Checking out what I missed while on hiatus from the blogosphere was a little like missing a soap for a week or two and coming back to more of the same. A week with the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a welcome respite from the relentless onslaught of "things Anglican" and I am deeply grateful for the gift of that time and space and the extraordinary hospitality of the sisters.
But hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to work I go ... and checking in on what I missed over at Kendall Harmon's titusonenine, I was impressed by the energy engendered around this Connecticut letter to the editor writer who not only named the truth about the current contretemps but called the paper to account for buying the Schismatic Spin hook-line-and-sinker. Calling the report “sadly one sided and misinformed” the writer went on to object to the reactionary fringe dominating the story and for being “treated as if their bigoted opinions represented a significant portion of the Episcopal Church” concluding:
“The Episcopal Church is moving ahead into the 21st century and if a few squirm and holler the media should be savvy enough not to be a pawn of their ploys. Please research your stories and present more than one warped view of what is going on.”
My response was (predictably): “And let the people say, AMEN!”
Kendall’s was (equally predictably): “Foul!”
But his “foul” came with the kind of energy one saves for those challenges that hit a nerve … and in this case Mr. Hartford Connecticut hit a big one. In two simple sentences he managed to undermine the house of sand on which this schism is built causing Canon Harmon, one of its chief architects, to resort to the strategy found on page 2 of “Media Training 101”: reframe the message you don’t want to respond to.
Kendall – an excellent student of the media spin -- responds on cue: “We have the wrong identification of the problem as bigotry.” Bravo. Well done. Redirect the question, reframe the argument and then you get to have the discussion YOU want to have with the outcome you control. Sort of like when you convene a Panel of Reference to discern whether or not a plan to offer women equal access to the ordination of women is working in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Only you don’t actually talk to any women …you base your recommendations on the description of the plan’s “success” offered by the plan’s architects.
As I noted to a colleague earlier this week, that makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it? Imagine how much tidier it would have been if we’d just asked the segregationists how the Jim Crow Laws were working. Would have saved so much messiness in the 60’s!
I’ll give Kendall this much: I don’t actually believe the presenting issue is bigotry – bigotry is just one of the fruits of the spirit of the rabid absolutism driving those whose criteria for being included is being agreed with and who will stop at nothing to “purge” the church of those they consider “unclean.” It leads us to ask the question we asked in the Integrity statement issued ealier this week "What Next?" And points to the truth that in the end it isn’t about sex or gender or race or even theology – it’s about power. And Kendall brings that right back home for us again in his blog entry by presuming the power to define what the problem is.
The problem is he doesn’t get to say what the problem is. We do. The people of the Episcopal Church. Straight and Gay. Women and Men. High Church and Low Church and In-Between Church. And the problem we have identified is the challenge of becoming more and more fully and wholly the Body of Christ in the world. And the way we have addressed that problem is to continue to live into our call to widen the embrace of the Institutional Church to better model the embrace of the Incarnate Christ.
We said it in 1997 when we passed canons mandating equal access to the ordination process for qualified candidates for the priesthood. We said it in 1994 when we added sexual orientation to the ordination canons in the “non-discrimination” laundry list. And we said it way back in 1976 when we promised “full and equal claim” to the gay and lesbian baptized. We haven’t solved all those problems yet but we’re working on them. And whether we like it or not this church – this Episcopal Church – works to solve them by consultation with all orders of ministry represented in the councils of the church, not by caveat from bishops meeting apart from the rest of us. We solve them within the polity of our Episcopal tradition -- with the checks and balances in place our forebears wisely bequeathed to us in the 18th century and continue to serve us well as we move ahead into the 21st.
Kendall understands it otherwise: “The Episcopal Church is not moving ahead but instead moving away from Scripture and the Church and a significant majority of their fellow Anglicans worldwide.” It’s their spin and they’re sticking to it. The question is at what cost to the church, to the mission of the Gospel and to the world groaning in travail yearning for hope and vision and life from this church that HAS the power to offer it if we could but turn out attention to the needs that surround us rather than the nastiness that consumes us.
Will we claim that power and move ahead into God’s future or WILL we allow ourselves to be blackmailed into bigotry, ignoring the spirit of the Letter from the Birmingham Jail and the good news of the Babe in the Bethlehem Manger? Whether Kendall Harmon likes it or not, THAT is the problem.