SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Bishop Drops the R-Bomb in Embargo Testimony at GC2015
The ghosts of Us and Them
By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu
Special to Virtueonline
June 25, 2015
One of the classic caricatures of the Episcopal Church is the Republican Party at Prayer. Last night it appeared that the Church's mandate to transform and reimage the Church for the 21st Century is yielding results even before Convention adjourns. She is now clearly and unabashedly the Democratic Party At Prayer.
In an evening hearing, held by the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida, delivered impassioned testimony in favor of Resolution A053, Strengthen Relationship with Diocese of Cuba, with its implicit demand that the American Congress end the 50-plus year trade embargo with Cuba.
In tones of indignation, Bishop Frade condemned the insistence in Congress -- "mostly by Republicans" -- to continue the antiquated embargo in spite of its devastating effect on the people of Cuba.
If you search the Blue Book, you'll find no mention of American political parties by name. The threadbare appellations "conservative" and "liberal" appear only once and twice respectively in a report of "trends" in self-characterizations by local Episcopalians. However, given the familiar language on social issues, it is clear that the political parties are present in all but name.
Am I reading something into the Bishop's unabashed declamation of "those Republicans?" As we have become used to hearing, it wasn't so much what he said as how he said it that was revealing -- revealing, not offensive.
As a Republican, I was not offended by the Bishop's comment. Nor was I looking for a "gotcha" moment catching out a progressive cleric in the "hypocrisy" of "not including" me or anyone else in his exposition of the inclusive Church. As a conservative Episcopalian, I do not long for crumbs from the progressive master's table, nor am I uplifted by the self-congratulatory gestures of the now exclusive inclusiveness party.
Here's what I was not expecting. The Bishop appeared to have no idea that there might even be a Republican in the audience at last night's meeting, as if they were all but extinct. I was tickled when the Rev. Danielle Morris, a Republican, followed closely after, supporting the same position as the Bishop but from a very different perspective. And yet her words seemed to bounce off her listeners, as if they were shielding themselves from infection.
The Bishop's remark is least significant for what it might or might not have said about him as an individual, and I took his comment as anything but personal. His words to me were prophetic in the sense that they captured the spirit of something that all of us in that room were caught up in whether we know it or not -- a new system only now taking on a life of its own.
Anyone, who has followed the drumbeat of inclusion-versus-exclusion since the 1970's, learned early on that the words themselves have no inherent meaning except as blunt instruments to wear down a political adversary. Today, TEC authorities express only nominal regret that the conservative "voice" is no longer contributing to the "conversation" in the wider Church.
It's not that Republicans/conservatives are being excluded from the Pan-inclusive Church. The intuitive understanding of the Church seems to be that they have already been excluded. They have become toy action figures in a cosmic us-vs.-them stand-off between Righteousness and Unrighteousness. They don't even have to exist in order to play their assigned role.
As we are constantly reminded at General Convention, if only we (the power people) would sit down with them (the marginalized little people), we would see that they are just like us. We would affirm not only their humanity but ours in the bargain, and a new morning star would arise in the Galaxy of God's Reign.
For some reason, the Episcopal Church has not sat down with its conservative minority -- not in good faith, not in real conversation, but only in accordance with the rubrics of inclusion. And yet their ghost still haunts them, and they may need them for that reason alone, if for no other.
The logic of the Progressive movement demands a from what in a different sense than it needs a to what. From what can be mythological, even imaginary, but it must, in some sense, be historical, otherwise to what itself has no historical basis. To what can only be imaginary in the sense that it has never been. Hence the mandate of this Convention to reimagine, re-image (whatever that means), and transform. Institutional transformations remain purely linguistic if there is not at least some referent in history.
It is not so much hypocrisy as irony that yesterday's "exclusive" party is today excluded. The purpose of the struggle from the beginning was that they be eliminated, reduced to nonexistence, like the masses in Orwell's 1984, permitted to think and act as they pleased once they accepted the premise that two plus two equals five, if the Party says it does.
Today's conservatives are not so much a minority in the deliberations of the Episcopal Church as a shadow. They exist in name only, and the name signifies not a population but a political abstraction -- them. They arouse a Pavlovian distaste by their mere mention, even if we never see them in the flesh. When they occasionally participate in conversations and testimonies, their words fall to the ground, eliciting blank stares of incredulity, as if one cannot deny that he has just seen a ghost.
This is not simply an injustice or duplicitous act on the part of TEC's ascendant progressive party. It unveils the character and logic of future crises of a Church that arose through a conflict model of political power -- old versus new, just versus unjust, poor versus rich, revolution versus counter-revolution, us versus them. The logic of conflict requires not so much an enemy as an anti-type -- a new them by which to name the new us. The answer to the question who are we? seems clear only when we affirm that we are not them. A equals not-B.
In perusing the Blue Book, where one finds a polite and inclusive tone, one is aware that the Church is separating herself from something -- a ghost. She is haunted by her own history. She would like to think that that history is really somebody else's, and she seems always ready to point the finger. Or rather, she is perpetually poised with her finger pointed.
The essential act of every General Convention is the sacramental rite of breaking new glass ceilings. There has been a demand for this since the early 70s, and today it is as predictable as fights at a hockey game. It is foreordained that the Convention will approve the new marriage canons. The House of Bishops, imperiled as they are by the karma of white-privilege, is not free to do other than elect the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as the next Presiding Bishop. The good Bishop will not be free to exercise his God-given gifts except insofar as he symbolizes the redemption of the highborn Episcopal Church from the blind eye of karma.
The most important business of the General Convention in recent years has been to unveil the Church's latest power language for obfuscating the Episcopal Church's link with history. This was achieved masterfully yesterday in the Presiding Bishop's opening address to the Convention. (See http://www.virtueonline.org/salt-lake-city-ut-presiding-bishop-katharine-jefferts-schori-tells-episcopal-church-warp for Michael Heidt's excellent report.) Like Apple's release of a new technological marvel, the words were all new, but still hit the old buttons, crafted as they were for the same ritual, validating the latest new identity of the Episcopal Church, saying nothing but saying it magnificently, words laced with metaphor but pointing to no reality, vivid images of the void.
All we know for sure is that we are no longer them, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.
The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, Florida, and completing a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Central Florida
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