An Address to the Niagara Chapter of the Prayer Book Society of Canada, Grace Church, Milton. Sunday, 12th February, 2006.
John C. Deadman, MD.
Let me introduce myself. I grew up in Halton County. My public school was S.S. #14 Nelson Twp., a one room country school that had 8 grades and about 40-50 pupils. The school is long gone but where it was is now under the big interchange at Highway 403 and the Queen Elizabeth Way in Burlington. Our old house is still there, on Plains Road across from the United Empire Loyalist Cemetery near the big IKIA store. I attended Burlington High School before the word “Central” was put into the name. I then went to Trinity College School and the University of Toronto and became a physician and psychiatrist.
For thirty years I have worked in the area of schizophrenia—one of the most difficult areas of psychiatry, but one which has seen considerable improvements in treatment since I entered it in the 1970s. It has given me a strong appreciation for strange and convoluted thinking, and I want to tell you that sometimes my patients make more sense than what I read in the newspapers or see on TV.
I am a member of Essentials Niagara but I am not officially representing them tonight. I am here to give my personal views about an extremely serious situa tion in the Anglican Church of Canada. Everyone in Essentials and in the three founding organizations—of which the Prayer Book Society is one—are alarmed at the terrible, divisive and destructive things which have been happening in our Church but have felt powerless to do anything about it.
The issue of blessing the unions of persons of the same sex or recognizing gay and lesbian clergy has exploded into a potentially destructive issue, causing an internal and external divide of unprecedented proportions. The present rhetoric suggests that some segments within our Churches would prefer possible destruction of the Anglican Communion, rather than give up their cherished positions. I am reminded of the old Scottish Prayer:
“….if I be wrang, O Lord, I prrray that ye might change the worreld, fer ye know thet I canna change me mind.”
As I found to my chagrin, it is not even possible to start a dialogue with other Anglicans about it. Many parishes will not even allow discussion of this topic. Supporters of each side in the argument accuse the other side of causing all the troubles, and many people are so turned off by the arguments that they want no part of it. As one of my fellow parishioners said:
“I just want to go to church and say my prayers and feel close to my Lord. I don’t want to be dragged into this whole mess.”
* * * * * *
In the last 30 years or so, the Gay and Lesbian movement has made great gains in public acceptance in both Canada and the United States. Recent Federal legislation has changed the wording of the definitions of marriage so that this hallowed institution now applies to same-sex unions as well. Despite the Government’s assertion that the new definition would not force churches to change their practices, there has been a real fear over the past few years that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could be used to force religious groups to recognize same sex relation ships by blessing such unions. And if we raise a question about any of this, we are accused of being homophobic, rejecting, even being anti-Christian.
Conspiracy theories abound. One assertion, stated to me as an established fact (the speaker did not know that I was a member of Essentials,) was that the Essentials movement was the Canadian arm of the ultra-conservative “religious right” in the USA which wants to overturn abortion and gay and lesbian rights, as well as change the separation of Church and State, which is a hallowed tradition of modern democracy. He cited as proof, the movement to put prayers back in the schools. I didn’t ask if he thought we would make church attendance compulsory for all, or require prayers at movies and rock concerts.
Does this sound familiar? In the recent election campaign, Stephen Harper was accused of similar things. I decided that nothing was to be gained by joining this debate. I don’t want to talk about that today. My experience as a psychiatrist led me to look deeper into what was driving the debate to such depths of acrimony. That is what I want to talk about.
At times like this, we all seek reassurance from Scripture. I went back to the Gospels to see what Our Lord said about these things. Jesus did not talk directly about homosexuality, but he did talk about sexual immorality, particularly adultery which in his day was an extremely serious offence punished by stoning to death. I found this passage in John that is probably well known to you. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to (Jesus), “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses com manded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straight ened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
John 8.3-11. NRSV
This tells us a great deal about what our Lord said about sin and politics. There are many messages for us in this passage, but I will focus on three—two that focus on sin and a third that focuses on politics:
The first message was: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
You will notice that we are all sinners and that only someone who is without sin can sit in judgment about the sin of others. And God is the only one with out sin, although humans often seem to think they are. Let us call this part“Judgement”.
The second message was: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (The King James Version is simpler and I like it better:“Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”)
This is a profound statement. Jesus was not con demning her for her sin but he was certainly not con doning it either. He was accepting her into His King dom, but only if she took personal responsibility for her sins and strove to sin no more. That is what Jesus asks of all of us. And even though he was the Son of God, he was conveying the message of grace. He was not being judgemental. He was asking each of us to search our own consciences and be our own guardians against sin. Let us call this part “Grace”.
We have a paradox. Conservative Anglicans are being accused of anti-Christian acts (i) lack of grace by rejection of others, (ii) being judgemental of gay and lesbian people. Even if this were true (and I don’t really believe it is), our accusers are guilty of exactly the same things: anti-Christian acts (i) lack of grace by rejection of others, (ii) being judgemental of conservative people. So, ironically it is the strident advocates of gay and lesbian rights who are neglecting Christ’s teaching. Yet they seem to have had considerable success in sticking this particular label on the Essentials move ment.
In psychiatry we call this “projection”. People deny their own failings and attitudes, and accuse those on the other side of exactly the same attitudes or failings. We say that they ‘project’ these things on the people around them. They have very strong hateful feelings towards their opponents but do not want to recognize this most un-Christian attitude in them selves. So they accuse the other side of being hateful to them. That is how projection works.
Christ recognized this human tendency in his time, and we recognize it today. Accusatory and judge mental behaviour has been the basis for much of the conflict and destruction in human affairs, just as it was in Christ’s time. It has been there as long as humans existed. It is part of our nature and one which we must always be mindful of. It has started most (if not all) of the wars in human history.
It is also a standard tactic in politics. The spin doctors appeal to this baser instinct in all of us to arouse emotions and demonize their opponents. The recent election campaign in Canada is an excellent example.
This brings me to the third (more political) message: In the opening passages, the Scribes and Pharisees challenged Jesus: “‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.”
The idea of setting up a position which was unques tionably true and then framing it so that anyone who takes a slightly different position or qualifies it in any way can be accused of being against truth. This tactic is used to brand people asheretics, “anti-Christs”, witches—whatever. It then becomes easy to destroy the arguments of your opponents and entrap them into a very disadvantageous “one-down” position. Throughout history, people in this position usually did not survive for long. For example, the Spanish Inquisition believed in destroying its opponents as well as their arguments.
* * * * * *
This brings me to the topic which is in the title of my talk—Gothic Romances and Morality plays. Even though it seems like a jump, it is not. It flows directly out of what we have just read in this passage in the Bible. The Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus. He understood these tactics very well and managed to avoid being entrapped.
Unfortunately, some members on the conservative side of the argument were not as lucky—or wise. They began to respond in kind—giving the accusers the very arguments against them which they were seeking—and turning what should have been a thoughtful, prayerful ‘grace’-ful discussion into an acrimonious,‘judgemental’ one.
The morality plays of the late 19th century show us how the political tactic works. A common variant on this theme is the “Black Hat, White Hat” scenario of the classic western film. Perhaps the best known of these so-called Gothic Romances was “The Perils of Pauline” which appeared as a play in the late 19th century and was made into a silent movie in the early 20th century.
You all know the basic story. Pauline cares for her ailing mother in a small house and is unable to pay the rent. The wicked landlord proposes another way in which she can satisfy the debt by sacrificing her virtue. She refuses and the villain, in an effort to persuade her, ties her to the railway tracks and says he will release her if she agrees to his demands. Just as a train is seen rounding the curve, the hero arrives, vanquishes the villain and rescues Pauline at the very last minute.
The scene is set. The curtain rises and the drama plays out. The villain enters. Just from his black hat and his demeanour, you know he is up to no good. Pauline pleads for more time to pay the rent. The villain gloats and suggests another solution. She becomes adamant in refusing. He applies a little pres sure. Things get out of hand. Even as the train approaches, the villain is hoping she will change her mind. Enter the hero. What a great ending. Virtue triumphs and evil is vanquished. The curtain falls and everyone leaves the theatre feeling good about the world.
The Gothic romance contains a central “issue” and roles such as “villain“,“victim” and “hero“. The issue is always a moral one—virtue and its threatened loss. These romances were wonderfully popular because they evoke strong feelings in all of us. We have all had times when we prayed for a hero to arrive just in time to rescue us from a bad situation. But they also give us an object lesson that there are villains out there who create issues in order to take advantage of our weakness, gullibility or fear. And we all relish the feeling of being able to see through guile and devious thinking.
C. S. Lewis, probably the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, nails this one per fectly in “The Screwtape Letters”. Screwtape is the chief demon in Satan’s empire who is advising his nephew, a human on earth how to undermine and distort people’s feelings to influence them in favour of Satan instead of our Lord. It is a very disturbing read for most of us because we can see all of Screwtape’s tactics being played out in the world around us.
Here is how the political tactic works:
- The protagonists have an unresolved issue, and start the process.
- They also have an answer. They realize their answer is different from conventional wisdom and will require a change of attitude on the part of most of us. In other words, it will not be an “easy sell.”
- They are supporting a ‘cause’ and chose to create a conflict because that is the way they think that they can influence people.
- A negotiated settlement is not an option. They are not interested in compromises or, for that matter any other solution than the one they believe in. They are not interested in facts or truth unless it supports their point of view.
- They assign roles to discredit the opposition and to place a particular“spin” on events.
Here is how they put it together:
- The issue may be anything that is bothering someone, especially if most other people are satisfied with the status quo.
- It may be assumed that the proposed answer is not the generally accepted one by society.
- The role of Hero, they usually assume for themselves—but not always. Sometimes it is politically convenient to allow someone else to take the hero role—and take the flak if things get hot and heavy.
- The role of victim (damsel in distress) is assigned to anyone who is seen as suffering from the bothersome issue.
- The villain is someone whom they see as blocking the resolution of the issue. This is sometimes a little harder to identify. If no villain is immediately identified, they must create one, or assign the role to bystanders and then demonize them so that they look like a villain.
Only one further problem remains to be resolved. Since the approach so far is “judgemental”, shows lack of “grace” and avoids dialogue or compromise, by its very nature, it is an un-Christian approach. It becomes necessary to change this element so that the position will not be considered absurd and dismissed out of hand. Remember my talk about projection? This is where spin comes in.
What about spin? After all, say the protagonists, there is more than one point of view here. If the land lord was writing the script it would look quite differ ent. How about this?
“These deadbeat tenants are always a problem. Pauline has pulled this one on me before. And I (the landlord), ever reasonable, am willing to forgo the rent if Pauline is also willing to be reasonable. What could be fairer? Then this interfering guy who has nothing to do with it rides up and sticks his nose in….”
Anyway, you get the idea. Deadbeat tenants become the issue. Landlords becomevictims but this landlord is a hero. Interfering third party becomes villain. This is how the political tactic is played. It’s getting to sound like the ‘Newspeak’ of that old book “1984”. But that is the way it works.
But where is truth? Where is grace? This may sound sacrilegious but in the eyes of the spin doctors, everything is relative, everything is a point of view. My father used to say:
“Some people are so open minded their brains fall out.”
Going back to the Biblical passage which I read earlier, we can see the spin doctors at work 2000 years ago. The scribes and Pharisees’ position was clear:
“We are the upholders of the Mosaic Law and this upstart Jesus is challenging our way of inter preting it. He is against everything which we stand for. He is preaching false religion, and the common people are being taken in by it. They are flocking around to listen to Him.”
The scribes and Pharisees were playing exactly the same game. The problem was that Jesus could see through their game, refused to play it, so these tactics did not work.
* * * * * *
In our present situation, many gay and lesbian people feel shut out of full communion with God through the church of their upbringing. Some have gone to other churches that were more welcoming and recep tive to their views. Others want to stay within the Anglican Communion. But more strident advo cates of change realize that they are opposing strongly held views of basic morality which have been part of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition going back thou sands of years.
They soon realize that the majority of Christians have no interest in changing their views on a funda mental moral and liturgical issue. More drastic measures are therefore necessary. It doesn’t take long for them to realize the value of the old political tactic we have described above. They need allies and they need to reframe the issue so that it will have more politi cal appeal.
The issue is no longer a moral issue about sexual practices. It has become an issue of inclusiveness and love. Gay and lesbian people who feel excluded from full communion within the Church become victim; conservatives becomevillain. So far so good. It seems unwise for strident advocates of gay rights to become heroes when their acceptance in the Church is the very issue. Those of liberal views in the Church are the logical ones to carry the banner so they take on the role of hero.
As the scenario has played out, it is the liberals who are set against the conservatives and the original protagonists can sit back and watch the fun. I am reminded of an old book by Eric Berne called “Games People Play”. One of the games in there is entitled: “Let’s You and Him Fight”. I don’t even have to tell you how that game is played. You can figure it out from the title.
* * * * * *
The game is as old as the hills. Only the issues change from time to time. If you are anything like me, you are tired of these games, you are tired of intrigue, you are tired of people forcing you to take sides. Many people have left the church over this never-ending harangue. I am convinced that the declining church attendance in recent years is largely due to this kind of dissention and division. I’m sure that it is a factor in the declin ing voter turnout in recent elections. This debate is destroying us in more ways than one.
As Shakespeare’s Mercutio said in “Romeo and Juliet”: “A plague on both your houses.” That is the way most of us feel about the present debate. So much for all the discussion on evangelism. Let’s stop the silly games that we are playing and look again at the essentials of our faith.
I hope that my remarks are not seen as too flippant or jesting of this extremely serious issue. But I have despaired of finding a compromise when people seem so unwilling to seek one. I am here as a psychiatrist to suggest the way that I think will lead us out of the dilemma which faces the whole Anglican Church at this time.
As I have so often found, Jesus shows us this way. He refused to get into the debate with the Pharisees. He gave an answer which caused the opposition to melt away. It was non-judgemental, it was full of God’s grace and love and it preserved the moral values which we all hold dear. I can say no more than this.
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Discussion and Questions.
1 The King James Version is similar. I like it because of its expressive and poetic language.
3 And the scribes and the Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
6 This they said tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus bent down and with his finger wrote on the
ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus lifted up himself and saw none but the woman, he said to her, Woman, where are those thy accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.
John 8.3-11. KJV