If the whole “Anglican angst” saga starts to sound like schism is practically a done deal, it’s because a lot of the press coverage tends to focus on the conflict, and quite often (and annoyingly so) the first and juiciest quote in a story is often by a big-fish conservative, such as in the Chicago Trib’s story about the boundary-crossing visit by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria to the Chicago suburb of Wheaton next Sunday.
Remember: the conservatives most loudly voicing the “Episcopal Church left us, we’re not leaving it” meme are a small minority. The clergy leading the most visible departures are a tiny minority of the total number of clergy in The Episcopal Church. Messy breakups are much newsier than successful ministries serving the poor for years or ongoing steady growth or making a joyful noise.
I noticed yesterday that the Bishop of Mississippi used a construction in a letter to his diocese that’s been bothering me for a while: conservatives have been co-opting the words “safety” and “dignity,” words which are currently used to describe what gay Episcopalians and seekers are looking for in a church.
You can expect me to push this church to make real its commitment to diversity. That would mean that we shall be a church of invitation and open to all people. It will also mean that this church must give dignity and safety to those who, through reason of conscience and conviction, cannot accept certain theological and ethical presuppositions of the majority of the church. I believe that is what I am called to do in faithfulness to my vows as your bishop.
I can’t imagine why someone who doesn’t want to worship in the same space with gay people, or be part of a parish led by gay clergy, would describe their situation as being “unsafe.” Do they actually think gay parishioners or clergy pose a threat to them or their family? Do they really think that there is no dignity in worshipping with gay people, or that letting them out of the closet into public roles is undignified in church?
In reality, gay people have much to fear when they take the courageous leap of faith and try a new church. In this country, they might suffer a polite form of silent shunning, or they might feel that something said or done in all innocence during a service or in conversation afterwards might do them a kind of spritual violence.
In Nigeria, home country of Archbishop Akinola, they would likely be taken outside, beaten in the street, and then arrested for violating the peace. This happened to Davis Mac-Iyalla, of Changing Attitude Nigeria, an Anglican gay advocacy group. He has issued a statement in support of Saturday’s protest of Akinola’s visit to the African-led former Episcopalian congregations in Wheaton.
My old vicar used to talk about fearing for his personal and spiritual safety sometimes… and also he would use the word “dignity” in the sense of retaining his personhood or spiritual autonomy as an “out” gay priest in the church, and as an “out” gay man in the world. It took a lot of strength and integrity for him and his partner to “not fade away” and blend in when in new social and spiritual circles. Even after knowing him for a few months, some parishioners occasionally made mis-steps and failed to fully make him and his partner welcome. Being on the Bishop’s Committee during his tenure sensitized me even more to the issue of offering the fullest and most comprehensive welcome. So it troubles me to see words like “safety” and “dignity” used in a way that seems to co-opt their previous usage by gay Episcopalians and Catholics.
It was a relief today to read this article, which lays things out in a more factual and less hysterical way than most news outfits bother with:
The Associated Press: Episcopal Bishops in Key Meeting on Gays
The 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church comprises only a tiny part of the world’s 77 million Anglicans. But the wealthy U.S. denomination covers about one-third of the communion’s budget.Within the Episcopal Church, most parishioners either accept gay relationships or don’t want to split up over homosexuality.
However, a small minority of Episcopal traditionalists are fed up with church leaders.
Three dioceses — San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Quincy, Ill. — are taking steps to break away and align directly with like-minded Anglican provinces overseas.
According to the national church, 55 of its more than 7,000 parishes have either already left or voted to leave the denomination, with 11 others losing a significant number of members and clergy. Episcopal conservatives contend the losses are much higher.