Friday, August 01, 2008

A Safe Space for Conservatives?

From the Anglican Journal earlier this week, this statement:

The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) Monday presented the world’s Anglican bishops with a proposal to create a pastoral forum that would create a “safe space” for conservative Anglicans who have left their churches. It also recommended a “future” and “retrospective” moratorium on same-sex blessings, the ordination of openly gay homosexuals and cross-border interventions by provinces.

I guess I continue to be amazed at the low level of consciousness that conservatives so often exhibit and the sensitivity they so frequently display when this is pointed out to them. The notion that conservatives in an Anglican Communion dominated by conservative men need a “safe space” is astounding.

From whom, from what would they need safety? Conservative patriarchy has prevented the ordination of women clergy until very recently and even now those clergy ordained tend to find full time parish work available to them scarce. Most of the communion’s churches do not allow women to be consecrated bishop. The parent/child trappings of that last statement should not escape one’s attention. It is inherent in conservative theology and polity. So, given the balance of power in the hands of these men, why do a few women frighten them?

Of course, the real boogey man for conservative men is the possibility that gays and lesbians might actually be treated as first class citizens. That irrational fear was evident in this statement from the teddy bear of Anglicanism, Abp. Rowan Williams this week:

In a presidential address to hundreds of delegates attending the Lambeth conference, a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops in Canterbury, Rowan Williams appealed to conservatives and liberals to show each other generosity and magnanimity on issues such as the ordination of gay partnered clergy, same-sex blessings and cross-border interventions. "We don't see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person must mean blessing what they do in the church's name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle," he said. Only a generous response from both sides would lead to a conversation of equals, "even something more like a church". - The Guardian Wednesday July 30 2008

OK. I guess I’m missing something here. Anglicans should show each other generosity and magnanimity. But welcoming LBGT Anglicans should not mean “blessing what they do in the church’s name” or ordaining them without seeing their “lifestyle” as suspect? Does heterosexual membership in Anglican Communion mean “blessing what they do in the church’s name?” Does it mean ordaining them without question about their heterosexual “lifestyle?” Presumably it does. So, what might a “welcome” absent the trappings of first class citizenship actually mean?

I wonder if the good archbishop can hear how incredibly patronizing and condescending his statement is. I wonder if he recognizes the inherent inconsistency in welcoming people to one’s communion on a conditional basis. I wonder if he ever learned that there is a basic problem in speaking for other people, particularly when they are able, ready and willing to speak for their own experience. And I wonder how grateful – much less welcome - he thinks second class citizens, clearly present only at the largesse of the power holders, should feel?

If the Archbishop of Canterbury, a straight, white man of privilege, can stand before the bishops of the Anglican Communion and make statements which clearly exhibit the patriarchal, conservative agenda – if not a good dose of latent homophobia – what safety needs could conservatives possibly demonstrate? Conservatives control the Communion. And even in those few places around the communion where women/children have been allowed by their men/parents to actually serve in positions of leadership and the even fewer where LBGT persons have been ordained and their relationships blessed like anyone else’s, no conservative has ever been reduced to subordinate status. No conservative men of privilege have been barred from ordination, election to the episcopate or from having their relationships – indeed, most of the “things they do” from fox hunts to launching of nuclear submarines - blessed by the church.

The reverse is not true. LBGT people are regularly demonized in much of the Anglican Communion, frequently from the pulpits of Anglican Churches. Anglican bishops have worked to criminalize gay activities. Gay activists have endured abuse from criminal slander to near fatal physical abuse in many quarters of the Communion. And even in the supposedly gay friendly confines of the US and Canada, LBGT Anglicans routinely endure second class citizenship in the vast majority of the dioceses and parishes.

Two things seem pretty obvious here. One, while conservatives have been more than happy to make the Anglican Communion unsafe for LBGT persons and for many women as well, they are unable to demonstrate a legitimate concern for their own safety. That leads to the second observation: What conservatives seek is not safety. What “a safe space” means for conservatives is the power to control the Communion, shape it in its image and exclude those they have targeted for scapegoating at will. And nothing less will suffice.

Rowan Williams is having to learn this the hard way though he is clearly a slow learner. His words to Lambeth suggest he’s still trying to convince himself that sacrificing LBGT Anglicans will appease the conservatives and make everyone play pretty again. It won’t. The fact that 250 bishops stayed home because the Archbishop wouldn’t send the American and Canadian bishops packing ought to tell him that. There will never be enough sacrifice for the conservatives short of complete control. It’s a zero-sum game they’re playing in the Two/Thirds World. And the use of language like “safe space” is only one of many less than honest strategies the conservatives are willing to use to win that game at any cost.

In theory Anglicanism provides a beautiful latitudinarian big tent for all. But the via media with room for "all sorts and conditions of men" (BCP 1928) that I learned in seminary may have never been true as a general rule in the Anglican Communion. And it is clearly less so today than it has ever been. I find that sad as I stand at a distance and watch the blithering at Lambeth and beyond. And I give thanks to a generous G-d that I am not forced to make my living within this increasingly pathological institution called the Anglican Communion.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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