Monday, September 29, 2014

Girding our loins

The last week birthed two events that have filled my Facebook timeline. Well, mostly. The ever-present ads for West Elm are there, too.

One was the proposed resolution from an Episcopal diocese concerning the abolition of gendered titles for priests. The other is the ongoing conflict at General Seminary, my beloved seminary, that saw several faculty members go on strike for a litany of concerns and accusations. Both are related.

On the surface, they both address the issues of the dignity others. Or, more accurately, how we do not respect the dignity of others. For the resolution, it speaks to the issues of gender discrimination found in priestly clergy titles. For General, the information released indicates allegations of denigrating and offensive communication and actions, mostly pointed to those who disagree with the authority.

We as a church like to think we're very good at NOT denigrating others. We can quote the respecting the dignity of others part of the baptismal covenant faster than my Baptist grandmother could ask you if you'd been saved by Jesus. And we love to point out the other groups are treating others without dignity, as if holiness is a contest we're determined to win.

We write prayers that remind us of the equality of all people. We share tracts and position papers and pastoral letters about valuing diversity. We have themed liturgies. And we love resolutions on these issues. Over the years, we've written millions of words about the sins of sexism, racism, prejudice of all sorts, and all other forms of dignity violations. When they pass, we feel good about ourselves.

"Yes! We've written words that say this is bad. Yay words!"

The problem is, well, they are just words. Not that resolutions and position papers and books don't have their place. They do.

It's the action part we're a bit thin on.

We've talked and written ourselves into a place of comfort. Because we can talk about these sins of denigration and we can spend weekends in awareness training, we think we've acted. We haven't.

Some have. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of Episcopalians walking the walk to end abuse and discrimination. But the power players? The ones who oversee the systems? The ones of us in places where we can excuse, explain, or ignore these acts? We haven't done much. Perhaps because we would have to admit our complicity with the abuse and/or admit our own experiences as victims of this abuse.

For all our talk, sexism, racism, and prejudice are still insidious in the church. Every day, clergy spiritually and emotionally abuse clergy and laity. Cardinal rectors treat underlings as such. Clergy who are women are told in word and action that somehow their genetic differences make them not as good or are fodder for commentary about their body parts. Gay and lesbian clergy are often denigrated, even in welcoming dioceses. People who disagree with those in power leadership positions are told they are uncomfortable with change (newsflash - we all are) and dismissed as contrarians and have their actions labeled "sabotage." Poorer members of our churches are not allowed the same opportunities to participate in the decision making processes because our committee meetings and conventions still skew to the retired member or the member whose job allows for weekday time off and the traditional weekend off time.

We've tried the easy fixes. We've had sensitivity training. We've read books. My female counterparts have used other titles. We have openly gay and lesbian bishops and a Presiding Bishop who is a woman. And you know what?

Discrimination is still rampant. Acts that violate dignity are still insidious and ignored.  So do I think a resolution that addresses the sexism of titles will accomplish much? No. It's just more words. Well intended words, but still words.

But what if we decided to gird our loins and act?

We love the words of Desmond Tutu. His prayers, his quotes, his speeches - seriously, try to go to an event in the Episcopal Church and not hear him quoted in some way. And we should. He's a wise man.

But Archbishop Tutu did more than speak words. He acted. He sat and listened as people who had been violated, broken, and abused by those in power confronted their abusers, their violators. He supported those who had violated, those who had shredded the dignity of others, as they had to hear how their acts and words wounded souls. He enabled acts of reconciliation in thought, word, and deed.

We are called to do the same.

What might happen if we put as much energy in acting to reconcile our church with its sins of oppression and abuse as we do writing and talking about them (and yes, I realize I'm writing and talking about them, as well)? What might happen if the House of Bishops invited those clergy and laity who had experienced abuse in their dioceses under their watch to share their pain to the bishop in charge WITHOUT FEAR OF REPRISAL? What might happen if we quit excusing sexism, racism, and homophobic comments as boys being boys, the speaker being "just that way" or the hearer being "oversensitive" and took these violations seriously? What might happen if we held repeated offenders accountable for their actions and accepted responsibility for allowing the scars and wounds they continue to inflict because those in authority buried their heads in the sand? What might happen if we were willing to listen to others' concerns, because, you know, that whole respecting the dignity of others often starts with hearing them? What might happen if we told the truth about our experiences with abusive behavior by clergy when called from search committees instead of being fearful that we might say something not nice?

What might happen if we decided to gird our loins and act?

I don't know, but given the current state of things, why not?

3 comments:

Gillian said...

Before I was ordained I worked in libraries, and I still follow a few librarian bloggers, b/c if I ever have to be bi-voc again, that field is my best bet. Fascinating that the exact same conversation as in your last paragraph is happening in that blogosphere as well, though for them it's not the Baptismal Cov't they're referencing, but just the typically leftist/justice/intellectual freedom commitments of most library professionals. Current controversy is about two women bloggers who have blown whistle on alleged chronic sexual predator who is a big name in the field and his response has been to sue them for $1.25M for libel. #teamharpy is the hashtag.

Pastor Patt+ said...

What might happen is the Truth will set us free. What might happen is that we may show those who have turned away our seriousness in being God's agent in the world. Thank you for your powerful words.

Saloom Medical Mission said...

Thanks, Laurie. A CALL TO ACTION and living that action is what each of us are called to be and do as Christians. Thanks for taking the time to write this. How we live our lives and how we profess to live our lives is more powerful than JUST WORDS. Salem