General Convention

Fistfights and Church Governance.

Part of my Clinical Pastoral Education experience involved me diving headlong into a fist fight. It wasn’t one that I started. Two young men decided to swing on each other in the lobby of the outreach center I was serving. I heard the scuffle, and without thinking bolted around the corner and put myself in the middle of it. I caught a hook across my side, and got some nails dragged down my arm before I could wrestle one man off the other and out into the street. I waited with him for the cops to show up, gave them my statement and then walked him back to the shelter he was staying at.

He wasn’t allowed back in the outreach center, but every time I saw him I felt closer to him than I did before he unknowingly caught me across the side with his right hand. We had bonded in the fray. He trusted me more, approached me more readily, opened up easier after I had thrown him to the ground and pushed him out of the building.

The lists of the people that I’m closest with and the people that I’ve gotten into a physical fight with have a remarkable amount of overlap. I’ve heard the same thing from a number of other people, and I think that’s by and large because (for most non-pugilists) we only get really pissed about the things we really care about. There’s something in the fray that’s cathartic. There’s something that gets accomplished in being raw enough to resort to non-verbal expressions of the ways in which we feel. It isn’t nice, but sometimes it’s necessary. If apathy is the enemy of love, then sticking it out long enough to come to blows involves some level of caring.

With less than a month left before GC2015 I’m starting to wonder if we actually care enough to have a meaningful synod. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we believe strongly, but it isn’t about belief. I wonder if we care. 

Culture war politics don’t require us to have the slightest bit of concern for our fellow Christian so long as they’re on the opposite side of our issue. They actually tend to work better if we don’t have any concern. If we become so intensely convinced of the lunacy of the other position, then we’re more inclined to dismiss it as opposed to actually listen. If the only level of debate that TEC can muster is the level of debate currently present in our civil society then the world is right to ignore is. If all we’re going to do is be cultural partisans, then don’t even bother electing a new PB because we’re done.

If we can’t be a countercultural witness in something so central as how we govern ourselves then our structures are bankrupt, and neoliberal notions of inclusivity aren’t going to be enough to carry us out of it.

I learned the most about myself and my theology from the moments where I vehemently disagreed with someone, and stuck it out long enough for the both of us to figure out why we disagreed. I became an Episcopalian largely because of my friendships with people in the Continuing Anglican movement. They challenged me in love. They were interested in my growth in Christian maturity and wanted to see me come to a fuller understanding of the Gospel of Christ. While I fully believe that they’re wrong about polity, and ecclesiology, and sometimes I question whether or not they’re actually Anglican, they helped me know why it is I believe what I do. Much to their chagrin I’d like to think that my priesthood (and by extension, TEC) is the better for it.

We’re going to handle important issues this year. GC is going to get hot. We should hope that it gets hot the right way. Conflict avoidance will kill a Parish just as much as conflict itself. It’ll do the same for a Denomination. If the floor of both houses doesn’t get heated, then it means we’re not doing our job. The litmus test for whether we’re doing meaningful work is whether we can still come to the Blessed Sacrament together after having gotten heated, not whether or not we get heated in the first place.

I couldn’t care less about whether the delegates are “nice.” I want my delegates to be Christians of goodwill who are intensely and passionately devoted to the good of the Church, and I want them to listen. Don’t grandstand. Don’t posture. Listen. Debate. Learn from one another and grow in love.

Let’s be honest. The world already doesn’t care at all about our governance… but if we can make some real, meaningful, theologically sound decisions moved together in fierce love by a Holy Spirit that comes to us looking like tongues of fire… that would be enough to notice.

It worked for the Church before. I’m inclined to believe it will again.

(Note: Just incase it has to be said outloud… don’t actually start fistfights on the floor at GC, y’all.)

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