Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Five Most Difficult Words to Say and Lambeth

The five words: I'm sorry. I was wrong.

The force of human pride makes these simple five words, in these two simple phrases, perhaps the least spoken words in any language. What a pity. They are the words that lift burdens and cast grace.

It seems that some Bishops have learned from Lambeth that trying to settle differences through the media, and not eye-to-eye, is not a very effective method of conflict resolution. I concur. Of course this does not include the GAFCON folks, perhaps with the exception of Archbishop Venables (Southern Cone, based in Argentina), oddly enough, who has agreed to meet with San Diego Bishop Mathes to discuss ways to "move forward". At least they are talking, though I am not sure, yet, at whose expense. That may promise to be a much more difficult topic.

Meanwhile, Archbishops Orombi (Uganda), Akinola (Nigeria), Nzimbi (Kenya), "The Dunk" (TEC) and a few other Gafconites have sent arrows of fire into the conference through the media, refusing to attend, but not refusing to light afire the smoldering coals of Lambeth 1998. They are so predictable.

I am waiting to hear the language of my own Bishops of Los Angeles, Bruno, Carranza, Anderson and Talton after they return. I hope they will thoroughly address the many issues of Lambeth and do so in a very straight-forward way.

What I find unsurprising, is the failure of anyone who has or is continuing to degrade the lgbt members of our communion admit to a turn-around, nor have I heard ANY apology for the violence that harms those they disagree with through their language of hate and discord. I had so hoped they would prove me wrong.

It would appear that the seamless and air-tight Gafcon bunch have no room for the fresh air of apology or regret. They CAN hold their positions, while apologizing for any violence their words may have caused. They can gentle their rhetoric, which kills. They can use different words in the future. But none of this has occurred. I didn't expect they would wallow in new thinking, but I was sure hoping that the language of degradation rather surprisingly used by Lambeth attendee Archbishop Dr. Mouneer Anis--language common to the Gafconites--would stop. I was sadly mistaken.

It is more than clear that nothing concrete occurred during Lambeth. That is good. While some may call it eventful-less, I do not view it in that way from what I have read. I read it as going back to square one on the issues of how to communicate. Those that refused to communicate except through venomous ways forced others actually interesting in communicating (they were basically threatened with action by their Archbishops if they did come) into silence. I find absolutely nothing Christian about that. Interestingly, this is rarely reported by the press. Insisting they stay a unified force in protest, even if by force, while demanding the communion take their path is so bizarre it needs no iteration. It is evident, on its face, that they may not be as unified as they claim except through threats.

These hard-liners have a lot to learn in terms of people skills, strategy and activism and even psychology. As I pointed out in a July post, they should fire their PR people. They should stop taking the advise of North Americans on how to get attention, it is backfiring.

One thing does seem clear in reading dozens-upon-dozens of posts coming from Lambeth: While many were sorry the 250 or so did not attend, they also did not respect or appreciate the arrows of fire sent by some vivacious non-attendees.

I write that the lack of concrete action is "good" because there is more to our communion than the issues of lgbt people, and certainly the issues of mission--fighting poverty and the attendant issues of hunger, education, and health so bogged down because of politics, working on HIV, and the now-critical issues of environment, premiere among them global warming, are important. These issues are also very important to me personally. The more we fragment, the harder these issues are to touch. There are good reasons to stay together, mission probably being numero uno.

I was angry, personally, for instance, at Archbishop Bul's (Sudan) language and methods as a Gafconite. I thought his temperamental outburst and its timing were outrageously poor, and they were. They reflected on him badly, overall. And while I can write him off, personally, in terms of respect, I cannot write off the needs of the Sudanese people nor will I. I think many feel the same way. It would be an unchristian thing to stop mission work in that country because of one bad-mouthed Bishop, badly advised, by bad guys (again, all men) largely, ironically, from the US. None of these folks can apparently see beyond their own sense of self to hear the cries of their people and I have NO reason to believe that their American simpaticos care either. They were made Bishops not to work in Africa, but to come back to the US basically as renegade Bishops as part of their "inside" expansion plans.

How ironic is it, though, that millions in the demonized North American churches can see the mission? These millions will not read Bul's words and even if they did, they would help. THAT is charity and love. That is the ability to walk past the words to the needs of the people. That is what we're all about, and I am sure that is what we will do, as in other similar cases. While these Bishops demonize those they cannot be charitable to, we won't walk on that path.

The issue of Colonialism is, indeed, a real issue, but they have it wrong in approach and in delivery. The message that comes forward is this: You colonialists brought us what we have. Therefore, as you walk away from it, you are the bad guys. Standing on the wrongs and hurt of history, they reach out with a sword. It is entirely understandable from an emotional point of view, but vexing in terms of Christian thought. Theirs is the one and only way, though others move on, in context, something they either cannot do or are unwilling to try to do. In the context of their cultures and nations, we have to trust that they know their people better than we do (and vice versa). But their spitting vitriol does nothing to gain favor or friend and nothing to forward their issue. Wrapped in the mantle of Christ is the fundamental concept of forgiveness.

It is clear--at least to me--that these folks have made themselves irretrievable and I am willing to let them make that decision for themselves (not that I have any say). The mark of maturity on a man is their ability to see the whole picture. They obviously cannot do this or are unwilling to try. We do not insist they do as we do. We ask them to walk with us in spirit, as we would like to do with them, as they take another path. They insist we walk their path. We cannot do that. We are not able. As in their culture, context shows us a different reality and the compass points in a different direction. No one said, nor does the Bible suggest, that reality is the same for all or that the Holy Spirit blows the same message in the wind.

I look forward to more reading as the Bishops return to their homelands and after some badly needed rest, no doubt, begin to explain their intended courses of actions. I am hoping that our wonderful Presiding Bishop will do likewise.

And I am sure hoping I hear a lot of the five words in the near future from both sides of center. It is better to part in understanding and love, than be caught in the web of speechless ego.