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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Second Monday in Lambeth

In the midst of the tensions that are building regarding the 5 PM Press Conference which will report the bishop’s 2-4 PM discussion the Anglican Covenant, I, and many of the women and a few of the men here at St. Stephen’s Communication Center are finding ourselves in the midst of a creative tension of sorts.

The nature and character of our worship experiences in daily morning and evening prayer as well as our Eucharistic celebrations are revealing the painful reality that we, ourselves, have a great many miles to go before we arrive at the full understanding of our work for justice.

I was not in attendance, having made a prior commitment to preach at St. Andrew’s, Rugby on Sunday morning, but apparently, the Eucharist which was celebrated this past Saturday evening was the proverbial last straw.

It began, I’m told, with an apology that, “apparently the Inclusive Language police were asleep” when the liturgy was being prepared. The priest who offered the apology seemed oblivious to the fact that his words of regret fell woefully short.

Not only were they, in fact, dismissive and insulting, but also hurtful and alarming. Rather than address the powerful nature of words and their meaning, his words fell on the ears of many as a statement of a failure to have been ‘politically correct’.

What will it take, many of us wondered, for those men and women who are leaders and members of organizations named ‘Inclusive Church’ and ‘Changing Attitudes’ and ‘Integrity’ to understand that if these are the images of the nature of the work of justice, then the language we use for God and humankind – especially when we gather for prayer – must be a reflection and an embodiment of the integrity of our work?

If we are about the business of the promotion of changing attitudes that bring our church to an understanding of ‘full inclusion’, then it is critically important that the words we use are not only inclusive but, in fact, expansive enough to carry and convey the hope and conviction of the changes we are promoting.

My friend, Kathy Ragsdale, and I were discussing these things this morning and she made what I consider a point that is central and critical to understand. She said that if we focus our work on dismantling sexism, then the work of dismantling heterosexism will follow. If, however, we focus our work on dismantling heterosexism, our efforts will always fall short.

I couldn’t agree more. Then again, I’ve always maintained that the ‘original sin’ of the scriptural understanding of Eden is sexism. As I have noted on previous occasions, Suzanne Pharr’s book, “Homophobia: A Tool of Sexism" makes this abundantly clear.

We need to understand the interlocking nature of oppression – all oppression. It is not a coincidence that poverty and disease affect women and their children around the world in disproportionate numbers. Women and their children also suffer from little or no access to education and health services as compared to men.

The Millennium Development Goals provide clear evidence of this. Three of the eight MDG’s (numbers three, four and five), in fact – specifically address the abysmal situation around the globe for women and children; the rest clearly affect them disproportionately.

If we do not come to the work of the injustices we personally experience without an understanding of the interlocking nature of oppression, our work not only lacks credibility, it also lacks integrity with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If our work for justice for ourselves is not also deeply rooted and grounded in justice for all, it begins to reflect the situation described by Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer who cautioned that our work needs to be for ‘justice’ and not ‘just-us.’

It is painfully ironic that the very ones who listen to Desmond Tutu preach that “All . . . all . . .all” are brought into the expansive and loving embrace of God in Christ often only hear “Me . . .me . . .me.”

If the language we use as a faith community in common worship is not expansive enough to reflect our commitment to and passion for justice for all of God’s children, our prayers are but our own injustices clothed and enshrined in beautiful, precious words; they become like empty tinkering cymbals or noisy, gonging bells.

I bid your prayers for us, here in Canterbury, England, who are praying and working for change in the minds and hearts of our beloved Church. May the work of justice, and our words of prayer for justice, begin in our own hearts and minds and flow from our lips like an ever flowing stream of righteousness and hope.
May we become, more and more, what we profess to be: the Body of Christ who loves us all – old and young, black, brown and white, male and female, rich and poor, enslaved or free, LGBT and straight – unconditionally.

1 comment:

C.W.S. said...

It's unfortunate that we're still debating this more than 30 years later, but sadly there's a faction in the church that wants to dismiss inclusive and expansive language as a passing fad. That's where "jokes" about the "inclusive language police" come from.

Naturally, it's in their best interests to encourage that viewpoint, that all those hippie radicals that wanted to change the language back in the 70s really don't care that much about it anymore. Maybe not all of us were around in the 70s, but it IS still an important concept to promote, even if it sometimes seems to be losing ground.

I was pleased to note that at the recent annual conference of the Hymn Society, most everyone seemed to have a "well, of course" attitude to adapting the language we sing in worship, though I am sure there are some silent holdouts.

At my hymn blog, I inclusify everything, to the occasional bewilderment of my few commenters, but I'm pretty much flying under the radar and haven't promoted the blog where lots of people with differing viewpoints would see it and feel compelled to respond.