In response to the Anglican Primates’ Communiqué of February 20, 2007
A very dear friend of mine recently got out of a two and half year relationship that was terribly emotionally abusive. It was painful for myself as well as his other close friends to watch, because one who was dear to us was constantly being hurt, constantly being worn down and the shining qualities of his soul that we his friends had seen before were constantly being crushed and erased. The major function of his boyfriend as abuser in this relationship was to demean my friend and hold as much power over him as possible. Put simply, he had to control him in order to be happy.
Emotional abuse is an insidious weapon. It slowly wears the person’s self esteem down by the abuser constantly placing guilt on the other when in truth the one being abused is never at fault. But by making that person feel guilty, the abuser gains control and can manipulate their partner with great ease. But this abuse is deceptive, sly and eventually becomes so pervasive that the abused does not even realize when they are being treated so awfully. The abused becomes attached to the relationship after time, because the presence of the abuse becomes habitual so that when the abuse grows to be obvious the abused does not even think to fight back by that time.
The emotional abuse took many forms. One way was his boyfriend placing undue guilt on him to make him feel he was always in the wrong. This, over time, broke his will as it eroded his self confidence. Another tactic was that his boyfriend would punish him by withholding affection and love in order to get whatever he wanted. The most invasive form of abuse came when he boyfriend started spying on him, creeping around outside his window to see if he could catch him being unfaithful or prying into his emails to find evidence against him. To anyone outside the relationship, this was obviously insane, yet to my friend in the relationship he still could not see this as abuse.
The terrible truth is that it was his boyfriend that had the severe issues yet he could never take personal ownership of that and instead blamed my friend for his insecurities. Over time, I saw my friend take on that mantle of guilt and start to believe that he was actually the cause, that his boyfriend did have the right to constantly mistrust, invade and control. I watched a dear friend that at one time had been such an amazing individual, he had a soul that shined and radiated love and compassion…I watched that person be destroyed by that abuse.
Most frustrating was that because the abusive relationship was so ensnaring, he could not see the damage being done. Just as an addict shows the basic sign of addiction – denial – he refused to see the abuse that was destroying him. In his mind he was hanging onto the relationship in the hopes that it would get better because he was pouring so much effort, energy and love into it. In a healthy relationship, that effort would not be wasted, but in an abusive relationship, the person being broken can give all they have and it will never be enough. The abusive partners in these relationships are like emotional vampires, bleeding the love out of their partners until there is nothing left.
No matter what, his boyfriend would never see him for the wonderful person he was. He would never see him the way we, his friends, always had. A relationship should be based on the love of the person for who they are. Respect automatically goes with that as does trust. These are the attributes of a healthy relationship. As Dostoevsky said, “To love someone is to see them as God intended.” That is real love. The need to control another in order to divert one’s attention from their own severe issues, to hide from one’s own brokenness is not love. Such action does not create a loving partner, it creates a victim. It denies the very spark of God in the other person because they cannot find the spark of God in themselves. An abusive relationship is based on fear, fear that allows control. This is not love.
Christ called us to love one another. To love each other as God loves us. The Church was intended to be a Christian community; that is a loving community. We are called to be in (healthy) relationship with one another. The Church is called the “Body of Christ”, the same Christ that called us to love. The actions of the Church should be the example of a healthy and loving relationship. Why then, I ask with a terrible sadness, did the Primates of our Anglican Communion, the leaders of Christ’s Church issue the Communiqué that they did? From part 9 after of that Communiqué, I ask: Where is there a loving act or respect for God’s diverse people in any of that report?
It has been almost a week since that Communiqué was issued, and I have taken this long to formulate a response because I desperately needed time spent in silence with God before I did so. I did not want my response to be out of anger, which was my first reaction to reading it. Anger is a secondary emotion. Its intent is to shield us from what we are fundamentally feeling, which in this case was sorrow, betrayal and dreadful fear.
What hurts the most is that those were the very emotions that the Primates purposefully wanted to elicit from us. Why would they want to threaten us with censor and expulsion in order to cause us such fear? Plainly, by doing so they hope to control our actions and make us feel guilty for the actions we have taken so far.
A healthy relationship is based on love. An abusive relationship is based on fear in order to control.
Dear God, how have the leaders of our Church allowed our Communion to veer from love into the model of abuse?
My friend eventually realized that he was not at fault for all that his boyfriend threw at him. It is most important that the victim of abuse realize that they are not actually at fault for their partner’s issues and insecurities. Likewise, the Episcopal Church must never accept the mantel of guilt which these Primates are going to such great length to place upon us. There is never reason to feel guilty about acting out of love. There should never be guilt in following the example of Jesus himself in ministering to, accepting, and ultimately uplifting and redeeming the oppressed of God’s children.
The relationship in our Communion, the Church which is meant to be the Body of Christ is broken – actions and statements made are no longer loving. There is a problem with the relationship. The relationship has become abusive. Emotional abuse comes as undue guilt – they tell us we are wrong for loving the oppressed and ostracized children of God. Emotional abuse comes as control – they demand to overrule what was canonically decided by our House of Bishops and Deputies. Emotional Abuse uses love as a weapon by withholding it as punishment – they threaten to remove us from our Anglican Communion. This situation can only be rectified if we stop reacting to the problem and start acting on in it instead. And just as my friend discovered, he was not the problem with the relationship. The one doling out the abuse was.
Why this abuse then? Why are these Primates and the hierarchy of their provinces making this issue seem as though it will be the cause of the downfall of the moral Church? The simplest answer seems to be the most difficult to accept. The fact is, our Church, the Body of our Beloved Christ is run by people – fragile and imperfect human beings. If the guidance of the Holy Spirit was all pervasive and obvious, such difficulties would never arise. The leaders of the Church would always act out of love from God and never in self interest. We are human, though, and those in authority can ignore such guidance. But hey, that’s the price we must pay for the divine gift of free will, right?
A great threat arises when individuals forget that condition, when they assume that by the grace of their ecclesiastical office they are somehow exempt from the possibility of following their own self interest. A greater threat arises when parishioners and entire provinces start believing that same delusion. Contemplative spirituality, the journey that finds God in the question rather than building surety around having “The” answer, used to be the check that kept that threat of personal self interest in balance. But the contemplative lens has long since been removed from the mechanism of the Church polity.
Am I wrong? Is the move of a Nigerian Archbishop to make an unprecedented political grab for power in a province over which he has no authority not actually driven by self interested greed? Power and prestige in our Church seems to have become defined by money and numbers (rather than spiritual quality of those to whom they minister). How many Church leaders describe a parish, diocese and province by first listing those statistics? Greedy men who crave power, who desire money and then even more money and who want authority over more and more people do not make good Church leaders. The fact is, when that type of power is all that will satiate them, then it is the people of God that are used as currency to purchase the power desired by these greedy egotistical men. Worse yet, when fear is used to gain that power, the cost for that currency exchange is a necessary scapegoat.
Societal prejudices make great fuel for feeding fear, but it requires a target. To convince people they have to be saved from something they fear, they have to have a focus for that fear: a scapegoat, a target, a group that can be oppressed. It should go without saying that such a ploy is the exact opposite of love, the exact opposite of what Christ taught. Have our Primates forgotten that it was to the oppressed that Jesus ministered? Have they forgotten that Jesus turned to the outcasts and said that by the religious purity laws they were unclean and untouchable but to God they were loved and worth embracing?
How far have the leaders of our Anglican Communion strayed from this? How have we allowed the interrelations of Communion to become an abusive relationship? We, the body of the Church, have allowed Church leaders to lead us by fear. The actions of Church leaders should NEVER be to make people fear, but always to love.
We need to leave behind theology of fear and hate. We are a far cry from being “naught but sinners in the hands of an angry God.” We must not be convinced by those that seek to control us by fear that we are dangling over the flames of hell, held up by a mere spider’s thread. In actuality, fear is that thread that leaves us dangling. For when we have the courage to let go of that fear, we will find that we fall not into flames of torment but into the hands of a loving God – a God that is there to support his children, not condemn them.
There is a theme that runs through the Bible that says we should “fear” God. There is a great danger in that word in that it can be taken one of two ways. On the one hand, there is a fear that is inspired by something that will hurt us, that is out to get us and we must run from it or fight it. On the other hand, there is a fear that is best associated with respect. Fear of God is the latter. It could never be the former, because that type of fear comes from something of malicious and dangerous intent. Yet it is that type of fear that certain Church leaders would have instilled in the Body of Christ.
Do I think that every Primate and Bishop instilling this fear of homosexuals in their parishioners and the fear of schism in the U.S. are doing it for the purpose of gaining ecclesiastical power? Certainly not. Do I believe that some are? Absolutely. The fact that an archbishop would make an unprecedented grab for authority in a province for which he has no jurisdiction proves that. His actions prove his intent and to see the effects of such intent on our Communion is heartbreaking. Why the Archbishop of Canterbury has allowed such a flagrant abuse of power for this long, I have no idea. But it is deeply saddening to think that My Lord Archbishop Dr. Williams would bend to the political pressures of one man rather than stand for the rights of the oppressed, the very oppressed that he had publicly stood up for earlier in his career.
For those Church leaders who would threaten schism for the sake of their own political gain, their ability to gain such ground and be allowed such tactics can be limited only by the number of Bishops and Primates who will actually take a stance and not tolerate such actions. The silence of those who could actually make a difference, even if in their heart they are supportive of gay rights, will make no difference at all if not in fact lend support to such abuse of authority. For those that use this situation to gain power, I have little to no hope of ever expecting them to actually try and save this Communion by entering dialogue and actually engaging the real issues here.
The real issue is ignorance: Ignorance of what homosexuality really is and ignorance of the prejudices that still plague our global society. For many of the Primates that have supported the ultimatum of this Communiqué, I cannot hate them for their stance. Rather, I pity them greatly, for this is the first time that many have been forced to even look at let alone question prejudices that they took for granted as fact. The fear they are trying to instill in us comes from the fear they feel in their own lives in having to question what they thought was true. These Church leaders are severely uneducated in these matters. I find hope in the earlier issue addressed in the Communiqué regarding a standard for theological education provided such a standard includes social justice and human rights.
But the fact remains that we have Archbishops, Bishops and Priests across the Anglican Communion but most notably concentrated in the African and Asian provinces that follow a blind hatred of homosexuals. Like all prejudices, I doubt they have ever had to put a face on the people they are condemning so recklessly. I doubt that they have had to see the effects of the hatred they support. They have not had to experience what I and many others have. They have not had to counsel young men in women and even teenagers who are on the brink of suicide because their families were taught to hate them for who they know they are in their hearts. They have not had to see the scars of those who tried suicide for that reason and failed. They have not had to see the funeral services for those that tried and succeeded. They have not had to see the broken bodies of those beaten for simply being gay by men who think such violence is acceptable because their Church leaders publicly support such hatred. They have not had to count the bodies of those that are killed every year because of the violence born of this terrible prejudice.
Though they have never turned an eye to see these victims, the fact remains that they are a significant cause of it. This is where our prayers should be following this Communiqué: that those who blindly hate eventually recognize the damage they are doing. We who are most hurt and most threatened by this Communiqué must not respond in anger or return hatred for hatred. No, instead we must continue to love even those who refuse to love us because THAT is what Jesus commanded us to do. We must pray that our Bishops will act in that same love and continue to protect those whom they have helped redeem in God’s Church thus far while still being compassionate to those who would condemn them. This does not mean they should give in to the abusive tactics that have been presented to them be rather continue struggling to keep the door of conversation and understanding open.
I am terribly frightened of the outcome of this mess that we are in. Afraid that the Episcopal Church will give in and step backwards from the advances it has made in redeeming all of God’s people. Afraid of the witch-hunt that could follow from conservatives blaming gays and lesbians for this strife, using them again as scapegoats rather than actually addressing those that are forcing this situation out of self interest or hateful prejudice. Afraid of the Church that is my Christian family fracturing because of the narrow-minded bigotry of a select but powerful few. But for all that I am afraid of in this, all that would stricken me in grief for my Anglican brothers and sisters that preach such hate, I know that we cannot respond in fear and we must not respond in similar hatred and anger.
Just as we hope that those who threaten us will eventually see us has God’s own, we must strive to continue recognizing the God in those who would hurt and abuse us most. Being so uneducated in this matter, they have issued a Communiqué and ultimatum that is entirely un-Anglican let alone un-Christian, a response that is entirely inappropriate. I would have expected them instead, as adults, to develop healthy and respectful personal boundaries as would be expected of anyone who intends on being a part of today’s civilized society. With healthy boundaries rather than threats and abuse, this issue can be addressed. Nonetheless, no matter what comes, let us respond in compassion, seek to put a face on those that they condemn for them so they can actually see the damage they do and show them that we can and will respond to hatred, no matter how vicious, with love and hope for a fuller Communion and a healthier Christian relationship.
I pray that our Bishops have the courage to continue protecting those whom others would condemn and subject to violence. I pray they recognize and address the abusive behavior coming out of the leaders of our Communion. When abuse is called out and finally recognized, then it has no chance of surviving, plain and simple. And I pray most of all that the Love of Holy Spirit makes Her presence known among all in our Anglican Communion. No matter what, let us continue in love as brothers and sisters in Jesus our Christ. Amen.
Silentio Coram Deo,
Abbot Kenneth Hosley, O.P.C.
February 26, 2007