Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On anger, fear and empathy

So here's a quote from comment on titusonenine on a profile article on the new Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Buffalo --

"To claim that her same-sex partner is “family” is a departure from what God ordained as family and denigrates the word beyond recognition. If hers is a “family”, then my wife and children are something other. I have yet to coin a word for it, but we are not as she is. If the GLBT folks want to use that word, they may certainly do so; but it has now taken on a new meaning. We are of different tribes and the gulf is beyond reconciliation. I think I shall begin using the word “kin” or “kinfolk” when referring to my wife and children."

-- forwarded to me by a parishioner who asked, "Help me understand what it is about her family that threatens his. I really, REALLY don't get it!"

I'll admit I still don't "get it" either -- but the stark pain in this guy's post is clarifying in its own sobering/sad way. "If hers is a "family" then my wife and children are something other." Imagine how terrifying that must be to live with that kind of fear nagging at you – that if “they” get to be “family” then you aren’t anymore! No wonder he’s angry.

Now, the idea that anger is most often generated by fear of a real or imagined threat is not a new one – in fact it is one I have called to mind often during these troubled times in the Episcopal Church. I try to remember that when I experience anger directed at me or my theological position it is often the manifestation of someone’s fear: that if there’s room for me – or my family – or my theology or hermeneutic – then there isn’t room for them and theirs.

When I can get past the anger to the fear then I can find empathy for someone who loves this church as much as I do – who loves the Lord as much as I do -- and who just can’t reconcile what we understand as God’s inclusive vision for what the church should be with their understanding of what the Bible says. Doesn't mean I change my mind -- or my position -- but it does mean I can do a better job of seeing the person behind the polemic; of striving to respect their dignity in spite of our deep differences.

Are our differences reconcilable? Some say no – but I continue to maintain that those insisting that their criteria for inclusion is being agreed with bear the responsibility for whatever schism looms. Try as they might to “spin” it otherwise, those who are choosing to walk apart are those who are choosing to abandon dialogue and discernment with those with whom they disagree – not those who are committed to staying in conversation – in communion – in community – in spite of our differences.

Is there hope that we can get past the fear and the anger – the polarization and the polemic? Clearly the jury is still out on that one – but reading the Acts of the Apostles might just give one a little – hope, that is. The first century church was not exactly of one mind when the issue of baptizing Gentiles was first brought to the floor – the eleventh chapter of Acts preserves for us the “push back” Peter got from his “communion” for baptizing Cornelius et al.

“The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened [and]… when they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life”[NIV]

“Even” the Gentiles … imagine! And imagine how the outcome might have been different if Peter had held off with the baptisms until “consensus” emerged on the issue – if instead of hearing Peter out about his experience of the Holy Spirit working in these Gentiles they instead put together a Jerusalem Report requiring a moratoria on the Holy Spirit and then compiled a laundry list of proof texts from Hebrew Scriptures supporting the continued exclusion of Gentiles from their numbers.

Were the Jerusalem Christians afraid – threatened – angry that the inclusion of Gentiles into the Body of Christ would depart from what God had ordained and give new meaning to the word “Christian?” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were the case. Unfortunately (or maybe it’s “fortunately!”) we don’t have the comments of 1st century bloggers to turn to. What we do have is he example of the 1st century Christians who listened to Peter – and the Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray that this beloved church of ours is given the grace to do likewise.


Anonymous said...

Susan, When you write like this I feel in my heart that you hit the nail right on the head. I can't thank you enough for the courage to put yourself (and all of us) in a position of empathy for everyone who is in the soup. Schism has already happened (just as marriage is accomplished long before we as priests bless them), egged on by all points of views, "theirs" and "ours." I can live with that unfortunate reality, and even with all the polarized polemic, though I still mourn. I need to be reminded (as you so well and often do) to be empathetic with all comers, as I believe Jesus did, and does. Thank you, again.
P.S. Would that some bishop would stand up and give just such a plea for empathy on all sides at General Convention.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan- I find that I am troubled with something that goes beyond the issues you talk about. As a lay person, I have tried to stay up on as much as possible, and I believe-as I understand it- that the Windsor Report required ECUSA to stop all ordainations and blessings until GC2006. And from what I understand, ECUSA agreed.
Why, then, did you and your partner continue on with your plans for your cermony? Is that not going directly against the mandates of the Church which you hold so dear? It reminds me of when my children choose to willfully go against a rule we have set down. If you still feel that some compromise could be worked out, why would you not do everything in your power to work within the boundries that have been set up? Especially since there is a very real probability that GC will vote to allow you to have your blessing anyway. Do you see how your actions could be viewed as a slap in the face to anyone who holds different views, or is attempting to work things out without schism? I feel that you say one thing, but your actions say something else. We Americans have long held the attitude that "I want what I want, and I want it now." Maybe if we all thought a little less about what we want and more about what God wants-truly wants-we might all end up actually doing his work, and be happier in the process.


Dear Laura,

In a nutshell, the Windsor Report recommended -- it did not mandate and it does not have the authority to "require" ECUSA to do anything. General Convention affirmed that the blessing of same-sex unions falls within the bounds of our common faith and life in 2003 when it passed Resolution C051. I deeply regret that our happiness is a source of pain for others but I also recognize that there are those for whom the ordination of women is still a source of pain and schism.

I am utterly convinced that in following the Holy Spirit leading us to fully include all of the baptized into the Body of Christ IS "doing what God wants -- truly wants."

Finally, there is a significant difference between compromise and comprehensiveness. To abandon the GLBT baptized to maintain the "unity" of the institutional church I believe would grieve the heart of God far more than even these current wranglings in the Anglican family must. Any compromise" must be vetted against that theological reality.

On the other hand, Anglicans historically have had the capacity to live with a comprehensiveness that includes various shades of opinion, perspective and experience within the bounds of our common faith. (See the piece on Terry Holmes posted earlier on this blog.) We're in danger of losing that foundational aspect of our historic faith if we allow those who insist on lines in the sane and "our way or the highway" to dominate the discourse. And that, to me, is a far greater danger than a few queer couples and a gay bishop or two.

Anonymous said...


I'd still like to see you address Laura's comment and the Windsor Report as regards your recent blessing. As a fairly high profile clergy person in the Episcopal Church, I honestly got the sense you were, to some extent, thumbing your nose at the Anglican Communion and the Windsor Report. What you have provided is your rationale for doing so.

While Windsor is not binding, neither is our membership in the Anglican Communion. Like church membership, it is all completely voluntary.

Susan, I honestly feel that you are speaking out of both sides of your mouth, in that I don't think you would even wait any longer for anything, much luch compromise. I can respect your position on things, but not the double talk.

Brad Drell


Hmmm ... "address the comment re: the Windsor Report and my recent blessing ..." I thought that's what I just did.

Help me understand where you see, the "double talk," Brad. I think I've been perfectly clear -- but let me try again:

In 1998 when Lambeth Resolution 1:10 passed my diocese -- along with others -- refused to receive the portion naming homosexuality as incompatible with Scripture.

We have been blessing unions at All Saints Church since 1992 and General Convention 2003 affirmed in C051 that such blessings fall within the boundaries of our common faith. My wedding was planned to accommodate my 80 year-old mother, my son in the Army and other family and parish considerations -- calendared long before there WAS a Windsor Report. If I were in the mood to be offended it would be by the suggestion that it was somehow “orchestrated” around the current Tempest in the Communion Teapot. Not that case.

My position is, has been and will continue to be that ECUSA's actions toward fully including all of the baptized into the Body of Christ is congruent with our understanding of the call of the Holy Spirit and is a manifestation of traditional Anglican comprehensiveness.

Our membership in the Anglican Communion is determined by our relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury -- until and unless the “reasserters” manage to replace that traditional criteria for relationship with some kind of Anglican Tribal Council poised to vote ECUSA off the Island.

If they do, then they will be the ones thumbing their noses at centuries of our Anglican ethos and that will be a shame.

In the meantime, let me repeat: the burden of unity for the communion cannot fairly be laid on the shoulders of those of us threatening to stay. Kendall and David, et al can "spin" until the cows come home and at the end of the day if they choose to walk away we will miss them. And have empathy for the pain that drove them to that decision. But the decision will have been theirs.

Anonymous said...

"My position is, has been and will continue to be that ECUSA's actions toward fully including all of the baptized into the Body of Christ is congruent with our understanding of the call of the Holy Spirit and is a manifestation of traditional Anglican comprehensiveness."

I find that I am somewhat confused by your statement here. The last part totally lost me, although it may have more to do with the fact that it is late here on the East Coast. I am not a theologian, and can only claim to be an earnest seeker of the Truth and Wisdom of Jesus Christ. If I understand the first part correctly, you are saying that until same-sex blessings were/are recognized by ECUSA, you were not(or didn't feel)apart of the Body of Christ? What does that say about baptised, single people looking for a relationship? Or not looking, or any other situation where someone is trying to live out the life that God has give them? Why must the life style you choose to live be accepted by the church for you to feel like a member of Christ's Body?
And it still didn't really address my question about waiting. I do understand the technicial aspects of trying to plan a big event, but when the Windsor Report came out last year, why could your blessing not be delayed out of respect for the Worldwide Communion? That's really what it boils down to-respect. And the ABC was apart of that request. Why, when you want respect for your opinions and actions, were you so unwilling to grant that same respect to those trying desperately to hold it all together?
My family and I are still in ECUSA out of respect for our Dean and our Bishop, who are trying to hold it all together. Had I acted on what I wanted, we would have left a few years ago. But we were willing to wait and see what God has in store. Why weren't you?


In 1976 the Episcopal Church passed a resolution that stated that "homosexual persons" were entitled to full and equal claim on the church ... and I guess I'm just naive enough to believe that "full and equal" means full and equal. Equal rights and equal responsibilities.

When we baptize a baby into the Body of Christ and promise to "support this person in her life in Christ" there is no * that says *unless she turns out to be a lesbian. What we're talking about is sacramental apartheid and it's time for it to end. Period.

As for delaying our blessing "out of respect for the Worldwide Communion" surely you jest. The issue we need to be dealing with is how do we live with our differences -- not how can we make them go away. They're not -- and we're not.

Annie said...

Laura,your comment, "It reminds me of when my children choose to willfully go against a rule we have set down", tells me that you have little idea what Jesus was all about. His ministry had to do with opposing the rules which people held more dear than the values in which he believed, and which were lacking, even (and especially) in the leaders of the Jewish faith. When an adult finds a rule wrong, he is obliged to act in opposition to that rule. As an example,think of the consciencious objecters in the Viet Nam and Iraq wars.
It is a shame that you hide your fear and bigotry behind "respect for the Worldwide Communion". Why not respect all of God's children instead?

Anonymous said...

The suggestion that a gay or lesbian couple in 21st century America should halt their intended nuptials "out of respect for the worldwide Anglican Communion" is outrageous. The same Anglican Communion that decreed that "homosexuality is incompatible with scripture"??? As a gay, cradle Episcopalian, I resent such labels. It's un- christian. Such judgements hardly "respect the dignity of EVERY human being" as we pledge in our baptismal covenants. It's blatant homophobia, perpetuated by sheer ignorance. Out of respect for myself, I would hardly let them tell me WHEN or IF I could bless my union.

Anonymous said...

One of the promises of the Baptismal Covenant is to repent and return to the Lord whenever one sins. It has been the conviction of the Christian Church, and of the Jewish faith before that, that homosexual activity is forbidden by God. It is not part of his design, but a product of humanity's fall into sin.

Thus, the pastoral care to which those of homosexual orientation are entitled is to expect and to receive patient and careful work with those who are sexually attracted to members of their own sex to help them not act on those attractions and to mitigate, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those attractions themselves. If someone refuses such care, that does not mean it has not been offered in compassion and sincerity.

Every Christian is tempted in a variety of areas, and every Christian needs to come before the Lord in dependence upon his power to be obedient -- not easy, and certainly not instantaneous, but still what God calls for.

ECUSA is making choices (based on the spirit of the age, not the Holy Spirit) that will lead to a loss of fellowship with the larger Anglican Communion. You seem to think that the Anglican Communion is a product of historical descent and a certain degree of a style of theology, but a great part of the Communion is convinced that the foundation for our Communion is a common faith, based on the historic teachings of the Church down through the ages.

Institutionally, the conservatives may leave the organization of ECUSA, but that by no means indicates a depsrture from the larger Anglican Communion, nor from the fullness of the Christian faith.


Welcome to the "family," Karen -- and thanks for taking time to write and remind us that for all the challenges we face right now in ECUSA the inclusive Gospel we are striving to live out is a source one that draws people TOO the church ... contrary to the "spin" we hear from the other side of the aisle!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that some feel the need to resort to name calling, when all I was attempting to do was to have a dialogue and try to understand the issues. I have to say there are many things I may be fearful of, but these issues ECUSA is facing are not among them.

Beyond Reconciliation said
"The suggestion that a gay or lesbian couple in 21st century America should halt their intended nuptials "out of respect for the worldwide Anglican Communion" is outrageous. The same Anglican Communion that decreed that "homosexuality is incompatible with scripture"??? As a gay, cradle Episcopalian, I resent such labels. It's un- christian"
As a straight, cradle Episcopalian, I may resent the fact that the Anglican Communion decreed that sex before marriage was incompatible with Scripture, but it doesn't mean I am going to try and change the doctrine to accomidate my wishes and actions, or that I am going to try to convince anyone that the Bible didn't really say you shouldn't have sex before marriage. And if it is the "same Anglican Communion" that did all of these things that you are against and yet you still want to be a member of, then yes, it still deserves your respect. If you cannot give it your respect, then why do you still want to be apart of it?



With all due respect, "respect" is a two way street. I can't speak for those who have commented on this thread but I can say that for me challenging the Big Fat Anglican Family to live up to its historic faith by approaching this issue via scripture, tradition and reason rather than knee-jerk biblical literalism IS respecting the Communion. Meanwhile, we have 30 years of unfulfilled promises BY the Communion to listen to the witness of gay and lesbian Christians.

That some are out of patience at this point is understandable. Meanwhile, the rest of us plug away at it making our case that we are not abandoning the tradition but CLAIMING it by striving to bring all of the baptized fully into the Body of Christ.

We understand that you may not and may never agree with how we believe the Holy Spirit has brought us to this conviction.

What we're looking for now is not a way to resolve the differences but a way to be in communion in spite of them.

We're willing to keep at it -- communinon with our brothers and sisters is more important to us than being agreed with. The schimatics aren't -- nothing less than full capitulation to their perspective is acceptable: never aguably an Anglican approach.

Anonymous said...


I read your post with interest, then frustration,

First a disclosure. I belong to an orthodox parish and went to the first Plano meeting in Texas, just so you know that I have been with many, many members of the opposition to your point of view. Also, a small point to put myself in context: in my old profession as a big city bookseller (though sadly no longer - ever see the movie Youv'e Got Mail?), nearly half of my employees were gay. I did all the hiring. I had a great staff, we had a fun, stimulating life together then and I loved every one of them. And yes, we had a Gay Studies section in the store.

Susan, I have yet to have a conversation about this topic with someone from your opposition which is about, or stems from anyones "fear" of Homosexual Women or Men or fear of being "one".

The priest that you quote in your blog was clearly expressing frustrations about definitions, - not the integrity of his family-as you claim. The frustations I hear over and over from the orthodox is that your side of the argument simply want to win their point by contolling the word choices in this dialogue. Like some politician instead of a priest.

I'll attempt to write an explanation of that orthodox preist's point on family: we are all just men or women. Sexuality is how we act. Period. Thus, strictly put, there is logically and literally really no such thing as "a" lesbian, as liberals propose. Woman may however act like lesbians (the root of the term being the Lesbians of Lesbos as you know). That's in essence the root of his logic. By extension to his specific point: a family is a man, woman and their children. A more debatable point than the first, imho, but his point none less. To refuse to see the point he is making is ignorant or political on your part. His Point about using "kin" is a riposte to liberal debate tactics. His irony was lost to you, however. Not to me.

If some kind of sad and unfortunate "fear" is what you think drives your opponents, you will continue to talk past them - not a good thing for a cleric, a rector and a leader in our church to be doing.

As to your position of sadly waving goodby to those orthodox who leave, I am appalled by that sentiment.

You took an oath. God put them in your care. You should be put your pride over your sexuality down, your intellectual conceit that they have a "fear" problem and can't be convinced, and run after them, find out what is wrong, and spend all your effort to bring them back.

This isn't a crisis over homosexuality. This is a crisis of leadership. Its a crisis, in part of your making. ECUSA is a church not a political party. Our liberal leadership has been speaking and thinking that way for 30 plus years. Its ruining the church.

And I would like to hear your reflections on that point.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Peter. I am Presbyterian, but I was raised Episcopalian. I am very familiar with the issues in both denominations, and my husband is head of a Presbyterian renewal group. I don't know anyone on the orthodox side of things who feels any of the fear that progressives keep saying that we feel. Nor is there any of the anger that progressives keep saying we feel, except perhaps occasional anger at being mischaracterized. It's not fear and anger that drives us; it's deeply held theological beliefs.

Progressives cannot dismiss the orthodox so easily by saying we are just fearful and angry. We really do think and reason about these issues on an intellectual, theological level.

Anonymous said...

To Peter:
You are wrong Peter! Lesbians do exist. I know because I am one. I have been one from birth. I was given my homosexual orientation by God just as God gives others a heterosexual orientation. I am NOT a heterosexual woman acting as a lesbian. My sexual orientation is very much a part of me and reaches to my very soul.

Anonymous said...


As I cannot speak for you, and I am not inclined to be drawn in to logically impossible debating points like what you are "not" (no one can ultimately prove a negative), I will only point out that you are misreading the explaination I made about the orthodox viewpoint.

Again, I am only a Man. You are only a Woman. I agree we have erotic natures (ie: what we are drawn to, or what I think you refer to as your orientation). I agree we act sexually, most of the time based on those erotic natures.

What I do not believe is that acting as a lesbian, or acting as a heterosexual for that matter, entitles one to a new category on this planet other than "man" or "woman". Therefore, your comment "I am not a heterosexual woman acting as a lesbian"(if you follow me, I would add "woman" to lesbian) strikes me as true but is obvious and is not helpful to your claim of special status as a separate being in existence in God's natural order of things, nor in science's for that matter. I would add that assigning such a special gender status, based on what we do is an example of pride, not proof.

By the way, I would make the same point to someone who said "I hate lesbians", right before I encouraged them them to look at the Bible (and science) again and seek a better understanding of things.

Your post actually enables me to go right to the point that I really want to make foremost, that the liberal leadership in our church, has not taken the time to understand much of the orthodox side.

Anonymous said...

To me your thinking is reminiscent of the patriarchal Judeo-Christian thinking that men get to define sexuality for women, both gay and straight. As a modern feminist woman, this does not make sense to me.

Anonymous said...


I would make the exact same example using homosexual men. I just used lesbian women as the example as it seemed to me to be your example as well.

I don't follow your logic. In the case of same sex attaction, men and women not significantly different.(Statistically, more women are bisexual, by alot, but that may have to do with current fashion.) Why would it be logical that women should have define same sex attaction if it is between women?

Anyway, as reasoning person, I get to try and define whatever I want. So do you.

But there is only one truth. As in physics, two truths can't occupy the same "place" at the same time.

Have a wack at it. Do you think there are more than two genders? Scientifically, I mean.


Annie said...

Gender is a commonly misunderstood topic, especially to those who do not self-define as homosexual or bisexual. No fault or blame is assigned, but rather a lack of understanding the "other". Gender is on a scale just like hair color or height. It is not an either or, as you are defining it. Some men/women are very heterosexual, others more toward the middle, and some are homosexual. Therefore, in answer to your question, I would have to say that there are innumerable genders,or perhaps subgenders, if you will. In the same way, there are innumerable hair colors and heights. This is an area that needs better understanding, and hopefully in the future, as these matters become more commonly discussed, we will have more meaningful "labels" if we must label.

Anonymous said...

Forgot where I was posting. I was assuming the traditional usage of the word "gender". Like in latin or law.

I'll rephrase my question. Are there more than two sexes? Aside from hermaphrodite.