12/04/2009

The Episcopal Church speaks on the question of the Uganda anti-gay bill.

The Episcopal News Service ran this headline, "Presiding Bishop expresses concern about Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality bill." That is certainly true as far as it goes. She did make a statement. Read it HERE. The statement is prefaced by the following, "Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a statement expressing concern about the pending Ugandan legislation that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate portions of that country's anti-homosexuality laws."

The statement itself makes it clear that it is The Episcopal Church that has the concern, not just or only the Presiding Bishop. It begins, "The Episcopal Church joins many other Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that "efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005)." Throughout the language of the statement the Presiding Bishop uses the language "we" not in reference to herself or her office, but to The Episcopal Church. The message contends that it is The Episcopal Church that is concerned about the pending Ugandan legislation.

The Presiding Bishop's statement is a classic example of the PB exercising the role given in the canons (I 2.4a 1-2), namely, "speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention; (and) (2) Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity."

As is often the case such statements grow from a variety of concerns and interactions. In this case including strong concerns from Executive Council members that a position paper clarifying The Episcopal Church's concerns was necessary. In my previous post, Moving from corporate governance to incorporated governance I indicated that this wider networking of concerns was part of a possible shift in governance in part a product of communications options.

The fact that the Presiding Bishop's statement is cast as a statement about how The Episcopal Church understands the issues at hand is important, for it acknowledges both that the Presiding Bishop can and does speak for the Church and that such statements gather in a variety of concerns and actions taken in the process of policy development - actions of General Convention, Anglican Communion deliberations, and statements by this Church and ecumenically supporting human rights and opposing discriminatory legislation against gay and lesbian persons.

Most interestingly, the Presiding Bishop has taken the opportunity to address the issue of fear mongering and extending of anti-gay prejudice by persons and organizations in the US. She writes, "Finally, we note that much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism toward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own Church. We note further that attempts to export the culture wars of North America to another context represent the very worst of colonial behavior. We deeply lament this reality, and repent of any way in which we have participated in this sin."

The whole of this statement is carefully crafted and it includes the concerns of many. It is more than individual opinion but rather the position of The Episcopal Church and it calls for a variety of actions by church and state. It calls on Christian conscience and at the same time acknowledges that the road to social justice is a challenge to us all.

I believe this statement is an excellent summation of The Episcopal Church's stance. The role of particular Executive Council members in the call for and development of this statement has been noted by ENS in an earlier article. The President of the House of Deputies has spoken forcefully on the issue. Now we have this statement.

Some have been critical about how long it has taken for TEC to respond. My sense is that, given the changing and developing role of governance by a larger group who understanding themselves "incorporated" into a more horizontal authority pattern, and given the corporate structures in place, there will be occasions when unanimity of response will require some time.

The issue first came to the fore on September 25th when the bill was published in Uganda. It was put on the docket October 14th. I believe Changing Attitude first wrote on the issue October 30th, although members of CA wrote the ABC, etc, prior to that posting. Essentially six weeks have transpired since the issue was clearly put before the churches.

That is a very short time for the gathering in of all the information needed to make an adequate response. The fact that the bill is clearly onerous and contrary to what we believe is just and right as a Christian community is easy to determine. Six weeks is a long time for that determination. Less easy to know is what sort of statement is helpful to the social, political and religious processes and communities "on the ground" in Uganda. Six weeks is fairly short for this.

Thanks to the Presiding Officers, the Executive Council members who called for further immediate work on the issue, and the community of concern, both in the blogsphere and elsewhere, for working through all this.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks, indeed. I think this is a very welcome message from the Presiding Bishop on behalf of The Episcopal Church.

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  2. I think you are being a bit generous. The statement is certainly a decent one but its timing suggests to me that without the executive council push we would not have it.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  3. Jim...yes. The push is in this case part of the process of "incorporation" of views concerning urgency, etc.

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  4. Pushed on not, better a late statement than none at all.

    Maybe this might nudge ++Rowan Williams out of his desire to replay the role of Pius XII in this matter.

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  5. mark,
    It takes days and weeks to figure out that "to be gay is to be arrested and executed" is wrong? What's up? It is not only what is said but how long it took everyone to say something!

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  6. When she writes, "we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema," does that include Mormons, and others in general, who supported Prop 8 in California? Or does "any" mean "groups we favor?"

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  7. Phil needs to get out more. No one picked on Mormons per se. Their church, in my view, violated IRS standards in its financing of the prop 8 campaign. Very like the RCC, the LDS is a very top down organization -- sort of the Rowan Williams model actually in place. It is possible to dislike what the institution did without disliking all its members.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  8. Phil, there's no reason to think that members of TEC approve of any scapegoating type of behavior.

    However, I haven't heard of anyone in California proposing legislation to kill any Mormons for going to services, or encouraging others to attend. Certainly there's no whisper of jailing people for not reporting Mormons to the authorities.

    Kindly think about how the stakes are different in Uganda, even if this legislation doesn't become law.

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  9. I'm sorry, Phil, but I don't see the parallel. "Scapegoating" has to do with laying on the victim the sins of others, sins (or at least acts, if you don't consider them sins) the victim didn't commit. So, gay folk are scapegoated when blamed for failures of families, without consideration of divorce, unfaithfulness, or economic forces affecting marriages; or for AIDS, when in Uganda (and elsewhere) the vast majority of cases come through heterosexual contact; or for child abuse, when the vast majority of cases involve men who understand themselves as heterosexual.

    On the other hand, any anger about those in California who voted for Prop 8, and about Mormon and Catholic groups outside of California who contributed heavily to campaigns against marriage equality, isn't scapegoating. It's about acts that they manifestly did commit.

    (My verification is "phetloc;" as in with that broken "phetloc" that horse won't run!)

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  10. The Mormon-sponsored PropH8 told lies about gay families, lies about children, and lies about gay people. There was no scapegoating of the Mormons, but honest blame. Which they earned. ONe might say they paid for it.

    No, the only "scapegoats" in the ProH8 debacle were faithfully partnered and married GLBT people like my wife and me.

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  11. Quite a reaction. Jim says no, it really had nothing to do with Mormons, just the finer details of campaign finance law. Lynn protests that we shouldn't believe any ECUSAns approve of any such scapegoating, and throws in a few other qualifiers besides, sidestepping the fact that the PB failed to do likewise, writing flatly: "we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema." That didn't apply only to the sainted Episcopal Church. Marshall wants to play semantics, but fails inasmuch as the Uganda legislation under fire is about the behavior of the group being targeted (wrongly, in my opinion).

    So what it comes down to is what IT openly admits: Mormons and others who exercised their constitutional rights to differ from her on a matter of public policy, advocate in the election process and vote in it deserve to be scapegoated for her side's failure to make its case, even in California, surely a best-case scenario. Or, in other words, option 2 in my original comment: we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons we favor is anathema, and, if you disagree, your category is, well, anathema.

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