What just happened? Hope you didnt blink, because the story of the Iraq War is about to vanish, to be picked over, off to one side, by the historians. At least the effort will be made to dig up the kind of information we would have needed to question the war while it was going on and being sold to the public but which, of course, was unavailable at the time.
Unavailable, that is, on CNN. Or on any of the networks. Or most of the news sources most easily accessible to most of us most of the time.
How much time did you spend consulting alternative media in the weeks leading up to the war and while it was being conducted? Its too bad if you didnt, because the air waves and data lines that carried messages not penned by the Bush administration were buzzing. At the same time that the major media were lamenting the untimely death of U.S. network correspondent David Bloom, the names of equally innocent Iraqi women and children who perished directly at the hands of our forces were nowhere to be found except via other media.
If you didnt take the time, you at least noted one conspicuous instance in which "our" media thought they could bring us "their" media if only in a highly edited package of spin-control, lest they be deemed unpatriotic. This war brought us a twist in the usual categories of mainstream and alternative with the preeminence of a wholly professional major media outlet with views usually opposite those of the U.S. administration: Al Jazeera. The dance done with this news source was fascinating to watch. Our government impugned its integrity. Our major media covered that, but in the process showed us some of their clips. Before long, their live feeds from Baghdad were picked up by CNN. Their reporters, editors and owners began to show up in our media as spokespeople (undoubtedly due to their headquarters in Qatar, conveniently in the backyard of a battalion of American reporters). Their coverage itself became our news with increasing frequency. Their New York-based financial reporters had their credentials revoked by the New York Stock Exchange for "security reasons." The question of their legitimacy was completely overcome by the phenomenon of their fame (arguably the situation of their American counterparts as well).
But if you decided to learn for yourself what Al Jazeera was saying and discovering, assuming you could not get to them on cable, you had to turn to the Web. The day I did, in early March, I learned there was a new link to a first-ever English-language version of their news site, but I couldnt get it to load; it was announced shortly after that the site had been hacked and, as of early May, was still not operational.
Its unnecessary in these pages to hawk the need to seek alternatives to the published and often pre-packaged truth. With the presence of the Internet, we arguably have access as never before to the widest possible range of perspectives and ideas. We have to accept that our access is corruptible, whether through spin or high-tech attack, and these alternatives can become just as invisible to us as if we werent looking around at all.
But if we stop looking, its our own damn fault. Its impossible anymore to accept on face value the claim of the news media to be in pursuit of the truth. In the end, they pursue truth and publish that pursuit as long as they think anyone is reading or watching, and then they stop and dont pursue it anymore. The economics of media dont allow them to continue what they start. As it said in our algebra books, the proof is left to you.
Of course, "alternative" does not equal "true" in every case, any more than "mainstream" does. James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic in June, notes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "With the Internet and TV, each culture now has a more elaborate apparatus for proving, dramatizing, and disseminating its particular truth." Even so, the exercise of consulting a wide range of media gives you a better picture of all of the possible attitudes and biases, and that total picture is a better container for the truth.
Its not too late to start. Iraq may be "over," but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still roiling. Not thinking seriously about subscribing to one of those satellite services that gives you a la carte access to Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian or Korean channels? Get a teenager to Google around for you a little bit and find you a couple of websites that you promise to read daily or so, or at least every time you turn to mainstream media, as a way of providing your own balanced coverage. Or the Jews for Justice website has a page with links to many sites maintained by organizations working for justice in the Mideast conflict resolutions (www.jfjfp.org/links.htm).
Getting to the truth is hard. Its really hard when the truth is far away, and even harder when there are culture and language barriers. But its completely impossible when truth-finding and truth-telling are left to a spotlight that flashes across a landscape, blindingly illuminates with false daylight, and then moves on.
Michael Hopkins and Bishop Paul Moore at the Episcopal Urban Caucus assembly in February 2003
Every January 1st I eagerly reach for the Style section of The Washington Post for the annual "Whats In/Whats Out" list. This past year I half expected to see "Justice Out/Reconciliation In," but then, who really pays much attention to internal Episcopal Church politics?
In the rhetoric of Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion leaders liberals in particular the word "reconciliation" currently figures prominently. "Waging reconciliation" is one of the new goals of being church, at least in the House of Bishops. Yet one bishop was heard to say at the February 2003 Episcopal Urban Caucus meeting that he really didnt know what the term meant, and that it was an agenda imposed "from the top down." The other six or seven bishops in the room either rose to agree or were silent (although one did carefully state that no criticism of the presiding bishop was intended).
The response was in answer to the observation that "waging reconciliation" seemed to mask a political agenda of giving potentially divisive justice issues a back seat. At the very least the rhetoric seems to suggest that "being reconciled" must take priority over "doing justice," particularly when some are threatening to leave the church.
Yet at a recent Reconciliation Conference in Los Angeles people who know what they are talking about put a different understanding of the relationship between reconciliation and justice forward. The conference was entitled "A National Conversation about the Conflict in the Episcopal Church," and was sponsored by the Diocese of Los Angeles Hands in Healing Initiative and the Reconciliation Institute headed by Brian Cox. Cox himself is a conservative, but sees reconciliation as the only way forward for the Episcopal Church.
"Reconciliation is a process of establishing justice in the heart or soul of a community or nation," says the Institutes materials. I suppose that translates into "Waging Reconciliation=Waging Justice." Not a bad General Convention button.
If Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold truly intends to lead a church "waging reconciliation," he needs to attend one of these reconciliation conferences. Among other things it would teach him that the only way to reconciliation is through the conflict, honestly and openly. Any other way simply will not work. Reconciliation is not about setting aside agendas or identity politics or avoiding getting mired in divisive issues. Reconciliation is about laying all those things on the table in the light of day and negotiating a just solution for all sides. If he does not take the risk to do this open negotiating, or at least allow it to happen, he will only succeed in handing the current ecclesiastical sex war to his successor.
Does the embrace of Gods blessing extend to all people, or only to some? General Convention will speak decisively to this question in its action on whether to permit the creation of liturgical text for the blessing of unions. It is a decision that will speak loudly about how we understand baptism, whether our church chooses to have an effective pastoral ministry to those seeking unions, or whether we choose to become a church built on the model of a medieval city.
Our baptismal liturgy expresses a theology of Gods rich blessing bestowed upon every member of the church. It also expresses our commitment to the dignity of every human being, and speaks eloquently to honoring the complexity and variety of human relationships as we seek to serve Christ in one another. Baptism allows no room for a class system of Christians or Episcopalians. Baptism invites and commits us to a life in which we enter into the vulnerability of Christ and the surprises of the Holy Spirit. In a church where we have long blessed a variety of relationships, it seems decidedly odd to be debating whether the union of two people who love each other is worthy of Gods blessing.
In many congregations, including my own, the blessing of unions is part of our pastoral care to our members, and an expression of the generous blessing that God bestows through a rich array of relationships. While some apparently fear angry reactions and even division if the blessing of unions is approved, the truth is that there will be deep sadness, anger and a sense of betrayal felt by many in our pews if this permission is not granted. If we do not move in this direction our proclaiming of Gods abundance and blessing will be difficult to do with integrity.
George Werner, leader of the House of Deputies, has challenged us to think about our model of the church. If the creating of texts for the blessing of unions is rejected, that will declare that we are a modern version of a medieval, walled city, where some are invited to come inside to work during the day but are then expected to go home at night, unable to enjoy full participation in the citys life and richness. A modern-day caste system in the name of Christ. Alternatively, we have the opportunity to be vulnerable, in Christ, to the love and joy that exist between those who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to enter into marriage.
It is a defining moment for our church. My own prayer and hope is that we find a way to provide permission for the blessing of unions, while acknowledging that we may not all have the pastoral need to perform them or necessarily be fully in support of such unions. Such honesty will allow us to hold a diversity of opinions while celebrating, in a variety of ways, the blessing of the one who is our blessing, Jesus Christ.
Three years ago in Denver, the 73rd General Convention passed a resolution (D033) that challenged dioceses and congregations in the Episcopal Church to "set aside 0.7 percent of their annual budgets to contribute to international development programs that address the root causes of poverty, ill health, illiteracy and economic justice." A few months ago, a group of church leaders, economists and grassroots justice activists came together out of concern that little follow-up to the resolution has taken place in the church. Formed in Cambridge, Mass., it has been named the "Cambridge Consultation" (www.cambridgeconsultation.org).
The Cambridge Consultation is supporting a resolution being brought to the 74th General Convention in Minneapolis (A034) that encourages the church to endorse the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These eight goals call us to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental stability and develop a global partnership for development. For 30 years a pledge of 0.7 percent of the U.S. Gross National Product to international development aid to address these goals has not been met. We all know how crippling unmet pledges can be to the programs of our own parish, diocesan and national institutions. This resolution asks our dioceses and the national church to model this 0.7 percent goal of giving to international development, though many of us in ECUSA would be well past that in our present contributions.
But the Cambridge Consultation is not merely a group gathered to pass a resolution. Its purpose is also to "bring about a re-consecration of the Episcopal Church to the most profound and challenging task that Christ places before us to love our neighbors near and far as ourselves."
This consultation does not believe that our internal ECUSA issues are irrelevant or that the status quo domestically is acceptable, but rather, that we have lost perspective.
We have taken the embarrassing position in this church of siding with the most reactionary elements in developing countries to justify our shaky, often irrelevant moral agendas, most notably on the issue of sexuality and same-sex blessings. We have exploited the voices of our brothers and sisters to make our point and soothe our consciences. We seek to add to our numbers through the neo-missionary movement, which parades the persecution of Christians at the hands of Hindus or Muslims, but never speaks of the economic and political forces so often encouraged by our government that create those climates of hate.
For these sins we must more than repent, we must be about the business of restoring a just international order. The U.N. MDGs are a manageable (the money is there), though politically tricky, set of expectations of both donor and recipient countries that would go far to move us into greater equitable communion with one another. This consultation is working to organize our church to offer international leadership in supporting and implementing these goals as absolutely essential signs of our true global communion.