sweeping generalizations

Proceed with caution. Read this only if you can cope with sweeping generalizations, oversimplifications, and one side of the story.

Christine asks why The Episcopal Church in the States is so much more exercised by the ‘big divisive issues’ in the Anglican Communion than we are in the SEC. By which I assume she means ‘why are they talking about it, thinking about it, acting on it while we tuck our heads hoping that trouble will pass us by?’

‘It’, by the way, can be variously interpreted as ‘a Christian understanding of homosexuality’ or ‘the apparent crumbling of the Anglican Communion.’

I suspect that the variation in response reflects a basic difference of temperament between the churches. And this is where the sweeping generalizations start. For those of you familiar with Myers-Brigs, the American Church is predominantly Extrovert and Feeling. They sort out what matters most to them by talking about how it feels.

Britain, on the other hand, is Introvert –Thinking. They like to think through what they believe for themselves, and would generally prefer root canal to having to speak about it in public.

When we apply that to the current issues (of human sexuality and the nature of the Anglican Communion) it results in the following…

(1) American Episcopalians have been talking about human sexuality for years. Gay people have spoken of what it feels like to be excluded and rejected, and have spoken too of the redemptive experience of coming to believe that God loves them in all their particularity – sexuality and all. The wider church has not only heard these stories, but learned from them. Gay people’s experience of God has opened windows on the gospel in the same way that the experience of other historically silenced people has.

Scottish Episcopalians have been talking about the ‘listening process’ for years. But, since the dominant cultural pattern has been that it’s fine to be gay in the church so long as one does not talk about it, we often find that we are listening to deafening silence. I think we mustn’t underestimate how hard it is for those schooled in silence to be asked now to speak.

So – our churches are at a different stage of the process.

(2) There is a difference, too, in the role that social justice issues play in the church. The American church is a ‘doing’ church. It is very easy to gather people to run soup kitchens, volunteer at an AIDS hospice, or hold a blueberry festival to raise money for a local charity. There’s a widely accepted belief that involvement in social justice is a natural (and not optional) expression of faith.

Britain, in contrast, tends to be quieter in its execution of faith. ‘Love thy neighbour’ rather than ‘run thy soup-kitchen’.

It is natural, therefore, that the way gay people have been accepted in the SEC has often been through gentle silence and domestic hospitality. In TEC, hospitality is shown more publicly through communal action and by advertising a gay-spirituality group as openly as mums-and-tots.

(3) The temperamental differences also feed into perceptions of what it means to be Anglican.

In the socially liberal churches in the States, to be Anglican means to be able to think critically, discuss freely, disagree vehemently, and all share in the same table. Freedom of thought, responsiveness to changing cultural situations, and learning from Christ in the world is simply assumed as the Anglican Way.

Therefore, when other parts of the church claim that Anglicanism resides in the unchanging revelation of scripture and criticize The Episcopal Church for departing from the true faith, they are met simply with bewilderment. I believe TEC wants to be part of the Anglican Communion. But they want to be part of the communion that they believed existed – not this unfamiliar communion that is shouting ‘sola scriptura’ and shoring up identity by trying to exclude.

Scotland, I suspect, is going through a similar process. But we are doing it quietly – over tea, or with a glass of wine — asking each other: what do you think will happen?

And no one seems to know.

11 thoughts on “sweeping generalizations

  1. What a tremendously thoughtful and helpful analysis. I don’t think I would disagree with anything in it, but I would perhaps add two points .
    Firstly the SEC has been fortunate in having leaders in the past two generations (Alasdair Haggar & Ricahrd Holloway are the outstanding examples) who were open, generous and thoughtful and prepared to take risks. They encouraged the church to be outward looking and to eschew the small minded approach which was all to prevelant in other churches. That leadership has helped us to establish a liberal tolerance which was not the hallmark of the SEC two generations ago.
    Secondly whilst it would be a sweeping genrealisation in itself to say that Scotland tends to be more tolerant of difference, there is – when we are at our best in this country – an ability to accept things which are sometimes less easily accepted south of the bnrder.
    ONe of the things that makes me happy to have been brought up in the SEC and to still be a member is our strong adherance to equality and our avoidence of died in the wool reactionary stances. That also makes me celebrate our unique position as the mother church of TEC in America and makes keen for the SEC to show its solidarity with TEC in these times of difficulty. Which means, I suppose, that if a split is really coming (or if it is upon us) I know where I stand and where I think the SEC should stand.

  2. This is helpful and makes a lot of sense in my current experience. I shall bear it in mind as I keep looking! Perhaps I shall have more leisure to develop my own ideas after I return – because I think a bit more open-ness could be a good thing. (Though I could also see how it could misfire horribly!)

  3. I don’t believe that there is currently any process of listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people in the Scottish Episcopal Church. There are active processes for trying to get people to shut up. These have included the way that synod debates are managed and the silencing of gay people at the last Provincial Conference so as not to cause embarrassment to Archbishop Rowan.

    It is very true that those who have been schooled to silence will find it hard to speak. However, I don’t believe that there is any process at the moment in which those voices could be heard anyway. Silence seems to be the preferred option for many others too.

    I don’t agree that gay people have been accepted in the SEC. In some places they have been welcomed and in others merely tolerated. There are many people in the SEC who would find life more comfortable if gay people ceased to exist.

  4. Kelvin, I take your point. I guess that was the ‘one side of the story’ bit. To the extent to which individuals have been welcomed into specific church communities, it tends to be done quietly and without fuss. Whereas, in the States, it tends to be a more overt issue.

    If you think that synod is silencing the issue, how could that change? Could the shift come from the floor, or does it have to come officially?

  5. I think that gay people will be happy about coming to the front of a public meeting to discuss their private lives only when they have been shown how to do that by straight people.

    The people with all the power are lay people whose livelihoods are not at stake and straight people who are in the majority.

    Often change comes when people organise and push for change, and there is a place for that. I was very sad when the Movement for Whole Ministry turned its back on gay people, having insisted throughout its existence that it was not just about the ordination of women.

  6. Surely change can also come because people are changed, and find the though of discrimination because someone is gay as self-evidently wrong as discimination because of gender or colour.

    Organized groups are crucial. But ground swell matters too.

    I was not assuming that gay people need to come to the front of synod floor to talk about their private lives. Rather that all sorts of people need to be willing to speak more openely about their understanding of God as it relates to current issues.

  7. If I may chime in, albeit a few days late, the USA is also a very singular society, the good of the few, or one, outways the good of the many. In some ways this country was founded on that principle. We have an amazing twist of laws that are based on the experience, usually negative, of an individual. The church is somewhat the same way. A few will experience difficulty with an issue and then begin the process to have the general church conform to their view, narrow though it may be. Over the years the conservative right has always been much better at organization than the moderates or liberals. So the debate rages on with personal agendas in hand rather than a process of cooperative discernment. The EC, as it is now called, had pledged several conventions ago to a process of “listening” which never really happened.

    As an interesting sideline, it has been rumored here that in the election of ++Shori the conservative pooled their votes for her early on not thinking that she would receive the number for election. Another variant is that they did the same with the idea of election and hoping that her election would “push the American church out of the communion,” whatever that means.

  8. On a number of occssions over the years I have had to push start my car on my own. Jumping in to take control could be quite dangerous for and and a run away car can do considerable damage.
    Every change of direction or new undwerstanding does require an initial shove but once a thing hasbegun to move don’t go on shoving Reflect on the horrors of the French or Russian revolutions.

    On the matter of sexuality America has been engaged in this debate for a very considerable time. The issue is on the move in the UK particularly amongst younger generations. Nothing further is gained by shoving. Rather only antaganism to to the cause of acceptance will ensue.
    Within the church community a reflection on the Epistle for this Sunday – 1 Corinthians 13 – is required by all sides. We are called to restraint in all our delealing. But if those with whom we do not agree do not exercise that charitable restraint we are still called to adhere to it. If we do not we betrwy the Gospel and we behave no differently than those who hold opinions contrary to ours

  9. I’m reminded on reading Devil’s Advocate’s anonymously posted advice of a quote from Martin Luther King that I came across on his feast-day just the other week:

    He says…”I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White citizens’ “Councilor” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direst action” who paternistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  10. Kelvin’s post strikes home forcibly after a visit to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. The bravery of those who stood up for their rights is inspirational.

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