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Anglicans Online last updated 19 November 2017
Nothing Without the Bishop'
"Do nothing without the bishop." -- Saint Ignatius
At a recent church meeting in Long Beach, California, the bishop of the diocese, the Right Reverend Jon Bruno, was barred from attendance.
This was done, according to the American Anglican Council, so that they could make sure the conference was a 'safe place'. They were worried that his presence would 'create a sense of discomfort,' according to the Rev. William Thompson, who is not only an official in the Council, but also the rector of a church in Long Beach, California.
I am delighted that the American Anglican Council has suddenly discovered the need for churches to be safe places. The shameful thing is that they have done an extremely poor job of modeling safety, and we can see this by looking at what a safe place is to them.
Safety, in the mind of the AAC, consists in guaranteeing that everyone is the same. What guarantees safety for the AAC is a signed-on-the-dotted-line statement. (Leave aside for the moment the heresy involved in writing one's own Creed and declaring the Nicene Creed to be an insufficient statement of the Christian faith.) Safety, for the AAC, is about making sure that everyone in the room will be in substantial agreement with yourself.
Safety is to be achieved by excluding those who are not in agreement. This is done in violation of canonical norms; in violation of the bonds of allegiance and loyalty which should hold between the Rev. Thompson and the bishop he is sworn to obey; in violation of simple human hospitality and decency. It is precisely such places that gay people have found extraordinarily unsafe. For the AAC, it is not possible to have a safe place at which all are welcome.
The Bishop of Los Angeles was not excluded because of what he would say. 'I had no intention of making an issue of any of my views,' he said, 'just welcoming people to our diocese as they participated and discussed their issues of faith and Christianity in an environment they found safe. That was my intent.' He was excluded because he did not agree with a demand that he submit his theological conscience to the judgment of the conference organizers. Nor should he: for it is the organizers who were bound by solemn oath to submit to him, not the converse.
So that's what the AAC thinks a safe space is: a place where everyone agrees with you, where even messages of welcome must be excluded if they come from someone who disagrees with you. A place where solemn vows to God are lightly disregarded. A place where heresy trumps human decency. A place where those excluded by society know that they need not apply. In short, a safe place is a closed-off, walled-in fortress maintained by forces of exclusion.
By contrast, we can examine the commitment of Bishop Bruno towards safe spaces. He began his episcopacy with the Hands In Healing tour (http://handsinhealing.org/). The message of nonviolence and peace has been unceasing from that day forward. Bishop Bruno has reached out in every way possible to those with whom he disagrees, and under his leadership has begun a successful series of reconciliation conversations -- not just in the diocese, but more broadly across the nation.
Bishop Bruno has insisted firmly that all the parishes of the diocese are valuable and called to do God's work--those which agree with him about every issue (if there are any!), and those which disagree about issues of greater or lesser import. He has committed himself and his office to doing whatever he can to make churches physically and emotionally safe for all, to making our cities and public spaces free from violence. This is an extremely hard job, but it is one that he has taken on with all seriousness and his shoulder to the plough.
In short, the Bishop of Los Angeles has worked ceaselessly to make the entire diocese a safe place for all. And we can see what a safe place is: it's a place where all are respected. A place where people are invited to be part of the conversation wherever they are, and where all may participate in God's work. A safe place, in the vision of Bishop Bruno, is a place where physical security is a given, and in which nobody is forced to submit to the conscience of another. It is a place where all are encouraged and no dimly burning wick is quenched. This vision of a safe place is precisely that which the American Anglican Council believes would make their meeting 'unsafe'. This is true, in just the same way that democracy makes tyrrany unsafe: by telling the tyrant that he gets just one vote along with everyone else.
The AAC cannot abide any system in which they do not get to call the final shots. And that is schism, here and now, and the meeting in Long Beach was heretical and schismatic for just these reasons.
Brother Thomas welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org