Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Promised Rowan Williams Rant

The headline was “Archbishop of Canterbury says Homosexuality is Wound in Church’s Side” -- a response to Rowan Williams’ interview with the Times of London last week.

I was, of course, irate when I read that Williams spoke against endorsing relationships for gay and lesbian clergy and bishops because “the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point.’" I even sent out a warning that I “felt a Rowan Williams Rant” coming on – but was too busy to write it.

And I’m still too busy to write it. But after the news of the week, I’ve gone from irate to righteously indignant, so here goes:

While Rowan Williams is whining about homosexuality "wounding the side" of the institutional church, he remains blind to the cancer of homophobia that is spreading in the Body of Christ. And it's time somebody pointed out the difference.

I'm remembering my experience on an 8-day Ignatian silent retreat with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Yes, really.) The long-story-short is that in working with the sister assigned as my spiritual director, we entered into conversation about vocation – and she invited me to explore whether or not I had a vocation to the episcopate. (To be a bishop.)

I answered quickly and definitively that I was absolutely clear that I was not called to be a bishop because I believe a bishop is called to guard the unity of the church and I didn’t give a rat’s tail about the unity of the church.

She replied – equally quickly and definitively – by asking me which church was it that I didn’t give a rat’s tail about: the institutional church or the church as the Body of Christ.

And I told her I thought our time was up for the day. Because I was busted.

The truth is I care deeply about the unity of the Body of Christ. I care deeply about those members who have been baptized into Christ’s Body and then isolated, segregated, marginalized, excluded and dismissed because they happen to be gay or lesbian. Paul was right about the whole “one member of the body cannot say to another I have no need of you” thing – and yet that is what is and has been said to the Church’s gay and lesbian members for generations. It's what Rowan Williams says when he calls us a "wound in the side of the church." And it is time for it to stop.

And it’s not just time for it to stop because some gay or lesbian folks are called into both ordained ministry and a covenanted relationship with the love of their life.

It’s time for it to stop because when Rowan Williams says “Homosexuality is a Wound in the Church’s Side” he adds more fuel to the fire of homophobia that drives people – especially young people to self-loathing, to despair and – far too frequently – to suicide.

This week’s news has been a horrifying parade of young lives lost to the cancer of homophobia. Seth Walsh. Asher Brown. Billy Lucas. Tyler Clementi. They all took their own lives after being branded as gay by bullies whose abuse convinced them their lives were not worth living.

And while Rowan Williams is busy worrying about the “unity of the church,” the church he’s so worried about is overtly complicit in the spread of the disease that killed these children – the disease of homophobia.

Because here’s the deal with wounds: they heal. They may take a little time, they make take a little tending, they may leave a little scar … but they heal. And sometimes they even make us stronger for having fought the battles worth fighting. And if homosexuality – or more accurately, the fight to fully include homosexual children of God equally in the work and witness of the church – inflicts a few wounds then they are wounds the church should bear proudly as it lives into its calling to be the Body of Christ on earth.

Even Jesus showed up on Easter Day with a few wounds to show for the work he’d been called to do – why on earth shouldn’t the church that purports to be His body – to follow in His footsteps – expect some of the same? “The cost to the Church overall is too great to be borne at that point?’" Give me a break.

I came out of my 8-day retreat still clear I was not called to the episcopate but also clear about the difference between the institution and the incarnation. And so today I’m yearning for Williams to spend a little time with a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who might challenge him to figure out the difference between the institutional church and the church as the Body of Christ. And might send him out ready to suck it up and quit whining about wounds and get to work preserving the unity of the Body of Christ by healing it of its homophobia. Because the cost to the Church overall is too great for us to settle for anything less.


IT said...

Preach it, Susan. well done.

JimB said...

Amen! And worth waiting for.


Bruce said...

I like your rant better than his.

SCG said...

Excellent! Homophobia is the cancer in the Body of Christ, the real wounds to the church. I have often said that when people in positions of power such as ++Rowan continue to talk of LGBT people as "other" and "trouble", they fuel the fear and hatred that leads to the tragedies we've seen reported this week.

Muthah+ said...

Yep, the RSCJ's can do that to you. Thank you for the rant. I had to do much the same with some of the 'brethern' lately. Yours helps give me words!

JCF said...

Susan, I don't know if you're correct in your discernment (only you---and God!---can say for sure).

I DO know that Rowan NEEDS to spend time w/ the family and friends of Billy, Asher, Seth, Tyler (etc etc etc AD NAUSEUM).

Let him tell THEM about their sons "choice of lifestyle". Let him tell THEM about the PRICE of his precious "unity".

Whether some "Anglican" bishop somewhere CHOOSES to associate w/ some other bishop? Really? Who gives a flying f@ck?! Their child/brother/friend/beloved is STILL DEAD!!!! }-(...

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Wayne Hastings said...

Susan, I appreciate you more and more every time I hear you speak or read something you've written. You have my humbled and awed thanks for your zeal and dedication.

Ann said...

Right JCF --

Caminante said...

'Is a teaching of Christ or of the Church?' A wise sister of the Order of Saint Helena (may she rest in peace) taught me that concept which I have applied ever since we first discussed it in 1993.

Unknown said...

It's time for a new Archbishop. ABC is no longer short for Archbp of Canterbury - for Rowan it is All Bull Crap!

Sue Roediger said...

You said it so well - - God loves all God's children.

MarkBrunson said...

I find nothing to be more a wound in Christ's side than these career men interested in preserving their corporation and its market share.

The unity of the Body of Christ is important, and we've evolved and survived long enough past the last eyewitnesses to move on from mere institutional concerns.

Daniel Weir said...

If a leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints can listen to LGBT Mormons and apologize, then why can't the Archbishop listen?

David and John said...

I haven't shouted an "Amen" since I was a teenager in a Methodist revival, but I'll sure shout out one now! THANK YOU Susan Russell for saying exactly what needed to be said in response to ++Williams hurtful words.

chris ambidge said...

I must admit I rolled my eyes and didn't read the actual text of what ++Rowan said until this morning. I didn't realise that he said that Homosexuality is a wound in the side of the Church.

No, it isn't. My homosexuality (and that of any number of gays and lesbians and whatever else) in [or out] of the church is NOT a problem. It's not a problem for the church, either; any more than the colour of my eyes or of my skin or of my hair is a problem.

The way that people in the church react to my orientation is indeed kicking up a lot of dust in the church. But it is the attitudes and approaches (or "homophobia" to use a shorthand phrase) that is the problem. That's how God created me.

How dare he say that homosexuality is a "wound" in the church? Stop pathologising my life, and start healing attitudes.

Kirstin said...


Where can I go from your Spirit? said...

32 years I have been an Episcopalian. I am on vestry at my parish. I am on a diocesan committee. I am exhausted by the Church at times when it comes to her complacency. Yet, i discern my call to the priesthood. I am a believer in community and healing, but i will say this. I think the time has come and is past for putting up with the debate of human rights. Rowan should step down, or TEC should cut ties with the communion. We must not accept homophobia. There is nothing left to discuss. We are talking about human rights. There is no middle ground. there is right and there is wrong.

uffda51 said...

Williamson also has no objection to left-handed bishops as long as they refrain from using pens & pencils, and no objection to red-haired bishops as long as they dye their hair black.

The wound in the side of the church is the continued institutional demonization of "the other" in the name of "unity."

Dan Beavers said...

To JCF. AMEN! You said what I feel. I am so outraged this week. I do not consider myself Anglican at all. Let the pointy hats argue. I think I have to step away from it for my spiritual sanity.

Anonymous said...

My dear Sister in Christ,

I had until a few moments ago been revelling in memories of a Fiftieth High School Graduation Reunion back in good ol’ Iowa. And then I read the report of our Primate’s appalling words that I cannot bring myself to repeat. I had been jubilant about having received earlier this evening a message of thanks from Iowa Supreme Court Justice, Marc Cady, the hero who wrote the superbly thoughtful ruling on equal rights to marriage that carried my home State’s highest court unanimously. Justice Cady is a (Republican and I believe Roman Catholic) citizen of my home town, and I think his reasoning will or certainly ought to convince our federal Supreme Court of its argument. I’m still slowly plowing through Diarmaid MacCullough’s masterpiece, CHRISTIANITY, and had shown to friends the Archbishop’s praise for the book at the top of its cover’s list of glistening reviews. Then I was brought to read his chilling statement about our—my—supposed effect upon Christ’s Body, the Church!
I would have gone to bed tonight in despair had I not read your characteristically clear, courageous, and comforting reply to His Most Reverend Lordship’s Grace. My humble and joyful thanks to you! AMEN and AMEN!!! (I hope that’s not sexist. : )


Miriam said...

Thank you Susan.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gave those who listen their marching orders. "Go and do thou likewise." It wasn't a request or a plea, it was an order he issued. I have always thought the bracelet that reads "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?) should read WWTGSD, what would the Good Samaritan do? The Good Samaritan would welcome every child of God to equal participation and standing in the infinite love of God. And I also welcome all homosexual, bisexual, transexual and heterosexual children of God to this blessing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Friend, I am cross linking this excellent rant!

WSJM said...

My thanks also, Susan.

If the unity of the (institutional) Church trumps all else, then what's our excuse for being Anglicans? What was the Reformation all about (granted that it turned out to be a very mixed bag on all sides)? If +Rowan really cares that much about unity over truth, then why has he not already submitted to Rome? (Oh, that's right -- as Eric Mascall said fifty+ years ago, "I should have gone last Tuesday week, had not my wife objected.")

Anonymous said...

Right on sister!

June Butler said...

Susan, a righteous rant, indeed! Thank you, my sister.

Lerewayah said...

Nothing I could say would add to the comments above. Susan, you have said it, sister. Thank you!

poppy tupper said...

Actually, I'm happy to accept that homosexuality is a wound in the side of the church. The church, as well all know, is the Body of Christ, so a wound in the side of the church is a wound in the body of Christ. Now, we're all, I hope, familiar with the image of an angel hovering at Christ's side on the cross, holding a chalice, which is being filled with his blood pouring from the wound in his side. So, I'm perfectly happy to think that homosexuality is the thing (one of the many things) which brings the life-giving blood of Christ to the people of God. It is, after all, through his wounds that we are healed. Th wound is not something which kills the body, but something which releases the redemptive power of Christ.
I'm not a fan of RW. I think he's sold the pass. But he is a subtle thinker and I wonder if his image here wasn't acarefully coded one, by which he salved his own conscience.

Jim DeLa said...

This simply makes so much sense. Let's pray these words sink in at Lambeth anyway.

DeaconScott said...

Let's be careful about what he said and what he didn't. Rowan is a very subtle thinker and speaker, and one must listen for subtleties.

The Daily Mail article states that the Archbishop "said that he had been 'conscious' of the issue of homosexuality as 'a wound in the whole ministry' (of the church?) since his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002."

Not "homosexuality," but "the issue of homosexuality:" An important difference. And it's a "wound," not in individual homosexual persons, or GLBTs as a group, but "in the whole ministry." Another important difference.

And, well, if he said that, just that, only that, then it's pretty clear that he's right.

So what makes it so? What makes "the issue of homosexuality" such an issue that it is "a wound in the ministry?" Well, I would agree wholeheartedly with SCG, who said that "homophobia is the cancer in the Body of Christ, the real wounds to the church." I rather imagine that Rowan might endorse such a statement as well, if he believed himself at liberty to do so.

Were it not for homophobia, "the issue of homosexuality" would be a non-issue, or at most one well on the way to resolution.

Dcn Scott Elliott
Diocese of Chicago

uffda51 said...

I don't believe that the people who are bullying LGBT teens into killing themselves, and the people fundraising to oppose marriage equality, are interested in subtle thinking or speaking.

Exactly why isn’t Rowan Williams “at liberty” to speak his mind?

Maybe what’s needed right now is fiery outspoken leadership, not subtle thinking and umpteen more decades of resolutions and discernment.

(Sorry about typing "Williamson" in my previous post. Apparently I have a secret wish that Rowan Atkinson was Archbishop of Canterbury).

Leonard said...

Another convenient muddle...oh dang, we´ve been let down again.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has always been snide and uppity regarding LGBT Bishops, clergy and laity at TEC/Anglican Communion while successfully avoiding the acknowledgment of the bloodflow of LGBT Christians in Africa and beyond.

Messy business, we Gays!

· Archbishop Rowan avoided mentioning the hate crime attack, and few days later, death of Michael Causner in Liverpool which happened DURING the Lambeth Conference...Dr. Williams yammered on and on about ¨lifes real challenges¨ throughout the Anglican Communion but didn´t discuss LGBT Anglicans and OUR persecution at Church/beyond.

· In 2009 Rowan Williams pushed for a punishing Anglican Covenant on the LGBT blood-drenched ground of Kingston, Jamaica at the ACC Meeting...++Rowan didn´t mention the LGBT crimes of hate that are the very worst in the Western Hemisphere in Jamaica which are a ugly, and daily, reminder of our abuse, suffering and death by murder in Jamaica.

Rowan Williams behavior/moraless leadership is unthinkable in the face of REAL crimes against humanity...our humanity and other peoples too...he turns away from the real outcomes of bullies running rampant at the Anglican Communion/Global South and Gafcon.

Rowan doesn´t see what he chooses not to see.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Amen, dearest Sister!