Monday, March 10, 2008

Father Dan Martins on Demonizing the Enemy

For many of us on both sides of the great Anglican soap opera, one of the worst features as been the tendency--by those on both sides of the debate--to demonize our opponents. As I have often said, there is room in our church for both sids on the issue of same sex relationships. Indeed, we need both sides in our church.

Father Dan Martins, who differs from me on the issue of same sex relationships agrees in a must read post:

It seems to me that what most gets in the way of the ability to empathize is the tendency on all sides to paint the opposition with a very broad brush. The way conservatives do this is to hang the institutional label of the Episcopal Church on every misdeed that any liberal has committed. All the detestable enormities of "revisionism" thereby become monolithic. It's an impressive list. Who can work up very much empathy for an institution that subverts the sacrament of marriage, rejects the authority of Holy Scripture, denies the divinity of Christ and his atoning work, allows Druids and Muslims to serve as priests, believes there are already enough Christians in the world, welcomes unbelievers and pagans to Holy Communion, and confuses the gospel with the Millennium Development Goals?

The problem is, "the Episcopal Church" doesn't do any of those things. Some--many, perhaps; including people in positions of high leadership--do some of them, and that is a serious problem. But nobody, to my knowledge, does all of them. And none of them represent the official teaching or practice of the Episcopal Church.

Liberals, of course, have their own version of the broad brush. They have, at various times, portrayed their opponents as misogynists, homophobes, mindless fundamentalists, neo-Puritans, Anglo-Baptist interlopers, and--my personal favorite--Nazis, all of whom get together at night while the good-hearted politically naive liberals are sound asleep to swear allegiance to the Chapman Memo and plot to steal the Episcopal Church from itself. What decent person in his or her right mind would want to hang out with that crowd?

Once again, the problem is that we're dealing sweeping generalizations. That any or all of the labels (except "Nazi," no doubt) has at one time or another been true of an Episcopalian/Anglican conservative is invoked by many as license to spray paint the whole list of labels on to anyone who dares to resist what is widely perceived as the majority view in TEC.

Of course, merely by describing these phenomena, I have to an extent indulged in them! So I will plead with anyone who will listen: Let's put the broad brushes away. Conservatives would do well to quit automatically unchurching anyone who holds "reappraiser" views, not just because it really pisses them off, but because it's just wrong to do. Somebody can hold a mistaken view on the sexuality questions without being lumped together with John Spong and Markus Borg--or Katharine Jefferts Schori, for that matter. Liberals would do well to quit assuming anyone who holds "reasserter" views does so out of either ignorance, selfishness, or mere power-hungry churlishness. A person can hold a traditional view of sexual morality without being lumped together with Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps.

Both sides in this mess clearly feel beaten up and misunderstood by the other. There is abundant opportunity for empathy. But lest it be thought that I'm just turning into a ball of cotton candy, I will observe that empathizing is not just a charitable thing to do, it's a strategically smart thing to do. I am regularly astonished at how few on either side of the divide seem to understand this. Somehow it's more appealing--no doubt because it's more gratifying in the short term--to hang on to our broad brushes, responding to our opponents with sweeping generalizations and rhetorical flourishes, scoring easy PR points with our homeys by lobbing polemical hand grenades across enemy lines. That's a surefire formula for a World War I-style stalemate. Whichever side is the first to successfully get inside their opponents' collective head, to learn to think what they think and feel what they feel, to learn what motivates them from the inside, will be the first to emerge from the foulness of the trench.

Such a move may lead to final victory. Then again, in God's mercy, it may lead to reconciliation--reconciliation of a sort that none of us can presently envision or imagine.

Read it all here.


Michael said...

I think that reconciliation on this issue and other hot button issues is very unlikely.

Myself being pro choice can understand the motivation of those who oppose abortion for anyone.

However, I cannot find any rational reason to oppose gay marriage, or for that matter just being a homosexual.

This opposition and sometimes hatred of homosexuals is simply a clear example of the "green monkey syndrome".

This syndrome was first described by zoologists who took a well adjusted young male monkey from an island in a zoo and dyed his hair bright green. They put him back on the island to see what would happen. The experiment had to be discontinued because the green monkey was being seriously abused and his life was in danger.

This primitive instinct no longer serves a modern society. It is very sad to me that this instinct has been canonized by so many.

Michael said...

I just read that Bishop Gene Robinson has been denied permission to participate in the once-a-decade gathering in England, called the Lambeth Conference.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, didn't invite Robinson to Lambeth, partly to appease theological conservatives.

One more victory for the "green monkey sydrome". It sure looks to me like the monkeys have won.

Chuck, do you really believe this behavior deserves conciliation and understanding or perhaps outrage? Come on Chuck, step up to the plate and tell me that Rowan's decision was fair or an outrage.

Chuck Blanchard said...


Yes, I think the decision not to include Gene Robinson was unfair and yes an outrage. The issue here is not that, but how we respond. To me, the guide is Christ--we love our enemies and have faith that our witness to the truth will change minds and hearts.

Reconciliation is not giving up on principles. Instead, it is keeping the dialogue going. And on this issue, change IS possible. I have seen a change of heart on this issue in my own family and church. Openly gay and lesbian priests were unknown a generation ago, but are now accepted by the majority in the Episcopal Church. The Lutheran church is on the verge of making the same change. We have seen in our own lifetimes tremendous change on views of same sex relationships.

But this dialogue, and the opportunity for conversion, is lost if we call our opponents names that cause them to stop listening.

I think more than bigotry is at issue here. There are many good people who have a view of scripture that does not allow them to get past the statements of Paul about same sex relationships. We have answers--see Tobias Haller's great series as well as the work of Timothy Luke Johnson--but we won't get very far by assuming that redemption and conversion are impossible.

Michael said...

Thank you Chuck.
As you might guess this is an important issue to me. I still believe that there will be little chance of compromise when one side believes they have God on their side. Of course they conveniently ignore other Biblical instructions like Exodus 35:2. They have chosen the issues that agree with their primitive green monkey syndrome thinking.

Those saintly figures in our history like Saint Francis, Jesus, Buddha, and Ghandi certainly had a clear message about how we should treat each other.

When I hear Hagee preach over television that homosexuals are a greater threat to America than terrorists or Islamic fascists, I feel depressed. I will never live to see that end of an era that believes that hate in the name of Jesus is really cool.

I am 65 now and have been with the person I love since I was 14. We will continue to be the object of hate and institutionalized prejudice just for existing on this planet.