DAR2007: "She Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Her...Listen?"
By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu in Dar es Salaam
"Knowing Bishop Jefferts Schori, I am certain that she continues to listen carefully to the concerns of all her fellow Primates." (Canon Robert Williams, Episcopal Church Communications Director, Dar es Salaam, Feb. 16, 2007)
I have no doubt Canon Williams is quite correct. Katharine Jefferts Schori listens carefully to all of the concerns of her fellow Primates, including concerns that the Episcopal Church repent and be brought into compliance, not just with the Windsor Report, but with the canon of Holy Scripture. She listens, and then does what she had planned to do all along. But by the act of listening she has dispensed some sort of grace. She has demonstrated strength of character and heartfelt compassion and now has a right to claim the high moral ground.
Admittedly, mature adults cannot be dominated by other people's "concerns", that is, by a psychological compulsion to please. Such compulsion shows not strength but weakness of character. We may succeed in pleasing most of the people most of the time, but our need to please others is driven by a deeper need to please ourselves. While Jefferts Schori can be counted on for charm, she certainly is not dominated by any compulsion to please.
Dr. Schori's "listening" is of a peculiar kind. Typical of Western intellectuals and politicians of the past generation, especially in religious circles, listening as an end in itself has been elevated to a meritorious act. This is listening with no intention of changing one's mind or course of action. Such listening with its effusion of warmth is meant to divert your attention from something else I'm doing, something we both know I shouldn't be doing, perhaps even something I promised I wouldn't do. But you'll give me a pass, because I've warmed your heart with my apparent sincerity and fixed attention.
Listening has other strategic uses in interpersonal commerce, particularly among the Churches represented by the Primates' Meeting this week. The obligation to "listen" can be exploited as a ploy to disarm one's defenses or one's reason. People can be made to feel guilty about holding a sinner accountable, even if accountability serves the sinner's long term interests.
In the Anglican Churches listening has been crafted as a ruse to trump biblical morality, a veritable fox in the ecclesiastical henhouse. It goes back to Lambeth '98 and the watershed resolution 1.10. In that resolution Anglican bishops did something Anglican bishops don't do: they formulated a doctrine -- in this case, of Christian sexuality. They established, as it were, Christian sexual orthodoxy, citing legitimate Anglican authorities of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
Since 90 per cent of the worldwide college of bishops endorsed the resolution, the minority needed to devise a means to massage the original wording so that the practical outcome of the resolution would achieve an effect opposite to that of its original intent. It so happened that this particular minority included the Episcopal Church, who financed the elite committees of the Anglican Communion, and liberal members of the Churches of the British Isles, who staff them.
Here's how it happened. Not part of the original resolution but brokered into the final text as an expression of "pastoral concern", the bishops' commenced a "process of listening" to the experience of gay and lesbian Anglicans. The majority saw this as honest pastoral concern, since the God who created gays and lesbians obviously had some plan to reach out to them through His Church. The minority saw it as an opportunity to drive a wedge between the Church and the Word of God.
Canon Phil Groves, appointed by the ABC after the Primates' Meeting at Dromantine Ireland in 2004, as facilitator for listening processes across the Communion, presented a report to the Primates on his committee's study. In his press briefing afterwards Archbishop Phillip Aspinall (Australia) reported Groves' findings that "in some of the listening processes that have been established it has not always been possible to establish safe ground so that homosexual people feel safe sharing their experiences."
At this point it becomes clear what was being established in the name of "pastoral concern". What started as a resolution formulating sexual orthodoxy turned into a right to claim immunity from that very orthodoxy - indeed, immunity from the Word of God. If what Scripture says about homosexuality makes gays and lesbians feel "unsafe", then it must be stricken from the Church's ministry.
The Church had been hoodwinked into disarming against forces that ravage the souls of gay and lesbian people. For their "safety, the active homosexual lifestyle would now be mainstreamed into the life of the Church. The Church's theology would be reprogrammed in such a way that what yesterday was called an abomination would today be called righteousness.
Resolution 1.10 had come full circle. What started as a statement of Christian biblical orthodoxy by an Orwellian twist had resulted in a mandate for "safe sin".
Canon Groves' report had established "listening" as an entitlement. Gays and lesbians have a right to be "listened to." So far so good. Listening is a simple form of respect that Christians owe to all. Only now "listening" has become part of a one way conversation. Here I can "listen", but I am not free to respond as a Christian. Gays and lesbians are entitled to be listened to without any pastoral response that might challenge them and make them feel "unsafe", even if it's the same response Jesus would have used.
One of the unstated objectives of the Lambeth "listening process" was to place into currency the wild card of victimhood. And you guessed it - it trumps the Bible.
Listening, then, has at least two potential strategic applications: it can be used to ingratiate oneself to others, who are then vulnerable to be conned; and it can exploit the natural warmth of personal relations so that one is forbidden to offend another in the short term, even if such offense saves them from much greater hurt in the long term.
It would be worthwhile to reflect briefly on the pastoral response of Jesus and the role of listening in that response.
In the gospels we have countless illustrations of Jesus interacting with people of varying stations and backgrounds. He invariably demonstrated a manner of listening to the concerns and heartache of persons, always showing profound respect, taking the form of a servant. His role as God's representative and advocate - indeed, his very equality with God - was not such that he needed to ingratiate himself to other people in order to advance himself.
After truly listening, he truly spoke. To one he said, "Follow me," and then honored that person's right to walk away. Typically he pronounced God's judgment and offered a way out, always stopping short of judgmentalism: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more," he said. Never did he allow a fear of offending determine his response. Never did he count the cost to his own personal ambitions. Jesus was the consummate pastor, not the consummate politician. His responsibility was to listen carefully and respond as God would.
Jesus never surrendered his prerogative as a "right handler" of God's Word. No one came to him with the claim, "This is what my experience tells me about God" with the expectation that Jesus would fashion a separate Word based on that person's unique "context".
Jesus had a prophetic gift to confront sinners with the truth in such a way that they felt neither guilty nor under attack, but oddly...safe. Of course those who were determined to persist in sin were deeply offended by his confrontations. For others he was probably the first real friend they ever had.
"Safe" does not mean that I am entitled hear what I want to hear, without challenge. "Safe" means that the person listening has my best interests at heart, and that he will speaking the truth on my behalf, even at the risk of rejection.
No one came to Jesus with the expectation that they were entitled to be accepted on their own terms. People came to Jesus because they knew he had the power to refashion their lives to be what God had intended.
One final reference to the concept of listening. In the Bible there is a difference between listening and hearing. We may be able to find examples of what pastors and therapists today call "listening", but we cannot find examples of listening as a meritorious end in itself. No one was ever commanded to listen without making an appropriate response.
Jesus introduced his parables with the simple cry, "Listen!" meaning, here comes a Word from God demanding a response. At the end of a parable Jesus said bluntly, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Here was a Word from God that carried a practical warning. Those who not only listened but also put them into practice were like those who built their lives on a solid foundation, one sufficient to withstand the storms of life. Those who just "listened" - gushing emotion and personal charm, or cleverly sidestepping a potential conflict - were subject to the fickle violence of circumstances.
The American Primate has established that she can "listen" her way out of a paper bag, and then some. But this is listening without hearing - the listening of a politician promoting her own advantage in terms that flatter.
Jesus said, "She who has ears to hear, let her hear." Without a willingness to do what Jesus would do in all circumstances, and not just in those that suit her own ambitions, she might as well be stone deaf.
---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.
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