Sunday, July 25, 2010


Both the MadPriest and The Anglo-Catholic are carrying the story of a playwright who feels marginalized at Toronto's Church of St Mary Magdalene over his "traditional" views on same-sex relationships. Following on the heels of the "dog bites God" story making the rounds, this one plays into a favourite conservative trope: the "illiberal liberal."

This tactic allows reasserters to shift attention from their own pet intolerance (marriages that fall short of the sacred penis-in-vagina ideal) by turning the principles of theological liberalism on their head. See, "liberals" aren't tolerant of intolerance, so we must be intolerant ourselves, get it? Of course, it's only a semantic trick, but it sounds like a good talking point and is second perhaps only to the "bums on pews" trope in terms of dangerous equivocation. (Churches that welcome gays, we are told, are hemorrhaging members - the paradoxical implication being that the way to fill churches is to restrict eligibility for membership).

As usual, the comparison is one of apples and oranges. Mr McKillop wrote a play, on the public record, that is openly disparaging of the plight of gays in the church who seek its blessing. Whether he agrees with them or not, that he then expects to be able to waltz into a community to which a fair number of such people have given their lives and be "welcomed" is the height of hubris. Now, a rational person would say, of course a gay couple in the choir is going to be unnerved by your presence. But in reasserter Bizarro World, it is the gay couple who are the bigots with their ungracious reception of him. Mr McKillop protests that he said nothing to the men "while singing" and so he cannot understand their rudeness and assumes the snub is attributable to "something they had heard about me or what I had written" (gee, ya think?) Funny that - gays can read? If I insult someone else in writing, it still counts? Go figure. I mean, if I had written negatively about black Canadians, I could hardly then show up at the local British Methodist Episcopal church and expect a warm welcome so long as I don't mention verbally what I've already made clear in print.

The headline of the piece is 'An Anglican who no longer feels safe.' This is particularly sneaky prose, since of course it is clearly the gay couple who would be made to feel less than safe by the arrival of a wag like Mr McKillop. This couple has presumably been singing without incident for some time before someone with an agenda showed up to make trouble. I'm sure I would have been similarly concerned in their shoes. My parish family is very important to me and if someone arrived who openly believed that my belonging there was an abomination I would of course consider that a threat. But because they cannot win the battle on theological grounds, "reassserters" have simply inverted the terminology. Now, the Anglican Church of Canada's tepid efforts to afford its gay and lesbian members a modicum of respect are portrayed as a campaign to hound out others. Since they can't argue with trying to make a few people feel a bit more safe, they spin it around and accuse the liberals of what they themselves have hitherto been doing. So now the slow move of the Anglican Church into the 20th century (only ten years late and counting!) is depicted not as a measure of greater safety (for gays) but less. The same phenomenon can be seen at synod where Essentials show up with their Zacchaeus Fellowship, whose mind-bending premise is that by allowing gays and lesbians who wish to enter committed relationships to do so, the church is somehow not respecting the rights of those who do not so wish (!)

Heterosexual Anglicans like Mr McKillop are eminently safe. For most of the church's history, they were the only ones who were. Now efforts are being made to extend that safety to others. But doing so does not diminish the safety of heterosexuals - instead, for once, it simply isn't about them. If Mr McKillop feels unsafe it is because of statements he has chosen to make publicly. That those whom he has attacked take umbrage at his presence is not some conspiracy - it is the consequence of his own actions.

So like much of the reasserter literature on homosexuality, Mr McKillop's tantrum in the Putz is high on scary sounding rhetoric and low on theology (see for example this post, whose author when challenged on his talking points tacitly confessed his inability to defend his matching-bits fetish on theological grounds). If Mr McKillop wishes to inhabit a church where he can write whatever venom he likes about gays on Saturday and they will docilely shake his hand at the Pax on Sunday, he is welcome to the Roman Catholic Church. Anglican gay folk reserve the right to be uppity.

Like Republicans in the United States, conservatives have a tendency to confuse losing with oppression. Finding themselves on the wrong side of history their only chance is to make as much noise as possible on the way out, in hopes of momentarily stunning us. But to anyone who has taken a first-year "reading critically" course, Mr McKillop's column is transparently hollow. While their argument has been indulged until now - and for too long - on the strength of its age, it is becoming clear that the Emperor has no clothes. While reasserters hate the comparison of the gay civil rights movement to its African American antecedent, they do not give people under 30 a reason to resist the analogy. Most of us believe that segregation was wrong not because blacks are some sacredly protected class but because it is unjust to treat a class of persons differently because of an involuntary personal characteristic. To hold this in the case of one group but not another is special pleading. In fact it is simply that the self-styled "orthodox" (who fought desegregation just as hard as gender-neutral marriage) have given up one prejudice but not yet another.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sea Sunday

The Mission to Seafarers in the Port of Toronto celebrated an outdoor Solemn Votive Mass of Michaelmas yesterday afternoon, just managing to avoid the rain. A couple of us turned up from St Bart's, where the mission's chaplain assists informally and had invited us that morning to binate.

The chaplain celebrated with the mission's other priest and a local priest of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd as assistants. Archbishop Terry Finlay turned up in the congregation in his role as Episcopal Visitor and gave the final blessing.

We sang hymns and modern settings of the Mass ordinary, including the "Land of Rest Sanctus" from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, with synthesizer organ and tambourine accompaniment provided by the diocese's Filipino congregation. The Gloria was a hymn paraphrase to the tune of Angels we have heard on high, and was followed by the Kyrie (in Greek) to Rule, Britannia, which we tried to fake, but it didn't really take off. A collect of St Nicholas, patron of seafarers, was commemorated.

An amply appointed barbecue followed, by which time the oppressive humidity had broken. (Other parts of the city, as I learned when I returned home, had been shaken by thunderstorms).