22 May 2014

Where is it written

Bruce Garner who is a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Committee, ends his frequent posts with a quotation.
"Since when do you have to agree with people just to defend them from injustice?" Lillian Hellman, Writer (1905-1984)
It is a good question. And one that Christians, it seems to me, should study. Jesus did not require agreement, or belief. He healed people whom he knew, but he also healed complete strangers, and some whose subsequent conduct indicates a certain lack of appreciation. He even asked forgiveness for those who took their disagreement to the extreme of judicial murder. The Apostles seem to have gotten that message. Acts 5 describes Peter's healing of completely anonymous persons who merely awaited his passage and sat in his shadow. In our day, the Salvation Army has taken the view that suffering requires a response, not a test of theology. Episcopa services does the same in its disaster relief efforts.

So where is that elusive quote that justifies refusing help to those with whom we disagree? There isn't one. There is the horribly misused, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3) There are a couple of problems with the verse. First this is not a particularly strong translation, other versions in English and the original text are closer to,
"Can two walk together without agreeing to meet?"
The "Holman" translation, which benefits from modern scholarship.

The question is one of a series of impossibilities in a section that are intended to make the point that some things are impossible. The other problem with attempts to limit charity using Amos is that "walking together" is rather different from sharing resources with those in need.

Which leads me to South Sudan. The Episcopal Church of Sudan, does not agree with the North American churches on several points. They recently adopted (rather quietly -- ashamed perhaps?) the so-called Anglican Covenant. Even though the thing makes no sense, and stands rejected by many conservative churches, this all but completely failed effort at slipping a concept of international canon law into the Communion was signed. Their people are starving and they are worried about this? The Covenant is widely thought dead. South Sudan attempted to resuscitate it. Only Archbishop Daniel might know why.

For me, a member of the "No Anglican Covenant Coalition" adopting the Covenant is a big deal. But for most Americans I suspect, there is a larger issue. That is the church's official homophobia. Some years ago the then bishop of Renk, lied to my wife in public, saying that each church, USA and Sudan, should merely not attempt to impose cultural imperatives on each other, that there need then be no issue. Since then, the Sudanese "cultural imperative," homophobia, somehow became doctrine. One the archbishop has used with considerable effort as an attack meme, putting down TEC-USA, and to a lesser degree Anglican Church Canada.

That is a problem. It is a problem because caught in a nasty crossfire, North Sudan on the border, and civil war within, South Sudan desperately needs help. Help that can flow from congregations that have long since decided that their lgbt members are welcome in God's kingdom. Sending help, money principally, and perhaps some staff, to South Sudan makes some of our most progressive members deeply uncomfortable. They see themselves paying people to attack them.

Jesus never said this would be easy! Sending all or part of a fund raiser to South Sudan could be hard for a lesbian Episcopalian. Knowing that the highest levels of the clergy there consider her an agent of evil, makes joy hard. And yet, it may not have been easy for Stephen, or Jesus to ask forgiveness for their murderers.

I know that it is too easy by half for me to call someone else to accept insults not directed to me. While the archbishop attacks the whole TEC, the venom hits lgbt members more directly. These are my friends and colleagues, and I hate what this does to them. None-the-less, they are the targets.

And yet, somehow, we need to return to the question. How do we justify an answer to the question that allows us to let people starve? How do we ignore the suffering and death of an entire nation? Can we preach tolerance if we do not tolerate opinions we do not share? These are opinions that we find deeply offensive and wounding, but can :we not tolerate and discuss?

Rather ordinary people, lay and clergy, who want to worry about things like the roof, or tuning the organ, are confronted by the question. Bishop Jeffery Lee, has called on us, the entire diocese of Chicago, to honor our commitment to ur sister diocese Renk (South Sudan,) and find ways to help. We simply must do this, but oh, for some it is hard.

Tuesday, two of us brought a resolution affirming the bishop's ministry in South Sudan, and affirming our intent to seek funds to contribute directly to his efforts to vestry. We could not ask vestry for cash: we simply do not have any. The parish is in significant financial distress.

But at least we will do what we can. I am proud of our members. The vestry could have ducked, simply ignored the problems, the suffering. We did not do that. We stepped up, and committed our parish. The vote was unanimous. Now the hard part, now we have to do something about it. I pray we will -- quickly.

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