July 31, 2008
Imagine my horror to read in an English newspaper this morning a headline that screamed Woman Bishop Says Third World Clergy Beat Their Wives over a picture of yours truly. The article went on to quote very selectively from an interview I had given as one of the press briefers a couple of days ago when the theme of our day was Equal in God’s Sight: When Power is Abused. Let me tell you a bit about the day itself. The program originated from the Spouses Conference under the able leadership of Jane Williams, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The bishops and spouses met together in plenary, men one one side of the tent and women on the other. Jane Williams gave the first theological reflection on violence. She said in the course of it that violence done in the body of Christ is violence done to the body of Christ. Dr. Jenny Te Paa followed with remarks about the program to follow, saying that the morning’s focus would be solely on violence against women and girls.
A really excellent theatre company then performed a very moving piece on the conversations and healings of women by Jesus. This powerful and moving drama included the woman taken in adultery, Jairus’s daughter, the woman with the hemorrage who touched Jesus’s garment, the woman who could not stand up straight until Jesus heals her on the Sabbath, and, with an added twist, the parable of the Prodigal Daughter.
The play was immediately followed by the reading from 2 Samuel 13:1-22, the rape of Tamar. Dr. Gerald West led the Bible study on this passage. We shared in groups of three in response to six or seven questions. Then there was some sharing in plenary before Jenny Te Paa returned to bring the program to its conclusion.
So it was on this day that I was one of the press briefers for the Episcopal Church. And no, I did not say that clergy in the Third World beat their wives! In fact I said nothing about violence in the developing world per se. All my comments were made in the context of the pervasive nature of vioence against women all around the world. The only area I singled out was our own context, siting the recent spate of murders in the New York area of women, and sometimes their children also, by husbands or boyfriends. But of course, those comments were not quoted.
In Lambeth 1998 Jack Spong, then the Bishop of Newark, made some very hurtful comments to the press about African bishops that sting people to this day. We made a big mistake then by not addressing his comments at the time. I was not going to make that mistake again. I asked for a point of personal privilege during the afternoon plenary today and addressed the matter. I stated unequivocally that I never said–nor would I say–that clergy in the third world beat their wives. I told them of the context of what was quoted and told them of what had been omitted. I apologized for anything I might have said that led to misunderstanding toward my brother bishops or jeopardized already difficult ongoing conversations at this conference. I said that if anyone had any further question, I would wait after the session at the back of the room and be happy to speak with them. I also suggested that they ask some of our partners in other parts of the world if the person in the article bore any resemblance to the person with whom they had been working all these years.
Afterward a couple of bishops had a few questions for clarification, but many bishops from both near and far came over to express their understanding and support, for which I am very grateful. ENS will also issue a statement I am told and I will continue to do what I can to clear the air about this matter.
I have to say it is very disheartening after all these years of building relationships around the globe to think of these lies going out over the internet to people who don’t know me and who will believe what was said. At the same time, I also need to reiterate that violence against women remains a problem the world over, and all of us within the church and in the larger society must do all we can to prevent it.