Monday, January 01, 2007

Sudan Missioner to TEC: Get a Grip!

Let me begin by warning that this entry is going to be way, way too long for a proper blog entry. If you do not have a passion for the kind of real-life, in-person relationships that our Episcopal Church has made with dioceses and parishes in the so-called Global South, this will probably just bore you to tears, and you should move along. But this one has incensed me, and I cannot find a way to shorten it. Read on only if you are highly motivated.

Some of you know that I was one of our diocesan missioners to the Diocese of Lui in southern Sudan in early 2006. I blogged extensively about that visit over on LuiNotes. That mission changed my life in ways that I am still realizing.

Sometime after I got home, I discovered the writings of the Rev. Lauren Stanley, who has spent about 18 months as missioner in the Diocese of Renk, also in southern Sudan. She went as a missioner from St. Alban's Church in the Diocese of Virginia, and was there when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited to consecrate St. Matthew's Cathedral in Renk in March 2006.

In this photograph, the Rt. Rev. Francis Gray (Assisting Bishop of Virginia), the Rev. Lauren Stanley, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams are shown at the consecration of St. Matthew's Cathedral in the southern Sudanese diocese of Renk.

Apparently, the Rev. Stanley has now returned home to Virginia for a time. And, even more powerfully than I felt when I returned home from a mere two weeks in southern Sudan, she is incensed at the quibbling she has found upon her return home to the U.S.

Here is the article she has written, which was published December 23rd on page B6 of The Daily Herald (and perhaps in other newspapers):

Church Dispute Gets In The Way Of God's Love
Lauren R. Stanley - Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

For the last year and a half, I have lived in South Sudan, seeing first-hand what it means to be a Christian in that divided land where death is a daily occurrence. I have served with faithful Episcopalians, trying to help the Church there move from the survival mode it endured during 21 years of civil war to self-reliance and care for its people in this time of uneasy peace.

It has not been easy for Episcopalians in Sudan for many, many years. The Church has been clinging by its very fingertips to its existence. War, famine, drought, disease, oppression -- none of those could stop the Church from proclaiming the core of the Gospel: that God loves us, now and forever.

So it has been with a heavy heart that having returned recently to the United States, I see my own Church, the one that has nurtured and nourished me for the last 15 years, the one that sent me forth as a missionary to Sudan, torn apart by arguments over sexuality and so-called biblical inerrancy.

In the week, nine parishes in the Diocese of Virginia alone have decided to leave the Episcopal Church. The leaders of those congregations claim that the national Church has erred and strayed too far from what they claim is the unvarnished and clear truth. After periods of "discernment," these congregations, totaling only 7 percent of the Diocese of Virginia, and a minute number of Episcopalians nationwide, have made big splashes in the media for leaving. Most are claiming to align themselves with African bishops, whom they believe are better, more faithful leaders.

To complicate matters, the parishes that are leaving also want to take all their property with them, some of it quite valuable. It is theirs, they claim, because they are the only ones who being true to the Scriptures.

Church law says otherwise, meaning that long, brutal legal battles in civil courts are in the offing.

Not only do their arguments not make sense, they also miss the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they are supposed to be preaching. The departing parishes never talk about God's inclusive love, only their own exclusion of those who disagree with them.
In Sudan, as in much of Africa, we argue over Scriptures with as much vehemence as any American. But those arguments are not the ones that dominate our lives; in Sudan, we worry more -- much more -- about the survival of our people. How are we going to feed them? Educate them? Provide health care? Bring peace to a war-torn land that seems poised on the edge of yet another war?

In Sudan, we are fighting for our very lives.

In the United States, we are fighting over how to interpret words written by mere mortals centuries ago.

In Sudan, people battle hunger, disease, land mines left over from the war, militias and bandits who pull people off buses and shoot them dead in broad daylight.

In the United States, people battle over who knows the mind of Christ the best.

In Sudan, the Church leads the way in breaking down the barriers of tribalism and ethnic hatred.

In the United States, the departing parishes lead the way in throwing up barriers of hatred and homophobism.

To be clear: I know very well what it means to be in disagreement with my Church. I was born and bred to the Roman Catholic faith; even after deciding I would have to leave the Church of my birth, it took years before I had the courage to actually do so. But when I left, I did so cleanly and without attempting to take anything with me. I could not change what Rome promulgated as the faith, so I did the only thing I could to maintain my own integrity: I left behind all I knew and had been taught, even though schism is one of the worst heresies to commit in the Roman Catholic Church.

If the Episcopalians who have voted to leave feel they must do so, I honor their commitment. I know their pain, and pray that they can find holiness in another setting.

But I cannot for the life of me understand why these parishes think they can take everything with them. I cannot understand why these parishes feel it is fine to call into question the salvation of those who remain in the Church.

I cannot find any integrity in filing lawsuits. I cannot understand why those leaving have not heeded the advice of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, with whom many are aligning and who told them last year that if they were to leave, they were to do so cleanly, forsaking their pay, their pensions and their buildings.

Most of all, I cannot understand how anyone can ignore the truth of what Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee has said all along in this dispute: We could ALL be wrong.

Even the Episcopal Church in Sudan, which disagrees with actions taken in the American Church in the last three years, understands this last part. In January, the Sudanese Church said that although it condemned some actions of the American Church, it wanted both churches to continue to walk together, because we are all sinners. More important to the Sudanese was the fact that the American Church had walked with it throughout the long, deadly national civil war. Now, in its time of need, the Sudanese said, they would walk with us through our own small version of a church civil war. Because there is a chance that indeed, we could all be wrong.

Those leaving the Episcopal Church claim they must do so to survive.

They seem to forget that in many parts of the world, the Church is concerned with REAL survival.

And in those areas where REAL survival is at stake, the Gospel that is preached is one of inclusiveness and love, because only inclusiveness and love can overcome the hatred that has left millions of Sudanese dead in the last 50 years.

Hatred has no place in the Sudanese Church.

It has no place in the American Church either.

God's love -- and how that is lived out -- is the ONLY thing that counts.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary serving in the Diocese of Renk in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. She is temporarily serving in the United
States.
Now, having read her impassioned statement – the statement from this woman who has "lived on the ground" with our Sudanese brothers and sisters for a year and a half – who is begging the Episcopal Church to focus on the real and big issues – the Gospel imperatives given to us by our own Lord – compare her statement with the following.

Apparently her statement did not sit well with David C. Anderson, the President of the well-funded American Anglican Council. While he sits safely in his think-tank in Washington, D.C., plotting the destruction of the Episcopal Church, here is the response he made to the Rev. Stanley's essay.

Although many of us on the orthodox side of the aisle would agree with the author of this piece, Lauren Stanley, on the horrific situation of those in Sudan (and a few other places), and the difficulties that our American problems add to those they already have, the author's domestic assessment is, I would argue, absolutely off base. The telling sentence occurs at the very bottom of the article: The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary. Appointed by whom? TEC/VA. Paid for by whom? TEC/VA. Loyal to which side of the schism no matter what? TEC/VA. It is like the drug studies done by the drug funded research groups. The thumb is on the scale.

We believe our property belongs to us, and yours to you. If you paid for it, it is yours. If a joint equity was entered into in acquiring it, then there is joint equity. If we paid for it, it is ours. It is a divorce, if you will, and we will leave with what is ours. We have so far made no common property claims on the NYC property, camps and conference centers, and other communal assets, however if TEC continues the Beers scorched earth policy that could obviously change, since litigation always increases the embitterment in divorces and schisms.

The damage to the overseas missions could obviously come to an immediate end if both sides of the domestic situation could agree on relative equity in property and peaceful separation. David Booth Beers does not seem to wish that. I believe a win-win situation is possible if the principles [sic] are willing.

Have a Happy New Year.

David Anderson

I reply in utter astonishment. I wonder whether David Anderson has ever visited the parishes in Africa where people are dying of hunger, thirst, the lack of safe drinking water, the scourge of preventable diseases. Does he have no comprehension of the fact that the Episcopal Church of the Sudan – while expressing strong disagreement with the decisions of the Episcopal Church of the U.S. – could nonetheless express continued willingness to partner with us in mission? Indeed, my own diocese is still in partnership and full communion with the diocese of Lui in southern Sudan.

No, for David Anderson, the Rev. Stanley's year and a half spent in the Sudan – and her indictment of our privileged quibbles over the fine points of doctrinal orthodoxy – are all to be dismissed out of hand because the good people of the Diocese of Virginia have supported her faithful work in the Sudan. Apparently, because her work has been funded by "apostates," her work and ministry are to be dismissed out of hand. Her witness is to be dismissed because the tainted money of the Diocese of Virginia has supported her work there. How dare he?

For David Anderson, there is an "orthodox" people on "his" side and a "heretical or apostate" people on "the other side." Canon Anderson, have you no shame? When people are dying, and Christians are offering them a drink of water or a crust of bread, you can still declaim that it is all about the "orthodox" vs. the "heretics"?

Canon Anderson, have you -- at last -- absolutely no shame?

I am disgusted! I am way beyond disgusted by this man and his organization and his minions and his little factotums.

I believe our Lord Jesus Christ made it pretty clear that a cup of water given in His name mattered much more than the sanctimonious prayers of the Pharisees. Sign me up on the side of the Rev. Stanley ... and put me as far as possible from David Anderson and his lackies.

2 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa,

To understand this response from David Anderson, one only needs remember his response on "Larry King Live."

When asked, "Why do you stay in The Episcopal Church?" Mr. Anderson replied, "Because I like a good fight."

Give the man his due: He didn't lie.

1/02/2007 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anderson has Beltway Syndrome, usually an incurable disease. It's like that old Saul Steinberg cartoon of Manhattan (detailed), the Hudson River, N.J. (sparsely labelled), and points west (labelled "out there" or some such, without any detail). Sees nothing outside of the Beltway or outside of politics. Complete lack of imagination.

NancyP

1/02/2007 4:30 PM  

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