Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bishop Jenkins Got It Wrong

Over at Episcopal Cafe, The Lead notes an article in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune that quotes Bishop of Louisiana Charles Jenkins decrying schism. Bishop Jenkins reportedly stated that:

"The most devastating thing, and the thing I do not want to see happen, is that there becomes two Anglican communions in North America," he said. "It is a sickness unto death. If we claim to be a catholic body, this is a temptation to which we cannot give in.

"On a more pragmatic level, those who will be hurt the most by this are the poor," he said. "We are involved heavily around the world in ministries of relief and development. And I don't think we have the luxury of giving in to our self-absorption on this issue, and taking that energy and those resources away from the poor."

The issue about which we are "self-absorbed" is, of course, the issue of what it means to include baptized Christians who are gay or lesbian in the life of the Church. Bishop Jenkins seems to believe that this is an issue peculiar to the Episcopal Church, and that our attention to it precludes our solidarity with poor people at home and abroad. He is very much mistaken on both counts.

This may be news to the Bishop of Louisiana, but there are gay and lesbian Christians in every Province of the Anglican Communion. If he is paying any attention at all to current events in Nigeria and Uganda, for example, this should not come as a surprise. Even if The Episcopal Church disappeared tomorrow, the question of including gay and lesbian Anglicans in the life of the Communion would continue, because people of faith are raising the issue everywhere.

We may have been engaging the issue longer and more openly than many other Provinces of the Communion, but The Episcopal Church is hardly alone. Rather than being "self-absorbed," perhaps the gift we have to offer the Anglican Communion is the fruit of our experience of ministry with lesbian and gay Christians. Maybe we can advocate for a real listening process that includes the forgotten voices of LGBT people in the Global South. That would not seem at all "self-absorbed" to me.

Bishop Jenkins second mistake is his implicit assumption that concern for lesbian and gay people and concern for the poor are mutually exclusive. We can't advocate for justice and inclusion for the former and support development projects that benefit the latter simultaneously. That is simply, empirically false. There are plenty of individuals, congregations, and dioceses that are doing both, and will continue to do so regardless of what is decided at the House of Bishops, or the Lambeth Conference, or General Convention. If Archbishop Akinola or Archbishop Orombi refuse to accept "tainted money" from us, the blood of the poor is on their hands, not ours. There are other ways to help the poor that don't require us to capitulate to prejudice.

And, dear Bishop Jenkins, need I point out that the world's poor include people who are lesbian and gay? Indeed, some of them are poor precisely because of the prejudice they experience. Gay and lesbian people in places like Uganda are arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. Their names are published in the press, leading to the loss of jobs and ostracism from families. They are blacklisted from private and public sector employment.

In fact, you don't have to travel to Africa to find gay and lesbian people suffering in this way. No doubt some are sitting in the pews of the Diocese of Louisiana. Why, Bishop Jenkins, I suspect some of the folks most affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are - my stars! - lesbian, black and poor. You see, Bishop Jenkins, the world doesn't divide up into the neat categories we try to impose upon it. It is a messy, complicated world out there, full of folks whose identity includes many labels and finally transcends them all in the beauty of holiness: our creation in the image of God.

Who are we to say who is to be excluded for the sake of the whole? Is it really better that one group should be sacrificed so that the whole Communion can be saved? Didn't Caiaphas say something along those lines . . .

Sorry Bishop Jenkins, but you can't hide prejudice behind concern for the poor. It shows right through all your pious hand-wringing. Poor people don't need their plight compounded by our prejudice. We need to work to eliminate both poverty and prejudice because all too often they end up affecting the same people. You should know that as well as anyone. It wasn't so long ago that people were saying, "We can't be self-absorbed about civil rights, when we've got all these poor people to help."



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's all become so predictable and sad, hasn't it?

Thanks for your persistence, your intelligence and your courage, John.


What Elizabeth said, and ...

... if it's any consolation the conservative blogs are tearing +Jenkins' proposals apart from ANOTHER perspective.

Reverend Bitch Sir! said...

This is a great blog, I am blessed to have discovered it. I will be back often.

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

R said...


Thanks so much for raising the core conflict behind Bishop Jenkins' published arguments for this position.

It demonstrates yet again that the Primates Communiqué is asking The Episcopal Church to make a Faustian compromise. . .which never makes a good foundation for unity.