Thursday, June 22, 2006

Words of wisdom

I like it, but I didn't write it.


Neville Chamberlain was such a handsome man -- tall, elegant and cultured, with a trim mustache, in a time before Adolf Hitler taught us all to recoil from politicians with trim mustaches. He became Prime Minister in 1937, and it was he who famously told the British people that he had secured "peace in our time" as a result of his participation in four-way negotiation with Germany (France and Italy being the other two partners) that produced the Munich Agreement in the autumn of 1938, giving Hitler the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, with the understanding that this concession would ensure that he would leave the rest of Czechoslovakia alone.

This was in September. By April of the following year, Hitler had seized the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Europe was at war.

Winston Churchill was about as wide as he was tall, with squinty eyes, a permanent scowl and very little hair. His speaking voice was a growl. He had opposed Chamberlain's attempt at appeasing Germany, and would go on to lead the British people through what most people agree was their most painful era. It was he who daily encouraged them to see that it was also "their finest hour."

It would torture this analogy to proceed with it any further -- conservative forces in the Anglican Communion aren't the Nazis, for heaven's sake. But Neville Chamberlain made the same error we are making -- trying to mend one injury by colluding in another. He believed, with some reason, that the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War had been unfair to Germany in some respects. He would help balance things out a bit, he thought: Germany would reunite with the German-speaking people of the Sudetenland, their spiritual kin. He would sacrifice them to the German sense of grievance.

But you can't appease a bully. He becomes a bigger bully if you try, having learned from experience that being a bully succeeds.

Anglicans and others in the global south have good reason to resent some of what America and other imperial powers have done in their part of the world. Resources that were theirs seem to have become ours, over the centuries; in the past fifty years, we have witnessed their struggle to take them back. Sometimes we have helped them do it. Sometimes we have resisted.

In African rhetoric, the issue of gay participation in the life of the Church is often couched in terms of resisting American imperialism. But our imperialism and the rights of minorities in other cultures are two separate issues. If we have been heavy-handed in other countries -- and we often have -- it is not fair to use that fact as a reason to persecute gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered people or any other minority, and we do not owe those countries our collusion in such persecution. Gay people are not a substitute for us, and ought not to be our whipping boy. If we owe African and Asian countries something, let us settle up directly. Gay people shouldn't have to pick up that tab.

Nor do we owe American Episcopalians who oppose the inclusion of gay people at all levels in our Church's life conformity with their moral vision -- respect and love, yes, but not conformity. Anglicanism understands moral choice as a struggle rather than a checklist: its role is to provide an arena for the struggle, not to provide a settlement from on high. People who don't want to ordain gay clergy should not do so. People opposed to gay marriage are strongly advised not to wed someone of the same gender. And then we need to leave each other alone.

We almost moved on at General Convention. We are excited about the Millennial Development Goals, about the tremendous increase in our ability and desire to serve the suffering, as evidenced by the huge increase in Episcopal Relief and Development's funds, about the covenant relationships between parishes and dioceses in America and Africa that have sprung up in so many, many places. Episcopalians are excited about being Christians. And we are tired of talking abo ut other peoples' sex lives, for God's sake.

We will still move on, more slowly and with more agony -- Christians have always known that if something new is of God, it will not be stopped. The clear claiming of the blessing -- of all the blessings of all the people of God -- will still come. No matter when it does come, it will still anger those who want that blessing a little narrower, please. Love them and invite them to share in it. Never dismiss another person's conviction, but form your own and be prepared to give an accounting of it. And then let's get back to work.

+ We've got a hurting world out there. Not clear about the Millennial Development Goals and what they mean? Visit

+ Not Episcopalian and not sure what on earth I'm talking about in the above essay? You can read it all at

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Crafton -

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