Steph just forwarded me a blog post that has taken my metaphorical breath away. I haven’t had a chance to properly take it in; all I have are questions and impressions. No answers, sorry. Most unlike me, I know; I’m usually much more of a know-it-all. Steph is sitting over at her computer, working on her own reaction, so keep checking back to see what she eventually posts.
Katie Sherrod, a writer in Forth Worth, TX, today posted Complicit in Abuse, in which she examines her experiences in the modern Episcopal church, and the struggles the Episcopal Church of the United State of America (ECUSA) finds itself in, and compares them with the realities of living in an abusive relationship:
Those of us in places like Fort Worth really want to know. For at least fifteen years those of us in the Diocese of Fort Worth who support the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life and work of the church have been trying to get some help, or least encouragement, from the national church as our diocesan leadership moved year after year to isolate and separate us more and more from the national church. The Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Integrity and Claiming the Blessing are the only organizations in the church who responded to our cries for help. Only now that the same issues we’ve been struggling with here are threatening the larger church is the national church finally paying attention.It is perhaps easy — all too easy — to look at the ongoing relationship (or lack thereof) between the greater Anglican Communion (AC) and the U.S. and Canadian national churches, and find parallels of abuse. I have no doubt that many of those parallels are absolutely valid. It’s hard to see some of the demands voiced by some of the more rigidly conservative members of the AC as anything other than naked plays at retaliation for decades of colonial exploitation — act that were far too often abetted by the Communion — with a bit of empire-building of their own thrown in for good measure. No church official that rises to the level of bishop can possibly fail to recognize how incendiary the act of open interference in another church’s hierarchical issues will be. “But they invited us in” is at best a tattered lace glove over the iron fist of a blatant act of manipulation and control.
See? I said it was easy. Seductively so. Taking the abusive relationship as a model for understanding the relationship of ECUSA as a body with other churches in the AC provides insights that we perhaps would be unable (or unwilling) to consider otherwise. The map, however, is not the territory, as one commenter illustrates:
You have no idea how offensive your claims of victimization really are. It is really offensive when you belittle in this way the experience not just of people who have suffered domestic violence but even more so those who have suffered martyrdom, and then say we guilt trip you when we object to your demeaning and mocking our experience. Again, you are the ones who have the power, and generally it is those who have the power who are the abusers.It’s all too easy to dismiss this commeter’s claims. They’ve posted anonymously, an action generally looked down on by standard netiquette and almost destined to draw (in some corners of the Net) accusations of being a sock puppet, a coward, and worse. The very real pain and anger that come through this comment are sure to turn many readers off; they’re too raw for us to handle. The temptation is to dismiss this person as a raving loony, thus absolving us of the responsibility of listening to what they say.
Those of us who have a horse in this race, however, are not the typical Net users. By virtue of our professed beliefs, we have accepted an obligation to not react in a customary fashion. When remembering the traditional Gospel litany of “the least of these,” I have only to imagine how Jesus would respond to that comment. How would He deal with someone whose past pain is so great that a simple blog post provokes this strong of a reaction? Would He debate the correctness of the commenter’s arguments? Would He chide them for angry, divisive language?
No, I don’t think so.
So why was that my first reaction? My first impulse? I have never been in this kind of dysfunctional relationship in my life. I have no metric to measure this person’s pain by. Who am I, then, to jump to the offensive? And why does it seem to be more and more the norm, these days, for fewer people to stop and ask these questions of themselves before they sit down at the keyboard? Why is it that we Christians, who are by our own professed creeds and beliefs called to be peacemakers, so often jump into fisticuffs with each other?
Is it because we have become so immersed in the world that we simply cannot think of any other way to be?
The comment from Anonymous sends, to me, a chilling and strong warning — not as much because of what they say, but rather because I have seen the likely responses far too many times. After you’ve watched your fellow Christians take out their swords and start fighting among each other, you learn a certain fear. After you’ve picked up your sword and joined in the melee, you nurse your own secret cache of shame. It becomes much easier to strike out at anyone and anything that threatens to bring that grubby mess of guilt to public view than to stop and think before acting.
Could it be that we in the church have learned the real lesson of the Adversary — how to be victims — all too well? Do we really believe our own rhetoric about the transformative power of Christ in the world around us? Are we in such a strong personal relationship with the Word that we expect the daily grace of peace that passes understanding, or do we view it as merely another weapon with which to conduct the struggles of our day-to-day lives? Do we live as overflowing vessels of Divine light and love, or as hoarded jars of stagnant pond water?
It seems to me that applying the model of the abusive relationship is a powerful tool in understanding how we relate to others in our diocese, our church, the AC, and the world. But it also seems to me that as professed believers in God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we need to be exceedingly careful in our responses. We are called to relationship — with God, with our fellow believers, and with those around us. Can we be true to our calling if we react from our all-too-human reflexes and reactions, instead of claiming the heavenly love, peace, wisdom, and loving-kindness that is our portion if we only have the strength of will to take it?
I do not know where to draw the line. I do not know, when dealing with my fellow believers, when to say “Enough is enough! I divorce you!” without feeling in danger of violating my commission. How do we discern when we have been guilty of making others victims of the same attitudes we hold ourselves to be victims of? And in the light of Christ’s sacrifice for us, do we as Christians even have the right to be thinking of ourselves as victims in relation to each other?
According to our strongest traditions, we have been called to be one body. We affirm this relationship on a regular basis. How, then, do we continue to be one body when we begin to reject each other? How can our body survive when we allow this autoimmune disorder to continue?