Wednesday, March 8, 2006

On Being a Problem

Tobias Haller+ writes a thoughtful commentary on the episcopal election in California, California Dreamin', that is well worth reading. There is a kind of "codependent" thinking on the part of some when considering the prospect of California electing a gay or lesbian person as bishop: an inordinate desire to defer to conservative sensibilities regardless of whether or not it serves the long-term good of the Communion, not to mention whether or not it is God's will. The temptation is to "enable" heterosexism, if you will, rather than take responsibility for our own convictions and let other people take responsibility for their convictions. If a person's sexual orientation is no reason to vote for a nominee, it is equally true that it is no reason to vote against one. Replace "sexual orientation" with the word "race" or "gender" and you will understand what I mean.

Those "Global South" Anglicans and their allies in ECUSA, whose sensibilities about homosexuality we are cautioned not to offend, are almost all offended by women in holy orders as well. Yet, I hear no one saying, "We can't possibly elect a woman bishop. That would be a slap in the face to our conservative sisters and brothers." The truth is that pressure is being focused on gay and lesbian people in the current global struggle for ecclesiastical power because it is still acceptable to discriminate against us, to make us the whipping boys and girls for all the church's anxieties about change and privilege. We still have to justify ourselves: "What makes you think you can be a bishop?" We are still a problem to be solved, rather than human beings to be respected. We are talked about, rather than spoken with.

I can not help but recall the tragic, passionate, honest words of W.E.B Du Bois regarding African-Americans, the enduring "problem people" in the United States:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter around it. They approach me in a half-hesistant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a world. (The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 1-2)

I'm still waiting for someone to ask me, "How does it feel to be a problem?"

But then, as disciples of Jesus, shouldn't we all be a problem, a contradiction, questioning the dominion of division and death that marks life in the world? If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34) The challenge for me as a gay Christian is to engage being a "problem" from the perspective of discipleship, and not as a victim. In preparing to elect our next bishop, my spiritual practice needs to be focused on letting go of anxiety and ambition so that I can rest in God's love. It is only from that place of trusting love, rather than fear or resentment, that I can rightly participate in discerning who God is calling to be our next bishop.

Being afraid of what others will think or do if we elect a gay or lesbian bishop isn't an acceptable basis for discernment. But neither is being resentful of those who hold this fear, worried about what they will think or do. I'm praying for freedom these days: freedom to embrace my baptismal identity and to entrust by "being a problem" to the God who became a "problem" for us. The good news for gay and lesbian Christians is that we don't have to justify ourselves. Jesus has done that for us already.

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