When the Oppressed Become the Oppressors

Naively, I used to think that the experience itself of being part of an oppressed group would be enough to transform one’s ability to see the injustice experienced by others who are oppressed, outcast, or unaccepted in society.

How wrong I was!

Recently, two friends and I were enjoying dinner upstairs at a gay restaurant in DC’s Dupont Circle area. It was a cold night and the streets and sidewalks were still slick and slippery with the ice from snow earlier in the day. As we sat near our window, I looked out and saw that an eldely woman had slipped and fallen. An older man was kneeling down beside her as she lay on her back, dabbing at what appeared to be a bloody cut on her forehead. Fortunately, a passing police cruiser stopped and provided the needed assistance. As this scene unfolded, two patrons from the bar next to the dining room came closer to the window for a better view. As one turned around to head back to his martini, he said loudly for everyone to hear, “Oh, it’s just some bum!” My dinner companions and I stared at each other incredulously, not believing what we had just heard. Collectively, we were embarrased that “one of us,” another gay man, could so easily dismiss another human being.

It seems, however, that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is also quite able (and willing!) to forget the oppressions of the past. Katharine Jefferts Shori was elected last year to lead the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion. At a recent meeting of the primates, or heads of all Anglican Communion Churches meeting in Tanzania, she agreed to call upon the Episcopal Church not to consecrate any more gay bishops and to cease the blessing of same-sex unions. Does Jefferts Shori fail to remember that it was the courage and boldness of the Episcopal Church to allow the priestly ordination and episcopal consecration of women that brought her to where she is today? Does she not realize that she could never have reached her position of pastoral leadership in most of the other Anglican Communion churches which still do not allow women to wear the collar, let alone the miter!?!

Jefferts Shori claims that she still supports the “full inclusion” of gay men and women in the life of the Church. How then, can she reconcile this position with her signature on the Tanzania document? Perhaps she has been in the promised land of episcopal leadership too long and forgotten what life in Egypt was like!

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