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17 November 2010

Control Freaks

I've been watching some truly heinous church politics along with many other in the Episcopal Church - the rage at Bishop Charles Bennison in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. People are enraged. The rage has been building for years, since his election and the promises he (allegedly) failed to keep. There have been a perpetual stream of failed attempts to remove him from office. The last one worked, for a little while. In our time, invoking the specter of a child sexually abused by a priest is sufficient to turn the tide in most cases. And so it was, for awhile, in spite of the fact that this young woman and her horrific experience were used in a long-standing (and simmering) vendetta against her will - again! And when the torturous legal process had run its course, the verdict was unacceptable to many. Then things got really interesting.
It is incomprehensible that to many that the final ruling went in support of the Bishop. The Church has affirmed and reinstated his ministry. And for many this is untenable. He must go. He must be made to resign. And in the best of the worst tradition of proof-texting exegesis, biblical missiles and missives have been let loose: "Let such a one be to you as a tax-collector." "Jesus preferred the company of tax-collectors." Bishop Bennison has been told, cajoled, begged and bullied. And he has chosen to stay.
As I watch the failed attempts at public shaming I am struck that some will never be able to accept a verdict with which they do not agree or an outcome that they cannot control. Control is at the heart of this sorry affair: control of the diocese, control of diocesan property, control of diocesan funds. No one can control this bishop. And the extremes to which his opponents are going to try and make him do what they think is right tells me that they covet his control and that of the church and that of God.
I am also struck by the intersections of wealth, class, race and gender in this struggle. I see it in part as a conflict of privilege. The very nature of white male privilege reinforced by wealth and class makes it essential for the self-identity of each side to dominate, subdue and ultimately control the opposition.
That the justice (just?) processes of the church have made a determination is irrelevant. Someone (else) has got to take control of this situation/bishop/diocese and make him/them do what I/they think is right. Because I/they speak for God and I/they should speak for everyone else as well. Why won't they/you listen to me/us/them?

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