The Episcopal Church's fight over gay marriage and its strained relations with a sizeable swath of the Anglican Communion will dominate the headlines for yet another General Convention.
That, I'm afraid, is old news. The battle's been decided, only a matter of when, not if, same-sex ceremonies receive the national church's imprimatur. For the meantime, American bishops will continue to offer bafflegab (pluriform truth, I believe the Presiding Bishop calls it) and expressions of "regret" to the outraged Anglicans of Africa and Asia.
Reading through the resolutions and reports for this year's triennial convention, which opened Tuesday and concludes June 21, something else struck me. I could say politics struts center stage in Columbus, Ohio, or that nothing seems to stand outside of ECUSA's competence. In Olympian fashion, resolutions and reports call for an end to global poverty, Israel to halt its "occupation" and stop oppressing the Palestinians, full civil rights for same-sex couples, making it easier to cast a ballot for President of the United States than to write a check at the Piggly Wiggly, support for sustainable agriculture, the elimination of racism, and waging peace in Iraq.
But there's more here than a laundry list of left-of-center policy initiatives. An ideological glue holds the pronouncements together.
The Committee on the Status of Women proposes all clergy and lay professionals receive at least six hours of domestic-abuse training by 2012. That sounds unobjectionable. Who could be against helping victimized women? Not me. The training, however, would focus upon "the power differential between men and women that continues in society and in our theology, how to address this in pre-marital counseling and couple counseling ..."
Men, then, comprise the oppressor class, women the oppressed class.
Gender is only one member of the trinity. The other two are economic class and race. The Social and Urban Affairs Committee demands the "Episcopal Church acknowledge its history and the deep and lasting injury which the institution of slavery and its aftermath have inflicted on society and on the Church ... (and) express our most profound regret that ... the Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture, and ... after slavery was formally abolished, the Episcopal Church continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination ..."
It's cheap, easy, and thus ultimately a counterfeit virtue to cast stones at one's forebears, the very souls, sinners every one, whose hard work and prayers erected the red doors of the Episcopal Church from shore to shore. But, hey, they were racists! And from its high horse, today's church can express deep regret for benefiting from those haters.
Tellingly, the Standing Commission on Domestic Missions and Evangelism defines evangelism as "reconciliation with the Other and reconciliation with God....God's mission of reconciliation calls us to leave behind comfortable communities where people look, sound, act and dress like us, to turn away from our circle of friends at coffee hour and to seek the outsider. In our rapidly shrinking and wonderfully multicultural world, the Church is called to be the presence and agent of God's reconciling love in the world..."
There's no talk of sin, redemption, Christ's work on the cross. The Other apparently doesn't need to be saved, only embraced and celebrated.
Sometimes one key will unlock an entire system of thought. Acknowledge the Incarnation, it's been said, and the rest of the catechism falls in place. Yes, race, class, gender, inclusion, diversity are god-terms of the Episcopal Church (and the left in general), but none is the key. The key is that capitalized term, the Other.
The Committee on the Status of Women's report condemns "fundamentalism as an easy solution to complex problems, and we deplore attempts of outside groups of influence to move the Episcopal Church to a more socially conservative position." I don't think there's much chance of that. The committee then quotes Christian-bashing scholar Karen Armstrong: "To fundamentalists, tolerance of the 'other' is a sin....Fundamentalism is a revolt against modernity, and one of the characteristics of modernity has been the emancipation of women.... They talk in frank ways of feminism's castrating effect. This goes to the absolute hysteria about the gay syndrome. This goes to abortion, which has become a symbol of everything that is wrong about modernity."
Clearly, the committee has Christian fundamentalism in its sights. Further, according to its report, the women's committee "wishes to stand firm and walk forth with all oppressed peoples everywhere, especially refugees, victims of wars of all kinds, and victims of sexual and physical violence, realizing that most of these people are women and children." I doubt that. In a report from a self-proclaimed global church, there's no mention of what women suffer under Islam. I guess they won't walk with women who have had their genitals slashed, been hidden away under burqas, or kept from school. Nor do they mourn those raped or "promiscuous" women who have been killed for "honor."
Islam is the Other and the Other is never wrong.
If the Other does something abhorrent, it's overlooked, downplayed, or else excused as having been prompted by the Western-Christian-capitalist-male world in the first place.
The Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns is not only an ugly mouthful of words, but faithfully embodies the idea that the Other is never wrong. Since 9-11, says the committee's report,
the world's view of the United States' role in promoting peace with justice has shifted dramatically. Peoples and nations rallied in support of those slaughtered at the symbolic centers of U.S. military and economic might. When the United States led armed forces into Afghanistan to destroy the training ground for such terrorist attacks, there was widespread support around the world.
That support has shifted since the United States led a coalition of nations in the invasion of Iraq. ...
The United States' reputation has been damaged by accusations of detainee abuse, by its use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," by sending detainees to prisons in foreign countries and by its use of domestic surveillance. These actions created a backlash of worldwide opinion, a domestic debate on possible constitutional abuses, and highlighted the fragility of American democracy and the imperative to "respect the dignity of every human being."
The Other need never fret of its reputation nor fear "a backlash of worldwide opinion."
For the last three years, this justice-and-peace commission said it focused on world poverty, Palestinian-Israeli peace, Haiti, Cuba, Liberia, and immigration. The illegal immigrant, naturally an Other, should never be hampered, Israel is the oppressor, and, again, it's as though the reality of Islamic radicalism has been airbrushed like a photo in a Soviet history book. A report on Darfur, for instance, condemns the government of Sudan, but fails to mention what's behind the genocide. Methodists? Mennonites? Martians? I guess we don't know that Arab Muslims are trying to eliminate black Muslims.
When the Other hates the Other, there's no recourse -- except to fault the U.S. government for not saving the day.