To the Pillory, Episcopal Church

The primates’ effort to suspend the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion is a major comeuppance in the history of colonialism. At one level, my heart rejoices.

For generations missionaries sought to reform what they deemed the licentiousness of primitives. How delicious it must be to expose the missionaries as licentious and primitive.

For generations missionaries treated the colonized as intellectual inferiors. How delicious it must be, backed by their degrees from prestigious western universities, to demand consequences for missionaries’ misbehavior. “After all, the missionaries taught us these standards, just as they brought us to the Lord.”
 
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

Like their former colonizers, the primates rushed to raise their hands, as if bidding for an international franchise on Stonebread™.

Homosexual acts were not taboo before missionaries arrived. (See Colonialism and Homosexuality, by Robert Aldrich. London and New York: Routledge, 2003). Yet, so thoroughly did the missionaries impose their values that now even a routine social encounter with a known lgbtq person shocks and startles some primates:

In July 2002, I introduced my husband Ernest to the Anglican primate of Nigeria and his wife Susan as the four of us entered Bishop Sisk’s home for a reception. Four years later, the Archbishop recalled this fleeting encounter vividly in The New York Times.

ABUJA, Nigeria, Dec. 20 [2006] — The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.
Archbishop Akinola… re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and horror.
“This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you, Bishop; this is my partner of many years,’ “ he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”
— reported by Lydia Polgreen and Laurie Goodstein

Missionaries’ lessons sway long after the missionaries have gone.

In February 2001, on the porch of his palace, Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo, then Primate of the Anglican Province of Uganda, excoriated me as a homosexual before all the bishops of the Sudan and Uganda. He was so worked up waving his notes that he accidentally dropped some of them. I said nothing at the time. (See Queer Christian on the Road in Uganda.)

Four months later a stranger introduced himself. “I was present when the archbishop attacked you in Kampala. I am a conservative, but was shocked by the bishop’s abuse. I should have befriended you. Anticipating your visit, the primate’s staff talked for over a week about what they would do with you.”

All Anglican primates are dealing with the same question.

What are we going to do with homosexuals?

Jesus answers:

I give you a new commandment: love one another (John 13:34).

By trying to suspend The Episcopal Church, which nothing in the Communion’s founding documents gives them the right to do, the primates have given the Communion a huge gift. Their accusatory spotlight on the richest and most powerful province of the Communion likely assures that the press and the people of all provinces will be kept aware of the struggle. Perhaps transformative conversations will now happen in the hostile parts of the Communion where indigenous lgbtq Christians seek to participate.

“We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons,” the much touted majority of Anglican bishops promised at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

Most lied. Few lgbtq leaders in hostile provinces of the Communion report any attempts people have made to listen to them. Some now live in exile for fear of their lives. Canon Philip Groves monitored the Listening Process.

The Episcopal Church itself took 39 years to move from merely saying what is right (1976 Resolution A069) to doing what is right (2015 Resolution C026). Listening was integral to that transformation. (Cf. “Changing the Church”)

Our primate, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and the President of our House of Deputies, The Rev. Gay Jennings, have not returned snit for snit but graciously and gently receive the primates’ condemnation as an invitation to proclaim even more broadly that the Episcopal Church welcomes absolutely everybody.

Hester Prynne continued to wear the scarlet letter long after she was rid of the pillory, and years later children sometimes thought the “A” stood for angel.

The primates have offered all Episcopalians an opportunity to be witnesses in a fiery furnace that can no more harm us than did the furnace harm Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Other figure is always present with us.

As an old queen, I find it a divine privilege to proclaim that God loves our adversaries just as much as God loves us. So must we. That’s why we pray, “Forgive me my sins in the same way that I forgive those who sin against me.”

Ours is a strange and wondrous faith. All parties to the current dispute are blood kin through Eucharist: if we don’t believe that, we should shut down.


Louie (L) & Ernest (R) Clay

Louie Clay. In 1976, Louie Clay founded Integrity, an international lgbtq organization focused on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. He has written more than 2,500 published manuscripts, many of them controversial, about justice and religion. He is professor emeritus of English at Rutgers University, holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Alabama, and has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Episcopal Divinity School, General Theological Seminary, and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. In 2015 he was awarded the House of Deputies Medal for distinguished, creative, courageous, persistent, and prophet service and witness to The Episcopal Church. He is the author of four volumes of poetry and recently published a collection entitled Letters from Samaria (Morehouse Publishing, 2015) which gathers together much of his best and most influential poetry and prose. A native of Anniston, Alabama, he and his husband Ernest now live in East Orange, New Jersey.