KLEPTOPHOBIA and the EPISCOPAL CHURCH

An essay By David W. Virtue

"Are you the Rev. John Baker"?

"Yes."

"Pleased to meet you, I'm David Virtue..."

"Yes I've heard about you come in."

"Thank you."

"I appreciate you're taking time out from your new parish duties here at St. Swithans to talk to me about ah....stealing..."

"No, David, it's called Klepto-impairment."

"Awfully sorry. I'm so used to calling people who steal; thieves, larcenists and robbers etc."

"I know, but it is this kind of klepto-phobic thinking that lurks like a virus in the body of the church and which must be rooted out..."

"Of course. Please accept my apologies. Now I gather from the bishop that you are a new generation of ...ah....klepto-impaired clergy-persons. Is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Would you like to tell me your story? I feel sure John that I can sell it to our national newspaper Episcopal Life."

"That's wonderful. Before we begin I would like to introduce you to my friend Charles Lightfinger, a fellow klepto-impaired person. He's a Methodist minister. We share this house together."

"Nice to meet you Charles."

"By the way David, what are you doing patting your pockets?"

"Sorry, just checking to see if I still have my wallet."

"Now David that is precisely the kind of klepto-phobia that I shall be talking more about. As soon as you are in the presence of a klepto-impaired person you think they are going to steal your wallet..."

"It had occurred to me..."

"Now it's that kind of thinking that marginalizes and alienates us and keeps you from understanding the thinking of the vast majority of Episcopalians from which YOU are alienated."

"I guess so. Sorry. Mea culpa. I'll try harder, I promise. Perhaps you would care to tell me when and how it all began and how you came to the conclusion that you were...ah.. klepto-impaired."

"It all began when I was a baby, feeding at mummy's breast. One day I bit on mumsy's nipple and she thought I was trying to remove it. Of course I wasn't. It was just a case of separation anxiety, at least that's what one shrink I spoke to said it was.

But it did set me on a course of deep estrangement from mumsy and my life began to spiral downhill from there."

"Really. Do continue."

"Later as I grew up, I knew I was not like other boys. I was different. I felt different. I looked in the mirror and knew I WAS different. But I hid my true feelings in the closet of my soul and buried that deepest part of myself. I began denying who I really was."

"Gosh that must have been awfully painful for you."

"It was. At about age 5 I started removing quarters from mummy's purse. Then when I saw how easy it was I moved up to removing dollars. Later as I got into my teens I started taking, sorry removing bigger things like video cassettes and CDs from department stores....."

"What about your father..."

"Oh he had left mummy and divorced her before I was born.

I never really had a daddy."

"That must have been doubly painful."

"It was. Then one day I got caught gently removing a 50-inch color TV set from SEARS and they arrested me for shoplifting. God it was awful....."

Charles (interrupting): "There, there, John. Here's a handkerchief. Wipe away those tears, or it's back to therapy we go."

"Sorry. Well the judge was lenient as it was my first offense. I got three months in a half way house and probation."

"What was that like?"

"God it was awful. Everyone was taking things from everyone else, it was so campy and sluttish. I cried a lot and wanted mummy. She came of course and did her best to console me. Time flew and soon I was back home again."

"What happened then."

"Well I tried getting therapy for my problem. I was finally diagnosed a kleptomaniac. It was awful. That word came to symbolize everything I hated about myself. A kleptomaniac, indeed. I began to suffer awful feelings of societal disengagement, of self hatred, personal loathing, fear and isolation. I contemplated suicide for a while. Then when I thought I was at the bottom of the sump pump I met Charles in "Pantspickers Bar and Grill" in Philadelphia and he introduced me to an organization for klepto-impaired persons."

"What was it called?"

"HONESTY."

"Honesty?

"Yes HONESTY, an organization run by Episcopalians for klepto-impaired persons. I knew when I walked in the door that night that I had come 'home' at last. Here were a group of people just like me and who were not afraid to say who they were and admit what they were.

It was a tremendous relief. I cried for joy. At last I had found out who I was and I would no longer have to be ashamed at being what I was. I didn't have to change anything. I was a klepto-impaired person and proud of it. I had found people like myself and for the first time in my life I felt accepted. I was enfolded into the bosom of my new klepto- impaired family. I had come home.

After several months of meeting with HONESTY we sensed a certain anger growing among ourselves that we were not being understood by the outside world and the church. It was then that Charles thought up the idea of forming an organization that would get media and political attention.

A new group was formed called KLEP-UP. We started going out and actively shouting abuse at persons who did not see things our way.

We saw klepto-phobes inside every pair of pants and jacket. It gave us a real thrill. We began to get power. Soon after this we went out as a team and lifted several hundred wallets from known klepto-phobes and then we went down to Washington and hurled them at a federal building."

'Were the wallets empty?"

"Of course...for the most part. We did leave a few items in them so they would fall out as they hit the walls of the building so the media, especially the TV cameras could see that we were not just a bunch of ordinary thieves." "I'm sure that got their attention."

"It certainly got us all the media attention we could have asked for. The major networks covered it as well as CNN and CNBC. Charles was on Geraldo and Oprah and we even got the attention of President Clinton. He invited a few of us into the White House. God he was wonderful. He truly felt our pain as no president has ever done. He invited us into the Blue Room and asked us what sort of legislation he could propose to prevent the kind of klepto-phobia from running rampant throughout the country. I saw a tear or two in his eyes as I explained what we wanted. He was so understanding. Hilary came in and gave us all big hugs.

Gosh I would vote for him till the year 3,000."

"Did he check his wallet?"

"Of course not. Would you steal, I mean, lift from the pocket of a president?"

"Sorry, just asking."

"What happened after that?"

"Societal attitudes began to change. We sensed that we were finally being understood if not totally accepted. It was all very slow of course. People still passed us in the street and kept their hands on their wallets. But now they felt a bit embarrassed doing that."

"What happened after that."

"Well at about this time I met Bishop Spank at a cocktail party in NJ and after he had heard my story he was so deeply moved he suggested that I was the kind of person the Episcopal Church needed in the priesthood and that I should apply to go to seminary.

The dear man made all the arrangements and his Diocese even gave me financial support. He was so overwhelmingly affirming. I only had to do a year at EDS and I was brought in as an associate rector at St. Aloysius in his Diocese. From there I moved here to St. Swithan's as the rector."

"Your climb can only be described as meteoric."

"Thank you."

"Did you get much flak from the parishioners?"

"Virtually none. They had been sensitized to klepto-impaired persons by our people from HONESTY. There was a weekend here with our group. Bishop Spank came and really made a big hit. He got a standing ovation when he smacked mean-spirited fundamentalists for their literal approach to the Bible."

"Now when you were in seminary John, how did you deal with some of those awkward texts about..forgive me for using the word, stealing. The eighth commandment for instance seems to be pretty clear about that. Dogmatic even."

"Actually I'm glad you asked that David. It's a contextual thing. Bishop Spank had told me repeatedly never to take the Bible literally. That's the first point.

And secondly, that Exodus 20:15 was a reference to the Israelites and how they should deal with the surrounding pagan Canaanite culture. It made NO reference to what and how Israelites might do to one another. Now I was enormously helped by the German Higher critic Herbert von Steillenvollet who put it all into context of the L.I.F.T. source theory. Certainly we cannot translate this text into anything meaningful in a post-modern 20th century culture....can we Charles?"

"Absolutely not John, otherwise we might have to take other OT texts literally on say homosexuality and look at the mess we would be in if we did that.

Thankfully the Episcopal Church has resolved THAT one."

"Thank God indeed. Now if I recall John, isn't it your mother Jean Baker who is doing five years in jail for grand larceny. I gather she stole from the corporation she was working for?"

"Mumsy was a victim."

"Say what."

"Yes, mumsy was a victim of the male-dominated, hierarchical, heterosexist, white, power structure of her company."

"I gather she broke through the glass ceiling with quite a wallop and took two million clams with her."

"Well her psychiatrist concluded that mumsy was having mild blackouts at the time she was ah...removing money from the accounts. She was not fully cognizant of what she was doing. She was also very angry at the way she was being treated."

"Funny. I thought the president was trying to give her a chance and that she had his ear any time she wanted it. Furthermore she was often seen driving around in a chauffeured limousine with unlimited credit card use. I also read somewhere that she often referred to the company president as 'my little pinch bottom'."

"Well you can't believe all you read in newspapers, can you Charles?"

"Absolutely not."

"Now we also learned that mumsy probably has the new, previously undiscovered klepto gene that is coming to light in scientific studies on klepto-impaired persons."

"A klepto gene?"

"Actually Bishop Spank thinks that there has been some sort of crossover of the X and Y chromosomes for centuries causing at least ten percent of the population being klepto-impaired. Charles and I both definitely feel we have the klepto gene. This, of course throws a profound new light on things.

So many klepto-impaired persons are in the closet David, and so Charles and I are making it our life's calling to bringing these people out of the closet, and declaring unto them God's love for all klepto-impaired persons."

"I'm sure He does. And the bishop approves of this?"

"Absolutely. In fact he feels so strongly about this that he is preparing a resolution for the next General Convention in Denver in the year 2000 apologizing to klepto-impaired persons for the church's centuries of kleptophobia."

"I can't wait. Perhaps you might like to tell my readership John how you and Charles practice your klepto relationship without it impacting the congregation. For example how do you deal with the collection each Sunday?"

"I'm glad you asked, David. Of course I don't actually handle the money myself. The laity collect it and the church accountant counts and banks it all. I don't see any of it. I only get my pay check twice a month."

"But John, don't you remember the time you were caught slipping a ten spot into your cassock when the collection plate was handed you?"

"Oh I forgot Charles, you are absolutely right."

"What did you do?"

"Charles made me pay it back with interest. The vestry was so understanding. Charles was clear about the ethics of this and wanted the vestry to be absolutely clear on what was acceptable ethical klepto behavior."

"What is acceptable klepto behavior John? How do you and Charles practice it?"

"Well sometimes Charles and I go all night long removing each others wallets.

It can be sooooooo much fun but terribly exhausting. Sometimes I fall asleep while Charles is taking mine out for the tenth or eleventh time."

"Aren't you a teensy bit afraid you might catch a communicable disease taking and giving like this?"

"That's a good question David."

"I raised this with Charles early on in the relationship and I suggested that we cover our wallets with a prophylactic. Charles said that this was totally unnecessary because we were in a committed monogamous klepto-impaired relationship. And that David is the key to what I am talking about. A life-long, committed, monogamous klepto-impaired relationship is the essence of our creed."

"Now what if you occasionally get bored with each other?"

"Well sometimes that happens David, and we do go out to Pantspickers Bar and Grill for a night out. But we find this only enhances the emotional commitment we have to one another. Doesn't it Charles?"

"Of course, John."

"Now the bishop, bless his achy heart, has asked me to form a committee to look into RITES for klepto-impaired persons. He feels very strongly that this is the next stage in the church's growing self understanding of klepto-impaired persons. He's such a wonderful man I could just kiss his purple...."

"Does he let you?"

"Actually no. He still has old-fashioned ideas about what is acceptable klepto behavior, but we are slowly educating him. Aren't we Charles?"

"Of course we are John."

"Well I want to thank you both for giving me your time today. Oh and by the way what if some poor person in the congregation were caught removing a ten spot on Sunday morning as the plate was being passed around, what would you do?"

"My God!!! call the Police of course. That kind of common thievery is totally unacceptable."

"Of course it is. Now may I have my wallet back?"

"Charles, you promised........."

END

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