Second Openly Gay Bishop Elected in Worldwide Anglican Communion

Mary Glasspool reacts during her election with Bishop Jon Bruno behind her.
Mary Glasspool reacts during her election with Bishop Jon Bruno behind her.

I was very pleased to note that the Anglican Church/Episcopal Church USA has elected two women–Mary Douglas Glasspool and Diane Jardine Bruce–to serve as assistant bishops in the Los Angeles diocese. Of note is the fact that Canon Glasspool is openly lesbian and has been in a committed relationship since 1988. With her election she becomes the second openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican Church. Bishop Gene Robinson was the first. Also last fall, the Church of Sweden (which is Lutheran, but in communion with the Anglican Church of England) consecrated Eva Brunne, also a partnered lesbian, as Bishop of Stockholm.

As a Roman Catholic, I’m interested in how other denominations are working through the complex issues of sexuality and the call to serve the church in ordained ministry. Over at Ekklesia, Savi Hensman wrote a nice piece (Liberating the Anglican Understanding of Sexuality) that tracks some of the journey of the Episcopal Church on the issue of sexuality:

Indeed the Episcopal Church’s openness to lesbian bishops is the result of a long process of reflection and study in keeping with the advice of numerous Anglican gatherings and the principles of international canon law. The “duty of thinking and learning” is a theme that has come up repeatedly at international gatherings. The church should learn from the work of scientists, calling upon “Christian people both to learn reverently from every new disclosure of truth, and at the same time to bear witness to the biblical message of a God and Saviour apart from whom no gift can be rightly used”, and should welcome “the increasing extent of human knowledge” and the “searching enquiries of the theologians”. In 1978 the Lambeth Conference called for “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research”, “pastoral concern for those who are homosexual” and “dialogue with them”. As understanding of human sexuality grew, and more theologians made the case for full inclusion, many in the Episcopal Church came to believe that being a woman or gay should not result in being treated as a “second-class citizen”, let alone an outsider.

Concern for justice and commitment to human rights was another theme, including, from the 1980s, those of “homosexual orientation”. In the USA and other countries covered by the Episcopal Church, LGBT people at times face persecution and violence. While opposition to such mistreatment does not automatically lead to acceptance of same-sex partnerships as a proper lifestyle for Christian leaders, it does make it harder to depersonalise a particular minority and ignore the realities of their lives. This concern for justice has also led to greater self-examination. For instance, the Anglican Consultative Council in 1990 called on “every Diocese in our Communion to consider how through its structures it may encourage its members to see that a true Christian spirituality involves a concern for God’s justice in the world, particularly in its own community.”

Various denominations have excellent new theological papers reflecting their developing understanding of human sexuality within Christian thought. Here are links to a few of them:

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A Working Paper of the House of Bishops (Church of England)

Marriage: A United Church of Canada Understanding

Gustavo Gutierrez: Who Are the Rich?

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez

Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia in the U.K. has a nice commentary Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

Simon’s got a great anecdote about Gustavo Gutierrez, the “father of Liberation Theology” (or “really just the uncle,” as Gutierrez told me once).

In my experience, where you talk about wealth and poverty makes a huge difference in the conversation. A conversation that happens in a corporate board room at the World Bank will come to a radically different conclusion than the one had in a tin-roofed home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some years ago the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, was addressing a large international Christian audience on the subject of biblically-informed responses to poverty. Someone got up from the audience and asked pointedly, ‘But really, professor, who are the poor these days?’

This was a question he was often confronted with, Gutierrez noted. But it was invariably asked by a particular kind of person. Namely, someone who was not in any sense in danger of falling into poverty themselves!

Sit a group of wealthy people down and ask them to identify the poor, suggested the Peruvian “father of liberation theology” (who has spent a good deal of his own time and ministry working among the most vulnerable, oppressed and on-the-edge), and “they will argue about it until the cows come home, or until the kingdom of God comes, whichever is first.”

They will split opinions over ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. They will earnestly ask whether someone living in a shack who has a small TV can really be classed as poor. They will debate measurements, guidelines, axes and thresholds for arriving at an adequate definition of ‘the poor’… before deciding, in all probability, that it is too complicated, that no-one really knows the solution, and perhaps that “poverty isn’t the only or even the most important issue” when confronting human need today.

Then they will most likely retire back to their own comfortable lives and put some money into a charity box dedicated to “those less fortunate” than themselves (ourselves).

By contrast, remarked Gutierrez, if you were to get together a group of people who know themselves to be poor – who struggle for daily survival, who are left out, who are made dependent because of their lack of resources – it will usually take them only a matter of seconds to answer the parallel question, “Who are the rich?” They will take one look at you, in comparison to themselves, and point their fingers of recognition.

Read the whole commentary here.

Analysis: How The Mainstream Media Portrayed the 2005 Kidnapping of Nonviolent Christian Activists and Why It Got It So Wrong

Ekklesia's Simon Barrow
Ekklesia's Simon Barrow

Simon Barrow at U.K.’s Ekklesia (an independent Christian news briefing service) has released an excellent analysis of how mainstream media is addicted to the dominant war narrative and how “alternative” media is better suited to report on the ongoing complexities of a story.

Using the example of the 2005-2006 kidnapping of Christian Peacemaker Team members in Baghdad, Barrow unpacks why the mainstream media was incapable of reporting a story that didn’t fit with their news formula.

While major news outlets failed, “alternative” media – primarily religious outlets who understood the alternative script in operation – were consistently better situated to report accurately and provide the best framing of the unfolding story. These alternative media sources included Ekklesia, Sojourners, the Mennonite Weekly Review, and even Vatican radio.

Barrow’s analysis is a must read for anyone involved in truth-telling in alternative media sources or anyone who wants to understand how to deconstruct the mainstream media. Barrow reveals the “story under the story.”

Here’s an excerpt from Barrow’s report, but I recommend reading his whole article titled Writing Peace Out of the Script.

For the Western news media, North American and European hostages in the Middle East are big stories because they personalise and dramatise what may otherwise seem like one endless series of nameless tragedies in faraway places. They become, in fact, mini-soap operas with their own recognizable cast of heroes, villains, victims, and clowns. Their stuff is the daily drama of hopes and despairs writ large. Their setting is an exotic but mostly unexamined stage. No one knows how long the mini-saga will last, but everyone realizes there can only be two outcomes: tragedy or triumph.

In the meantime, minute attention is paid to the twists and turns of the story — or, in the absence of any real news, what people think the story is or ‘should be’. And it is in these terms that the conventions of ‘the narrative’ and ‘the script’ are written by those who have to keep people watching and reading. They are experts at their craft. They know what communicates and sells to a broad or narrow audience, and they know how to tailor the plot details to the kind of story that can be told — and the kind of story that cannot.

The ‘dominant narrative’ (the generally accepted version of events) is frequently established in the earliest stages of an event and this was certainly the case in the CPT Iraq hostage situation. At its starkest, it went something like this: “A well-meaning but essentially naïve and ill-prepared group of peace activists — Christians who are fish out of water in a conflict-ridden Muslim environment — have been kidnapped by a militant group after political advantage or money. By being there and being caught out, these Western activists have caused danger to those in contact with them. If they are to be freed, it will most likely be because of financial inducement, diplomatic effort, or military bravery. Some admire their intent to bring peace, but hardheaded realists know that they are at best misguided and at worst irresponsible. Their chances of getting out of this alive are limited, but if they do it will be a warning to fellow activists that they should keep their idealism out of the real grown-up world of politics and violence. This is a war on terror, not a playground for wishful thinking.” …

Again and again, the dominant narratives of our time, most especially what theologian Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence,” assert themselves in such a way as to write peace and peacemaking out of the script. This is only to be expected. Expending a lot of energy raging against the machine is likely to be futile. The appropriate response is not despair or collusion, but the cultivation of what the late Archbishop Helder Camara once called “small-scale experiments in hope.”

Such experiments arise from the constructive but vulnerable witness of persons like those who serve with Christian Peacemaker Teams in situations of seemingly intractable destructiveness — and above all in the local people whose ongoing resistance to the powers that be is the only final source of alternatives, when attempts to impose external ‘solutions’ by force inevitably break down. To be effective, however, alternatives need to spread. To spread they must be heard. And to be heard they must be re-inserted into the script, written out of it (in the sense of inscribed within and scribed without) — not written off, or written away. This is a vital ongoing task, both within the media environment, in terms of the practicalities of conflict transformation, and in relation to public policy on interventions in situations of conflict.

Read the whole article here. To read one of my articles on CPT in Iraq, check out Raising An Army of ‘Peculiar’ People.

Christian Disestablishmentarianism

resurrection

As we move toward Easter, I find it helpful to recall the cosmic anarchy that the resurrection represents. Jesus was blowing apart all systems of domination that deform the basic dignity of the human being — including the threat of death.

When Christians are threatened with death, they understand it as being “threatened with resurrection,” as poet Julia Esquivel put it.

Here’s an excerpt from U.K.-based Jonathan Bartley’s commentary on Easter and Anarchy from Ekklesia:

Easter means freedom rather than control. At least that was the way that it started out.

Some early Christians seem to have celebrated it twice. There was the Passover that took on new meaning for the new Jewish sect following Jesus’ celebration of it with his friends just before his crucifixion. There was also Pascha a commemoration more in tune with the Easter we celebrate today.

But it was anarchic in the political sense too. The Passover called to mind the subversion by the Children of Israel, who defied Pharaoh’s authority and went their own way. Down the centuries Christians have developed various theological motifs to explain what they believe happened when Jesus died. But for the early Christians, the emphasis seems to have been squarely on the Resurrection. This was the moment of liberation at which God demonstrated victory over all evil and oppression – including the empire that put Jesus to death. It was the proof that even the greatest of powers could be overcome.

Easter was also the time when baptisms would happen – that Christians too were ‘raised with Christ’. It was the clearest symbol that the allegiance of early Christians did not lie with the state. This was the point at which a new citizenship of God’s Kingdom was embraced, one which challenged all other forms of citizenship, and most notably that of Rome. It committed them to a set of values and behaviours, and a way of living which was often at odds with the social and political norms of the Empire. Christians called it ‘the Way.’

But in the Fourth century, this presented a problem for the emperor Constantine who was intent on marrying Christianity with the power that had often been its persecutor. The death of Christ was a bit embarrassing. And it wasn’t just that the emperor was running the empire which had put the founder of the faith to death. The way of Christ – loving enemies, forgiving and turning the other check – was particularly ill suited to the business of Government. Baptism threatened allegiance to a state that needed to wage war, imprison and torture.

Bartley, Ekklesia co-director,  is author of Faith and Politics After Christendom: The church as a movement for anarchy (Paternoster, 2006) and The Subversive Manifesto: Lifting the lid on God’s political agenda (BRF, 2005). Read the whole piece here.

How would you write your baptismal vows if you knew they threatened allegiance to the State?