Outrage is not a mission strategy

Well, the days are passing by since the Primates of the Anglican Communion issued their communique at the end of their meeting in Canterbury.

The reaction to the communique has been swift and loud. Very many people whom I know are outraged by it and voicing their anger all over the internet.

I feel curiously devoid of anger myself and a little detached from the outrage.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying here – I’m pleased, very pleased to see that lots of people appear to be joining in the struggle for gay and lesbian people to be treated like human people and given the same rights and joys as anyone else. However, I suspect that the things we hope for are not going to be achieved by outrage alone. Indeed, I find myself suspecting that they are not going to be won by outrage at all.

I happen to think that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have overreached themselves and proclaimed a judgement that they had no authority to proclaim. This needs to be stated and restated. (And I note that this view has some support from those who have very different views than I do as to how the Communion should hang together).

However, I have been a little troubled to see headlines appearing, and being fuelled by friends, which suggest that the LGBT Community has been “vanquished” or defeated.

This is simply not true and progressive people gain nothing by repeating the fantasies of the far religious right. We are not vanquished. We are not defeated. And neither are we afraid.

I’m puzzled as to why anyone might have thought that homophobia (either in Africa or in the West) might have been wiped out by the Primates’ Meeting last week. That simply wasn’t going to happen. Once again, I don’t agree with what the Primates said but all they offered was a mistaken opinion. I do not give them the power to make judgements they have no authority to enforce or uphold. And I certainly do not give them the wherewithal to affect my own well-being.

Do I doubt that God loves me utterly as a gay man? No.

Do I have even the slightest inclination that God might be in the business of withholding blessings from gay couples simply because a bunch of church leaders haven’t yet recognised the gay pride rainbow that God painted in the heavens above Noah whilst announcing that divine love was a covenant for everyone? Of course not.

I think that it might be helpful for a quick dose of very simple queer theory here.

Justin Welby and his desperately out of control media team worked very hard to get us to believe the fiction that the Anglican Communion is a “Family” of churches. All the rhetoric coming out of the Anglican Communion offices over the weeks leading up to the Primates’ Meeting was directed towards selling us the Communion as a family.

The US Church has just come out.

And the Communion Primates rather tragically acted out one of the ways that families sometimes tragically behave. They behaved exactly as dysfunctional families sometimes do by excluding the one coming out rather than embracing them. The behaviour of the Primates mirrors parents who reject a gay child and who meet honesty with rejection.

Now, there’s no minimising the upset that such behaviour causes. It is destructive and harmful.

Those who are on the receiving end often suffer. However, in my experience, those who come through that tend to find love in other places. Friendship, dear friendship seems to take over where the brutality of family life has failed them.

There are many ways that people can respond to such rejection. I am pretty sure that outrage itself is not enough.

One response is to take the cruel names thrown at one and to sew sequins onto them and wear them as badges of pride and honour. I can see Susan Russell doing that with her piece “On Becoming a Second Class Anglican” – indeed it seems only a matter of time before I make badges saying Second Class Anglican.

Changing Attitude Scotland is doing the same by looking on this as the beginnings of a grouping in the Anglican Communion that we can be proud of:

Rather than seeing the “sanctions” being applied to the US based Episcopal Church as that church being sent to the naughty step for three years, Changing Attitude Scotland believes that it is possible that in time this may be seen as the emergence of a group of provinces in which the full inclusion of LGBT people will be an unquestioned badge of honour. We will work for the Scottish Episcopal Church to join such a grouping. Over the last few years in Scotland we have seen public opinion change from being broadly suspicious of gay and lesbian people to public opinion being broadly supportive of gay and lesbian people. We believe that we see the same thing happening across the world and that this change is unstoppable.

Taking pride in who we are is one of the ways that we combat the hatred that can lead to family rejection. That works for individuals and it will work for whole churches too.

One of the best responses to being rejected as a gay person is to reject in turn the narrative of being vanquished and beaten and to sew on your sequins and be fabulous. To be honest, I’ve had enough of outrage alone.

Outrage is not a mission strategy. If we are going to get our message over, that God loves everyone, then we need to find a bit of pride amongst the Anglican ruins, pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down and  polish up our rhinestones and march down the street singing, “All people – all! yes! all! people that on earth do dwell – sing to the Lord with cheerful voice”.

My response to the Primates Meeting was to use it as a moment of mission. I pinned up a pic of me under a rainbow umbrella outside the cathedral with the words: “Gay, straight, single, married, partnered, single again, old, young, local, non-local, Episcopalian, non-Episcopalian, Christian, seeker, all are welcome in this place”. I also posted it on facebook and found that it had an instant appeal. It was saying nothing other than what we say every week here in St Mary’s but it went a wee bit viral all the same and that particular version of our inclusive message of love is now heading towards 20000 views. Your church can’t help but grow if you get publicity like that. And you, yes you, right there, right here, right now, can get exactly that to happen.

Remember that God is love. God is not bonds of affection.

People out there want to hear that message. Grumpy about the Primates? Tell the world that God is love – proper love, not mealy-mouthed, compromised institutional bonds of affection but actual love itself. Use your sermons and noticeboards if you have to.

This is a mission moment. Don’t express outrage alone. Express the love of God to those who need it most.

We don’t do being vanquished at St Mary’s – we do being fabulous. It is more fun and a foretaste of heaven’s ultimate pride party.

Outrage isn’t a mission strategy. Being fabulous and telling people God really loves them is.

Indeed – it is the only mission strategy worth the name.

 

Comments

  1. Rob Edlin-White says:

    Brilliantly put. Thank you.

  2. Great stuff. Wish you’d been able to see your badges springing up in Holy T on Sunday, and the visitors from our companion parish asking if we had any spares – it was all very fabulous in its own way.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you for this, brilliantly said.

    (I wonder if coveting someone’s badge machine is as bad as coveting their ass? 😕)

  4. Elaine Scrivens says:

    Thank you! I’m a straight Anglican vicar and this is fabulous. I will get myself a rainbow umbrella, wear my Christians at Pride tee shirt and get a photo taken outside St Chad’s! We will stand alongside you being fabulous!

  5. Isobel MacNaughtan says:

    Terrific. Thankyou

  6. Meg Rosenfeld says:

    Wonderful! I wish everyone at our largely gay parish in San Francisco could read it. I’m–perhaps perversely–proud at being “suspended” from the Anglican communion. Let’s all learn something from the experience.

  7. Valerie Pearce says:

    One of the best responses I’ve read. Well said!!

  8. Helen Burnett says:

    Thank you I found this most helpful and have stuck a copy on the wall by my desk. As a straight white middle class middle aged female ordinand frustrated and fed up with some of the things that happen in the institution I am always glad of a reminder that I am not alone in believing that the love of God I speak of and experience is for all people and all of creation.

  9. Natalie Cooper says:

    Just brilliantly said, thank you. As a straight ally in a Sydney Anglican church – yes, I know! I am really fed up with people being spoken about, not with, and with the utter dehumanising that goes on. More power to you!

  10. Keith Barber says:

    Thank you Kelvin.

    Unfortunately, here south of the border we’re stuck with the problematic CEO trying to keep in with his overseas franchises. So I fear anger and outrage may have a place in our response for a while. (If only I were as creative as some of the early gay liberation campaigners and their wonderful, colourful ‘zaps’ that left our enemies looking the miserable misanthropes they were, as well as confronted and discomfited.) I take comfort from remembering there’s a side to Jesus that doesn’t get a lot of emphasis (and certainly doesn’t seem to be approved of by the hierarchy) – the side that isn’t afraid to call a spade a hypocrite (or indeed a brood of vipers) and upset things in the Temple.

    Now if we could work out a way to combine the two…

  11. Bill Corba says:

    Brilliant and perfect. I have struggled with the Anglican “family” rhetoric for years. Your description of how a family can misbehave was spot on. Thank you.

  12. Robert Ellis says:

    Thank you Kevin. As a straight priest I was beginning to think I ought to resign in protest but I think I will stay a little longer and fight the good fight.
    Fabulous…keep up the good work you are an inspiration to we lesser mortals.

  13. Emlyn Williams says:

    What can your “man in the pew” do about declaring that he does NOT want to be in Communion with homophobes who are willing to jail and persecute simply for their God given sexual orientation? If that puts me out of Communion with my Archbishop, where do I go? Does my Archbishop care about my feelings? I’m just an old straight who has known far too many whose sexuality just isn’t the normal one. God still made them. Or did He make mistakes in those cases?

  14. Barry says:

    I agree completely that anger needs to be used creatively, and I hope to see much of this in the future by church members constantly calling our leaders to account over present C of E policy. Also, righteous anger must not lead us into using the hostile language of our opponents. However, I am not happy about your use of the word “Queer”. All my adult life I have opposed gay people being labelled with this term which implies peculiarity or being unnatural. I don’t think it works to try to “sew sequins” onto this word and take it as a badge of pride. I suspect that the opposition views that as a sign that gay people are accepting this insulting valuation of themselves.

    • Thanks for your comment, Barry. Queer is obviously a contested word and its force does make people sit up and take notice. However whilst it is used in an insulting way, its use by gay and lesbian people themselves is not insignificant. Queer Theory (which was what I referred to above) is very much a thing.

      There’s some interesting stuff here, for example:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queer_theory

      • Barry says:

        Thank you, Kelvin. The website on Queer Theory is interesting – though I wish some of the writers involved would obtain and read a copy of Sir Ernest Gowers’ book, “Plain Words”! You might like to see my reply below to Keith Barber’s helpful comments on my original email.

        Please keep up the good work!

    • Keith Barber says:

      Interesting one on the use of ‘Queer’, Barry.

      In my experience it now has a number of uses within the Gender- and Sexuality-Diverse communities (Dominic Davies’ more inclusive, updated term for the LGBT communities).

      It can relate to fluidity, to the refusal (or – often cultivated – inability) to be nailed down. That appears both as ‘queer’ in terms of sexuality and as ‘genderqueer’.

      It’s also been used by a smaller subset of (often) gay men who have adopted it as a challenging, often rather political identity. Something similar happened in the black community around the same time (my sense is that it peaked around the millennium), with the spelling ‘Nigga’ adopted to create a clearer distinction from the old racist use.

      And it appears in ‘queer theory’, built around the idea that gender, sexuality and sexual identity are all both social constructions and fluid (though by no means directable, as the conversion therapists would love us to believe).

      So we’re looking at something very complex. Barry, I’m pleased and grateful that you feel strongly enough to stand with us. And I hope ths doesn’t come across as a dismissal of what you stand for. But at the same time, things are changing and will continue to do so; somehow, we need to make space for those changes to grow. And maybe it’s worth remembering that an instrument of brutal execution, a symbol of utter shame, humiliation and defeat, has been turned in exactly the same way to become the symbol of our salvation.

      • Daniel Berry says:

        Wow. what a superb way of thinking about appropriation of the term “queer,” i.e., by comparing it to the conversion of the cross from symbol of shame to sign of redemption. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that, it’s now more than a generation since American colleges and universities – led, I believe, by the Ivy League – re-branded their “Gay Studies” curricula as “Queer Studies.” Obviously, however, this is controversial: the word, “queer” retains its power to inflict pain in many, as Barry’s posting shows. And yet the word “queer,” like the words, “deviant” and “peculiar” are simply statistical terms that denote departure from the numerical quantity known as “the norm” or “normal.” From a scientific point of view, this is not a value judgment. Unfortunately, that’s not the how it reads – or feels – for many of our brothers and sisters.

      • Barry says:

        Thank you for this helpful comment, Keith. As you say, we’re dealing with a complex matter. I still think that a problem with the uses of the word Queer which you cite is that it is “insider-speak”, and open to misunderstanding by those outside the circle – rather like the use of “myth” by some theologians. When someone is called “a queer” in everyday parlance it’s not usually friendly. Perhaps it’s my age, but to call someone Gay seems to me more accepting – or can be. However, your words on the Christian transformation of the symbol of the Cross are extremely helpful and thought-provoking.

        Most important at present is that my Church is employing an unpleasantly specific and discriminatory policy against gay Christians, and this needs to be opposed in every way. If enough people keep up the pressure for change our leaders will have to listen eventually. It’s ten years since Civil Partnerships became available, and STILL the bishops have not been able to approve services of prayer and blessing for them. That says everything.

        Once again, my thanks.

  15. Guy Whitehouse says:

    It seems to me odd that a branch of the Anglican church which wanted to treat LGBTI people as equals (as humans even!) gets sanctioned/admonished/reproached/whatevered, but branches of the Anglican church which have either called for the criminalisation of LGBTI people either directly or implicitly by failing to oppose legislation in Uganda don’t get sanctioned/admonished/reproached/whatevered. The Primates actions don’t even have the virtue of evenhandedness.

    A couple of quick questions: should this have any bearing on the CofE disestablishment debate? Can the English branch of a communion or whatever you want to call it that behaves the way I outlined legitimately claim to be England’s national church? Obviously the CofE’s position has to do with more than this, but even so…

    And second: where does this leave the everyman/woman view that might have prevailed some years ago that the Anglicans were supposed to be the reasonable, mild lot? Anglicans used to half-boast that their views were based on the threefold mix of scripture, faith and reason, with reason meaning not just dry logic but reasonableness. Or to quote the playful joke that I was told when going through confirmation class: “the Pentecostals shout about the faith; the Catholics think about the faith; and we Anglicans consider the faith.”

    I’m sure I remember right that Kelvin said at Greenbelt 2015 that it was the Catholic church in which LGBTI people were most likely to be welcomed (at least by the laity) and I’ve heard others say by some clergy as well. Also think about the pope’s “who am I to judge?” So are the Catholics becoming the scripture, faith and reason lot?

    • What I said at Greenbelt was that there’s some evidence from social attitudes surveys that of those religious identities that are examined in such surveys, Roman Catholics are the most supportive of same-sex couples being able to be married.

  16. Delightful! Boas of the world, unite!

  17. Paula Porter Leggett says:

    Thanks Kevin for sharing these thoughts. The metaphor of dysfunctional family i helpful for me. The invitation to celebrate who we are as believers that ‘all’ does include ‘all’ and that loving relationships are reflections of God’s love, is most welcome. (Once the initial anger, pain, etc. are acknowledged)

  18. Deborah says:

    Thank you Kevin…I will have the privilege of preaching Sunday the 31st…just about the time the small family congregation in Canada will be taking in the response of the Primates…I see good grist for such a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13..on love. Blessings.

  19. Ali Wurm says:

    Thank you Kelvin for your ‘comfortable words’!
    The Reverend Ali Wurm
    struggling with swinging between indifference & outrage…..
    St. Martin’s Whyalla, rural South Australia

  20. Perhaps we should have a banner campaign using the words of inclusive welcome that you had on your placard. I’ve ordered one and just added ‘trans’ as an additional category because that happens to be important for my particular context. But well said – I quoted you “Grumpy about the Primates? Tell the world that God is love – proper love, not mealy-mouthed, comprised institutional bonds of affection but actual love itself” in my sermon on Sunday. We’ll string the banner up this week when it arrives from the printers.

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