On Mutual Submission within the Body


A friend (whom I greatly respect) wrote a note to the Bishops and Deputies list and, in part, raised the following question:

Do we really want someone from Chile or Argentina or Indonesia
telling The Episcopal Church how to relate to our culture or how to
discern the will of God in our various countries?

This question seems to me to be one of the key issues in play at
the moment.

My answer is “yes” actually (with the caveat
that such a conversation takes place in a relationship of mutual
submission to each other.)

While local context is incredibly important for understanding local
expressions of the Church, I think arguing that local context trumps
all, takes us to a place we probably don’t want to go.

For instance, if the Province of Nigeria finds that in their local
context it’s appropriate to support legislation reducing or removing
the rights of glbt people in their country, I’d like to believe that
other Province’s objections to that action should carry some serious
weight in Nigeria’s deliberations.

I do believe that we need to be accountable to other parts of the
Church. I believe that because I believe that human beings suffer from
the effects of Sin. The only reliable way that I know to inoculate our
work against being derailed by our own sinfulness is to work together
as the Body of Christ in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
According to my reading of St. Paul, that only happens when we discern
the body and submit in love to one another.

And given that line of thinking, it’s why I find it so distressing
that parts of the Church are, figuratively speaking, putting their
fingers in their ears and refusing to really engage in mutual
listening with each other.

The problem with my thinking of course is that any movement is going
to happen slowly and gradually. And, as Louie Crew has pointed out, if
a prophetic voice is claiming something is wrong, the Church, in its
slow movement toward validating that voice is going to be guilty of
opposing the will of God for a season or three…

My only response to that critique is to cede Louie the point. But like
the argument that democracy can only claim to better than other
alternatives because it’s the least worst of them all, so too a call
for slow and deliberate change is the only way that I can see that the
Church be like the wise steward who brings out of the storehouse
things that are new and things that are old…

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I guess, I would say that this works well as long as the straight organ is mutually submitting to the lbgt organ as well. As it is, it seems from hear quite a lot of hardened hearts and asking us to submit without the “mutual” from straight Christians. That few provinces have spoken up, and indeed, few bishops, is very telling of who gets to submit and who gets to make the decisions.

  2. As I wrote to Fr. Richard at Caught By the Light: I distrust “common good” language not because it doesn’t have value, but because in the hands of folks like +Radner, often means, that lgbt Christians or whatever Christians of the day claim dignity in Christ should suck it up for the rest without the rest having to enter into our struggles–it’s more “you get to bear burdens we would never bear ourselves”. It is hardheartedness and sacrificial covered over by religious terms and overtones and justifications. It cannot help but lead to division because it isn’t fully Pauline, nor kenotic, but rather hides a great deal of self-will as placing usually heterosexual, white men at the center of our common life rather than Christ.
    In other words, it seems to me that at present in our AC, heterosexual men making the decisions are largely unaccountable to anyone else. Violence cannot help but arise in such circumstances, and controversy, as Paul writes in First Corinthians, may in fact be necessary to get us to Truth. Trust is multifaceted in our current situation, not only between Provinces, but within Provinces, and across diverse types of people. For example, I don’t trust +Ephraim Radner, nor ++Rowan Williams, and not without good reason. Most gay folks wouldn’t and shouldn’t given differences in power dynamics, statements made, willingnes to cut off our agency as having a part to play in discussions about our lives in Christ.
    After all, whites saw that it was commonly good for everybody that blacks be treated poorly in the North with various property and work discrimination laws (or unwritten rules) and the South had Jim Crow. The same goes in South Africa. What one perceives as necessary sacrifice to be demanded of others for the good of the whole, the other perceives as hardheartedness on the part of those demanding their sacrifice for the sake of the whole. In such cases, we must begin to look at effects in either case on persons and communities. Empirical observation is an important part of a process that gets us beyond mere assertions of what is good for whom.
    James Alison makes the excellent point that a catholic understanding is both common good and good for particular persons. That what is good for particular persons is in synergy with what builds up the community and vice versa. The closet is clearly not a good for persons, and I think by now we can demonstrate quite effectively how it isn’t good for the community. Forced celibacy is also not generally good for persons, and we then have to ask ourselves how are same-sex couples contributing to the ecclesia and society. So framing questions in terms of how each organ builds up the community, how each person brings gifts becomes vital. This requires us to get beyond our primary identity as gay or straight, though these are important traits, and limit how we as particular persons will be able to express something of the character of the infinite God in our world, and we shouldn’t pretend that they’re non-existant, they are not in Whom we are one.
    Common good must arise from all being a part of the reflecting process and be open to allowing that common good need not necessitate singular answers or responses. The current processes in the Anglican Communion in fact are very heterosexual and very male and very clerical, thankfully, less white, but therefore, nonetheless very flawed and not necessarily a good that hopes for the good of all persons in the common or is quite willing to impose what others think is for the good without input from those whom they’re discussing–this is paternalistic, patronizing, imperialistic, and colonizing, and though we’ve begun to see how this was problematic with regard to colonialism/imperialism, we continue to search out someone upon whom we can write our script. From here, for example, ++Williams reads as a colonizer, this time not of Africa or Asia, but of queer folk.
    This is the heritage TEC is beginning to wrestle with, and one I might add, that many Churches in the AC are wrestling with in different ways, it’s just that we haven’t yet come to recognize that just because one has found oneself oppressed doesn’t mean we may not be oppressing someone else, knowingly or unknowingly, so we need a relational Trinitarian approach and structures to foster a recognition of Christ in one another beyond the current penis wars. If a covenant does this, great, but I have suspicions that that is not where this will go given the composition of those charged to compose the document(s).

  3. *Christopher: “I guess, I would say that this works well as long as the straight organ is mutually submitting to the lbgt organ as well.”
    That’s how I meant it. I don’t see that mutual has much meaning if it doesn’t require something of both.
    I think that’s why I was initially more comfortable with the Windsor Report than some of my friends were – since it appeared to ask both parties in the dispute to “stand still” for a while. But then the Primates meeting in Dromantine changed the Windsor Report and effectively removed the criticism of the border crossings – and in so doing removed the mutuality of the original report.
    I do find myself wondering what might have been if the report had been accepted as it was and then commended to the Provinces for their reactions.

  4. No, Fr. Nick, the Windsor Report spoke at and to and about lgbt Christians incessantly. That you do not see this, though William Carroll, at least one straight man did, is the first indidation of how great is the dividing wall between us. That report asked of us things that straight Christians would balk at if asked the same things.
    It was mostly about ecclesial structures and power, how to save ourselves, and who can do what and to whom, having very little to do with mutual submission of straight Christians to lgbt Christians, though we do find some vice versa in the report where lgbt Christians are frankly told to submit and suck it up and if we do so straight Christians won’t be allowed to beat us up anymore. Had it said, we recommend no blessings of any unions at all–given that heterosexuality has become an idol as lgbt Christians see it, and thus we need to think more clearly on marriage–, then we would have had mutual sacrifice of both organs. Not allowing border crossings as you seem to assume to be the sacrifice of straight people is not an equivalent for not allowing same-sex unions (I’m not hung up on the episcopate as it seems to represent again that concern with institutional power more than anything else) as the sacrifice for lgbt people. Had Windsor said, we’ll give up our weddings until we can celebrate together, that would have been equivalence, and would have recognized we’re not just people to be talked “to”, “at”, and “about”, but “with” as fellow members of the Body.
    I think you are mistaking two very different matters here, submissions of institutional leadership and conflating this with the straight and lgbt organs of the Body while not naming this clearly, and using Pauline language to justify our being sacrificed without a true in kind. It comes across as imperial rather than kenotic, using the Pauline imagery without comprehending the depth of its reorientation of our relating. I offered a post in response.

  5. Here is an excerpt:
    In another age, in another century, perhaps I could have been a centrist, but at this time, in this culture, at this juncture in history, centrism reads a lot like maintaining the status quo, excusing the worst types of behaviors and regular indignities because it‚Äôs the best that can be done for the time being, and obscuring if not becoming an obstacle to the Good News for folks like myself: Go slow. Be careful. Don‚Äôt rock the boat. Someday. In the sweet by-and-by. As if God’s own courtesy and hospitality toward us should have no bearing one how we treat others in the Body, including the necessity of conversion where needed. Or as Desmond Tutu emphasizes in our present want to divorce Gospel and politics, to divorce the Good News from human needs so that we can all just be at prayer and not deal with how our treating of others at prayer might need conversion:
    ‚ÄúI don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.‚Äù
    Go slow. Someday. Easy to say and to do when one is considered the best sort and condition of human being both in Church and society. When one doesn‚Äôt have the Church interferring in his relationship with his beloved, or bishops calling one ‚Äúdog‚Äù and ‚Äúpig‚Äù, or told forget about Church employment, or has to look to resources old without the aid of clergy for the development of rites fitting to one‚Äôs condition, isn‚Äôt the regular issue de jour and rarely considered a party to conversations about one’s own life. In the meantime, God working in the world becomes the headlight to the dim wicks of those more concerned with maintenance of our present ways of relating if that will keep the boat afloat even if that means someone has to suck it up.
    So when Fr. Nick Knisely offers a rhapsody on mutual submission in the Body, I see problems. Some problem especially arise with his take on this beautiful imagery, among them, that it’s largely an episcopal and clerical and institutional vision to the extent that the institution and those charged as keepers should not and must not ever be faced with painful strife and struggle and conflict in facing real Sin in the way we’ve structured our relating together; but more so, in that it doesn’t dig deep enough into what mutual submission might mean beyond the episcopate and presumably straight men to straight men. At least we’ve finally considered that white men might submit to men of colour in such high ranks, and yet, as always, the abuse of rank and authority is not simply a white man’s, or straight man’s, or man’s problem. We’re all prone to harm others because of standing in society given us simply for who and to whom and where we were born, are all capable of beating the proverbial dog. But in the Body, it is not these things which shall endure or be remembered, but those who go out of themselves for others and pay more heed to Christ than to men. Only this power shall last.
    The problem with this beautiful imagery is that when one is rather on top of matters, mutual submission sounds quite lovely because it doesn‚Äôt really require sacrifice equivalent with the sacrifices demanded of those being asked to ‚Äúmutually‚Äù submit for the sake of the whole. The mutuality is less than fully rhetorical; by rhetorical, I mean multivalent and many-membered, rather than dialogical, or two-way. Indeed, Fr. Knisely conflates mutual submission of Provinces with mutual submission of the lgbt and straight organs of the Body in his read of Windsor. The two are not the same thing. Here is Caelius’ refinement of what I proposed that would have been a mutually submissive response to Windsor of the lgbt and straight organs of the Body.
    As Dr. Luise Schottroff suggests, the Body imagery in First Corinthians, which is intricately connected to how the poor and working were treated at Eucharist in the chapter before (discerning the Body in this instance is primarily about seeing the Body in those before us face-to-face we consider lowly and of no account, and Paul basically points out the wealthy who eat in front of those who have little have spit upon Christ), is deeply steeped actually in Roman cultural metaphors, in which it was common to depict Rome as a body in which the wealthy represented by the mouth and stomach were to be serviced by the rest of the Body, the poor and the plebs and the slaves. Paul radically reorients this image in such a way that the outcast, the slave, the lowly are the ones given pride of place and honour in Christ’s Body—indeed, the mouth and stomach are called to relinquish their tendency to take up the whole.
    In Paul‚Äôs image, we move from the Body of Empire to the Body of Christ. Under such conditions, we have to examine the multiple ways that imperialist, colonizing, paternalistic, and patronizing ways of relating show themselves in our current structures and contexts as the Body of Christ, and they are legion. The Body as expressed in The Episcopal Church and in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion is multivalently caught up in ways of relating that are imperial rather than kenotic. Under such conditions, none of us is without sin. That, however, should not keep us from naming those structural matters that infect our life and create sibling rivalry, and at present the one structural matter repeatedly justified by many and excused by many more is heterosexism in its blatant forms and perhaps more insidiously in its subtle forms of genteel violence that often go unnoticed by those who think themselves free of such infection, who can speak of ‚Äúwait‚Äù and ‚Äúsomeday‚Äù because at first glance it‚Äôs no skin off their own back. And really, Windsor didn’t require any skin of the backs of straight Christians in the Body, but it did require a lot of lgbt Christians, and if we submitted, we were told we wouldn’t be beaten up. Yet, that near-anathema is the one voiced by many centrists with such mealy-mouthed wavering, that lgbt Christians are right not to believe them.
    I have read many centrists call repeatedly upon lgbt Christians in the Body to “sacrifice” using exactly that term, while I have yet to witness a single centrist straight Christian ask how he or she might come down to our level and sacrifice with us rather than ask of us from on high in terms of “wait” and “someday”, say perhaps, as I and then Caelius suggested as a response to Windsor, stopping all rites of union (gay and straight) until all can be in on the discussion, for example, with what intimately affects us—for from here, heterosexuals seem to be making an idol of themselves and marriage right along with it, so that our conversation needs to involve a whole lot more than talking about those queers over there.
    Instead, while these Christians continue to get in the face of their lgbt sisters and brothers flaunting their own relationships as valued in rite, and care, and practice within the Church community, way too little thought is given to how this must feel to lgbt Christians and what it might mean in terms of Good News to lgbt Christians to have rites, care, and practices appropriate for our lives. We do not have here mutual submission of the lgbt organ and the straight organ, we have a subtle and carefully disguised attempt at hegemony worked in Pauline language. Little thought is given to a mutual sacrifice and mutual submission that would join lgbt Christians in our lowliness if all cannot be raised up and honored at this present moment in time in the Body. What we have here is less than a Pauline understanding, though it masks itself as a Pauline understanding, while sacrificing someone else rather than join them in the lowest station, without bearing what is asked of others.
    The centrist arguments as I continue to read them are largely institutional, clerical, presbyteral, and episcopal in focus often suggesting when it comes to lgbt Christians a one-way submission that lgbt Christians get to sacrifice to hold everything together while straight Christians don‚Äôt have to give up a thing in their claim upon rights and rites in the Body–that there should be no border crossings is conflated with there should be no union rites is a mixing of apples and oranges, two different matters even though both are bound up in a focus on clerical power. Fortunately, we can celebrate rites and even preside at them if necessary without the presence of a clerk.
    But there are signs that we are beginning to examine our imperial participation. The present threats of ejection issued at The Episcopal Church are the first signs that this Body of Christians has begun to enter into the lowliness traditionally associated with the sexually queer. And it’s causing a lot of dyspeptic episodes among those who in principle would not turn us away, but don’t want their boats rocked either. I’ve some news. The Gospel rocks boats!
    Under such conditions of the effects of Sin, as Marilyn McCord Adams suggests in her sermon in response to “Challenge and Hope”, quarreling is bound to break out, and God is sure to break through where there is the great danger of his Good News being obscured and possibly turning an entire organ away. It’s happened again and again in the history of the Church. In our own Anglican tradition, we see it in the Wesleys, for example, and the Holiness Movement, and the Anglo-Catholics working in the slums, all those the average cleric was loathe to touch muchless engage as fellow workers in the Body.
    The greatest problem as I see it with the centrist position is not a want to keep the Body together, for we all must work for reconciliation, but a willingness to ask others to sacrifice without joining those being asked to sacrifice in kind. A deep temptation to a priestly stranglehold on how the Body is shaped and reformed is manifest and willing to push out the prophetic, evangelistic, and apostolic charisms if need be to hold it all together, and to use catholicity as a watchword for unity in a Church that itself broke with Rome because the Gospel was being obscured. Under such conditions, God raises up stones if necessary to get out the Good News to His lgbt children that they are also His very own.

  6. ….
    Even as careful a man as Thomas Cranmer in the end found it necessary to have a hand in such matters. In a Communion in which too few provinces, bishops, and priests have spoken up loudly and clearly that persecution of lgbt persons, including fellow Christians, is unacceptable; in a Communion in which bishops will go to any length to appease those who persecute while mumbling all manner of half-hearted words of concern for lgbt Christians even when we’re blown up in bars and pubs or secreted away to prisons without the right to even speak our piece, in a Communion more worried about it’s own structural survival than about the Great Commission to make disciples of all the peoples of the earth, including the Queer Nation, the need to speak clearly the Good News that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself, including lgbt persons, must be proclaimed by someone without hiccup, hand-wringing, or hesitation. I‚Äôm happy to be one of many willing to do so, with rites, and care, besides, to make God‚Äôs hospitality and courtesy not merely a word in breath, but visible and in deed–to have, as Desmond Tutu says, care for the whole person. Let the Anglican Communion finds its way along an after-comer if necessary to treasures we shall have already bequeathed to posterity.

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