Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Different Kind of Lent Madness

Many people are familiar with the silly saintly game Lent Madness (if you're not, click on the graphic in the right-hand column of this blog).  Developed by two Episcopal priests, it pits those who are listed in the book Holy Women, Holy Men against each other in a battle similar to the NCAA Basketball tournament.  It's a game where there is no rhyme nor reason to how a certain saint gets to move on beyond the mood of the elect electorate.  Most play for fun.  But there are those who take it extremely seriously.  So seriously, that when J.S. Bach lost to the 20th Century social reformer Anna Cooper, dozens of people were declaring the death of all church music.  Hyperbole abounds sometimes.

And then there is another kind of madness with its own hyperbole making headlines this Lent.  Once more, the man occupying the office of Archbishop of Canterbury has made public statements that leave many of us shaking our heads and allowing them to drop forward into our hands as we attempt to fathom how one charged with leading a faith community could be so willing to serve up LGBTQ Christians as the reason for mass sectarian violence in Africa and Asia.  In a radio interview in England, Archbishop Justin Welby answered a question in regards to the gay marriage issue for the Church of England for a member of the CoE clergy.  The portion of the interview can be seen HERE.  The priest was asking why it wasn't alright to let clergy make a local decision in regards to marriage equality in their church in the same way it is left to them to make decisions about someone re-marrying after a divorce.  And this is when ++Welby decided to bring up Africa.

"I've stood by graveside in Africa of a group of people who were attacked because of something that happened far, far away in America.  And they were attacked because of that and a lot of them are being killed.  And I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago and the church leaders there were saying, 'Please don't change what you're doing because we couldn't accept your help.  And we need your help desperately.' "

So, in other words: Every time a gay person gets married in the west, another dozen or so Christians in Africa are killed in a guilt-by-association scenario.  


I don't doubt that homophobia, which has received both overt and tacit support from Anglican and other "christian" leaders in Africa, may have motivated some of the violence at times on that continent.  But violence between Muslims and Christians has been happening for centuries (ever heard of something called the Crusades?).  The layers of distrust and hatred between the cousin religions has many causes, and is a tangled web of tension over land rights, concepts of God, as well as the souls of the people.  To reduce the violence against Christians to a tired and sin-filled accusation that it's all the fault of the allies and LGBTQ faithful in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in North America is absurd and insulting.  And even as the Archbishop is using this pretzel logic for continuing a policy of treating the LGBT faithful in England as the "half-assed baptized," he has failed to acknowledge that there are plenty of LGBTQ Christians in Africa who live in fear of harassment, imprisonment and even death.  He notes that whatever is said in England has consequences elsewhere in the Communion.  So does the lack of speech and the failure to hold other Anglicans accountable for their persecution of the gay population.  Silence on these matters does not help to build the Body of Christ.

Interesting that on the day that this news of the Archbishop's radio remarks was getting splashed all over the internet, the Episcopal Church was paying tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 46th anniversary of his assisination.  What a contrast in understanding what it means to stand in the name of Love.  King, killed when he was in Memphis for an action in support of the underpaid sanitary workers, spoke to the world of the need for all people to join in the words of the spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we're free at last!"  Freedom, for King, was becoming more than just about race alone: it was the economic freedom, too.  Had King not been killed, had he lived into his old age, the trajectory of his life, I believe, would have led him to call upon the religious leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury to embrace mercy and justice toward the LGBTQ people, especially in Africa, instead of kowtowing to cowardice and bigotry.

This is Lent.  The Archbishop's comments are shear madness. One can only hope that he will one day realize that his ill-thought comments and refusal to stand with LGBTQ people have created new victims in Africa and elsewhere.  Epic fail.


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