11/24/2006

It’s Not Over ‘til it’s Over.

Ephraim Radner and Andrew Goddard begin their essay “Human Rights, Homosexuality and the Anglican Communion: Reflections in Light of Nigeria with the following:


Ever since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Western Anglicans have been aware that their African counterparts express a far more strongly negative view of homosexuality than they do. At that time, for instance, we witnessed the Nigerian Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma's public attempt at "exorcising" Richard Kirker, leader of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) in the UK.”

The Essay is a good read, but finally unsatisfying. But I do thank the authors for reminding me of that incident.


I remembered that if one is interested you can still hear an audio of that attempt at exorcism. Click HERE to hear. It is a chaotic bit of audio, with the Bishop’s voice attempting to exorcise overlaid by Mr. Kirker’s voice attempting to reason with the Bishop.

That was eight years ago. Acting on the notion that being gay involves possession by evil, for which exorcism is appropriate, was shocking then. It seems distant and archaic now. But the madness lives on.

Such exorcism is the consequence of belief at the far end of the argument that being Gay is a choice and a choice for moral evil. The intervention of the Bishop in attempting to exorcise The Rev. Mr. Kirker was based on the Bishop’s perception of the presence of evil possession and he did this exorcism with the assumption that intervention is necessary, even if it is not with the consent of the person receiving the benefits of the exorcism.

Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma’s attempt was a bizarre example of a continuing belief held by some in the realignment community: namely that being Gay is a curable state of affairs and that the change from gay to straight is a change for the better. It assumes that such a change is for the good even if the candidate for change is unaware or uninterested that change is possible, or unwilling to change. Those who believe that one can be healed from being Gay are not particularly interested in what the gay or lesbian person wants or whether he or she believes themselves curable.

The American Anglican Council, from which the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, aka the Anglican Communion Network, sprang carries this slogan with it’s logo: “God changes lives for good.” That slogan is an appeal to a principle that applies to the matter of conversion, but in the context of the AAC’s ongoing critique of The Episcopal Church and its “pro-gay” agenda, it is on the face of it an affirmation of the notion that gayness can be cured, healed, exorcised. “God changes lives for good,” means that you too, dear Gay person, can be made whole, and by the way heterosexual or at least celibate.

In all the debates of the past few years in the Anglican Communion this particular notion has continued by some: that being sexually active as a gay person is a matter (as is all sexual action) of moral choice, and that being attracted to persons of the same sex is either a moral choice or a confusion of some sort, either of which can be cured. The “cure” consists of psychological and spiritual healing running the gambit from psychological counseling to exorcism.

It has been accompanied by the belief, mostly unspoken, that the disease can be communicated. This gets lived out in a variety of ways: gay members of the parish can’t teach Sunday School because they might be a “bad influence” on the kids; gay people can’t be in leadership because the church might “turn” gay or be perceived as a gay church; gay relationships cannot be observed with thanksgiving in church because others might come to think gay relationships are ‘normal.’

And, deeply held is the continuing notion that gay people can become straight people, with a little help from Jesus.

Jesus, who came to give us life, and that abundantly, might beg to differ.

In this past week it has come home again to me on two different occasions just how miserable and hurtful this notion of gay as a disease or gay as possession really is.

On good report I understand that a Happening for young people in one of the realignment dioceses included an invitation to youths attending the happening, that if they had any confusion or concerns about their sexual orientation or were thinking homosexual thoughts, they could come forward for healing. God, it is reported, would heal them of their wandering and wavering thoughts. Because I have this second hand I will not say the diocese in which this reportedly occurred. With more information I might.

So that is second hand. Bad enough. The story as told to me stressed that the young people were, like Mr. Kirker, simply presented with this call to be healed. Nothing was told them about whether or not they should consider themselves sick. If they had such thoughts they were sick. If they were confused they were sick. Ergo, they were in need of healing.

The second story I know of first hand. In a parish in a town neighboring my own the rector and parish were to host the annual ecumenical Thanksgiving service. The Choir of the parish was going to sing and a young man of the congregation was going to do a solo. When clergy of some of the evangelical / Pentecostal churches heard that the soloist was gay they came to the rector and stated their objections and said that because the young man was in a special ministry (of singing) he was, on the face of it, a parish leader. Because they believed that no gay or lesbian person should be in a position of leadership in the church they felt they had to object. So they said that either he had to go or they could not attend.

To his great credit the Rector indicated that sorry as he was for their leaving, he would not and could not ask the soloist to step down. The service would continue. About half the churches in the ministerial group then left and stated that they would not participate.

The notion that gay persons in leadership, however defined, would taint the whole group is only an extension of believing ‘gayness’ to be a disease. It is part of the larger notion that “God changes lives for good” applied specifically to all those efforts to reconstruct gay persons’ lives as straight.

The people in the ministerial association, the people of the AAC and the Bishop forcing his exorcism all understand being gay as a disease at best, possession at worst.

No matter the other outcomes of the current struggles, most of what is going on in the Anglican Communion does not have to do with homosexuality, but with an understanding of ecclesiastical power as something exercised by divine right and by men only. The matter is mostly about governance. Gay people are simply the pawns, wreckage in the fast lane where every effort is being made to clear the way for a more pure, more powerful, more, dare we say, perfect community.

That realization makes all the more insidious the claims for the right to exorcise, demonize, ostracize or otherwise declare unclean and sick, people who are gay. I believe the realignment crowd is deeply entrenched in this attack on gay people. Under the cover of pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons (which claim I believe has not been given any credence in the gay community) the realignment crowd professes to care about gay persons recovering. I am sure the clergy who refused to take part in the Thanksgiving Day service would have professed their love for gay people and their desire to see them made whole.

But underneath the professions of love and care, the desire to see gay people made whole, is expressed the absolute right to exorcise, cure, heal and otherwise change gay persons, with or without their permission or engagement. “God changes lives for good,” true enough. But God also confirms lives as good. And it is the work of arrogance to demand that gay people be changed and not confirmed.

The attempted exorcism was an aberration and an obscenity. The separation from community because a leading member of the choir is gay is no better. And a banner that “God changes lives for the good” is code for God changing gay people for the good, not allowing for the possibility that God has confirmed gay and straight alike for the good.

The Episcopal Church needs to reject in clear and well articulated terms every attempt to make being gay a sin, an illness or the possession of an evil spirit.

Sin is an equal opportunity employer, and forgiveness is an equal opportunity loan available at the times of deepest despair. Gay and straight alike are subject ot sin, illness and possession. There is no special state of uncleanness reserved for those who are Gay or Lesbian.

Louie Crew is right: God loves absolutely everybody.

I’m right too: God is no doubt disappointed in our recent performance.

Anyone who has ears to hear, hear.

12 comments:

  1. I was serving a congregation in another state. A bill came before the state legislature to add "perceived homosexuality" to the list of those persons against whom descrimination in housing or availability of insurance could no longer be exercised.

    I testified, as a clergywoman, before the legistature on behalf of the bill. I received hate mail and threatening phone calls, but not from my congregation. The congregation did not want being gay to be affirmed, but they sure as heck understood about civil rights and so they supported the bill, which, I regret to say, all these years later, still has not passed the Senate of that legislature, although it consistently passes the House.

    However, my public support of the bill caused my congregation some embarrassment. One of the Sunday School teachers, who supported the bill and had "no problem with homosexuals", still came to me and asked me to put this on the back burner. She anticipated the day when all this would blow over and gay persons would be equal, but not in our time. Meanwhile, the parents of the children were feeling ambiguous about my leadership as their priest. I had to tell her that I knew that was not the case for all of them, since many of them were proud of the stand I had taken. (It turned out that the teacher was talking about one family, who she named, and who never did leave while I was there.)

    But more to the point, I shared with her that I had done it for those very children. Because statistically at least one, if not more, of them had been born gay, and if I did not stand up for them now, there would be no hope in the future.

    I still stand by that position. I not only believe and advocate from a position of the wholeness of adult gay and lesbian persons just as they are, at least as whole as I am as a heterosexual woman, I do it for the teens who are at risk, and for the children who are yet to be born.

    And I will continue to do so to the day I die.
    Faithfully,
    The Rev. Lois Keen
    Priest

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  2. revlois is a great priest, and for good reason... her letter is a witness to her work.

    Hi Lois. Great to hear from you again.

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  3. Be sure to listen to the exorcism recording--that is the voice of our new spiritual overlords, if the "reasserters" have their way.

    No thanks.

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  4. Does Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma’s of Nigerias madness live on?

    WOW! What a recording!

    Of course it does!

    ...one must only listen to ANY of the "Anglican TV" interviews to see something that looks very close to facial tics happening uncontrollably and/or the spewing of spit from downturned corners of lips that are going on and on zealously.

    Listening and watching exaggerated religious passion/insanity as it is "performed" in our "society" is fascinating stuff (however some of these folks clearly need medication of a more "down to Earth" variety).

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  5. I especially liked the Anglican TV interview of John-David Schofield. I expected him any moment to throw on a feather boa and sing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Fiend."

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  6. I know it's rarely profitable to come back with tales from those "other" blogs, but I was really rather surprised to see denizens of one site noted for its general civility arguing that jailing Nigerian homosexuals and those who advocate for their rights is not only OK, but a blessing in disguise, since Muslims would kill them. Oh, and that is inappropriate for Americans to comment on Nigerian affairs since we don't understand their culture. Yet oddly enough, Nigerian commentary on North American Anglican doings appears to be holy writ.

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  7. Ephraim Radner had something to do with writing this ? I'm confused - I thought he was one of the reasserter crowd (but maybe I just haven't had sufficient coffee this morning ?)

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  8. 'The Episcopal Church needs to reject in clear and well articulated terms every attempt to make being gay a sin,'


    Can't help but chip in that such attempt was recorded in the Bible with the claim that God considers it ABOMINATION! Or has TEC done away with the OT? Is that why KFS was presented with only the NT?

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  9. The problem with homosexuality is that it causes people to harm each other in the form of astonishingly high rates of hepatitis, bowel diseases, and other painful ailments. The problem with promoting or legimizing it is that some people who would avoid this pattern of causing pain might otherwise avoid that.

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  10. Anonymous,

    Can you post scientific evidence backing your claims, please? It would seem only fair, as you are making a scientific argument.

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  11. Mark,

    Forgive the intrusion to make a simple point, probably better made elsewhere. Here is one among many scientific studies regarding the transmission of hepatitis in homosexuals as well as heterosexuals.

    My argument: please note that this study repeatedly demonstrates that sexual transmission of hepatitis is generally predicated upon promiscuity (assuming neither partner was infected through another source.)

    Sexually transmitted diseases are often concentrated in urban areas, mostly in areas where there are sex workers or locations otherwise conducive to promiscuity, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

    Anonymous is offering a (too often articulated) red herring. In the Episcopal Church, we are not discussing sanctioning promiscuous sexual behavior and its potentially destructive effects.

    We are discussing sanctioning and blessing monogamous, faithful unions between two consenting adults.

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  12. And of course, such *smears* re homosexuals and "astonishingly high rates of hepatitis, bowel diseases, and other painful ailments" IGNORE LESBIANS COMPLETELY (as they inevitably have lower rates of all of the above, than do *heterosexuals*!)

    But can we please not sink to the level of making allusions re +John-David? After Rev. Lois's powerful letter re "perceived homosexuality", doing that about anyone else is, I would argue, beneath us.

    Bishop Schofield must stand or fall regarding his faithfulness to his ordination vows, and not on anything else (including what he would look like in a feather boa).

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