Monday, November 29, 2010

Coping with Lies about TEC

Yesterday, our delegates to the convention of the Diocese of Missouri (held last weekend) reported to the parish about the convention. In years past, we delivered a dry summary of legislative actions – the budget approved, action on resolutions, people elected. At the end of convention last weekend, we agreed we wanted to take something quite different to the parish. We wanted to reflect on our experience of convention, on the message and energy we took away from that marvelous meeting. Because it was indeed an inspirational gathering.

As I wrote a while back, this year’s convention had no “sexuality” resolutions, nor contentious resolutions dealing with our relationship with the Anglican Communion. The program was all about our mission work in this part of the world. The presentations we heard were inspiring. Our delegates left convention inspired about how we can (in the words of our diocesan mission) “make disciples … build congregations … for the life of the world.” We wanted to bring some of the joyous spirit of the convention back to our parish.

And so we did. I think folks enjoyed it.

I was the third of our three delegates to speak. I began with my reflections and telling some stories about convention, and especially about our bishop’s address. I acknowledged that he had announced his plans to appoint a task force to study the proposed Anglican Covenant and expressed his views on the Covenant. I asked the folks of our parish whether they wanted to hear about his stance. Frankly, I assumed that most of our parishioners don’t even know that an Anglican Covenant is being considered … much less what it includes. But they wanted to hear! A good number seemed aware of it and eager to hear Bishop Smith’s perspective.

And so I launched into it. I think I did a good job of speaking moderately, reflecting our bishop’s own moderate voice.

Somewhere in the midst of it, one parishioner launched into a harangue. [You can call him "Jim," though that's not his real name.] He said that the threat of TEC being “kicked out” of the Anglican Communion was only a fair come-uppance of what we have done to parishes that have resisted the general direction of the Episcopal Church. He said that our diocese had “kicked out” a parish that objected to the general direction of our diocese, had sued them and hounded them out of their church building … and that this was part of a nationwide strategy of the Episcopal Church to “kick out” all dissenters and sue them into bankruptcy.

I was surprised to have a parishioner go off on this weird tangent … but I wasn’t really surprised to hear him spew this stuff. Every time conversations about the diocese, TEC, or Anglican Communion arise, he gets red in the face and spews stuff like this. (Fortunately, he is just about a minority of one in our parish.)

My challenge was to respond to him calmly. You know and I know that what he stated were lies. (And I suspect they are lies he has drunk from the ill-named “Virtue” website.) The Episcopal Church has never kicked a parish out of its building. We have never sued a congregation for disagreeing with what this man likes to call “the party line.”

I replied as calmly as I could to him. I pointed out that TEC had never kicked a parish out of its building. I reminded him (and the other attendees) that the diocese has acted when Episcopal congregations have claimed to leave TEC while retaining the property held in trust for our church. I was able to remind him that a couple of our smaller congregations, who are adamantly opposed to the current directions of our diocese and TEC, receive tens of thousands of dollars from the diocese to help those small congregations remain viable and support clergy to serve them. Far from quashing dissent, the diocese is spending serious money to keep those conservative parishes afloat.

One of the things he claimed was that our diocese is stuck with an “empty building” after the one parish left our diocese back in 2003. Thanks be to God, one of our parishioners pointed out that – far from being an empty building – that congregation is now growing again. And I think it’s growing because it has moved back into the Episcopal mainstream, after a schismatic priest fomented anger and schism and led a rump group out of the Episcopal Church.

Despite my statement of the facts, this man persisted in saying that the diocese had hounded the congregation from its building. I gently responded: “Tthose are not the facts.” I wanted to say: ”You lie!” But I did not. I just tried to insert some facts into his lies.

He is by no means a stupid man. He’s quite bright. But he is also, obviously, angry. It’s also obvious that he has swallowed the lies of the “Virtue” website.

What in the world are we to do when otherwise intelligent people swallow and spew the lies told about our church??

I did the best I could. And several folks told me afterwards that I had handled it well, handled it calmly.

But, for the life of me, I do not understand how people like this can – in good conscience – spout those lies as “fact.”

I suppose my job is to remind the parish, as calmly as I can, of the facts of the situation – despite those who swallow the “Virtue” lies hook, line, and sinker.

Your thoughts? Could I have handled it better? How do you handle those angry people in your parishes?

19 Comments:

Blogger Lionel Deimel said...

You are to be commended for remaining calm. I would have found that difficult.

Lies are spread by people who have achieved some measure of respectability but who are themselves more interested is something (usually power) other than truth. Thus, Sarah Palin could get people to believe in “death panels.”

David Virtue has excellent conservative sources and therefore sometimes offers helpful (and even respectable) stories. He has an ax to grind, however. His status is aided by people like Bob Duncan, who recommended VirtueOnline on the former Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site.

11/29/2010 7:31 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

I think it is terror that evokes such anger and the willingness to believe whatever props up the fear. Loss of power, loss of the familiar, loss of jobs. People want someone to blame and to exorcise the fear -- scapegoating has a long history in the Bible and else where. Fix it - return us to our comfort level - drives this - I know I have seen it in myself.

11/29/2010 8:57 AM  
Blogger Beryl said...

Sometimes I think it is too bad that people like Jim cannot hear what has happened to ordinary loving Christians in places like the Diocese of San Joaquin, people who are going through great disadvantages in order to remain as the Episcopalians we want to be. Perhaps he needs to see the "people" who have been affected by the act of schism, who appreciate the support afforded to us by the national church as we work to rebuild after a schism that should have never happened.
Beryl Simkins
Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

11/29/2010 1:20 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

Sounds like you did the best you could.

The problem, is that we have no "Impartial Referees" across our ideological divides anymore.

You could have asked Jim where he got his "facts". If he had said Virtue Online, your reasonable response would have been to announce to all present (inc. Jim) "Consider The Source!"

...but the Jims of TEC (and the many more in schism) CAN'T have the lies of Virtue [I swear, I almost typed "Vulture"!] Online demonstrated to them---because it's self-referential for them: Virtue Online is true because Virtue Online SAYS it's true. [Prove it wrong by way of, say, ENS? Are you kidding?]

No, the divisions of our time really PROVE the wisdom (attributed to) St Francis: "Use words only when necessary." (But better, don't!)

We HAVE to demonstrate the Gospel to the "Jims" in our lives: our words, they won't listen to.

11/29/2010 8:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Dear friends, thank you for your thoughtful comments while I was at work today. I can now respond.

Lionel, make no mistake: I did find it difficult! I wanted to jump across the table, point my finger in his face, and call him a liar. But I knew that would have accomplished nothing … and it would have violated all I believe about my baptismal covenant. I bet you’re confronted with the same sort of tension in Pgh ... and even more often and more powerfully than I.

A few years ago, I would have believed that Jim was clinging to power. Back then, he was Senior Warden. But I’m more inclined now to believe that his response is coming out of the sort of fear that Ann described. He sees the church changing – the church he has loved.

And I’ll share this with you folks here, because I don’t think any of my parishioners read my blog: I have a hunch that one of Jim’s children may be gay. I can imagine that it scares the bejesus out of Jim that all he has read in Leviticus might condemn one of his children. So I choose to see him as a conflicted, frightened man … and I choose to respond as kindly as I can. I suppose he rejects the fact that I could be very supportive to him and his family.

Yes, Ann, I have a hunch that it’s fear that is driving Jim’s anger. See above.

Beryl, deep thanks for your comments here. Yes! I have followed your stories in DSJ. I doubt that Jim has. I doubt he understands what schism really “costs” to people and communities. I appreciate your sharing this reminder.

JCF, I doubt anyone else would even know what “Virtue” is. And it would not help if I labelled it with a “consider the source” comment … for exactly the reasons you suggested. The denizens of “Virtue” are like cult members. There’s no reasoning with them.

I thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

Both Jim and I are active members of this parish. I struggle with that … especially in the ways that he actively denigrates me. But I am determined to treat him as a brother. Sometimes that means giving him the Blood of Christ at the communion rail. Sometimes – like yesterday – it simply means crossing the center aisle to share the “peace of Christ” with him. I certainly don’t want to be belligerent. But I’m not going to back away from standing there as his sister in the Body of Christ. Even when it sometimes means I come home and weep at his hatred.

11/29/2010 10:02 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

A woman in the diocese argued with me all the time - now I am her hero - after 2 of her sons "came out." She is a big PFlag leader now. you never know= - kind responses are always best.

11/29/2010 10:12 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for that story, Ann. It gives me hope.

I am working very hard at "kind."

11/29/2010 10:19 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

Your definition of "intelligent" is extremely generous, Lisa. Unfortunately, intelligence in individual humans has no relationship to their ability to think - Professor Richard Dawkins is a prime example of this dichotomy.

11/30/2010 4:02 AM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

Lisa,

How do I handle it?

I tell them to stop lying or God will burn them in Hell for all eternity.

So, see, you responded much more pastorally.

"Jim" sounds like a fomenter, to me. How long has he been in TEC?

12/01/2010 11:13 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

MP, I am deeply grateful that you dropped in here.

You stimulate me to make a distinction: Yes, I think "Jim" is intelligent. But I recognize that he may not be able to engage his brain in this discussion, because I think -- and I sense from his body language -- that these conversations scare the bejesus out of him!

You spur me to recognize a distinction: While "Jim" is generally an intelligent man, he seems to move into "reptilian brain" when issues of gay Christians begin to be discussed. As I said, I think that whole topic just scares the #%$! out of him. And I'm probably his worst nightmare.

12/02/2010 12:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Oh, Mark! Your comment makes me want to grab you in a big ol' bear hug!

You wrote: How do I handle it?
I tell them to stop lying or God will burn them in Hell for all eternity.

My friend, there are times when I wish you could stand here for me!! Some days, I wish I could just bring out the flame-thrower, and I sense you'd be just the guy to do it for me.

Alas, I was in "pastoral" mode.

No, Mark, I don't think "Jim" is a fomenter. The more I think about it -- especially in the discussion here -- the more convinced I am that he is a very frightened man. He's angry and scared, but he's not a rabble-rouser. Or maybe that's because our parish just mostly rolls their collective eyes when he starts ranting. Without a sympathetic audience, he can't be an effective fomenter. Maybe he could/would in a different parish.

You asked how long he's been in TEC. He and many others came into this parish before I moved here in 1999. Most of them came from the Lutherans -- especially Missouri Synod. 'Nuf said? I just thank God that he seems to be the last hold-out of the fundamentalist sect. The rest are cool with me.

12/02/2010 12:14 AM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

Most of them came from the Lutherans -- especially Missouri Synod. 'Nuf said?

Ah. Yes.

We had a group of Missouri Synod Lutherans meeting in our church for quite a while after the '94 floods, here.

It quickly became . . . awkward. Not necessarily because of theological beliefs but because the entire congregation and their pastor had a very insular, slightly paranoid quality, always on the lookout for any possible insult. Less a sense of crusade against heresy, but that everyone else is out to stamp out their conservatism.

I expected that that was simply my experience of that one church, but it's been reinforced over the years by dealings with others, and gleaned from stories from the retired ELCA pastor who is in our choir.

12/02/2010 3:49 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yeah ... I don't think your experience is anamalous, Mark. Even some of the folks who came from a local, wacky ELCA congregation can sometimes be a bit reactionary.

Which is why I never have fully embraced this "concordat" between TEC & the ELCA. I'm not convinced we're swimming in the same pond.

And I'm not just singling them out. It took me two-plus decades after leaving the Southern Baptists ... and then many intense conversations with marvelous Episcopalians ... to "de-program" me from that hellfire-and-damnation Protestant perspective. I thank God for my generous Episcopalian friends/mentors.

12/03/2010 7:52 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I think you handled it about as well as possible. I have had the problem and it is difficult.

I was taught in train-the-trainer that the best you can do is calm truth, and if the lies persist, simply telling the perpetrator he is out of order and needed to wait until after the meeting.

Well done!

FWIW

jimB

12/07/2010 3:06 PM  
Blogger MTR said...

Lisa,

I noticed that you're following my blog. Great! I hope you enjoy it!

Just curious to know how you came across it and what interests you enough to become a "follower"?

Have a great day, and I hope the temps down there in Missouri are a little warmer than up here in Iowa!

MTR

12/09/2010 1:24 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

MTR: From time to time, I find blogs I enjoy and I click to follow them. I can't remember which blog you write, and unless you "uncloak" (making your profile available), I probably never will.

12/09/2010 9:52 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Jim.
Of course, my "Jim" has no interest in talking with me directly. Probably terrified that I'd turn him gay if he spoke a private word directly to me. ... Yeah ... I think the guy's that terrified. Very sad.

12/09/2010 9:54 PM  
Blogger KJ said...

I'm late to this conversation, but am in full agreement with the "fear analysis." Once one is frozen in place by fear, all bets are off in regards to the productive use of intelligence.

12/12/2010 9:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, KJ. I think that's what we saw in full flower today when he preached. [If you've seen my Facebook page, you'll understand.]

12/12/2010 9:38 PM  

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