Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Do I only speak for myself?

Do I speak for myself, and that's the extent of it? Or, because I serve as an elected member on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, does what I say also inadvertently speak for the church somehow?

When I speak in and around the church, I am very conscious of the fact that I serve in an elected position. I sought out this elected position. I allowed my name to be placed in nomination for the position, and I genuinely wanted to be elected. My motivation to seek election was to have a say in the church's decision-making and to represent what I perceive to be an underrepresented perspective, that of a female, Asian descent, lay, person of color, from the middle of the country. 

I believe that I have something of value to offer to the Councils of the church and to the discussions on topics of importance to the church, in terms of thoughts, analysis, interpretation, and opinion. I also believe that I exercise a prophetic voice, one that continually raises the concerns and the existence of those on the margins and focuses the attention of the wider church on those who do not have the privilege to bring their own voices to the table.

Individual Council members are not authorized to speak on behalf of Council, and I respect that Council norm. When I speak, I am very clear that I am speaking only for myself, and I attempt to make that clear in my communiques, whether they be blogging here, speaking in a meeting or public forum, posting comments online and on Facebook, or Tweeting. 

However, when one becomes a somewhat public figure in the sense of being an elected official, even if it's in a church and not in the public arena like holding a government office, then one also attracts and accumulates a certain amount of baggage that comes with the position. It's unavoidable. It's like you become a magnet for the expectations and projections of others whether you choose it or not. Just as we say in Christianity that one cannot be a Christian without community, so, too, I think, it is the case that you cannot serve in an elected position without also being of and in the community that raised you up and continues to hold you up. 

In my opinion, the expectations and projections of others place on me, an elected church leader, a measure of responsibility that I feel duty-bound to honor and respect. In the public arena of government, we might name the form that honor and respect take as modeling good citizenship. In the church, I would name it as modeling Christian behavior. That means the obvious elements of good behavior, like avoiding snarky comments and gossip, and not spreading lies, cheating, or promoting hate. But it also means the less obvious, and perhaps, more nuanced elements of good behavior, like exercising restraint in commenting before the facts are known, avoiding speculation about someone's intent, listening to various sides of issues and arguments, and continuing to engage conversation even when it's uncomfortable, fatiguing and personally distressing.

Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to exercise restraint and to avoid defensive and self-justifying behavior when you or your group is under attack in the blogosphere. I'm a former commercial bank customer service manager, and I've had years of experience in handling customer complaints in both the banking and the insurance industries. In the world of corporate finance, there was always a profit motive, cost-benefit analysis, or strategic position to consider in handling complaints. In the world of church service, I consciously try to avoid falling back into the habits of being strategic and strive to be non-anxious, irenic, and honest. 

I admit that I often fall short of my ideals and have my share of failures of nerve and perseverance. But the world of church service calls me to a cycle of self-examination, repentance, prayer, and renewal. I'm not going to be judging my fellow church servants any more harshly than I judge myself. And we will all rely upon the same merciful Lord to grant us grace in what we do and how we do it. Amen.

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