February 19, 2007

Of the Products of Primates

After considerable smokeless back-room, late-night, hard-ball negotiation, the Primates of the Anglican Communion have emerged with a Communiqué with an attached Schedule.

Once again, the Institution appears to emerge triumphant, but devoid of the Spirit that once inhabited it. Once again, the Institution appears to be preserved, but weakened in the purpose for which it was intended. Once again, in order to preserve Institutional Unity, the pastoral realities of whole sectors of humanity are dismissed or deferred.

Will it work? Will the Bishops of the Episcopal Church continue on the road paved with B033's good intentions -- the less than adequate intentions to win over the Primates? Or will the number of those who rejected that road of cobbled-stone increase, and take another way?

The question that has to be faced, and faced squarely is this: is the Anglican Communion worth it? Is it worth further delay "until a new consensus emerges" to have no more gay or lesbian bishops who are open and honest about their lives (as we will surely have many others who are less than open and honest)? Shall the bishops stamp out irregular blessings of couples, or wink and turn a blind eye instead of "authorizing." Shall we go back to the days of not asking, and not telling?

And while we do, how will that impair the "listening process" about which one hears so much, but which receives scant attention in this latest batch of Primatial Product. Will those in the closet feel free to speak, or will the dust and mothballs render them silent?

So many questions! What's a Primate to do?


Anonymous said...

I am as outraged as you over +Akinola et al over sundry matters in this concerted attack against TEC and the humanity of LGBTs. But I must protest over this pun, perhaps posted in jest, but one that taps into the long history of racist stereotype that begins with Darwinism and its hijacking by those in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to justify the scientific discoveries of evolution for racism's aims.

No matter what your intentions, the visual invites such correlation. I do not think that this is your nor others' vision of how to proclaim the good news of justice and inclusion for all.

Father Doug said...

I believe that the communique actually changed the wording from "until a new consensus emerges" to "unless a new consensus emerges" and put "unless" in emphatic font.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JIm, and a couple of anonymous posts which I deleted, have misread my intent in posting this reflection, with the intended pun on "primate" related to the stamp.

(I rejected the two anonymous posts because they did not abide by my request that anonymous posters use some form of identification. Both made the accusation that this pun is "racist.")

What this reveals to me, rather, is the knee-jerk racism of those who would read "racism" into a picture of a bonobo chimpanzee. Do you think chimpanzees are "black"? I certainly don't. Think about that for a moment and examine your hearts before reading racism into someone else's mind. You are quite, quite mistaken. To use Jim's phrase, the visual only "invites such correlation" in the minds of those who see the connection.

My primary observation about the irony of Nigeria using a picture of a bonobo chimp on one of their postage stamps has to do with the rather notorious sexual behavior of bonobos, widely reported in the press.

However, I regret that some have misunderstood my intent, and will remove the image of the stamp as a recognition of the fact that some people cannot look at a chimpanzee without thinking racist thoughts.

W said...

Tobias, the problem is not the people who have knee-jerk reactions to stamps with chimpanzees. I'll draw a parallel. It's kind of like a straight person referring, out of the blue, to queer people. Or a White person saying "colored people." You have no ideas about their intentions, and those terms are problematic. Because of racists in the past who have characterized people of African descent as monkeys, allusions to that are also problematic for many. It's unfortunate that "primate" refers to the senior bishop of a province and to mammals of the order including monkeys, apes and humans. We should watch our words.

As for the Primates' statement, I do not advocate that we act in defiance of this request before all other options have been considered. It seems that we can choose to leave and tell them to go to hell, or we can acquiesce and put our LGBT people in the closet. Or we can make a response somewhere along that spectrum.

Or, if we think hard, and use our creativity, we can break set and respond on a completely different spectrum. I have argued elsewhere that this is what Jesus did when he told us to turn the other cheek (see Wikipedia for the figurative, culturally-based interpretation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn_the_other_cheek#Figurative_interpretation).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks drdanfee and weiwen. I am inclined to see this situation as much as a failure on the part of the "liberals" both to be aware of the depth of the problem and to make a more intensive effort at outreach and above all, education. We have allowed the conservative academics to dominate the "airwaves" for far too long; and I would have to say that many of our reponses have been less then well thought-out and systematic. Yes, here or there one sees a good argument, but the effort is uncoordinated -- something those on the reasserter side have no problem doing. We need to make our case more effectively, if the consensus is ever to change. We can no longer simply rely on "good will."

I will reflect more on this as I have time. With Ash Wednesday upon us, and a member of my parish in the hospital, I'm up to my neck.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to belabor this point any more than you and others do. **My** intention was not to call anyone racist, and especially not you. I simply wanted to point out that, consciously or not, intentionally or not, to use an image of a primate -- of whatever sort -- invites, indeed registers, the terrible, historical archive of racist, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-religious attempts at correlating humans of African descent and members of the primate species, of which Christians have been a sad part. This, given the nexus of race, sex, and power currently working in the AC, is too explosive to pun lightly.

I would commend Thomas F. Gossett's rather old, but still quite compelling book RACE: THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA IN AMERICA (1965). I would especially recommend the chapters on 18th and 19th century anthropology as well as the chapter on Race and Social Darwinism as background to how these kinds of connections have, despite our enlightened best intentions, become a kind of racial "common sense," even in our age of globalization and putative multiculturalism.

I hope this doesn't get in the way of the important work of justice and inclusion for all people. I hope Tobias you see me as a fellow traveller in the struggle. A meaningful Lent to us all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Jim,
I do understand your point, given this further explanation. It seems to me that this is a question of structural, rather than personal, racism. Becuase of a legacy of racism, certain words, phrases or images, still create problems even though there may be no intent.

But I would like to get to the deeper issue. When Ed Browning was elected, my brothers and I gave him a plush stuffed gorilla with a small mitre. This was an obvious reference to the double meaning of the word "primate." No one took offence; no one suggested we thought Ed Browning was "apelike." In this present instance, however, even though I was making the same pun, suddenly it's racist. Why -- because the perceived "object" of the joke is an African. As I noted above, this to me points out the reality of systemic racism, a systemic racism that is not dead.

I don't know what else to do but tune up my PC awareness a notch, which I hate to have to do. But I'm now aware of a level of systemic racism I thought was long dead.

All belssings,