Long Rambles Through the Anglican Communion (Part One of Possibly Many)

I stumbled onto these thoughts about “The Anglican Church, Sexuality and Colonialism” earlier this week, and want to add to them, but don’t quite know what to say. It’s a short post, but it’s a question that I wish weren’t as complicated as it is.

Now, in as much as I’m anything, denominationally speaking, I’m Anglican, though I’m explicitly uncommited to any such category. The question of same-sex marriage in the church has been pretty prominent around here in recent months, and I’ve had both four billion things to say and nothing new to say on the subject, and based on inertia defaulted into writing absolutely nothing.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that in the past, I’ve been pretty wishy-washy on the subject of how churches should handle the same-sex marriage question. Before I was Christian, my position was that it was essentially none of my business and that it was an issue that the faith community itself would have to address. In retrospect, that was based on conflict avoidance more than anything else – I have some very close friends who have been long-time members of an Anglican church and who have seriously wrestled with how they feel about the blessing of same-sex marriages. It was also easier to be wishy-washy about it in Canada than I suspect it would be anywhere else – since same-sex marriage has been legally recognized here in Ontario since 2003, and in all of Canada since 2005, all of the civil rights and privileges that come with marriage are given (I’ve heard some people object to the term “blessing” in these discussions, but given the pre-existing legal status, the only question at hand is essentially whether or not the church will conduct the ceremony and give symbolic approval, so I don’t know how else to distinguish what’s being discussed/debated and what’s already been decided). Not being Christian at the time, I honestly felt, in my cop-out kind of way, that it just wasn’t my place to say anything, because in a debate where both sides were arguing from interpretations of a text, someone taking a point that the text is essentially stupid is having a completely different conversation.

I find the hierarchical church-y specifics difficult to wade through, but basically, now, the Anglican Church of Canada has decided to allow individual dioceses to choose whether or not clergy will be allowed to preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Diocese of Niagara (mine) fairly quickly went with the “yea” side. Since then, a few parishes have, in a protest move, essentially withdrawn from the Anglican Communion and initiated a whole series of legal battles about whether the parish gets to continue using the church/land or whether the diocese can lock them out (to give a beyond quick, reductive summary).

I have a post half-drafted about questions rolling around my own head about just a few of the issues about personal/spiritual identity and community that this raises (and unfortunately haven’t been able to formulate in time to submit to the upcoming “community” themed Carnival of Progressive Christians), but for now, the linked post just tweaked that old sense of wishy-washyness in me. I’m uncomfortable with the colonial imposition of (white) moral superiority as much as anyone, but as the post mentions, we’re talking about some seriously hateful actions coming out of churches that are supposed to be in communion with mine. We have a “cycle of prayer” in the Anglican Church, which includes notices in the bulletins that we’re supposed to pray for various Anglican bishops/leaders/churches around the world, and just a few weeks ago we were to pray for the ministry of one of the most homophobic bishops in existence. Essentially, what we as Anglicans are doing, then, is saying that we’re part of the same group as those who think that way, and I’m certainly feeling a lot less wishy-washy if I think of it that way.

Whenever legal issues around the sexual freedom or the liberalization of marriage stuff comes up, I’ve always been inclined to focus on the “separation of church and state” mentality when people raise the argument that legal changes would result in the imposition of changes to the way their faith is practiced. I was generally going with the position that if the church/religious regulations are in no way imposing upon the civil rights of individuals, then it’s not the place of governments to impose upon the faith practice of communities (Bullshit about pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control imposes upon civil rights of individuals, as would employment discrimination on the basis of, say, sexuality). But as a member of the church now, I’m starting to be a lot more conscious of who’s imposing what on whom, because the idea that other human beings would be telling me that they were in a position to act as an authority on whether or not the God of my understanding would be willing to sanction my relationship, and that said other human beings would be so vehemently certain about the accuracy of their position that they would go so far as to prevent me from having the ceremony through which I believe said God could facilitate that sanctioning…I guess I’m just more conscious of how much it matters, and just how hurtful an action this really is.

I feel like I’m expending a whole bunch of words to say absolutely nothing (in my defense, I’m at work, and I’m going back and forth between doing this and doing, you know, work), but I guess the place towards which I’m wandering is the issue of authoritarianism in this discussion. I mean, it’s a capital-c Church, and it’s a “worldwide” Church, which means that given the current state of Christianity, there’s no real way to avoid the hierarchies and structures and exclusionary “in” vs. “out” group aspects of this question. It’s a transnational question, and it’s a question whose importance changes radically based on local laws as well as culture. And mostly, given that it’s all about hierarchy and authority and all those words like “permission” and “allow” that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up and that I find so fundamentally un-Christian, I find that just opening my mouth to talk about it makes me start to feel a loss of faith.

And mainly, it all makes me wonder what the hell it means to have a global Church in the first place, and who is entitled to an opinion on this question and who isn’t. It shouldn’t take me this long to get around to this point, but now that I’m a lot more hungry and tired and feeling a lot less equivocal, it does occur to me that one major response on that one is why the hell, from a colonialist/privileged/authoritarian/imposition on others perspective, straight people (Christian or non, Canadian or Nigerian) are of the automatic assumption that they are, in fact, entitled to that voice in the first place.

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