A number of years ago, when he was in the midst of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a talk that stressed how important it is to work together, black and white, poor and rich, to strengthen the human family, to bring justice to all people. In his talk, he recounted a scene from the American movie, The Defiant Ones, to illustrate his point. Two inmates from a chain gang had escaped together, one black and one white, portrayed by Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. At first they stumbled a lot, because their ankles were chained together. Once they figured out how to run in rhythm, things went a little better, until in the midst of a rainstorm the prison guards got closer and closer and the two men threw themselves into a fifteen foot muddy ditch. They managed to go undetected, but then they had to work together to get themselves out of the ditch. I would contend that we are still in that boat, trying to figure out how to work together to fight the slippery evil depths of racism and prejudice that continue to pursue us as we struggle for justice and freedom for all peoples.
What role we play in that struggle depends on who we are, where we are, and what gifts we have been given. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul encouraged the members of the young Christian community to reflect on their gifts. “Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are a variety of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Last week on NPR one of the commentators was interviewing a professor of Africa American studies who was talking about the life of W.E.B. DuBose. In 1903, DuBose was the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard . In his writings, DuBose focused on the importance of the struggle within ourselves, the work of the self, identifying ones gifts, that is essential to becoming a full human being. This is true regardless of skin color or cultural background. DuBose stressed the importance of imagination and education in this work of personal growth. Comparing DuBose to Booker T. Washington, the professor on NPR commented that they differed in their approach. For Washington, it was all about education, education, education. While DuBose agreed that education was important, he also recognized that not everyone is a scholar. For him, the day laborer and the scholar were equal in worth and both needed to go deep within themselves, looking at where their gifts lie, and finding worth in using their gifts to the fullest. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
The professor went on to say that there is always more than one approach to human growth and fighting the fight for freedom and justice. He pointed to the difference in the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King—both passionate about social justice, but had different gifts to bring to the struggle for human freedom.
And I say human freedom, because when any part of the human family is oppressed, none of us is truly free. Dr. King addressed this truth often in his speeches, insisting that the road from resisting racist segregation to resisting international warfare is not so obscure. King stressed that a “genuine revolution of values” calls for “ a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation …in a call for an all embracing and unconditional love for all”. King also warned, in his prophetic role, that “we can no longer afford to worship a god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation”. * How much do we still need to heed those words in both our political world today, at home and abroad, and within the church itself.
I don’t know how many of you are following the events of the worldwide Anglican communion in the last week, but a “call for an all embracing and unconditional love” has been issued to Episcopalians in the U.S. by our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. Following the election and consecration of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as a bishop in 2003, a hue and cry went up from the conservative Archbishops in Latin America ( known as the Southern Cone), and the conservative Archbishops in Africa. (Tutu was not among them, by the way.) They boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Bishop’s Conference . Lambeth Conference has been held about every ten years since 1867 and is hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Anglican Church, of which we are a part.
In between Lambeth Conferences, the Archbishops and Presiding Bishops of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches all over the globe are periodically called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss theology and general policies and doctrine. And there has never been total agreement on everything. But the ordination of women, followed by the ordination of gay folk, caused deep divisions. And so, some of the Archbishops boycotted the meetings in between Lambeth, as well, also refusing to come because the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (here) was a woman. Important to know, as a side note, is that the Anglican Church in the Provinces in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong are also a concern to the conservative Archbishops.
Once the Episcopal Church elected a new Presiding Bishop in 2015, the first African American Presiding Bishop, and a male, there was hope that the disaffected Bishops could be coaxed to attend a worldwide meeting of the Archbishops and Presiding Bishops, and at least be engaged in conversation once more. That happened last week. The result was not rosy. After three days of conversation, two votes were taken. The first vote, on a motion to ask the Episcopal Church to voluntarily leave the Anglican Communion , was voted down with Seventy-five percent of the bishops voting wanting the Episcopal Church to remain a part of the Anglican Communion. The vote on a second motion passed by a majority. That vote placed several sanctions on the Episcopal Church for the next three years in response to our action last year to broaden the definition of marriage to include the union and blessing of same-sex couples. The conservative Bishops argue that our action is against scriptural law. We obviously differ. They asked for sanctions while they all—Archbishops and Presiding Bishops– discuss those differences. Sanctions means that we will have a diminished presence at conversations regarding policy and doctrine. Dr. King’s admonition that “we can no longer afford to worship the god of hate” comes in to my mind here. However, it seems that our Presiding Bishop Curry listened to other words of Dr. King’s and is urging us not to worship the “god of retaliation” in return.
I’d like to read you what he said to the Bishops gathered before their voting:
Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people’, as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome. Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.
While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ. For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain. ….
I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjurs that up again, and brings pain. The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the Church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way and I, like you, as we have said at this meeting, am committed to walking together with you. (ENS, Jan. 14, 2106)
The next day, which was Friday, Bishop Curry sent a message to our church and wrote the following:
Before I say a word about our gathering…I just want to say a word of thank you…for all of your prayers: your prayers for this meeting, your prayers for me personally. We are well and God is God, and I thank you. (So) let me say a word about the meeting. This is not the outcome we expected and, while we are disappointed, it is important to remember that the Anglican Communion is not really a matter of structure and organization. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in common faith; relationships in companion dioceses; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world be a place where no child goes to bed hungry, ever. That is what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward….
This has been a disappointing time for many, and there will be heartache and pain for many…(but) the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people…we must claim the high calling, the high calling of love and faith, love even for those with whom we disagree…” (as reported on Jan. 15 by the Bishop of WV in an email to his diocese)
In his book, Soul of Black Men, W.E.B DuBose stressed the importance of doing the profound inner work of who we are and our call to nurture each other, to struggle and dream together. The Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church are engaged in the profound inner work of learning who we are and how we are to live together. Our Gospel recounts that the power of Jesus is a power that is capable of working miracles. In this time and place in the history of human life on earth, let us remember, like Mary, to trust in the power of Jesus to change our hearts from stone to flesh in the same way his power changed water into wine. May God work in each of our hearts as we are called to bring our own individual gifts to bear on helping to end prejudice of any kind and to respect the dignity of every human being.
*From an NPR interview aired on Sat., Jan. 17th. May have been a repeat of Lisa Simeone’s Interview of Dr. David Lewis of Rutgers.