Monday, March 26, 2007

It's about POWER!

In her sermon for Lent 5 Elizabeth Kaeton made some superb comments on the state of the church in the light of Sunday's gospel reading:

"It wasn't about money. It wasn't about sexuality. It wasn't about ministry.

Depending on your source of information, you may have also read or heard that The Episcopal Church is about to be ‘kicked off the Anglican island.’Five days ago, our bishops took a bold stand to the demands and ultimatums made by a majority of Global South Primates last month in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa. They issued a lengthy statement that was bold and centered smack-dab in the middle of the Gospel.In that statement they said, in part,

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.
We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God.

"The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

You know what? I personally don’t think it's going to happen, but if the bishop's statement is what gets us ‘kicked off the Anglican Island’, I'm quite sure Jesus will be right there to welcome us with open arms. Of this, I have absolutely no doubt.

No, it's not about money. It's not about sexuality. It's not about ministry. Here's something else: it's not about scriptural interpretation, either, or for that matter, theological principles or the doctrines of the church. Neither is it about cultural differences or post colonialism or the Enlightenment verses post modernism. The problem we see in the church today is the same problem we see in that embryonic image of the church in this morning’s gospel. It’s the same problem which has been with us since the beginning.

It is this: power."

Elizabeth+ has nailed it on its head. It is interesting that it took the House of Bishops all this time to recognize that since the 2003 General Convention this has been about POWER-- who has it, who doesn't, who can be manipulated or marginalized by that power.

One thing that power inevitably does is create systems of domination. cf. Walter Wink's The Powers That Be) The Primates demanded things of The Episcopal Church (TEC) that it cannot supply--foreign domination. The aversion to foreign domination is so much a piece of the fabric of the American Anglican experience that if we allowed it in the cloth, the Church would unravel. The House of Bishops(HOB) made it clear who TEC is: A group of Orders who work in faith and equality to provide a witness to Christ together.

The HOB said we are in this together--progressive and conservative, orthodox, liberal, revisionists and neo-puritan alike. We all have access to the same power structure. This is what the Episcopal Church has always been--an unreserved democracy. If the minority opinion cannot get the changes it wants in the Church, then they have to be willing to work within the structure to make it viable rather than try to tear it down from the outside.

One of the things that being a minority can do, however, is make one into a victim. And that is one of the things that I have seen the minority voice in our area do. It has allowed itself to be come a victim to the power of the majority because all too often the power of the majority becomes unwilling to understand the passion of the minority. As a victim it is easy to be whiny and demand attention, or play the abused soul. This is true whether it is on conservative or progressive issues.

Power, even that which is wielded by an elected majority, can be wielded with a hand that makes it oppressive. It is easy to recognize the elected majority as Divine power in the face of our Episcopal polity. But even in our wonderfully democratic society, the abuse of power by those who feel that they are mandated, fails to recognize the corruptible power of even democratic power.

Elizabeth+ quotes Carolyn Myss from her book The Judas Experiment:
The lesson of a Judas experience is that putting faith in human justice is an error and that we must shift our faith from human to Divine authority. It is to trust that our life is governed with “Divine justice,” even though we cannot see it. We must strive not to become bitter or cling to victimhood when we are betrayed or cannot attain what we want. We need to trust that we have not been victimized at all and that this painful experience is challenging us to evaluate where we have placed our faith.”

It is inappropriate for those of us who are minorities to allow ourselves to be come victims of power. The role of victim in power situations is seductive, however. We can become victims if we see ourselves as powerless to change situations. It also misdirects our understanding of what power we are submitting ourselves to. Minorities must always be willing to recognize that in faith that we are claiming a participation in the power of God, not just the human authority of those who hold temporal power.

The important point for any minority is to refuse to be a victim of power. It is one of the most difficult aspects of faith. Jesus, during the Passion accepted neither Rome's authority, nor the Sanhedrin's power. Power used in any form, whether absolute or democratic can be, and tends toward abuse. It is up to minorities of any ilk to be willing to recognize that it is Divine authority that calls us to remind the whole of society or the Church of the needs of the minority.

The minority will never get everything that it wants, but it needs to be heard with respect. I will never get everything I want in the Church or society. It is the nature of being a minority. But if I allow myself to become a victim to the powers that be, I have lost my faith in the One who has called me to speak for the minority. Powers that silence minorities in the Church, as the Primates have tried to do to TEC, because they speak that which upsets them, have become abusive, have lost their sense of democracy, and have lost their faith in the God who calls the minority voice to speak.

The HOB has given us an image of what it means to be a Stone of Witness, well-defined, clear and self-differentiated. Starkly reminding us all that the power we have is not our own, but that of God

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