Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The Lies We All Tell
By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared at Columbia University that “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country”, most everyone in the U.S. knew he was lying. What he meant to say is that he is doing his best to commit genocide against homosexuals in Iran and/or so terrorize them that they will deny their own identities as gay people.
This, of course, is not the only lie that Mr. Ahmadinejad tells, smirking as he does so. He lies about the Holocaust, he lies about the real lives of women in Iran, he lies about persecuting journalists and intellectuals, and he lies about his country’s nuclear program. He is helping to make Iran a liar society.
It is easy to see this pattern of being a liar society when it’s somebody else doing it. It’s also easier to see when the lies are such a bunch of big whoppers like Ahmadinejad tells. But a little deception is also bad and the thing about deception is that it tends to lead to more and more distortion so it’s hard to tell where the lies end and where the truth begins.
I’m sorry that some Episcopal Bishops are apparently yielding to world-wide and national pressure from conservatives and backing off of their courageous stance on the full equality of homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. The “compromise” position that strengthened the 2006 resolution on “restraint” in consecrating gay bishops and that explained that the Episcopal Church has no official liturgy for same sex blessing is a gentler form of deception. I have to agree with the Episcopal conservatives here (though of course for different reasons) who called this a “legal fiction.” It is fiction and it is unfortunately a step back from the truth that some Episcopalians are gay, but that all are equal in the sight of God. It also is a step back from the truth that some gay or lesbian Episcopalians have the spiritual gifts needed to be a Bishop. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. If you know Gene, and I do, you will quickly realize he is one of the most spiritually luminous people you will ever meet. Any church that refuses to recognize spiritual gifts for leadership is, frankly, lying to itself and no good ever comes from that.
What happens when people and societies lie about important things like the diversity of human gender preference? Well, one of the things that may happen is that some people so deny their own sexual orientation that they end up playing footsie in a Minneapolis bathroom instead of leading a healthy, self-aware life.
At the end of the day, being a liar society is fundamentally corrupting to individuals and the whole nation. There is simply no better teacher on the multiple and degrading effects of lying than Mr. Ahmadinejad.
"On Faith" panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation.
CommentWhen I read this article linked on Susan Russell’s blog I took exception to it. While I am not happy with the House of Bishop’s (HOB) statement about GLBT folk and our place in the Church, I wasn’t going to claim that their statement was lying. I don’t know if I was just “defending the family” or whether I have allowed myself to believe the rhetoric of the HOB. I just saw the HOB statement as just the usual political tiptoeing through the minefield of Episcopal/Anglican polity.
I do believe that the majority of the bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) do support GLBT folks. But it only goes so far. It only goes far enough to be respectable. And extreme stances for justice or any other cause just isn’t “Episcopalian, doncha know?"
But Susan has it right. When we allow our leaders to speak lies in our names, we become complicit in their degrading of our lives together we call society, Church, or whatever.
I am concerned with this generation—those who are in power in both Church and State in North America and Europe—who believe that if you tell people a fiction long enough they will believe it. I have heard that the HOB is supportive of GLBT persons in the Church. I know and am one of those gay clergy who has served the church. But when push comes to shove, when we need folks to step out and support us, I have seen few who are willing to lose anything to stand for justice. When justice pinches ---when it means a Lambeth without TEC presence, those principles get a bit clear.
Does the Bishops’ statement mean that they are lying? I don’t want to say that… I really don’t. But if it walks like a duck…
We, in the Church cannot hold with dishonesty in any form, from ourselves before God, from our congregants, from our leaders, without losing too much integrity in a national climate that eschews traditional religion because the Church does not keep faith with itself. If the Church is going to have any impact upon the majority culture today, we must be impeccable in our honesty. We must be transparent about our decisions, our finances, and our deliberations. To do less, confirms the suspicions of those who call us hypocrites. We cannot tell the world that LGBT folks are to be supported and then step back from that to maintain a tenuous unity. We cannot say that LGBT folks are full members of our churches when our relationships cannot be affirmed and celebrated the same as heterosexuals.
Susan is right! The HOB lied--either in saying that they are supportive of LGBT people or in the reality of our acceptance in the Church. And no unity is worth that. And what will happen? Nothing. No bishop will be charged with violating his ordination vows. No condemnation will come from the larger House. No one will hold the HOB accountable because like politicians in secular government, we have become inured to the actions of church politicians shuffling papers and dodging the real issue—how are they going to play the power hand they have been dealt.
It is hard to be part of the Church today. But Christ calls us to be faithful to God, not to the Church, not to the HOB, not to the shuffling of papers. We are called to be faithful to the Truth of Jesus Christ in our midst. It may not look loyal in the Church, but it is faithful.