Friday, 30 October 2009

Anglican (and other) responses (and none) to Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

You would have expected the Anglican Church in Uganda, those responsible for implementing Anglican Communion policy and those with supportive links to Uganda to have issued strong statements condemning the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Lesbian and gay Ugandans now face the very real danger of being subjected to draconian legislation and more intense public vilification. Changing Attitude is in contact with a number of lesbian and gay Ugandan Anglicans who are terrified by the prospect.

On behalf of Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude, Giles Goddard joined me in writing to the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Uganda and the bishops of Bristol, Sodor and Man and Winchester, the three English dioceses linked to Uganda. The letters have just been posted so no replies have yet been received.

We reminded them that Lambeth 1988 passed resolution 33:3b) urging the church to speak out against capital punishment and Lambeth 1998 1:10 committed the Communion to “listen pastorally to the experience of homosexual persons and ... to assure them that they are loved by God...” and to “minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn the irrational fear of homosexuals...”.

We urged the Primate of Uganda to speak out against the proposed legislation, to argue for the protection of lesbian and gay people in Uganda and respond faithfully the commitments made by the Lambeth Conference.

Archbishops and Bishops have been devastatingly silent so far. Last Friday we emailed the leadership teams of Fulcrum, Reform, Anglican Mainstream and the Church Society. asking them if they would join Changing Attitude and Inclusive Church in signing an open letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Uganda and the Bishops of Guildford, Winchester and Sodor and Man about the proposed anti-homosexual legislation. We hoped that despite our differences we are all committed to oppose anything which further criminalizes LGBT people or puts them at risk of violence rather than legislating for their protection. We did not receive a single reply from the 40 people emailed.

Some urge me to be patient and understand why it might be so difficult for these organizations to respond to a CA/IC initiative and issue a joint public statement about Uganda. Other pro-LGBT Christian advocates are appalled by the failure of the Ugandan Church and the Communion to respond. The Church of Uganda, so swift to call for compliance with the moratoria, ignores Lambeth 1:10’s condemnation of homophobia, condemning prejuidce which would have a far more devastating impact on the safety and sanctity of individual lives. American right wing evangelicals have been complicit in helping create the Ugandan legislation.

Other Sheep, an ecumenical Christian ministry working in Uganda to empower LGBT people of faith, on October 19 called on evangelicals Rick Warren (USA), John Stott (England), Douglas Carew (Kenya) and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA) to accountability for their part in inducing inhumane and hateful attitudes of Africans towards homosexual Africans.

Other Sheep reported that an article on homosexuality in Africa Bible Commentary, published by AEA and endorsed by Warren, Stott and Carew, says homosexuals "are worse than beasts" and should not be tolerated; homosexuals are "abnormal, unnatural and a perversion." The article also asserts: no view on the morality of homosexuality other than the evangelical view is to be given consideration; the common denominator of same-sex sex is coercive sex; and to be homosexual is sinful. Africa Bible Commentary, published in 2006, is a commentary on the Bible by 70 African evangelical Bible scholars. The article on Homosexuality is written by evangelical Nigerian Tusufu Turaki.

Political Research Associates (PRA), a progressive think tank devoted to supporting movements building a more just and inclusive democratic society, called on Rick Warren to denounce the proposed antigay law in Uganda. In March 2008, U.S. evangelical leader Rick Warren told Ugandans that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, has just completed a report for PRA, to be released in mid-November, investigating the US right-wing evangelicals' outreach in Africa and related efforts to destabilize mainline Protestant denominations and their LGBT rights programs and policies in the United States.

Anglican niceness and cowardice is at its worst when it remains silent when confronted with legislation which is in contravention of Anglican policy and will criminalise and dehumanize a group of people recognized as requiring equality in western society. When will Anglican leaders find the courage to denounce the Ugandan legislation?

Monday, 26 October 2009

What happened to the vision of the 70s and the progress of the 90s?

I was an ordinand at Westcott House Cambridge from 1977 to 1979. The three members of staff were Mark Santer, who became bishop of Kensington and then Birmingham; John Armson, who became a canon of Rochester (and is gay); and Rowan Williams, who later became Bishop of Monmouth and then Archbishop of Canterbury. I arrived the year after John had shocked the student body (or some of them) by coming out in a Monday evening compline address.

I arrived at the same time as Kitty Platt, Westcott’s first woman ordinand. Among the other students were gay ordinands, some of whom have remained discrete about their sexuality, others of whom came out later (some after having married), most of whom have abandoned parish ministry and some, ordained ministry entirely.

Two other ordinands have transitioned in recent years from male to female and one of them, Tina Beardsley, is a trustee of Changing Attitude. Other, straight, ordinands are now members of General Synod and convenors of CA Diocesan groups.

Yet others developed in different directions. Robbie Low became Vicar of St Peter’s Bushey Heath and contributed to New Directions, the newsletter of Forward in Faith which was edited by his wife Sara. They were subsequently received into the Roman Catholic Church. In paying tribute to them, Bishop John Broadhurst wrote that New Directions came to be regarded, throughout the Anglican Communion, as a journal of fearless factual reporting and comment. That comes as news to those of us who have been maligned and smeared in its pages.

The reports from the Forward in Faith Conference this weekend made me reflect on the make-up of Westcott House when I was there in 1979 and the wildly different trajectories taken by students and staff.

The ethos of the house was open and affirming for both women and gay men (there were no lesbians in training then, though there might have been elsewhere in the Federation). I was 34 in 1979. Westcott House was the first place where I felt totally safe as a gay man. I felt that I had arrived at the right place at the right time in my life, from youthful awareness that the Church of England embraced many homosexuals in ministry and congregational life to positive affirmation from students and staff alike.

Halcyon days! From that positive base the members of staff and the other ordinands developed in radically different directions, some (those who became members of Forward in Faith) becoming hostile to the presence of LGBT people in ordained ministry.

The church of the 60s and 70s was far more generous and radical than the church of today. Westcott consciously adopted a culture of inclusion and represented the very best of the generous Anglican ethos which formed my Christian identity.

Reactionary forces on the conservative evangelical and extreme anglo-catholic wings of the church have polarised the Church of England in conjunction with global forces within the Anglican Communion.

The Southwark Diocese Lesbian and Gay Support Network, formed in 1993, launched a statement of integrity 9 years later titled “We have always been here”. Introducing the statement, Steph Blackwell said that two key images for the group have been a commitment to dialogue, and the living out of members' lives with integrity.

David Page, recently retired chair of Changing Attitude trustees, said the statement celebrated how far the Network had come, with growing confidence among lesbian and gay Church members to proclaim who they are. Canon Eric James remembered his time as a young priest in an era when coming out was dangerous.

This morning I was ‘phoned by the partner of a curate who had made an appointment to see his bishop. The partner wanted to know whether it was safe for the curate to tell the bishop that he lives with a gay partner. In the early 1950s when Eric James was a curate the answer was definitely no. In Southwark in the 1990s the answer was a reasonably confident yes. In the last 10 year the answer for many is again, no – please bishop, don’t ask, because I don’t want to tell you – I don’t feel safe being honest and open with you.

Those of us who were at Westcott in the 1970s have moved in different directions, reacting to developments in the church, the Communion and the world. For LGBT Anglicans recent developments have been very unhappy.

I’m writing this blog to remind myself and my friends who lived through the progress and hope of the 60s and 70s and experienced new openness and confidence in the 90s that we know what it is possible for the church to be and become. Whatever forces are at work now, this is the vision we hold and the vision we must focus on with renewed determination.

Conservatives may think they are winning what they see as a ‘battle’ to recover the church for Christ. We are working to recover Christ for a church which respects women and LGBT people, and holds the tradition – all are sinners and all are saved in Christ - created in love, for love.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Let’s pretend - dishonesty and corruption amongst closeted conservative Anglican catholics

Many congregations in the Diocese of Chichester this morning will be attending mass at which their presiding priest is a gay man who may or may not be in the closet, may or may not be sexually active or celibate, may or may not have a partner. Eric Kemp, the previous diocesan bishop provided a refuge in Chichester for priests opposed to the ordination of women, many of whom, inevitably, were and are gay. I’m told that Eric Kemp was naive and failed to realize how many gay men he brought into the diocese.

The present bishop, John Hind, is not na├»ve and presumably knows better than his predecessor that he pastors many gay priests and until recently, an area bishop who is gay. The Church of England nationally and at diocesan level plays a game of ‘let’s pretend’ about its LGBT clergy (and there are many bisexual priests). Let’s pretend they don’t exist, let’s pretend they’re all celibate, let’s pretend there are no partnered lesbian and gay members of conservative evangelical congregations let’s pretend the catholic ones are all celibate.

Many priests in the dioceses of Chichester and London who are members of Forward in Faith are gay and closeted. Bishop Gene Robinson would say they are "bearing false witness", denying and condemning their own sexuality and their own core self, the self God created and gifted to them, a self they suppress. There is a sickness of the self and the soul in these people, the risk of acting out in inappropriate ways and they want to join a church slowly recovering from the scandal of child abuse. (For a vivid description of what happens in a church where gay men are encouraged to deny their identity, read Michael Arditti’s Easter, based on his knowledge of the diocese of London).

The discomfort which follows when an organization in the church contains so many people who live in denial of their sexual identity is evident everywhere, and not just in those who are gay and closeted.

This morning, Bishop John Broadhurst, the chairman of Forward in Faith, wriggled his way uncomfortably through an interview with Roger Bolton on Radio 4s Sunday Programme. Asked whether he personally would leave for Rome, he didn’t answer directly but said Forward in Faith will have to decide what to do “together” and then said it’s clear and always has been, that the members of FiF will never come to a common agreement about what to do.

When Roger Bolton put it to him that he would have to be reordained, Bishop John said there is a question of doubt - he thinks Rome has got it wrong.

The Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, is also wriggling uncomfortably, and so he should, presiding over a constituency with so many non-celibate gay men. He is reported as saying he would be "happy" to be reordained into the Catholic Church and that divisions in Anglicanism could make it impossible for him to stay in the church (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Daily Telegraph). He is willing to sacrifice his salary and palace residence. However, he “stressed that this would depend on his previous ministry being recognized” - note the conditionality.

Both John Broadhurst and John Hind and the flying bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough, know that they pastor many gay male Anglican-catholic priests. The Pope’s move is as likely to prove divisive for them as for the Anglican Communion. It throws a harsh spotlight on the lack of integrity of their priests and leaders who tolerate corruption and dishonesty.

Changing Attitude offers a home to those gay clergy who wish to repent of their dishonesty. Come and join a group of people, lay and ordained, straight and gay, who are committed to uphold the highest Christian values of honesty and integrity. Come with your partners, as long as you are faithful to them and honest about yourself.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Time to spring the door on Forward in Faith’s closet

Robert Pigott, the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent listened to the argument at Saturday’s Forward in Faith event in London. He recorded the Rev Dr Geoffrey Kirk, Secretary of FiF, who said:

“The Church of England is in the view of many of us ceasing to be the church of Jesus Christ and becoming the church of political correctness - not only over the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, to which we object, but also in many attitudes to human sexuality from divorce and remarriage to homosexuality.”

I understand Geoffrey Kirk to be saying that the church is wrong to change from a conservative to an accepting attitude towards gay people.

These last three months have been momentous for me, marking the moment when the rank hypocrisy of Anglicans such as Geoffrey Kirk reached a climax. It started with the Reflections on General Convention issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury which the Bishop of Durham and others then spun in a way which distorted and corrupted the Archbishop’s words. Earlier this month Bishop Peter Selby issued a devastating criticism of the attitudes held towards the Episcopal Church and towards women and LGBT people and all who support the full inclusion of both groups in the Church of England.

Then the Pope revealed his master plan this week, with little or no consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, perpetrating further abuse on another Christian leader. Now Fr Geoffrey Kirk follows up with further misogyny, abuse, hypocrisy and dishonesty. Fr Kirk knows at first hand that Forward in Faith is an organisation with a massive gay male membership. They campaign together against the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Now they are campaigning against themselves, the hundreds of closeted gay priests who live in corruption in the church, secretly engaging in sexual activity while pretending to be pure and holy and accusing the rest of the church of not following Jesus Christ and being ‘politically correct’.

How dare Fr Kirk accuse those of us in the church who have always been open and honest about our sexuality with our bishops and congregations accuse us of ceasing to be the church. I had a conversation with Geoffrey three or so years ago in Church House during a February General Synod meeting. I felt incredibly angry as he denied that the issue of homosexuality had anything to do with himself or members of Forward in Faith.

The Church of England is sick, not because it holds in its midst members of WATCH, LGCM, Changing Attitude, Courage, Accepting Evangelicals or the Evangelical Fellowship of LGB Christians but because of the pernicious attitudes of organisations from both the evangelical and catholic extremes who hold such prejudiced attitudes towards women and LGBT people.

The disaster of the Church of England lies in the naive failure of people to know who they worship next to and who they are led by – the gay Primates, bishops, priests, deacons and readers of the church, LGBT members of General Synod (some of whom, but not all, are visible), those lesbian and gay people, lay and ordained, who hold senior positions on the councils of the church and in Church House.

In today’s Times, Frank Skinner writes: “The Anglicans knocking at the door of the Vatican are doing so, it seems, because they don’t have much respect for women or gay men.” “It feels ... like they’re seeing my Church as a safe haven for homophobes and misogynists. “I was hoping that the Church’s antipathy to female and openly gay priests would, in time, weaken and dissolve. Now instead, it seems, a whole lot of bigoted reinforcements are arriving to galvanise those more unpalatable aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine.”

That is what we in the Church of England live with ourselves and what we are in danger of exporting to the Roman Catholic Church on one hand and to GAFCON and FoCA on the other – people who have little or no respect for women and gay men, homophobes and misogynists.

Today’s Forward in Faith event may have strengthened their resolve to leave the Church of England for fairer pastures. It’s a fantasy. When I was a priest in Wandsworth, one of the local Roman Catholic priests tried to seduce me. Is the Roman Catholic Church gay free, pure and holy? No it isn’t.

I want to be a member of a church that is honest and truthful, open and loving, and properly faithful to Jesus Christ and all of God’s children, and I will now work and campaign with even greater resolve for a church in which women’s ministry is valued at all levels and LGBT who live with the highest commitment to love and fidelity can also live openly and truthfully. To hell with the Forward in Faith closet!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Is there hope for radical change in the church despite the Pope?

My initial reaction to the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has approved Personal Ordinariates which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church was to feel threatened by the news. The move by Rome seemed destined to strengthen the reactionary conservative power blocks in both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

It looked like another development in my worst nightmare scenario. I feared it would be another development in the grand plan to impose a uniformity of order on the Church of England which is contrary to the Anglican ethos. There is a determination to eradicate from the church any possibility of movement and positive reform in the roles played women and LGBT people. This movement denies reality, in both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, the reality of significant numbers of lesbian (in the CofE) and gay priests who are present at every level of ministry and those who long for women to be ordained as bishops as well as priests.

All the time conservatives are attempting to polarize opinion, presenting our choices on this planet as being between irreconcilable opposites – between reformers in the church and those who are faithful to tradition, between Christians and Muslims, between Biblical and non-Biblical Christians, polarizing relationships within the human community. They are all false choices.

Conservatives greeted the Pope’s announcement triumphantly as proof that they are winning a global battle for what they term orthodox mainstream Christianity.

Having talked with my spiritual director yesterday and thought about the future more carefully, there may well be positive results for those of us who are following a quite different Christian path, one committed to a new paradigm of faith, which includes welcoming at every level of ministry women and LGBT people. My God-trusting soul says there will indeed be a creative outcome.

Many Roman Catholics who long for change and work for radical inclusion will be as depressed as me, and look towards those who are committed to broad-church radical Anglicanism as a sign of hope for the future and a place where faith can be explored more easily.

My faith draws me towards people, refusing to define and judge people according to the community they identify with, whether they are faith communities or communities identified by race, sexuality or nationality. This planet isn’t going to survive unless we all learn to get along together. Conflicts based on rising sea levels, climate change, food shortages or faith will destroy us.

The movements in the Church of England working for the full inclusion of LGBT people and women share a passion (albeit suppressed British passion) and vision with our sister churches in the USA and Canada. We are, with them, exploring new paradigms for Christianity which are responsive to the changing face of our planet.

For people who are working for radical change in the church, inspired by a relationship with God that challenges so many traditional assumptions and expectations, we have no alternative but to follow our call and work with conviction and passion for change, welcoming relationships with all whom God is leading towards the same vision of unity and integration rather than conflict and polarization.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Becoming more ‘out’

I’ve been reading the proof copy of ‘Living It Out’ by Rachel and Sarah Hager-Holt, to be published in December. They have written a book containing valuable wisdom and advice for LGB Christians, families and friends.

A teacher, writing about personal experience, reinforces the comments being made by some on this blog and Bishop Jack Spong’s statement. Many LGBT Christians are no longer prepared to contain their presence in the church, tolerate the restrictions conservatives wish to impose, nor apologise for our understanding of the seven passages and our particular theological ethos.

The teacher writes that conservatives, those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people, are crossing a boundary when they try to impose their teaching on the whole church. They become bullies, and if liberals in the church try and be ‘nice’ in return, all that happens is that the conservatives take further advantage. People have been saying this about the dynamic in the church for ages, but liberal Anglicans are fatally flawed with niceness. We have been too patient and generous in tolerating opinions which are in truth attacks on our faith and our identity. He says they should be loved and treated in the same way as any other bully, still loving them for who they are regardless.

The teacher also reminds me of something I have known from the age of 11, but which conservatives repeatedly challenge, something many readers of this blog know in the core of their being - that being gay is integral to who I am. Being gay, therefore, affects my spirituality, my physicality, my personality, he says. This is one of the most distressing things about the conservative narrative, coming mostly from male heterosexuals who argue that being ex-gay is the only permissible option.

As a gay Christian I find myself arguing against the dualism implicit in so much conservative thinking and teaching. Says the teacher, we are not dualists who separate the spirit (good) from the physical (bad), but recognize that God has given us everything and it is good.

The more conservative groups who feel they are in some sense guarding a fundamental 'truth' are creating a major problem not only for us, but for ‘ordinary Christians in the pews’ and for Christian witness and ministry in England. For most Christians, the presence of LGBT people around them in church is not an issue. There are far more important matters like global poverty, climate change, the destruction wrought by tsunamis and earthquakes, the conflicts in Dafur, Israel/Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism and the response to Islamic fundamentalism on which attention should be focused.

A new campaign focus is emerging for Changing Attitude. While engaging with those who differ from us, there can be no apology for our presence in the church. Instead we expect the church to recognize our faith and integrity, discovering in the process that we have been and always are, integral to the life of the church.

Quite how we do this isn’t so obvious. Many LGBT Anglicans are still present to the church with various degrees of ‘out-ness’ and openness, visibility and invisibility. It is our visible presence and the relationships that people make with us that changes attitudes more than anything else. How can our supporters and groups find practical ways to become more ‘out’?

Living It Out - A survival guide for lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians and their friends, families and churches is published in December by Canterbury Press, £9.99, ISBN 978 185311 999 6.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Winchester objects to changes which will help protect LGBT people

It’s a minor story, affecting citizens of territories, those islands, which are still under British sovereignty. The Government is being urged by the Foreign Affairs Committee to remove references to Christianity from the constitutions of the Cayman Islands in the western Caribbean and St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.

The proposal is part of the attempt to give their citizens more rights in return for introducing anti-corruption and human rights laws. One of the reasons they are pressing for change is the belief that references to traditional Christian morality could undermine gay rights in the overseas territories.

Anything which might help protect LGBT people and enshrine appropriate constitutional rights is seen by some of our bishops as an attempt to impose ‘the gay agenda’ and undermine what they believe are more fundamental rights – to be Biblically conservative – as if the Bible didn’t also major on justice and the protection of people who are subjected to persecution and hostility.

So, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, has wriitten to the committee and to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary. He says that references to Christianity in the preambles of the constitutions should have no impact on the human rights of people living there. The proposal was ‘unnecessary’ and appeared to be more about ‘advancing a secularising agenda’ than protecting people from discrimination. He condemned the proposal as ‘spurious political correctness’.

Bishop Michael is wrong. Many of those countries which remain under British sovereignty and Commonwealth countries still have penal codes, and attitudes towards homosexuality which this country now believes are wrong and used to maintain prejudice and discrimination. Under the guise of ‘Christian values’ some bishops wish to maintain, legally, prejudice against LGBT people.

There is a battle being waged, not just within the Anglican Communion but in the corridors of Westminster, the House of Lords and between our Government and the Church of England. The change in attitude for which we are campaigning is universal. Every country where the Anglican Communion is present must be challenged to ensure that LGBT people are recognized and granted full dignity and human rights (meaning equality under the law and protection from discrimination).

Those Church of England bishops who still resist any developments, anywhere in the world, which will help to achieve these goals, are simply wrong. They are wrong to maintain that Christian teaching demands that the status quo is maintained.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Daily Mail and Stephen Gateley – Anglican Mainstream, Stand Firm and Arcus

It’s the juxtaposition of news items that often grabs me.

The first item I read today was about the protests against Jan Moirs column on Stephen Gateley in yesterday’s Daily Mail which caused the Press Complaint Commission’s web site to crash and companies to withdraw advertising from the Daily Mail’s web site.

Jan Moirs described the circumstances surrounding Stephen’s death as being “more than a little sleazy.” She wrote: “Under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.” and commented on celebrities whose lives are “shadowed by dark appetites or fractured by private vice.” Stephen’s funeral is taking place today.

Stephen Fry said that Moirs had written something “loathsome and inhumane.” Charlie Brooker in the Guardian wrote that he is “struggling to absorb the sheer scope of her column’s hateful idiocy.”

Moirs implies that is it the fact of being gay and all that by implication goes with it that caused Gates’ death. She refers to his ‘lifestyle’ because he was homosexual. ‘Lifestyle’ was the word used by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his GC Reflections to which I took exception. The British public has become intolerant of inappropriate language and prejudiced, bigoted remarks made about LGBT people and have learnt to react and campaign effectively against those who make or publish them.

The second news item is highlighted on the Anglican Mainstream web site. It’s a report on Stand Firm about funding given by the Arcus Foundation to LGBT causes and in particular to Integrity and the Chicago Consultation. Fr Andrew Goss says money from a secular organisation is being used to tilt the balance of power within our churches. Arcus says people don’t know what the day-to-day reality is like for gay men and lesbians in many parts of the world ... It’s really a matter of telling the stories of courageous individuals around the world.”

Comments on Stand Firm reveal attitudes which closely approximate to Jan Moirs column in the Guardian. Conspiracy theories abound in the world of the radical conservative re-asserters in the Anglican Communion. People are shocked to discover that money is used to advocate for LGBT people in our church. “Arcus has picked up the religious right to destroy,” comments one. They are “forcing their warped views of the world on everyone using their capitalistically obtained wealth and destroy tradition and orthodoxy in the Christian world...” Another says “Now we have ironclad proof that the LGBT lobby is well-funded, and is behind the seizure of the Episcopal Church...” “Vast left wing conspiracy,” says yet another.

Representing the extremely poisonous and un-Christian attitudes of the religious right, Floridian writes:

“All that money is being spent to kill the people Stryker and Arcus propose to help, temporally and eternally.
They are actually leaving them in bondage to feelings that are symptoms of pain and distress, disoriented and incomplete identities, and that lead to more pain from addictions, compulsions, unstable emotions and relationships, harmful and deadly behaviors.
They can foment propaganda, reinvent words, cover up the truth, change laws and change minds, but they cannot change reality.
They cannot change research, health and police statistics.
They can change some people’s beliefs and theologies, but they cannot change GOD’s eternal Word and Truth.
Whatever they do, they cannot make homosex healthy, happy or holy

Which brings me back to Jan Moirs comments in the Daily Mail. Conservatives supporters of Stand Firm and Anglican Mainstream are advocating an attitude to LGBT people which is seen for what it is not only by pro-LGBT Anglican groups but by the mainstream of UK society. It is prejudiced, hateful, bigoted and un-Christian. Changing Attitude continues to represent a Christian attitude and ethos which society now embodies but which the Church of England is taking a long time to catch up with.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Time for a new paradigm of thinking and action

Peter Selby expressed the hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s:
"giftedness in connecting with people and issues out of a deep and prayerful theological mind might assist all of us, whichever 'side' we were on, to move to a larger perception of this complex reality, and that from that movement might eventually come a new paradigm of thinking which would change us all - and hopefully unite us all - in ways we cannot now see, and would certainly help us to find ways of speaking that do not cause so much hurt to those over whose bodies and lives we are arguing.”
I have addressed different elements of Bishop Peter’s thinking in the last four days, against the background of other events unfolding, some much more sinister such as the proposed crime of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ in Uganda for which the death penalty will be imposed, and the gay couple in Kenya who are being supported by Michael Kimindu as they try and find safety following the violent attack on one of them.

Meanwhile, Bishop Jack Spong published a manifesto. He says he has made the decision not to debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. His position is one we all want to reach – a church free from homophobia and prejudice, about women priests and bishops just as much as LGBT people. But that isn’t where we are and few of us share the privileged position Jack Spong enjoys.

People have asked how we stop colluding with the prejudice of the church. Individuals can answer this for themselves. It means being out, open and honest, not ducking the issue when it arises and where possible, being proactive, asking questions, putting the issue on the agenda in our own context – congregation, home or Bible Study group, PCC, Deanery Synod – wherever there is an appropriate opportunity to engage the church with people who are gay or unashamedly pro-gay.

Some people, represented on this blog by merseymike, advocate walking away from an institution that seems to be intrinsically prejudiced and anti-gay. Their emotional and spiritual health may well be better served by leaving the church. The soon-to-be-published survival guide for LGB Christians, ‘Living It Out’ by Rachel and Sarah Hagger-Holt, suggests this as one option.

Changing Attitude is committed to action on a broad front. We are committed to change in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, change at grass roots and change in the systems and structures of the church, policy, teaching and theology. We are committed to action on behalf of those who are vulnerable and oppressed in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Do we continue to debate in England, to engage in the Listening Process, or do we opt out as Jack Spong has done? As a gay Anglican Christian, I don’t believe we have any alternative but to stay in relationship and engage in dialogue. That is the Christian way.

But Jack Spong and Peter Selby’s interventions also mark a change which I believe demand a change in strategy and tactics. These are already being explored and talked about in other contexts and will form part of the agenda for the meeting of Changing Attitude trustees on 30 and 31 October.

For me the change needs to respond to the new paradigm to which Peter Selby refers which connects with the writing and thinking of Marcus Borg among others.

It is time for those who are Anglicans in the best and most traditional sense, genuinely open, broad church, generous Christian people, to argue and work for the recovery of this tradition, in the process being clear that only a church which is fully inclusive of those at present excluded from full participation in all orders of ministry, lay and ordained, expect the church to change and will work together on a strategy to achieve change.

It is time to actively resist what has been tolerated for too long, the abuse of the Christian Church and her lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members by groups which advocate prejudice and intolerance.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Listening, conversation and dialogue

I first met Peter Selby when I was priest-in-charge of St Faith’s, Wandsworth in south-west London. Peter arrived in 1984 to become Bishop of Kingston from Newcastle where he had been Diocesan Missioner. He was returning to old friends in Southwark where he had previously been Associate Director of Training, Vice-Principal of the Southwark Ordination Course and Assistant Diocesan Missioner.

Bishop Peter consecrated the newly-built parish church at St Faith’s and dedicated the new Primary School building. In consecrating the church in what was a full rite for me, he left his mark by tipping burning charcoal onto the floor. I came to know him as a person who listened without judgment or prejudice and spoke truth in ways that hit the mark.

In his paper to WOTS he addressed briefly the question of listening in the church, admitting that there are others who may have more experience than him of enabling dialogue between people of differing views about sexuality. My sexuality was part of the conversation between us when he was my bishop in Southwark. Bishop Peter was clear about two things. My being gay wasn’t an issue for him. What was at issue was the way I conducted myself in any relationship I might form, my fidelity a partner and to Christian teaching about love, relationship and intimacy.

He knows from personal experience that the conversation about sexuality is possible and that it depends on allowing all voices to be heard in a context where there are no threats of being disadvantaged in ministry. The possibility of conversation across radical difference and the quality of this conversation is something which different people are working to encourage, Canon Phil Groves, Professor Oliver O’Donovan and Andrew Marin among those doing so in a public way, and the group leaders and supporters in their local parish and diocesan context. The latter often touch those members of the Church of England for whom the presence of LGBT people isn’t a problem (and who are surprised to discover how intensely it is a problem for others). They also, bravely, touch that second group in diocesan and deanery conversations and encounters.

Bishop Peter also challenges both ‘us’ and ‘them’. Though both 'sides' may believe the debate is settled in our own minds, there is still the possibility of mutual recognition and acceptance and real conversation. The change that comes about in such conversations is not something as simple as people just changing their mind on the issue in dispute but other changes at once more subtle and more far-reaching.

This is challenging for everyone whose whole being is under scrutiny in the conversation but I believe the challenge has to be met. Unity in Christ and the full inclusion of LGBT people are not mutually exclusive alternatives which can be resolved by opting for one or the other (though that day might come, and schism is in effect already a reality over LGBT and women in the church). Neither is it possible, in Christ, to be rigid and defensive in our conversations with those who differ from us. They feel threatened by the prospect of change and we need to steer them through their own anxieties.

Referring to the Archbishop's constant insistence that the matter of human sexuality cannot be resolved by creating 'facts on the ground', Bishop Peter says that the ‘facts’ are what reveal the importance of the matter in hand and to ask that they disappear is to require people of passionate conviction to engage in a debate with no voice. We LGBT people need to hold our passionate conviction with confidence and engage in the conversation, listening and dialogue with something of Bishop Peter’s authority, integrity and conviction, speaking the truth, listening without judging.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Rejecting the Covenant

Bishop Peter Selby’s paper to the Inclusive Church Conference has alerted me to take more seriously the warnings of some Changing Attitude supporters about the Anglican Covenant, warnings which they have voiced from the start – that it is bad news and should be opposed.

Peter Selby said the Covenant as proposed would be a disaster for the Anglican Communion. It would create a church in which the ‘insiders’, as he identifies the authors of the American paper produced by the Bishop of Durham and others, take ownership of the Communion and the Matthean ‘least of the brothers and sisters’ are dispossessed. The ‘insiders’ include, of course, the self-proclaimed majority which includes the Global South/GAFCON/FoCA coalition and the minority in England who support their schismatic movement.

Dispossessing the least of the brothers and sisters
If the Covenant is adopted it will almost certainly be used to dispossess not just the ‘least of the brothers and sisters - LGBT Anglicans - but everyone who thought they belonged to a church with a certain theological ethos and a familiar, recognisable character. There will be no space, at least not in the ‘track A’ envisaged by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Reflections, for LGBT people who are open about their sexuality or have been appointed to senior positions in the Church of England; no place for people who believe in generous openness towards those who are different – whether from other Christian traditions or other faith communities; no equal place for the women who are called to ordained ministry as deacons, priests or bishops, no place even for LGBT lay people who are called to be readers.

An Anglican Covenant, says bishop Peter, that excludes those who have come to different conclusions about sexuality is not fully Anglican and does not represent us. If this is the nature of the final draft of the Covenant, then the question, “how shall we make it clear that we do not wish to be included in that message?” In answering that question, says Peter Selby, we shall “have to take stronger action than simply to notice what is happening among us.”

Peter Selby says one of the most sinister implications of the Archbishop's paper is the suggestion that “ecumenical discussions will on the Anglican side only have participants who are 'signed up' to the Covenant and whose provinces adhere to its provisions.” We who are excluded would have to take steps to notify ecumenical partners that 'Anglicanism' is not represented by the Anglicans they meet. The Archbishop now treats the issues that surround sexuality only as ecclesiastical problems, to be resolved as such rather than assisting the whole Communion, whichever 'side' we are on, to move to a larger perception of this complex reality from which might come a new paradigm of thinking which would change us all. It has become a forlorn hope. Instead we are to be divided into two tracks, those who sign up and those who don't.

The Communion is already divided by schismatic groups and actions as is, effectively, the Church of England over the consecration of women bishops. The attempt to keep the Anglican Communion together will fail and in the process, the enterprise of 'becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclaiming of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ' will also fail. Instead of engaging in the search for the truth together we will settle for stalemate – schism by another name.

Not in my name
What is at stake is our faith that God's truth will be discovered. The response Peter Selby advocates is to find ways of saying 'not in my name'. It would be suicidal for any group that advocates for the full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the Anglican Communion to support any further moves to impose the proposed Covenant.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

No truth in the House of Bishops

Bishop Peter Selby named several key issues about the Church of England’s attitude to the human sexuality debate and the implications for the Covenant in his paper given at Word on the Street last week.

The Church of England is fact divided on sexuality. The House of Bishops is divided - they are not of one mind about homosexuality. The House of Bishops does not speak with honesty and the members of the House are not honest amongst themselves. The bishops are not in agreement about the policy which they claim is the mind of the church. Many bishops ignore the notional teaching of the church in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (which was written as a discussion document) and ignore their own rules set out in the House of Bishops statement on Civil Partnerships.

Many bishops positively encourage their clergy to register as civil partners and to follow this by seeking the blessing of God on their partnership in a service held in their parish church. Bishops have attended both civil partnership registrations and the service which follows.

Peter Selby comments that the picture of the House of Bishops speaking honestly, adhering equally and in every place to one pattern of teaching and discipline, united on the question of human sexuality, is an illusion. He says that “recent years have brought more mistrust and less openness than at any previous time I can remember.”

Conversations with members of the House of Bishops confirm the truth of Peter Selby’s comments. There is deep frustration amongst the trustees and supporters of Changing Attitude. We know many bishops actively dissent from the policy but will not publicly say so or make public their active dissent. We collude with them in maintaining a silence about it.

If we continue to be silent, we betray those we are here to advocate for and we help maintain “the pretence of unity” which has about it “a ring of falsity” that, says Peter Selby, “needs to be confronted for the sake of the integrity of our ecclesial life.” It allows the false notion to continue that “the sexuality issue is decided in the CofE - in fact everywhere except among a few dissidents in TEC and Western Canada” and that "betrays us all."

The House of Bishops is failing not only itself and the wider church but the lives of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, their families and friends and congregations. The impact of the House of Bishops’ dishonesty is deep and widespread in the church.

It’s almost impossible to undertake accurate research – congregations can be as closeted as LGBT Christians and the House of Bishops itself. We are reliant on anecdotal evidence, but the Changing Attitude network provides ample evidence of the huge gulf between the stance of the House of Bishops and the moral, ethical and theological thinking of ordinary Anglicans about human sexuality.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Archbishop accused of abrogation of responsibility in gay debate

Bishop Peter Selby, patron of Changing Attitude England, delivered a devastating critique of the Anglican Covenant, the Archbishop of Canterbury and, above all, the church’s treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in a paper he presented to Inclusive Church's residential conference Word on the Street last week. Bishop Peter named thoughts that many in CA have been articulating for some years now.

As he rightly said, for many people, not just LGBT, our situation in the Church is far worse than it was during Archbishop George Carey’s time - and this is something for which the Archbishop needs to own some responsibility. Bishop Peter said he has “a responsibility to acknowledge the distress that is being inflicted on LGBT people by the teaching that is being proclaimed and the characteristic style of the debate.”

Peter Selby makes his comments in the context of criticising the reflections the Archbishop of Canterbury produced following the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA - Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future. The Archbishop uses the “I am totally opposed to homophobia, but ...” line of argument at the beginning of the reflections. It is necessary, says our patron, to be honest as well as passionate when making strong denunciations of homophobic behaviour or attitudes of any kind, and the Archbishop is not being honest.

The evidence leaves no room for doubt that homosexuality is the battleground chosen by 'traditionalists' seeking to halt what they see as liberal control of Anglicanism. Homosexuality is the chosen issue precisely because of the visceral responses which it arouses and the energies it allows to be tapped; it provides fuel for the debate. Peter Selby says the Archbishop is complicit in the way that energy is being used despite his personal opposition to homophobia. He does not understand the devastating effect the constant abusive and destructive campaign being waged by conservatives is having. The Archbishop does not name or criticise the dishonesty, bullying and threats that characterise the neo-conservative, radical reformers who style themselves ‘mainstream’ and ‘orthodox’ with such outrageous arrogance that they maintain other Anglicans are not recognisably Christian.

The decisions and actions of numerous provinces, the bullying, the threats, the withdrawal of communion, the unilateral invasions of others' territories – these have all made Anglicanism quite unrecognizable to a significant number of people, says Peter Selby. I think they are making Anglicanism unrecognisable to millions, here in the UK and elsewhere in the Communion.

Peter Selby says he had hoped that the Archbishop of Canetrbury’s giftedness in connecting with people and issues out of a deep and prayerful theological mind might assist all of us, whichever 'side' we were on, to move to a larger perception of this complex reality from which might eventually come a new paradigm of thinking which would change us all. The hope was that he might have united us and helped us us find ways of speaking that do not cause hurt to those LGBT people over whose bodies and lives the church is arguing.

Instead, the Archbishop has come near to “a total abrogation of any attempt to help us to think freshly about sexuality.” Instead, he has taken on an exclusive concern with finding ecclesio-political answers to the current panic. Out of the systemic malaise we inhabit has come an overwhelming false consciousness. Self-preservation as a Communion is the over-riding concern. The Archbishop is depriving us of his ministry of discernment about the issues in dispute.

There is an element of personal choice in the midst of the overwhelming pressure the Archbishop is subjected to. In Christ on Trial, Rowan Williams wrote:
“I long for the Church to be more truly itself, and for me this involves changing its stance on war, sex, investment and many other difficult matters. I believe in all conscience that my questions and my disagreements are all of God. Yet I must also learn to live in and attend to the Church as it is, to do the prosaic things that can be and must be done now and to work at my relations now with the people who will not listen to me or those like me - because what God asks of me is not to live in the ideal future but to live with honesty and attentiveness in the present, i.e. to be at home.”
Christ on Trial, p.85f

Bishop Peter Selby concludes that allowing the 'prosaic things' to condition patterns of thought results in false consciousness and that, it seems is where the Archbishop has arrived.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Gay Anglican attacked and beaten in Kenya

The Revd Michael Kimindu, the contact person for Changing Attitude in Kenya, told me on the ‘phone yesterday that he gave shelter to a gay man who was attacked on Saturday evening, 3 October and has now arranged for him to be housed safely in a nearby location.

The man who was attacked is a long standing member of a prominent Anglican church where he takes an active role in the services. He grew up in the parsonage of the church where his father, now deceased, was the priest.

In a telephone conversation, the gay man described the events that led up to the attack.

“Not long ago, a certain neighbour of mine, a fellow Kenyan, came to my home and introduced himself. He was very friendly and so we had talks together about life in general. With time, he told me he had a job working for an organization (which he named) that has health programmes for the gay community. He said he wanted to understand "what is this thing about gays, and how does it work, and if there are any gays in Kenya." He told me that he was just beginning to hear about gay people and needed to understand more about it. I decided to open up to him and tell him I was gay. When I did, we had a long conversation. He asked me questions in a very nice manner.

“Then things changed. He said he was trying to gather information to confirm that I was gay because there should not be any gays in society. He said he was going to take action. Then he started asking me if I had any money. He said he would tell someone in the neighbourhood that I am gay - someone who would not take the information very kindly. If I wanted him to keep quiet about my orientation then I was to give him money. I thought, at first, he was joking. He said he studied criminology and could do what he said he would do.

“On the night of the beating, this same neighbour who had blackmailed me, came to my home and grabbed me and told me to come with him. He said he was taking me to see a certain friend of mine which he also knew. He named the friend and he was, indeed, a very good friend of mine. He said if I would not go with him he would start screaming to everyone nearby that I am gay and that I had tried to molest him. I said, "OK, if you want my friend to know, let's go." I didn't know if they had planned this together, but I decided it would make things easier for me if I were to go. I felt that my good friend would take the time needed to understand me and accept me still as his friend. However, I was shocked by his reaction. He didn't want to listen to anything I had to say. He just said, "I knew he was gay. He should be killed. He should be destroyed. Don't let him say another word. Let's just hit him and let's make sure he is destroyed."

“The neighbour who had grabbed me and forced me to my good friend's home said, "You accept that you are gay and that you should not be gay?" I tried to explain to them both that there is nothing wrong in being gay; that gay people are normal human beings; that gay people do no wrong to any one; that they need to be given the opportunity to explain what they go through, that is, the kind of stigmatization they experience in society. But they would not listen to any of this.

“There, at his home, my very good friend said, "I have a gun. We have to destroy him. I don't care if he is my best friend. He isn't anymore."

“I think my very good friend was homophobic all along, but he had no evidence that I was gay until this night when I admittedly told him I was gay. I told them they needed to understand. I told them that I have accepted myself as a gay man and that if I have done anything criminal then, instead of hitting me, they needed to call the police and write up a report against me. But they said, "No, we just have to hit you."

“It was my very good friend that started to excite to action the others who were there. They started hitting me and saying they should call the brother who plays rugby - that he would deal with me properly; that he would hit me at the end of each day until I become normal. And that I should no longer live in the neighbourhood.

“As they hit me they shouted, "You can change, you can change." They were hitting me so I would change and would understand that I needed to be heterosexual. A crowd was being drawn in by the commotion and my good friend was telling them to hit me and beat me and not to listen to anyone who said otherwise.

“The beating resulted in swelling to the head and chest with bleeding. My mouth and lips are swollen because they stepped on me and jumped on me. They actually did call the rugby guy and a second guy in town. They lifted me up and threw me on the ground and then stepped on my head.

“Ladies near by started screaming, "They are going to kill this man." Some people starting saying, "Let him live." These people saved my life. Two men held back the guys who were attacking me, saying, "You have to stop this!" At that point I had a chance to get away and went to my home, locked the door, and went to my room. But they still came after me. They attempted to break the door in. Instead, they broke all the windows in the house. They told me they would return in the morning to destroy me.”

The man went to the hospital. At some point he was able to contact Michael Kimindu, At the hospital the victim was given a medical report which was presented to the police. The man expressed willingness to go public on any level at some time in the future in order to prevent further bashings of gays. "I won't fear coming out," he said, "because I don't want someone else to go through what I have gone through." For safety, he is staying with his partner in a secret location.

Michael Kimindu says: "The church will not speak up for the gay person - not even in the face of something like this. The attackers were people that know the man. They were from his home area. The attackers were not armed; they used their bare hands. He cannot open his mouth to take in food. He has to drinks with a straw.

Commenting on the need for change Kenya, Michael said, "I'm telling you, the Kenyan church in general will not do anything for the safety of gay people. They will only bash them. According to the churches in Kenya, when you are gay and getting beaten you are getting your reward - what you deserve. They look at gays and those who support gay rights as sinners and when something goes wrong with us, they conclude that God must be punishing us. The church is against the gay person, so it will not speak up for them. Kenya must change so that there is safety and security for everyone."