Scripture, then they are compelled to pick up a rock and stone every last LGBT person to death...
But then Elizabeth continues with some thoughts that I think it is important for us all to hear:

...The worst thing we mongrel dogs can do is to allow ourselves to be baited into a blood-sport by those who glorify and are entertained by violence.

We must resist that temptation with every thing that is in us. This is not about us. It is not about homosexuality or even scriptural interpretation.

This is about power and violence and we who claim the high calling of Christ Jesus must be about peace and justice, mercy and compassion, and walking humbly with God.

This is neither our fight nor our sport. Let's not dignify it with our blood. Let us not insult the blood that was shed for our salvation.

Let us, instead, like our Samaritan sisters and brothers in Christ, use our wit and our intelligence.

The Samaritan woman, that mongrel dog, said to Jesus, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Mt. 15:27)

And Jesus said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." (Mt 15:28)

May it be so for us in our day and time.

And may God have mercy on us all.
I understand that some will need to express their outrage and indignation. But let's not allow ourselves to be baited into pointless arguments that just may tempt us to toss out our own forms of rhetorical violence.

This is not some kind of rhetorical game. We must stand against violence and oppression. But let us make our stand with intelligence, wit and dignity.


UPDATE: Kendall has expressed his objection to the essay by the Anglican Scotist to which I linked above. After considering his objection, I have made a minor edit to the above post.

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