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Friday, April 06, 2007

Just a few questions on Good Friday







NB: I can not tell you how deeply honored I am to have something I wrote included as part of Jack Spong's weekly email newsletter (April 4th). Jack has been a mentor, a colleague, a pastor, a friend, and a father in God.

I have disagreed with 80% of what has come out of his mouth, but he never fails to challenge me and invite me into a larger clarity about what it is I do believe, which has led to a deeper understanding and experience of my own faith.

When we were at Lambeth together in 1998, there were times when I was being introduced to some hostile one or another and Jack instinctively placed his body in front of mine. That did not stop some of the verbal gutter-snipes from trying to take a shot or two, but mostly, he took all the hits.

For that love and faith and witness, I am even more deeply a debtor.

You can order his weekly newsletter here. EK+



Dear Friends,

In place of the Question & Answer feature in my column this week, I want to run comments made by an Episcopal priest named the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton. It is an insightful analysis of the current conflict in the Anglican Communion. If you would like to react to this piece, I will consider running a sample of your letters in a future column. Needless to say, I have great admiration for this priest.

– John Shelby Spong

Primates who met at Windsor, Dromantine and Dar es Salaam continue to uphold the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality to be the "standard" of the church, which conservatives want "enforced" so that all are in "compliance."

They have apparently forgotten, these princes of the church and teachers and guardians of the faith, that words like "enforce" and "compliance" are absolutely antithetical to the long tradition of the gracious Anglican Spirit of Accommodation.

In her conversation with the staff at the National Church Center, our new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schiori points out the incremental progress of some Global South primates who can no longer claim not to have met lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people (LGBT).. She muses that it's simply a "matter of time" before the rest of the communion allows "reason" to take its place along side classical Anglicanism of scripture and tradition.

So here are my questions. There are three:

1. How long, exactly, does it take, for the church to correct its "standard" when the church's standard is at least significantly different from the experience of others in other parts of the world, not to mention that the scientific evidence in the West is significantly different from that of the church?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

For centuries, the church's teaching about the shape of the world was that it was flat, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated - not to mention tortured and tried and sent to jail and murdered for disagreeing with the official church "standard" of teaching.

For centuries, the church's teaching about seizure disorder was that it was demon possession, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated – not to mention tortured and locked in asylums because the outward manifestation of their lives were contrary to the official church "standard" of teaching.

For centuries, the church's teaching about left handedness was that it was a sign of evil, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated – not to mention tortured and shunned and exiled because the outward manifestation of their lives were contrary to the official church "standard" of teaching. (My beloved can tell you stories that will raise the hair on the back of your necks about the abuse she and others suffered in Roman Catholic elementary schools because of their left handedness).

2. If we agree that the colonialism and cultural imperialism perpetrated by the North and West on the global South were evils of which we repent, why are we now allowing the attempted ecclesiastical colonialism and imperialism of the Global South primates to be visited upon the churches of the North and the West? I never remember Jesus teaching that "two wrongs make a right." Then again, I don't have a King James Version of the Bible so I may be missing something.

3. Who will take responsibility for the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage done to the church and her people for perpetuating the evils of this deficient standard of teaching? And, let's be clear: it's not simply LGBT people who will suffer. As we have learned from the evils of slavery, racism, sexism and the ignorance which once taught that the world is flat, people who have seizure disorders are possessed of demons and left handed people are the scribes of Satan: when the dignity of any human being is compromised or insulted, a mortal wound is created in the Body of Christ.

I think our Baptismal Covenant has something to say about "the dignity of every human being," as does the Outline of Faith (commonly called the Catechism).

Who will take responsibility for the damage that is done while a deficient standard is upheld and promulgated in the church? Knowing what we know about the irrationality of prejudice, who could claim innocence? Knowing what we know about LGBT people and social sciences and lived experience, why isn't the church's "standard of teaching" being challenged – if not absolutely rejected? And, what price are we willing to pay for the damage done to the Sacred Body of Christ while we wait?

If nothing else, these questions underscore what I see as the need for a Season of Discernment, Study and Prayer so that we are very, very clear what it is we are being asked to do.

8 comments:

Mike in Texas said...

Elizabeth,

"he never fails to challenge me and invite me into a larger clarity about what it is I do believe, which has led to a deeper understanding and experience of my own faith.

In my opinion, that is Bishop Spong's gift, the ability to lead us into deeper thoughts as well as bigger thoughts.

I also think that those who tend to recoil in horror from him are simply resisting his gentle push to get them to cast away the caution and fear that keeps them from thinking outside of their own limited horizons.

It doesn't really matter if you agree 100% with his thoughts once you've done your own homework. The important thing is the growth one can experience in following along with him.

Hiram said...

Where does Bp Spong get all his straw? Most of what he proclaims as "typical conservative Christian teaching" bears as much resemblance to classic evangelical teachings as a mouse resembles a moose. He sets 'em up, and then knocks 'em down. I would love to hear him go head to head with Ravi Zacharias or (better yet) RC Sproul or JI Packer. He would have to deal with real content, then, however, not just what he thinks conservatives believe.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

In my experience, Hiram, and with all due respect to your conservative position, I must say that conservative blogs are full of straw. Just read them sometime. It's pretty amazing how transparent they are.

And, btw, in my experience, Jack Spong can hold his own with "authentic" conservatives. Any time. Any day. Any where.

But, that's not his agenda. He really doesn't care too figs about what conservatives think. He knows he's not going to change them. That's not his purpose.

His purpose is to what he calls "the church alumni society" -those folks who have been to turned off or deeply hurt by what you refer to as the "straw" of conservative positions that they have written off the church and Jesus.

The thing many people don't get about John Shelby Spong is that he loves Jesus - loves him enough to challenge rock solid positions long held by those who revere their positions more than they worship God or Jesus.

Staw? Naw! More like petrified rock. That's what Jack Spong has dedicated his life to chipping away at.

Eileen said...

Wonderful words, Elizabeth+!

I have been wondering the same things myself, and I appreciate the concrete examples of "real" damage done by the church which stubbornly clung to "traditional" knowledge in the name of Christ, instead calling it what it really was - the very human compunction to declare one's position RIGHT, CORRECT, THE WAY.

Blessings.

also, I agree with you about Spong.
I, too, am concerned about people who see the church as a damning damaging place, and turn away. I think Jack Spong has a real voice for those people - he brings them back into a relationship with God and the Church. "Orthodox" Christians don't need to be called back to church, but, I think they do need Spong's words to see that the world is a big place, and that not all feeling, believing Christians believe in the same ways.

Dermot said...

Elizabeth,

You ask, referring to 1998 Lambeth resolution 1.10, "Who will take responsibility for the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage done to the church and her people for perpetuating the evils of this deficient standard of teaching?"

Only a few days earlier (April 2) you said, "I stopped counting after I lost my 50th friend to the [AIDS] epidemic."

I am left with the haunting thought that they might all still be alive if they had followed the behavioural standard that you regard as defective. Who will take responsibility for that damage?

I hope you will accept this post as arising from Christian love rather than cultural imperialism. For some people it may be the difference between life and death.

Kind regards

Dermot

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dermont,

I've published your comment only because it says so much more about you than any scurrilous thing you could say about my friends who have died.

Christian love?

I'll bet you can quote scripture, chapter and verse, but I fear you don't know anything about the unconditional love of Jesus.

Dermot said...

Elizabeth

I'm sorry I hurt you. I know the memory of so many friends will be dear to you.

What I was trying clumsily to point out was that if people worldwide followed Lambeth teaching, AIDS would die out.

Is that not a prize worth striving towards - although we'll never meet it?

Jesus' love for us is unconditional, as you rightly say. But if we claim to love him, he does impose conditions, "If anyone loves me, he/ she will obey my teaching" (Jn 14:23). And Jesus was painfully strict on matters of sexual morality.

I agree with your judgement about "the irrationality of prejudice". I'm trying to be rational. Once again, I'm sorry about the pain my words caused you.

Kind regards

Dermot

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Dermot, I fear you also don't know much about the various ways AIDS is transmitted - much less life in Africa or Asia where the AIDS pandemic is raging out of control.

AIDS may have had its debut IN THIS COUNTRY in the gay community, but the AIDS pandemic is, and probably always has been, a much larger problem among heterosexuals.

But, that's not the point. The point of the spread of AIDS is not about a judgment on groups of people because of their sexual orientation, or geographical location, or race or even class or economic standard.

Rather, it's about uninformed, unprotected sexual behavior.

AIDS will not die out if the Lambeth Standard is observed.

The so-called Lambeth standard is as out of touch with the reality of people's lives as it was about Birth Control and the status of Women in the church and the role of Women in the world, and Divorce, and any number of other issues of social concern.

We don't need a Lambeth standard.

We need a Jesus standard - which the Lambeth standard most definitely is not.

In fact, I think it makes Jesus weep.