Thursday, April 12, 2007

Comments and examples on listening as a sacred act

Jesus gave us a wonderful summary of the law in Matthew 22:37-40: He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

That's all well and good. But, what if my neighbor is different from me? If I were straight and I didn't know anyone who was gay, I could honestly say, "If I'm gay, I would like to be sent for conversion therapy or to be celibate. I think that's the only loving thing to do." This would be a disaster. And in a multicultural context, this happens a lot, when those in power define the experience of Others for them, diminishing their humanity and forcing them to fight an unequal battle just to be heard.

I'm a nice guy. I want to love my neighbor. But I cannot love my neighbor if I do not know how.

So, I must listen. I must put aside the fears and the prejudices I've learned. I must lose the need to be right about everything. And I must either put on hold the desire to change the people I am listening to, or I must be equally willing to let them change me. I must listen to the Others, as they define their worldview for me, and tell me of their struggles in their own language.

Paradoxically, it was only when I did this that I really started to grow into my faith.

Now, at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, the Anglican Communion instructed all Provinces to begin a listening process, to hear the experience of LGBT people. A link is below.


I would like to highlight the actions of three Provinces. The Anglican Church of Canada is a candidate for gold standard. They say:

"The official process of listening began in 1976 with the bishops commissioning a ‘Task Force’ to assist their thinking on issues of homosexuality. The report was only for bishops and in 1979 the bishops committed themselves to further study and requested the preparation of study materials which were published in 1985.

"The House of Bishops in November 1992 reported on their process of further study which had been based on the Church of England booklet Some Issues in Human Sexuality. The study moved beyond this report and the following sentence in their report is illuminating:

"A year earlier, we had suggested that bishops should seek opportunities in their own situations to engage in dialogue with members of the homosexual community. From the nature of our discussions, it was clear that many had done so.
The process had moved from “study about” to “dialogue with” homosexual people.

"It was clear at the time that a serious engagement with the Scriptures was needed. The study process was also to include ‘the experience of gays and lesbians who are committed Christians’.

"As a result the 1997 Statement by the Anglican Bishops included the following paragraph:

"We are thankful to see a new sensitivity emerging towards gay and lesbian persons in the Church. No longer can we talk in the abstract. We are experiencing a growing awareness that the persons of whom we speak are among us. They are our sons and daughters. They are our friends and relatives."

The Others become one of Us. That does not mean that the entire ACC completely accepts everything that LGBT people say and do:
"It is well publicised that the Diocese of New Westminster authorised a service of blessing for same sex couples, but this is not the policy of the Church. The Anglican Church of Canada is divided over the issues of the blessing of same sex relationships and of the ordination of clergy in same sex relationships. It remains the official policy of the church not to accept the blessing of homosexual unions and individual dioceses do not have national sanction to authorise such blessings in their dioceses. However, the General Synod of 2004 requested that the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee “prepare resources for the church to use in addressing issues relating to human sexuality, including the blessing of same sex unions and the changing definition of marriage in society.”"

But that's OK, I think. There are safe spaces in the Church of Canada for LGBT people. Liberals, moderates and conservatives are in dialog and are listening.

However, the report from the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is not so positive. Reading their report makes it clear that they are not listening. They are lecturing. They open with:

"The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is a bible-based and spiritually dynamic Church that seeks to epitomise the genuine love of Christ. The Church’s attitude to homosexuality is rooted in biblical values and pre-supposed by a high view of Scripture.

"The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.”

"The Church of Nigeria sees its view as based upon the witness of Scripture. The House of Bishops issued a detailed and clearly argued statement. In it there are discussed four texts from the Old Testament which speak specifically of homosexual acts. These are Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 18:27 and Judges 19:22. All these texts show how homosexuality is regarded as an abominable deed. The statement concludes: “Thus it is clear from the passages considered that the Old Testament regards homosexuality as an atrocious and unnatural act. The Mosaic Law is against it and stipulates capital punishment for the offender. It is classified among the most offensive crimes like idolatry involving the sacrifice of children, having intercourse with animals, or marrying a woman and her mother.”"

Interestingly, they also say this: "In Nigerian traditional culture homosexuality is seen as taboo. Homosexuals are thought of as threatening the divinely ordained order of the community. The Western idea of human rights is subservient to the service of the common good."

In many African, Asian, and Pacific Island traditional cultures, some variants of homosexuality or gender variance were accepted. Then, Western missionaries came along. It's not possible to make a universal statement, but it would not be surprising if African tribes who lived long ago in what is now Nigeria did practice some forms of homoerotic behavior.

Obviously, I have a very low opinion of the leaders of the Church of Nigeria. However, there is one more report I'd like to highlight. It is the report from the Church of the Province of Southeast Asia.

Actually, there is no report yet. The link is dead. Did they even bother to open dialog? Did they even bother to read the entirety of the resolution at that Lambeth Conference?

Other parts of the pertinent resolution do condemn "homosexual practice" as incompatible with Scripture, and conservative Anglicans demand that Western churches conform to this resolution. However, the rest of the resolution condemns border crossings by Bishops ministering to conservatives in liberal provinces, which has happened a lot on American soil. And the resolution also demands that we start a listening process.

Nigeria's leaders have spewn hatred without bothering to listen in return. Southeast Asia's leaders are silent. I'm not sure which is worse. But it is clear to me that listening is a sacred act. If we don't listen, we do not know how to love our neighbor, and we will violate the Second Commandment. But if we listen, we can at least give it a shot.

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