Skip to comments.Can the Episcopal Church Recover?
Posted on 04/24/2006 2:43:52 PM PDT by sionnsar
We are about to choose a new leader for our community. If we do not face the dysfunction in our present leadership, we can predict that we will continue to choose leadership that will perpetuate this denial.
Recently, the Reverend Gene Robinson, the person at the epi-center, of our current polarization, sent a letter to the wider church announcing that he had come to realize that he had a problem with alcohol addiction and was seeking treatment in a 28-day program to start the process of recovery. The news seems to have been received by most of the church with quiet reflection as we seek to understand what this announcement means amidst our present painful divisions. Most of us are probably concerned and even prayerful for Robinson and his family.
There was, of course, the immediate and predictable press release from the president of Integrity commending him on his courageous decision to seek help. I would like to suggest that before his supporters add sainthood to his already martyrdom status, and before conservatives self-righteously offer our "I told you so" comments, that it would be better for all of us to reflect on what this announcement may bring to the surface about our community's suffering in light of what we do know about addition.
Ask Me About Gene
At General convention in 2003, I sat next to a talented, young, and intelligent lay leader of our church as we awaited our turn to make an evening presentation. She was wearing a button that declared, "Ask me about Gene" which were worn by Robinson's supporters including the wife of our presiding Bishop. I turned to her and said, "OK, so tell me about Gene." For over 10 minutes she explained to me what a wonderful person he was. In fact, I recall that she used the word "wonderful" a number of times. She assured me that if I just got to know him that I would discover what a great pastor he was and why he should be confirmed in his election to Bishop of New Hampshire. Finally, I turned to her and said, "All this may be true, but let me ask you, is this worth dividing the whole communion over?" She paused for a few moments and responded, "Well, that's the question, isn't it?"
In every way, this is the question that has been before us for the past three years. And yet, amidst the pain in our community as we seek to answer this question, we have found our situation further confounded by our inability to honestly face both the pain and the cost of that decision. We have listened to Robinson and his followers contending that this issue really is not that divisive and that soon the church would get over this momentary problem and just "move on." We listened to the national interviews with Gene Robinson where he curiously repeated that this issue was about acceptance, his acceptance. We watched the astounding scenes of the interview with him in a "Gay Bar." Most were so caught up in the word "gay" that we were unable to grasp the implications of the word "bar." Now, in light of this recent revelation, we are able to understand better how his illness and particularly its associated denial affected his behavior and responses to all these events.
Denial is so pervasive in the disease of addiction that some treatment specialists believe the disease is a disease of denial. The inability of the addict to admit the loss of control over the addiction, this denial, keeps the person from seeking help. Further, we know that as the addict develops a growing preoccupation with the substance of the addiction and is caught up in this denial, so his family, friends and extended community become more and more preoccupied with the addict. Is this not a penetrating insight into the life of ECUSA these past three years? In the midst of this suffering, the addict continues to ask, "What is the big deal about all this and why is everyone picking on me?"
Then recently, Gene Robinson admitted that he realized that the issues related to his election were far more serious then he initially thought and that perhaps they were irreconcilable. In other word, there appeared a crack in the wall of his denial. One cannot help but wonder in retrospect if this was not a sign that he was already in a process that would allow him to look more truthfully at his own personal situation. Here is what we do know from addition. The implication in his letter that he had somehow spontaneously come to realize that he had an addiction problem and needed help, is not actually what happened. If we imagine him sitting by a warm fire in snowy New Hampshire and suddenly looking up and saying, "Wow, I just came to realize that drinking has become a problem for me," we are out of touch with the reality of both addiction and recovery.
What happens with addicts is that someone, or something, or some event, or even some institution confronts them with their loss of control. We call this intervention. We have no way of knowing who or what intervened in the disease process for Gene Robinson, but we do know that it happened, and it enabled him to seek help. We will have to await further comments or maybe even the release of a book to discover how this process of intervention broke through his denial system. I am pleased to see that his family and his diocese have decided to stand with him in this recovery. He will need all the help and grace that he can find. Addiction is a terrible and destructive disease and affects not only the addict, but everyone who is associated with him. We also know that after the euphoric initial moments of recovery and sobriety play out, the person must settle into the life-long process of recovery. Robinson has many further steps to take before he is securely on the road to recovery.
An Addictive Organization?
But, let us return to the events of the general convention. Here we had people like my friend, and Robinson's daughters, and the numerous other leaders of the church assuring us that, while Robinson was gay, there was no other impediment to prevent him from functioning as a bishop. But, now we know that there was. Further, we know that all this drama was really part of the denial that surrounded him. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that Robinson was not or is not a wonderful person. Most addicts that I know are good people with many wonderful attributes and even skills. We meet addicts, not just as homeless street people, but in doctors' offices, among lawyers, politicians and even clergy. What is so painful for those around the addict is that we keep asking why can't he or she see what they are doing and stop. They cannot stop, of course, because it is an addiction.
This brings me to my further and serious concern for us as a community. We now have watched for three years as many of our leaders continue to act in denial over the effects of the 2003 decision. Painfully, I would suggest that no where do we see this denial greater than in our House of Bishops and the office of our Presiding Bishop. I would suggest that our Presiding Bishop's constant assurances that the "diverse center" has held, his inability to admit the extend of our current divisions, and most especially his insistence that none of our national staff say or admit that we have been effected as a community by the 2003 decision is pervasive denial. What many conservatives see as a Machiavellian series of political maneuvers and spin is really denial. Our current Presiding Bishop sits in his marble tower at 815 completely isolated from the painful truth and reality of our community, namely that we are badly polarized, fractured, leaking members (and whole congregations) and remain stuck in this division.
Further, we are confounded by his and other church leaders' insistence on talking constantly about reconciliation. Recently, as Acting Dean of St. Matthew's here in Dallas, I received an invitation to attend the annual Dean's conference. The keynote speaker is the Presiding Bishop who will be talking about reconciliation. Why would anyone want to hear from a person about reconciliation that will not even acknowledge or meet with those who are so deeply alienated from him to seek a path of true reconciliation? Denial!
Now, it may be tempting to speculate on the reasons behind this extensive denial, but, I do not think this helpful. I do think it part of our corporate community's recovery to be honest about the denial itself and that its presence is indicative of a serious problem both for individuals and for our community. Why I am choosing to speak out at this moment is not to embarrass or accuse anyone. I am speaking out because I have learned painfully that when healthy people in a community or family refuse to identify denial when we see it, we are part of the illness and not the recovery.
A Healthy Leader for the Future
In addition, we are about to choose a new leader for our community. If we do not face the dysfunction in our present leadership, we can predict that we will continue to choose leadership that will perpetuate this denial. Until the Episcopal Church can choose leaders who are willing openly and truthfully to admit the extent and degree of our present divisions and pain - the adverse way it is affecting our corporate life - we will continue to suffer and not seek recovery.
Let me end what I am sure is a painful and evocative article on a personal note. How do I know that addiction and denial are at the heart of so much of our suffering? I know it because of how I have survived it this past year. I returned to my al-anon tradition and began to say over and again this simple prayer. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." When I feel the pain of our community, I cannot change the way our current leaders, caught in denial, choose to respond, but I can change the way that I choose to respond. I have chosen not to make Gene Robinson, or the National Church, or these issues the center of my ministry. I have also chosen not to remain silent when I see dysfunctional behavior and denial on the part of our leaders contributing to our pain and suffering. I hope that I will not be the only voice who will speak up at this moment and call our community to a path of recovery. I repeat, until we have leaders who will admit the extent of our pain and divisions, and are truthful about our situation; we cannot begin to recover from our present pain. May God grant us serenity, courage and wisdom at this critical moment in the life of our community.
--The Rev. Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Vital Church Ministries based in Plano, Texas. He is a well-known preacher, teacher, author and consultant throughout the nationwide Episcopal community.
Interesting article about denial, but I believe it misses the big picture. Too many talking heads in ECUSA present today's unpleasantness as stemming from the unwillingness or inability of some to accept a gay bishop and the unwillingness or inability of others to fully understand and respect that opposition. Such persons are living in denial. Gene Robinson didn't bring about today's unpleasantness, the 50+ year long process that transformed ECUSA from Scripture, reason and tradition into high church Unitarianism brough it about.
In order for a person to be religious and at the same time maintain a homosexual identity, that person needs to find a religion in which homosexuality is condoned, not try to change the tenets of a religion which considers same sex acts to be sinful.
Such a person won't be able to be a "gay" Christian, Hindu, Jew or even Muslim. Or Buddhist - the Dalai Lama just set everyone straight (no pun intended) about that.
Maybe Shinto? Confucianism? Don't know. I do know that Taoism considers homosexual acts unhealthy and depraved. Whatever form of magic New Guinea natives originally practiced permitted (or even mandated) sodomy between young boys and men, so that belief system would be okay.
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