March 21, 2009

Shame on You, David Anderson

Reading the weekly messages of David Anderson, the president of the American Anglican Council, is always a surreal experience. Of all the prominent speakers on the angry Anglican right, Anderson has always been one of the most outspoken and outrageous. I wish that more Episcopalians would read what Anderson writes; it would make clear to them just how extreme the “orthodox” militants of (or recently out of) The Episcopal Church actually are.

Graphic from David Anderson’s messageI write this particular essay in response to Anderson’s latest diatribe in the AAC’s “Weekly Update,” which you can read here. Anderson’s message dated March 20, 2009, begins with complaints that The Episcopal Church insists, in various circumstances, in resisting the theft (my word) of its property by dissident congregations and bishops. Although I find Anderson’s opinions on church property disingenuous and wrongheaded, I will admit that it is possible to construct arguments in support of them that have at least surface credibility. Anderson’s views on church property issues are well known, however, and they are not what got me upset with his letter.

After his opening complaints, Anderson moves on to the platform of The Consultation for this summer’s General Convention. Anderson begins his “analysis” with this sentence: “A group within the Episcopal Church calling itself the ‘Consultation Platform’ is preparing for a large presence at TEC’s General Convention in July, 2009, in Anaheim, California.” Whether Anderson is being dismissive here or is just ignorant is not clear. The group whose platform is being criticized, an alliance of various church-related organizations, each of which, I suggest, has more right to lobby the General Convention than does the schismatic American Anglican Council, is called “The Consultation.” The page to which Anderson links contains what is called “The Consultation Platform 2009.” The Consultation had a very conspicuous presence at General Convention 2006, and Anderson has no excuse for misidentifying it or implying that it is some upstart alliance. But this isn’t what got me upset, either.

Anderson begins his analysis of the platform this way:
Section 1 is titled “Continue the reformation of the Church.” It has three bullet points: first, “equip all the baptized for their ministry in the world and for their share in the governance and mission of the Church at every level of its life.” This sounds good until you realize that it means inclusion of homosexual practices, transgender issues, and something now being called “intersex.”
Upon reading this, I went to the Web site of The Consultation to see just how one realizes what one is supposed to realize in reading “equip all the baptized for their ministry in the world and for their share in the governance and mission of the Church at every level of its life.” To my surprise, the words “homosexual,” “transgender,” and “intersex,” do not appear on the page. Neither do any related words. Although I do not dispute that organizations such as Integrity do indeed include homosexuals (for example) in their understanding of “all,” that word could also be construed as including the friends of David Anderson who style themselves as “orthodox” and who voice the constant complaint that they do not “share in the governance and mission of the [Episcopal] Church at every level of its life.”

Here we find what did upset me: not Anderson’s telling the reader what he should realize, but his use of the word “intersex.” Although I, like many people, do not see being homosexual as generally being some kind of “lifestyle choice,” I recognize that medicine has not yet fully explained the phenomenon of homosexuality. I believe that one no more chooses to be gay than chooses to have blue eyes, but, even in 2009, this cannot be said to be a scientific fact. My view is very likely true, I think, but the jury is still out. Intersexuality is different.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, that Anderson’s last sentence in the quotation above is something of a grammatical non sequitur and look instead at his phrase “something now being called ‘intersex.’” Anderson is exhibiting either his ignorance or disingenuousness here. “Intersex” and “intersexual” are medical terms referring to individuals whose sex is objectively ambiguous. An intersex person might have external sexual organs exhibiting both male and female characteristics, for example. The terms can be traced back at least as early as the second decade of the twentieth century, and the advocacy group Intersex Society for North America dates from 1993. (ISNA has an interesting FAQ page here.) Intersex conditions are naturally occurring developmental variations that in no way are the “fault” of the people in whom they occur. If one gives Anderson the benefit of the doubt that he actually knows what he is talking about—admittedly, not the most generous assumption here—then Anderson must either believe that people having such conditions are morally deficient (as he believes homosexuals to be) or are somehow subhuman, not deserving of the rights reserved for “normal” people.

If Anderson is simply uninformed about intersexuality, then he is irresponsible in making the statement he makes in his latest message to the AAC faithful. If he is not ignorant, then he is a despicable demagogue who is insensitive to conditions that typically cause great distress to individuals and to their parents. In neither case does he have the moral right to be president of a respectable religious organization or to be a bishop of Christ’s Church. He should be ashamed of himself.

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