Friday, December 11, 2009

Diversity questions from Irene Monroe

From columnist Irene Monroe, quoted at PamsHouseBlend, some provocative thoughts on diversity and the election of Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Glasspool:
If both women are approved by a majority of bishops their elections will signal that the U.S. arm of the Episcopal Church is aggressively moving forward on both gender and gay justice.

But for many Episcopalians of color the issue of racial and diversity justice still hangs in the balance as many of their urban ethnic churches struggle to survive. With nearly one-half of L.A.'s population Latino concerns arose with the election of two white women over Latino candidates.....

The election for bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles was a fiercely close race between Glasspool and the Rev. Irineo Martir Vasquez of St. George's in Hawthorne, CA....

The issue of diversity in the governance and election of bishops in the Episcopal Church is of great concern to congregants of color in light of shifting racial and ethnic demographics in big urban cities like L.A.

And with the shifting demographics from white to ethnic groups of color the Episcopal Church, perhaps unintentionally, has chosen to build up one ethnic or minority church over another. And, too often, it feels to many ethnic churches of color that they are always pitted not only among themselves, but also against white queers.

For example, the unresponsiveness to dying black urban churches is emblematic of the Episcopal Church's ineptitude to grapple with the ways that racism and classism choke not only the spiritual life out of a church but its monetary life as well. With the Episcopal Church's urban landscape changing, the denomination has opted to pour its support, money, and energy not into these historic black churches but instead into developing urban Latino churches. The gentrification of the urban church by replacing one minority group with another sets up a paradigm of "divide and conquer" that makes neither group feel welcomed, but both expendable.....

I have my own queries for the Episcopal Church, dubbed by many as the "ruling class at prayer," with respect to its urban churches, including:
  • Will the Episcopal Church move as aggressively on race issues as it has on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) issues?

  • Can Episcopalians only talk about the welcoming inclusion of its church in the context of women and LGBTQ issues in white face, but can't when the issue is race?

  • Does the Episcopal Church's catholicity fall short with people of color because its hegemonic model of being Christian is not only racially white, but it is also theologically and liturgically Anglican?
Ouch. Even given that Monroe is a comabative columnist, we have to admit these are hard questions. And of course, I respond to these from the perspective of a liberal white American, with a European background and a place of privilege in the professional class. I can't change that, though as a woman and a lesbian at that, I do have some experience with marginalization.

And the Episcopal Church can't disclaim its background and heritage as an Anglican church with deep roots in England. That's not going to change either. How does the church reach out to other groups? In some places it is having enough trouble with its traditional core group. (There is a tendency in the media, also seen here, to cast the Episcopal Church as representing the wealthy and the powerful; though I think that's largely been usurped by conservative Catholics and C-Street now.) And when language is a barrier, I don't see any way to avoid some inevitable separation. For example our Cathedral has a separate Spanish Eucharist every week. Why is that a bad thing?

At least Monroe acknowledges,
Glasspool is fluent in Spanish, has served in urban cities across the country and is not a single-issue cleric. She told a reporter at the annual convention that the church is ready to go beyond " "superficial characteristics and boxes in which we put people, to really look at individual people and assess the needs of the diocese and pair them with the gifts and skills that Diane and I each bring. In that sense, in all ways, we are moving to a point where we can look beneath the skin color and any single characteristic and really rejoice in the wholeness of every individual person."
That's the goal. We would all like to get to the point where the labels are irrelevant and we can be sensitive to, and celebrate the variations of experience we bring to a common community.

So how do we get there?

(Update) BTW, I also think someone should point out to Monroe that the previous suffragen Bishop of LA, Chester Talton, is African American, and the previous Bishop Assistant, Sergio Carranza, is a Latino. So why exactly is it a problem that the women and the GLBT are also represented?


Wormwood's Doxy said...

I wish I knew, IT.

I read that this morning, and it made me squirm. Partly because I think she's right--but also partly because I think that patriarchy counts on women and minorities picking on each other and building walls around our "groups" to keep us under control. Divide and conquer.

She also seems ignorant of the fact that the very first female bishop in TEC (or in the Anglican Communion) was a Black woman (+Barbara Harris). Not that that makes everything "okay"--but it *is* an important part of the story.

To her point, however...I have been in ONE truly racially integrated parish. It is in downtown Silver Spring, MD---right on the DC line. Many of the black members are either African or Caribbean by birth--but they grew up Anglican and our form of worship is what they were looking for.

I wonder how much of the divide has to do with preference for worship style? I'm trying to tread lightly here, because I don't want to be accused of stereotyping--but I *do* think that Anglican/Episcopalian worship tends to appeal to people who like formal, contemplative services. That kind of worship is just not nearly as popular in my neck of the woods as Pentecostal, emotive, gospel-singing worship is.

What do you think?


IT said...

Hi, Doxy,
Nice to hear from you. I must say that I was struck by a couple of things in Monroe's essay. First, I really, really wish we could get past the labels.

Second, it's worth noting that the previous suffragen of LA was Chester Talton, an African American, and previous assistant was Serigio Carranza, a Latin. Both men, of course.

i don't have a Blend ID, but perhaps someone might point out in the comments there that the office has already been occupied by an African American and a Latino before the women and the gays got in.

IT said...

Oh, and my third comment: I don't think it's fair to expect the EPiscopal Church to change to become "more" of something it's not. Isn't that part of the problem with the schismatics, who come from conservative Protestant traditions and want to change what the church IS? At some point one must thine own self be true, and hope that people come because of what you ARE, not because of what they want to turn you INTO.

dr.primrose said...

The problem with playing the tokenism game that she's apparently advocating is there aren't enough positions to fill every ethnic and sexual minority in the church.

The bishops that Diane and Mary are replacing are black and Latino. Bruno, the bishop diocesan, is of mixed race. It's not as if L.A. has been ignoring racial and ethnic minorities in its episcopal elections and appointments.

So do we elect another black and another Latino and shut women and gays out or what? Or go for two-fers or three-fers -- African-American females from Hispanic cultures or gay black men? If there's a required black bishop and a required Hispanic bishop, there will never be a female bishop or it will be a long-time coming. We also have a fair number of Asian language congregations -- Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Where do they fit in?

I'm by no means saying we're completely beyond racism, sexism, and heterosexism here. And I don't want to minimize the improtance of the symbolic role that people holding high office have. But we have moved beyond mandatory tokenism here.

We had to vote among the six people presented to us (and pre-convention petitions of other people were not permitted). Frankly, the black woman candidate was not nearly as strong a candidate as the current bishop suffragan, Chet Talton, who is tremendous. Ditto for both Latino men, who paled in comparision to the current bishop assistant, Sergio Carranza. There are much stronger African American and Latino clergy in the Church (and in our diocese) than these candidates. But they weren't on the ballot.

A large number of the Spanish speaking movers and shakers in the diocese felt this way. I was told by a number of them that they got their Spanish-speaking bishop in the first election -- Dianne -- and they backed Mary in the second election.

Sorry, her comments are just so sixties.

IT said...

Thank you, PRimrose. It struck me the same way, and surely we are beyond that degree of identity politics?

David |Dah • veed| said...

There used to be a forth bishop in LA, a second bishop assistant. What happened to him? Has he retired as well?

dr.primrose said...

David, the fourth bishop was Bob Anderson, who retired as Bishop Diocesan of Minnesota a decade or so ago. He served two separate stints as assistant bishop in Los Angeles. He retired from his second stint about a year ago. I've known him for over 30 years -- a kind, compassionate, deeply spiritual man. And his wife Mary is quite wonderful as well.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Dr. Primrose--thanks for those comments!

I left a comment at Pam's House Blend yesterday. I encourage you to do the same.


JCF said...

And when language is a barrier, I don't see any way to avoid some inevitable separation. For example our Cathedral has a separate Spanish Eucharist every week. Why is that a bad thing?

I've told the following story before: when I lived in NYC, I was a member of an ethnically/linguistically mixed parish ("St. Matthew & St. Timothy"). At the time, 1990-94, they had an 8AM Mass in English, a 9:30AM Missa en Espagn~ol, and an 11AM Mass in English (guess which service Night Owl me attended? ;-/).

When I returned for my graduation in 2004 (Yes, it took me 12 years to finish my doctorate! }-X), "Matt&Tim's" still had 3 Sunday Eucharists: two in Spanish, and one in English! *LOL*

...but (as of '94), they only had ONE Great Vigil of Easter: a fully bilingual service (which, for the GREAT FEAST of the Church year, seemed oh-so-appropriate to be together, in both languages. Now, for a three-or-more language parish, I could see how this might become burdensome! ;-/) [NB: I was unsurprised by the switch in 2004, as the baptisms at the GVE in '94 were predominately Latino!]

On the topic of the Pam's House Blend piece: I'm ambivalent. It does smack of hyper- "Identity Politics" (and good grief: TEC could fill EVERY available episcopacy for the next 5 years w/ women, and they'd STILL be underrepresented in the HofB!).

At the same time: just because "We have a black President now!", is no reason for complacency. African-Americans and Latinos (and other people-of-color) ARE still underrepresented in TEC, compared to their US demographics (and probably from those percentages, to their clergy/episcopacy #s, though I'm not sure about the latter). I believe it's important to TRY to make TEC (in the USA) "look more like" the USA, at every level (bishops, priests, deacons, religious, laity)...

...AND I believe we can push for this, WHILE still being TRUE to who we are (we don't have to worship exactly like COGIC*, for example, to welcome more African-Americans. Not that there aren't some things about COGIC from which we can learn!)

[* COGIC: "The Church of God in Christ". The largest predominantly African-American Pentecostal denomination.]

I actually think my old parish of Matt&Tim's is doing a good job (as of '04) in showing the kind of flexibility TEC needs to intentionally practice (by which I don't just mean "let the language reflect the people/neighborhood", though that may be *one* such way).

Be creative. Don't be patronizing. Keep True to the Gospel, "in our Anglican/Episcopalian way." Don't be afraid!

David said...

Doxy wrote, "I *do* think that Anglican/Episcopalian worship tends to appeal to people who like formal, contemplative services. That kind of worship is just not nearly as popular in my neck of the woods as Pentecostal, emotive, gospel-singing worship is."

Yep, and that's one reason, along with the "you don't have to check your brain at the door" bit, which makes TEC appealing. So Monroe's whining about us being "theologically and liturgically Anglican" is a non-starter for me :P