Thursday, May 31, 2007

Making the Connections

Today I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman on the staff of CARE U.S.A. She is a native Ugandan, and we were introduced through a mutual friend who knows of my interest in finding ways to support lesbian and gay Africans. We talked about the status of gay and lesbian people in Uganda and the challenges of providing development assistance to stigmatized minority communities.

The situation of gay and lesbian people in Uganda is very oppressive. Tabloid papers publish the names of gay and lesbian people arrested by the police. These people then lose their jobs and are blacklisted from work in the government or private sector. HIV/AIDS education and prevention is targeted exclusively to heterosexuals there. Straight allies who come to the defense of their lesbian or gay family and friends risk ostracism as well.

Those who "come out" or are "outed" often are cut off from their families, lose their inheritance, are fired from their job, evicted from housing, and dismissed from school. Cut off from social support and financial resources, gay and lesbian people in Uganda are a very marginal, isolated, and vulnerable population. All this will sound very familiar to a slightly older generation of North American gay and lesbian people. It isn't so different from the situation of the thousands of homeless gay and lesbian adolescents in this country either.

Oh, and did I mention that the Church has abandoned them?

This was brought home to me as this young woman began to speak more personally about a cousin who is gay. He left Uganda, along with two of his brothers, to work as a security guard for a U.S. company doing business in Iraq. It was mind boggling to imagine a gay man in Uganda feeling his only opportunity in life could be found in war-torn Iraq. How dire must his situation be in Uganda to see Iraq as a step up?

Africans, including gay Ugandans, provide security for U.S. companies rebuilding Iraq, which our military destroyed, while Chinese and other poor people from around the world work in these companies' commissaries. I began with issues of human rights for sexual minorities and was immediately drawn into a discussion of international economic development, the status of immigrant workers', and the human and economic costs of the War on Terror.

There are those who say that the issue of justice for lesbian and gay people, justice for the poor, and peace work are mutually exclusive issues.

They haven't yet met my Ugandan friend's cousin. They haven't yet made the connections.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Going Ahead of Jesus to Lambeth

Reflecting on the Church's continuing exclusion of lesbian and gay Christians, James Alison writes,
Just because some of our hierarchs seem unable to dare even to offer us the sort of Eucharistic space which is our baptismal new-birthright doesn’t mean that our consciences need be bowed down by, bound by, all that heaviness of decline management, that defensive bureaucratic inability to negotiate as adults with adults. For that heaviness and inability says something about them, and need say nothing about us. (On Being Liked, p. 111)
I think that sums up how I feel about Archbishop Williams' decision to deny an invitation to Bishop Gene Robinson to attend the Lambeth Conference of Bishops next summer. Williams continues to manage the demise of the Anglican Communion with a peculiar combination of ineptitude and hardball politics. His refusal to invite Bishop Robinson, and his veiled threat to reserve the right to withdraw invitations to those who don't tow the Windsor line, indicate an inability to negotiate as adults with adults.

As Bishop Marc Andrus points out, isolation and exclusion are hardly Christian ways to deal with conflict. Bishop Marc poignantly observes that

The tactic of exile and isolation has been among [the] strongest tools of oppression against the human spirit. We were created to be in communion, and there is a deep-seated intuition on the part of those who wish to hem in human freedom that the best way to do this is to separate us, one from another.

The ground-breaking work of Rene Girard has revealed the mechanism of scapegoating. Girard teaches that Jesus and the Hebrew prophets began loosening the chains of scapegoating. This action of isolating Bishop Robinson is retrogressive, taking us backwards to a shadowy, scary place from which we have already been delivered by Christ and the Prophets. (The Most Noxious Point of the Windsor Report Becomes Reality)

Archbishop Williams tactics are diabolic: they seek to break apart where God intends unity. Moreover, he seeks to maintain unity based on some notion of purity, rather than on the astonishing grace of God that brings into communion all sorts and conditions of people. Jesus repeatedly rejected communion with God based on purity codes that define insiders over against outsiders. Access to God and human community is based on nothing other than our free response to God's loving invitation. Communion is defined by our "yes" to God and to each other; not by our "no" to Gene Robinson or anyone else.

So where do we find the symbolic, the signs of unity and of communion, when some of our hierarchs seem unable to offer these to us? Here again, Bishop Marc points us in the right direction:
I cannot overemphasize how important it is to meet this action on our Archbishop's part with the weapons of the spirit. I will be praying that my response and our response will be in solidarity with Bishop Robinson, mindful of our relatedness worldwide, full of shalom, and creative, in the manner of Jesus Christ.
Here, I think it is serendipitous that the Gospel appointed for yesterday, when news of Bishop Gene's exclusion became known, was Luke 10:1-17, which describes the commissioning of the seventy disciples and their mission. The disciples are sent on ahead of Jesus "to every town and place where he himself intended to go." Their mission is defined in terms of the offering of peace, healing, and good news that God's kingdom has come near.

What is striking to me is the sense in which the disciples are to show up regardless of the response they receive, detached from outcomes, non-anxious and relaxed.
Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you ... But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:5-6, 10-12)
My sense is that our bishops, including Bishop Robinson, whether as guest or interloper, should show up at the Lambeth Conference, since Jesus intends to go there. They should offer peace to the house of bishops gathered and see who shares in peace with them. At issue here is not homosexuality, but hospitality; the great sin of Sodom was to do violence to strangers rather than to receive them as guests.

For Archbishops Williams, Akinola, et al to refuse the signs of peace, of unity, and of communion offered by our bishops is as intolerable as the sin of Sodom. My prayer is that our bishops will find a way to be symbolic in the face of the diabolic, that they will go ahead of Jesus to Lambeth and prepare his way there, and that they will find creative ways to witness to the communion that God is giving us; even if they end up shaking the dust off their feet in protest.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bishop Katharine on Poverty & Climate Change

The San Francisco Chronicle published an opinion piece by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori today. It is a succinct call to action to implement the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a means to address the interconnected problems of global poverty and climate change. I'm proud that our Church is exercising leadership in this area. Thank you Bishop Katharine!

It is one thing to invite congregations and dioceses to give .07% of their budgets for the MDGs. It is another thing to call on the U.S. government to take a leadership role in addressing these problems. Wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. were known for something other than imperial domination of oil rich countries under the guise of a War on Terror? Imagine if we used the money we are spending to "secure" and "rebuild" Iraq to actually promote sustainable international development instead? That might actually help to preempt terrorism.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Family Values

According to a New York Times article, there are only 15 shelter beds available in San Francisco for what local service providers estimate is a population of homeless lesbian and gay youth numbering in the thousands. Studies indicate that these youth are far more likely to have left home because they were abused or neglected by their parents, and that they are far more likely to attempt suicide while on the streets. When they do seek shelter, mainstream providers are ill-trained and equipped to provide adequate support, often ignoring or even aggravating the harassment and discrimination these youth experience.

Years ago, I worked for more than two years at the Open Door Shelter for homeless youth in Chicago, operated by The Night Ministry. Since a number of our staff were lesbian or gay, we were able to provide a more nurturing environment for LGBT youth than many places, but it was challenging dealing with the homophobia of both shelter residents and service providers. Moreover, gay and lesbian adults were often reticent to offer help, for fear of the stereotypes of us as sexual predators or pederasts.

Gay and lesbian youth are far too often thrown out of their homes by parents who reject them, only to be abandoned by the adult lesbian and gay community who see them as a threat to their own hard-won security and acceptance. What is to be done?

Our public and private social service agencies need to develop professional shelter and case management services specific to the needs of lesbian and gay youth. The Church as a place of sanctuary should be in the forefront of advocacy for safe places to serve the needs of these vulnerable young people. Gay and lesbian adults need to be willing to offer mentoring to them, serving as positive role models who provide hope for the future.

More generally, the Church needs to help families to deal with the coming out process to prevent gay and lesbian youth from ending up on the street. Parents need to be held accountable to their responsibilities to their children and given the support they need to fulfill those responsibilities, and children need to be assured that they are loved and accepted as God's beloved. The Church can play a vital, healing, and reconciling role here, if it has the will to do so.

A Church that teaches the normalcy of gay and lesbian people as one variety of mature human flourishing would result in a lot fewer gay and lesbian youth on our streets. Real family values means valuing all the members of your family - including the lesbian and gay members.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Unfortunate Oversight?

Guess how many of the forty members of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council are lesbian or gay?

The answer is eight.

Twenty percent of the elected leaders of the Church’s most important governing body in between General Conventions are lesbian and gay clergy and laity from around the country. This is reflective of the talent, dedication, and service that this small minority of the church’s membership offers to the whole. It is a testament to the esteem in which gay and lesbian Christians are held by our sisters and brothers.

Now, guess how many of these lesbian and gay leaders are serving on the Executive Council committee appointed to respond to the Communiqué from the Anglican Primates’ meeting in Tanzania?

The answer is zero.

Despite the fact that two of the three requests made of our Church by the Primates’ Communiqué bear directly on the lives, relationships, and vocations of our Church’s lesbian and gay members, none of the lesbian or gay leaders on Executive Council were appointed to the committee drafting our Church’s response to these requests. Once again, our straight sisters and brothers assume the right to represent us, even when we are sitting at the table and can speak for ourselves!

This is called heterosexist privilege. Can you imagine a response to, say, requests about the ordination of women being drafted without women being in the room? Can you imagine a statement about racism being drafted without people of color in the room? I think you get the picture.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson are good-hearted people. They care about the lesbian and gay member of our Church. They are on record as supporting our full inclusion in the life and ministry of the Church.

Even so, their good intentions are readily subverted by the dynamic of heterosexist privilege operative in the decision-making structures of our Church. Their failure to insure that lesbian and gay leaders participate in drafting a response to requests for moratoria on gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions isn’t just an unfortunate oversight. It is an unconscionable, even if unconscious, participation in unjust power dynamics that exclude and silence us.

Write to Bishop Katharine and President Bonnie Anderson to urge them to expand the drafting committee to include lesbian and gay members of Executive Council. This is an opportunity to educate them and appeal to their better natures. They are strong, compassionate, and wise women who can handle it when we hold them accountable.

While you are at it, let them know that members of Executive Council, including some gay and lesbian members, should be invited to participate in the September House of Bishops’ meeting with Archbishop Rowan Williams. He needs to hear from all the orders of ministry in our Church, and Bishop Gene Robinson should not be the only (out) lesbian or gay voice in the room. That is an unfair burden for him or anyone else to bear.

The presence of so many of us on Executive Council, and the current visit of openly gay Nigerian human rights activist (and Anglican) Davis Mac-Illya to the United States, reminds us of how far we have come and of how far we have yet to go in terms of the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life and ministry of the Anglican Communion. Let us pray that all of our voices are heard as important decisions are made in the coming days and months.