A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
Be Ye Different: Sacramental Inauthenticity, the dis-em-Body-ment
of Christ, Spiritualities of Resistance, and Queer Pride
by Christopher Evans firstname.lastname@example.org
“You’ve Gotta Give Them Hope!” —Harvey Milk
I begin this reflection with these words of resistance by Harvey Milk, primarily because I am not writing this piece just as a means of response to the Primates’ latest pronouncement, but as a call for LGBTQ Christians, Anglicans in particular, to hold fast to their hope in Christ Jesus in the midst of the present, death-dealing order of things in the Church catholic, the Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church, USA. As I look out at the San Francisco Bay, as Queer Pride month begins, I ask blessed Harvey Milk (San Francisco City Council member, gay-activist, martyr for the life of LGBTQ people) to pray for us, remembering that he uttered these profoundly prophetic and eschatological words in the midst of the hopelessness and great suffering of LGBTQ persons at the hands of the Church, State, and Society in the 1970s. Milk’s words ring just as true for us who are LGBTQ today. Spiritualities of Resistance!
The traditions of the Church contain within them both life-affirming and life-destroying tendencies that have ideated themselves in the flesh in various ways throughout history. These tendencies tend to square up fairly well with Docetic and Incarnational modes of faith respectively. And for LGBTQ persons, the Church and its leadership is queerly Docetic, considering the long battles to uphold the Incarnation. In the face of this anti-body ideation, if we as LGBTQ persons are to thrive, we must unite our bodies with the body of Jesus, who was a martyr (in line with Jewish martyrdom traditions—see Antoinette Clarke Wire and Luise Schottroff) for the life of the people and who knew a lot about the anti-body ideation of this world of the reign of fear and hatred, violence and death-dealing. We who are LGBTQ Christians must bind ourselves with Milk in his embodied resistance to such death-dealing, giving hope to those LGBTQ persons, especially our youth—many of whom find themselves on the streets at this very moment as I write, rejected by family and a Church crying “hosannas” to a god of war and fear and hate that masquerades as the G-D of Jesus Christ. We must bind ourselves to the embodied resistance of our teacher and master, Jesus of Nazareth, whose resistance to the powers of fear and hatred, violence and death-dealing made flesh in the powers fallen to Empire, got him nailed to the Cross. We must bind ourselves to the embodied resistance of our G-D in Jesus Christ, whose Resurrection is a resounding “No!” to the powers of death-dealing and a resounding “Yes!” to life, including LGBTQ lives. To paraphrase Milk: “We’ve Gotta Give Them Hope!” We’ve gotta live out our LGBTQ Spiritualities of Resistance!
Now, much happens in the use of language. A lot seems to be happening with the word “tradition” these days in order to justify the continued oppression of LGBTQ persons. But we LGBTQ folks who are Anglican Christians must remember that we too are bearers of our Anglican tradition of both continuity and discontinuity; connections with our catholic heritage and breaks with that same heritage (or should we say returns to the radix, the roots of that heritage?) And as such, we are called to remind our leadership that the Church is always in need of returning to its roots in Jesus Christ, and the Reformers, by calling upon the prophetic-critical components of our catholic hertitage, remind us of that very truth: Ecclesia semper reformanda est—the Church is always reforming. Indeed, we are bearers of tradition in the finest sense of the word, traditio—to pass on, to make our own. In light of the present vitriol, we all are in desperate need of remembering some of the not-much-talked-about history of break with the tradition, “of tradition made their own” by heterosexuals who are married. For example, I find the present vitriolic discussions concerning the blessing of same-sex couples ironic in the extreme seeing that the performance of marriage as a sacrament by clergy inside of the sanctuary was not generally allowed in the East until the 8th century and in the West until the 11th century because married heterosexual couples were considered impure (by means of having sex) by a largely monastic clerical class. Now talk about family values! I also find such discussions ironic seeing that our own reforming Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had to hide his wife by shuttling her around in a coffin because of King Henry VIII’s vacillation between allowing and prohibiting clergy to marry. Clearly, Cranmer and his wife knew something about closets! We might even say that our reforming archbishop and his wife were in that sense “queer.” Perhaps if our heterosexual-married primates, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and laity tried out some of these aforementioned components of the HALLOWED TRADITION for a few weeks, they might find within themselves a renewed urgency to understand our own insistence on also breaking with those components of the tradition that condemn same-sex relationships and blessings? Spiritualities of Resistance!
Again, much happens in the use of language. For example, liberal, LGBTQ-supporter, Bishop William Swing of the Diocese of California, commenting on Lambeth, says in the November 2002 edition of The Witness:
“Now, two years later, he gives a behind-the-scenes look at what happened. "At the last General Convention, I made a speech on the floor and said, ‘There is not a bishop who does not know where we will be 10 years from now. The issue is how do we get there from here, and stay in unity.’ No one stood up to challenge that, or challenged me personally afterward. I think the trajectory of conferring complete humanity will finally be extended to homosexuals, just as we had to wrestle with whether black people were really people, and whether women were really people. Now the issue is whether homosexuals are really people. Ultimately, that has to do with incarnation. If God is with us, God is with black people, with women, with gay and lesbian people. If this is so, then in what areas must the church stand and be counted in order to declare its insight?”
Frankly, I am a human being, an adult child of God, a baptized Christian, and bless his heart, Bishop Swing is trying here, but he misses the mark on one point. The Episcopal Church doesn’t confer full humanity on LGBTQ folks—as if overseers or the institution of the Church has ever had such power. We are dignified as human beings by the glory of G-D, being creatures of G-D saved by G-D’s grace through our faith in Christ Jesus. Those who experience bodily the fallenness of the powers—including the institution of the Church—, those who, in other words, experience oppression in its manifold forms throughout time, be they Jews, enslaved Africans, imprisoned Chinese immigrants, women, the poor and starving, and the list could go on, have never had the luxury of relying on the beneficence of those in authority, those who are often privileged, to recognize and confer upon us our human dignity. We have had to “drink from our own wells,” to quote Gustavo Gutierrez, recognizing our dignity within ourselves as children of the Most High despite the disembodying rhetoric of those in power, while we live out spiritualities of resistance to the disembodying rhetoric of those in power and the fallen powers they represent and too often seek to maintain in their present state of fallenness. And thus, we do not so much need the have the Episcopal Church confer humanity upon us as LGBTQ persons; but instead, the Episcopal Church needs to remember (and be reminded of) its own humanity in Christ Jesus and then treat us accordingly. We have had to recognize that all too often, if we are to survive and even thrive, we must actively resist those in authority because they hear us not. And so we cry out to G-D, who does hear us. Spiritualities of Resistance!
yes, must necessarily incorporate openness to conversion, to forgiveness,
and to reconciliation (as holy guides as diverse as the Desert Abbas and
Ammas, Benedict & Scholastica, Martin of Tours, Gandhi, King, Day, Tutu
demonstrate) with those who would have us kept in our “proper place,” but
never should these dangerous terms—conversion, forgiveness, and reconciliation—be
used as substitutes or whitewashes for our insistence on right-relationships
to our bodies that don’t rip our bodies apart physically, emotionally, mentally,
spiritually so that the Church might remain unified, ordered, and unambiguous. No offense to Rev. Louie Skipper, who writes, “It is extraordinarily important for those who seek the blessing
of same sex unions to bear witness to those who are against full inclusion. To do so, those who seek to be blessed must live into
the honest conviction and pain of those whose faith depends upon a different
understanding of scripture, sexuality, and even salvation,” but we
must begin to recognize that the pain experienced by those who oppose the
inclusion of LGBTQ persons, while not different perhaps in kind, is different
in severity, degree, outcome, and effect on real bodies.
My observation is this:
I know of few, if any, anti-LGBTQ advocates who are treated almost daily to a dose of condemning rhetoric and ideological justification for continued oppression by the pope, patriarchs, cardinals, bishops, priests and pastors. I know that daily LGBTQ persons are treated to an onslaught of condemnations by Pope John Paul II, patriarchs, various cardinals, bishops (Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran among others), priests and pastors (Again, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran among others). As such, pastoral care for LGBT persons, rather public or private, by Church leaders is severely compromised, lacks credibility, and should be taken only with a mountain of salt. I know of few, if any, anti-LGBTQ advocates in the Church committing suicide because the Church moves to be more inclusive of LGBTQ persons and their concerns. I do know of many LGBTQ persons who have attempted suicide or who have successfully committed suicide because of the present stance of the Church catholic toward us. As such, the Church as it stands is not of the whole, not catholic, not of the Shalom in the deepest sense of the word, and no cries for unity, order, and clarity without right relationships will bring about such catholicity. I know of few, if any, anti-LGBTQ advocates in the Church who live in constant danger of losing their employment, housing, Visa status, etc., because of their stance, but I know of many LGBTQ persons who are in danger of such hardships or who have experienced such hardships because they are LGBTQ. As such, the heterosexual privileges of marriage and the nuclear family that anti-LGBTQ advocates fear LGBTQ persons will undermine (even though it seems heterosexuals do this all on their own) by our full inclusion in these rights, responsibilities, and rites of the Church, pales in comparison to the present dangers that LGBTQ persons find themselves in. I know of few, if any, anti-LGBTQ advocates in the Church who have been tortured and murdered by LGBTQ persons for their point-of-view. I do know of many LGBTQ persons, whose blood cries out from the earth, who have been and continue to be tortured and murdered by those who spout anti-LGBTQ rhetoric or by those who listen to those who do. Some of these victims died in Nazi concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen which I visited only two years ago, since it is a mere 30 miles down the road from my partner’s village; some of these victims are executed legally by the state of various nations, often with the backing of the local faith tradition; some of these victims have even been Anglican, such as my peer, Matthew Shephard who, like myself, attended high school in Casper, Wyoming. And let’s not be naïve, the Anglican Communion is a spouter and supporter of such rhetoric wherever and whenever it maintains public-liturgical silence about us (and thus, its refusal to resist the present death-dealing order of things in Church, State, and Society) or it actively excludes us by its public-liturgical words and deeds. I know of few, if any, anti-LGBTQ advocates who have been turned away from communion, but I know of many LGBTQ persons who have been turned away from communion in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran parishes. And in such cases, the sacrament becomes for the LGBTQ person a place of disembodiment, a place of anti-sacrament, a place of the anti-Eschaton, a place of the reign of the world in St. Paul’s sense of the term—the body of fear and hatred, violence and death-dealing (so beautifully recovered by Bishop John T. Robinson in Body: A Study in Pauline Theology)—in short, the very antithesis of G-D’s Basilea, G-D’s Shalom. And as such, we who are LGBTQ must actively struggle to re-interpret such moments, such failures of Christian leadership and ministry, in light of the Cross: Spiritualities of Resistance!
We liturgical theologians call such moments in worship, moments of inauthenticity. Moments when what is proclaimed is not what is lived out; moments which honour the bread and wine that re-present the Body and Blood of Christ while Church pastoral leadership fails to honour Jesus Christ present in the LGBTQ flesh-and-blood bodies before them. We who are LGBTQ then know quite a bit about inauthenticity in regards to the leadership, pastoral care, and the sacraments of the Church—and the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church do little better than other Christian traditions, though we like to pat ourselves on the back for being so much more inclusive and liberal. Is it any wonder then that so many LGBTQ persons flee the Church? Is it any wonder then that so many LGBTQ persons must find alternate spiritual direction and groups to get them through the disembodiment of Sunday worship? We who are LGBTQ persons in the face of such treatment, such torture, cannot settle for being good little boys and girls so that we too can have a blessing while the Church actively and openly blesses bombs and battleships, LGBTQ-destructive rhetoric and ideologies, bishops who cover up child sexual abuse, and heterosexual couples who may or may not be blessings to those around them (yet the Church blesses them almost indiscriminately regardless of how much of a blessing they are to others). To reiterate the voice of G-D through the Prophets in such moments: “You offer your sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, but you do not justice. I despise your festivals and your fasts; your music and your offerings! For you honour me with your lips, but not with your deeds.” Spiritualities of Resistance!
Again, much happens in the
use of language. The latest call from the Primates’
Meeting smacks heavily of a call for obedience. But
such a call to obedience as the Primates understand it is a one-sided call,
and hence, an expression of the will to power, and as such, is a false understanding
of obedience for the adult child of God in Jesus Christ.
Archbishop Williams should know better, being the good follower of
Sts. Benedict and Scholastica that he is. As Sr. Joan
Chittister, OSB demonstrates with the support of her Erie house, obedience
is about listening to and by all parties concerned—such is adult Christian
obedience. Sr. Chittister and her Erie house demonstrate
well an unwillingness, indeed a resistance, to the kind of obedience such
as that which the Primates’ Meeting calls for, noting the deep roots of obedience
in the Latin verb, obedire—to listen. In
resistance to the one-sided approach that the Papal Curia has insisted upon
in regards to discussions concerning the ordination of women in the Roman
Catholic tradition, Sr. Chittister’s prioress, Sr. Christine Vladimiroff,
writes in solidarity with Sr. Chittister on behalf of their house:
For the past three months I have been in deliberations with Vatican officials regarding Sister Joan Chittister's participation in the Women's Ordination Worldwide First International Conference, June 29 to July 1, Dublin, Ireland. The Vatican believed her participation to be in opposition to its decree (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) that priestly ordination will never be conferred on women in the Roman Catholic Church and must, therefore, never be discussed. The Vatican ordered me to prohibit Sister Joan from attending the conference where she is a main speaker.
I spent many hours discussing the issue with Sister Joan and traveled to Rome to dialogue about it with Vatican officials. I sought the advice of bishops, religious leaders, canonists, other prioresses, and most importantly, my religious community, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. I spent many hours in communal and personal prayer.
After much deliberation and prayer, I concluded that I would decline the request of the Vatican. It is out of the Benedictine, or monastic, tradition of obedience that I formed my decision. There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican. Benedictine authority and obedience are achieved through dialogue between a member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility, always in the context of community. The role of the prioress in a Benedictine community is to be a center of unity and a guide in the seeking of God. While lived in community, it is the individual member who does the seeking.
Sister Joan Chittister, who has lived the monastic life with faith and fidelity for 50 years, must make her own decision based on her sense of Church, her monastic profession and her own personal integrity. I do not see her participation in this conference as "a source of scandal to the faithful" as the Vatican alleges. I think the faithful can be scandalized when honest attempts to discuss questions of import to the church are forbidden.
I presented my decision to the community and read the letter that I was sending to the Vatican. 127 members of 128 eligible members of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie freely supported this decision by each signing her name to that letter. Sister Joan addressed the Dublin conference with the blessing of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie.
My decision should in no way indicate a lack of communion with the Church. I am trying to remain faithful to the role of the 1500-year-old monastic tradition within the larger Church. We trace our tradition to the early Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century who lived on the margin of society in order to be a prayerful and questioning presence to both church and society. Benedictine communities of men and women were never intended to be part of the hierarchical or clerical status of the Church, but to stand apart from this structure and offer a different voice. Only if we do this can we live the gift that we are for the Church. Only in this way can we be faithful to the gift that women have within the Church.
Should we who are LGBTQ do any less? I think not, considering that Lambeth not only called for LGBTQ persons and our supporters to listen to rather nasty condemnations of our persons and faithful relationships as well as heed prohibitions against rites of blessing of our faithful relationships or official recognition that we can serve as clergy, but Lambeth also called for listening to the faith journeys and life stories of LGBTQ persons, and this listening has yet to begin, while the Primates and many bishops insist with a heavy hand that we now bow to their condemnations and prohibitions for the moment so that we can have peace and unity in the Anglican Communion. Listening is a two-way street, but the Primates have insisted on a childish understanding of obedience not worthy of adult Christians, so why should we anymore listen without taking their words with mountains of salt? I say with the prophet Jeremiah: “They say, peace, peace, where there is not peace!” We will not have peace without right relationships. Spiritualities of Resistance!
Too often, when Church leaders speak of the workings of the Holy Spirit, they speak of unity, order, and clarity; yet, the Holy Spirit works not only through (and not primarily through, for oppressed peoples) the moments of unity, order, and clarity, but through the moments of fragmentation, disorder, and ambiguity. Unity, order, and clarity are too often the tools of the powers fallen to Empire, which seeks to maintain the present death-dealing order of things. Fragmentation, disorder, and ambiguity—in the face of the powers fallen to Empire—open the doors for the Holy Spirit to work for those who cry out in their bondage, oppression, sorrow, agony, affliction, suffering, despair, and self-hatred, providing us with alternative visions from the present, death-dealing order of things in Churches, States, and Societies. The present disordering of the Church, the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, concerning sexual minorities is just one small crack—a crack through which the Spirit breathes: “Let my people go!”—through which I see hope for LGBTQ Christians, but not just for LGBTQ Christians, but for all who hunger to move the Church toward a wider vision of right relationships in economics, among genders, among races and ethnicities, between nations, with animals/plants/creation. The Primates’ move to restore by fiat an uniformity of practice that masquerades as unity, a status quo that masquerades as order, and an oppressive ideology of sexuality and gender that masquerades as clarity cannot and will not hold. We need not respond in kind to the Primates’ fear and hatred, violence and death-dealing. We can respond with hope, living out our faith in solidarity with the Crucificed Risen One who by his death destroys death. While the Primates may only be capable of offering stones and scorpions to us LGBTQ Christians at this time, we can be bread and life for the world. Spiritualities of Resistance!
We who are LGBTQ have gotta give our Primates hope in the face of their own unbelief that G-D can love them every bit as much as She loves us—that the grace model of G-D in Jesus Christ is an abundance model, not the ungracious scarcity model which presently constrains and hardens our Primates’hearts. And in that vein, there is so much work to be done and so many ways in which we can participate (offering up our own personal gifts and bodies) both locally and globally for justice, for compassion, for hope, for standing in solidarity with the suffering Body of Christ, rather this be providing for orphaned children in Africa or starving children right here at home, standing up for battered women and men or offering support and therapy for those who seek help to stop battering, seeking justice from our pharmaceutical companies in regards to AIDS treatments for those who cannot afford them or working with those suffering from AIDS, visiting the sick and those who are imprisoned or struggling for better healthcare access for all and better legal representation for those who cannot afford expert help, marching with labour activists for fair wages or paying fair wages ourselves, practicing civil disobedience at the gates of the School of the Americas or refusing to provide tax-support for such government organizations, and the list goes on and on. Should we choose to live out such spiritualities of resistance, we will find that we are indeed different from the world of fear and hatred, violence and death-dealing; we will find that we are Queer in the finest sense of the word. To quote the Mahatma, then, “they are not in control, we are!” Spiritualities of Resistance!
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