"No authority to diminish the personhood of a single one of God's children for any reason whatsoever"
Bruce Garner is a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church who regularly corresponds with others on the Episcopal Church's "House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv." The HOB/D Listserv predates any Episcopal blogs or other forums by many years, and surpasses any of them by several degrees of quality and significance.
Mr. Garner lives in Atlanta and has been an active member of All Saints' Episcopal Church there, for more than 25 years. He has served on quite a number of parish, diocesan, and national church bodies. His posts to the HOB/D listserve are exemplary for their grace, compassion, and wit. They display his clear commitment to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
Recently Mr. Garner sent to the email discussion an extraordinary post. But before getting to it, here is a bit of background on the Executive Council and the HOB/D Listserv.
The Executive Council is an elected body representing the whole Church. In the course of the three years between General Conventions, known as the "triennium", the Executive Council customarily meets once in each of the nine provinces of the Episcopal Church.
The Executive Council has the duty to carry out programs and policies adopted by General Convention. It is the job of Executive Council to oversee the ministry and mission of the Church. The Executive Council is comprised of twenty members elected by General Convention (four bishops, four priests or deacons and twelve laypersons) and eighteen members elected by provincial synods. In its diverse membership, it embodies the very best traditions and teachings of our Church.
Mr. Garner was elected to the Executive Council during the past General Convention in Columbus, and he will serve until 2012.
The HOB/D Listserve was founded in 1996 by Dr. Louie Crew, the chair of the Newark, NJ deputation to The General Convention, as a way for bishops and deputies to converse online with one another. Dr. Crew is highly regarded around the Church for his unwavering commitment to building up the Church and for his long years of service as a lay minister. To quote Dr. Crew about the listserve:
'The discussion here enriches our common life, and I am deeply grateful to those who post and to those who read. I am especially grateful for the wide diversity of points of view and for the articulate witness of those with whom I disagree and of all who challenge me to re-think and to grow. It is an enormous privilege to help you connect in any way that I can'.
The Listserv is generally a private, confidential discussion on matters of importance to the Episcopal Church and in the lives of its contributors. It displays a range of ideas, positions, interpretations, and sensibilities, but one thing common to all its contributors is their desire to discern the will of God and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
The discussion is always as civil as possible, between parties and contributors who sometimes disagree strongly, but who continue talking and sharing their experiences regardless. At its best, the Listserv is a model for any other blog and Internet discussions. At its worst, the Listserv is a model for any other blog and Internet discussions.
Mr. Garner recently contributed an exemplary comment. With his kind permission, I share it here in full.
The retreat leaders were a mixed-race heterosexual couple, who are, as far as I know, not Episcopalians. They approached the topic from what was for me, a different perspective. They also took a broader than usual view of diversity issues that included sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, etc. as all being intricately linked in more ways than most of us might realize.
Bottom line: Oppression is oppression.
Pre-retreat reading included a paper by Valerie Batts, PhD, entitled "Is Reconciliation Possible?" Subtitled: Lessons from Combating "Modern Racism." Our colleague Ian Douglas had a role in this, but I will let him explain that for himself.
The term "modern racism" generally refers to the more covert, somewhat less obvious, much more subtle ways that racism plays a role in our society today as opposed to the more blatant version of some years past (Jim Crow laws, KKK, separate restrooms and water fountains, etc. are just a few examples.)
This was NOT a "guilting" experience. It was truly an enlightening experience, an educational experience, a horizon broadening experience and a wonderful experience.
One of our homework assignments was to read a paper by Archbishop Desmond Tutu entitled "Why as Christians we must oppose racism." It was from a talk delivered in 1994 in Australia. The copy we got was from the St. Mark's Review in Australia.
Having said all of this as background, let me clearly state, in my opinion and as a result of this training, the Covenant Design Group, the Dallas and Ft. Worth "plans", the Texas meeting and so much of the other "stuff" going on are simply further sometimes covert but often not manifestations and examples of sexism, racism, heterosexism and homophobia.
Now we can place theological position names on these actions and attitudes and we can dress them up with different code words and new dresses and suits, but they remain very real manifestations of "modern racism."
Characteristics are attributed to groups of people using a very broad brush.
Those characteristics are intended to somehow diminish those who are in the groups as children of God. It becomes ok to label them in an effort to figure out how they don't really "fit in" with everyone else. It becomes ok to very subtly treat them differently because of characteristics that are inherent in them. (Let's not go into the nature/nurture issue or the orientation/behavior distinctions...they are in themselves simply further manifestations of ways to diminish the worth of individuals by those who either can't accept or understand them, fear them, hate them or whatever happens to bounce through one's head at the moment. ) And of course, in some cases, the different treatment is far from subtle. Witness [the dioceses of] Ft. Worth, Quincy, Dallas, SC[South Carolia]. CFL [Central Florida] just to name a few. And yes I can hear the howls of protest, but don't waste time or postings with those. Actions have clearly spoken louder than words used in denial of the reality that exists for a variety of "target group" folks in those places. FYI, the victims of oppression are identified as "target groups" in this exercise while the oppressors are the "non-target groups." And let me also share with you how very telling it is, not to mention painful to realize how many target AND non-target groups of which we each may find ourselves members!
As much as I have tried, I just can not find any evidence where any of us has been given the authority to judge another of us in our relationship to God or our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet some do that on a daily basis in the name and cover of theological purity or some other such nonsense. Let's be clear: Jesus did not give us that authority over each other. Despite our best efforts to justify exceptions or qualifications to the "second and great commandment," there are none. Love your neighbor as yourself is simple, direct and clear. We don't get to choose. We don't get to qualify. We don't get to except anyone from that commandment.
Similarly, Jesus' commandment that we love one another as He loves us, does not include exceptions or qualifications either. (If you paid attention to this past Sunday's lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, it was obvious that Peter and John weren't allowed to make exceptions either when they got sent to Samaria. Remember, Samaritans were those folks you wouldn't want one of your children to marry! They were not one of "us." They were different. Now does that sound racist or what?)
So Rowan Williams can create all the Design Groups he wants. Jack Iker and Jim Stanton can cook up schemes to keep women from being ordained. "Windsor Bishops" can gather and look for ways to keep lesbians and gays from being full members of the Body of Christ. And Peter Akinola can subtly or covertly support legislation that criminalizes and condemns and executes his own countrymen/women because of their sexual orientation. They all engage in these acts of racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia without authority. For every "authority" one might cite from Scripture (even N.T. Wright) many others can cite counter "authorities."
And I must repeat that the greatest authority comes from Christ Jesus Himself in his commandment to love one another and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Now I ask you, whose authority carries more weight here? Given the choice, I will hang with Jesus...probably more literally than I might like!
Yes my sisters and brothers I probably sound a bit tired and weary. I own every bit of that, but not for the reasons you might think. I'm tired and weary of people trying to tell me I am less than the full fledged, living and breathing child of Almighty God that I know in my heart and soul that I am. And as I learned at the retreat I mentioned earlier, it's time for me to call some folks out on that. I will be respectful. I will exercise the patience and grace expected of a follower of and believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, but I will call folks out.
So let me be even more plain: You boys, whether white or black or brown or old or young or middle aged or whatever, you do not have the authority to diminish the personhood of a single one of God's children for any reason whatsoever.
I will close with a question I have asked on this list before: When will be get back to the mission and ministry of this church that calls us to restore right relationships between ourselves and each other and between us and God?
When will we get back to making sure the hungry are fed, the thirsty are watered, the naked are clothed, the sick and imprisoned are visited and the Good News of God's love is preached (even with words sometimes) to absolutely everyone? Can I get an amen? Can I even get an answer?
Bruce Garner, Executive Council