“Let us be firm and unswerving in the confession of our hope, for the giver of the promise is to be trusted. We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness.” Hebrews 10.23,24
The Guardian’s headline today reads: ‘Crisis grips Catholic church as sex abuse allegations widen’. Yesterday’s headline in parts of the Anglican Communion was ‘Los Angeles Bishop-elect Glasspool receives church's consent to ordination’.
Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and the cover up of abuse by bishops is evil. Dare anyone say that the confirmation of the election of a partnered lesbian as a bishop is in any way ‘evil’? Has Bishop Gene Robinson’s 7 year ministry brought ‘evil’ into the Anglican Communion, as some would claim? The Anglican Communion’s thinking about human sexuality is so utterly distorted now that the majority in our Communion claim that good people are evil and those who think and act in evil ways are good and holy.
Mary Glasspool becomes, for many in the Communion, another visible sign of God’s welcome to LGBT people and the blessing bestowed on those of who are faithfully and lovingly partnered and called by God to ministry in the church, lay and ordained, priestly and Episcopal.
Other groups in our Communion have ordained bishops to represent their particular version of truth and orthodoxy, bishops who are symbols of disunity and division. The Episcopal Church will ordain a bishop who is a symbol of hope to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the Communion and to all who long for prejudice about human sexuality to be overcome.
The world has moved on since Gene Robinson was ordained bishop in 2003. A period of restraint was exercised in North America while Instruments of Communion began to work our a process in reaction to his election and ordination. We now have the Windsor Report and the proposed Anglican Covenant.
In parts of the Communion hostile to the presence of homosexual Christians and same-sex couples, attempts have been and are still being made to further demonise LGBT people. Bills were introduced in Nigeria and Uganda; outbreaks of violence and persecution have occurred in Kenya and other countries; gay people murdered in the UK.
Same-sex marriage rights have been introduced in a number of countries and several US States and in England, Civil Partnerships. Inroads have been made in England into the Church of England’s reactionary stance against extending a welcome to LGBT people. The Church of England’s prejudice against the full inclusion of LGBT people is being steadily eroded, from within the House of Bishops and without as a result of equality legislation.
Networks of LGBT people, the majority of them Christian, are developing across Africa. They are yet to have a visible impact but they will.
2010 is not 2003. In seven brief years the global community has, by continuing a public discourse about the presence of LGBT people in society, inadvertently encouraged a process of education and awareness among peoples hitherto ignorant of the reality of LGBT people.
The discourse in Uganda has highlighted the prejudice, ignorance and bigotry found in Christian leaders. There is a division between the focus on anti-gay rhetoric by individual Primates, bishops and Christian leaders and other bishops who in private reveal more generous levels of understanding and tolerance. There is a gulf of understanding in the Catholic church between official Vatican teaching and the pronouncements of Ugandan bishops.
Mary Glasspool’s ordination will be controversial, but the controversy for many is now focussed on how reaction will reveal prejudice, ignorance and intolerance within the Christian community rather than a principled stand based on tradition, scripture and the unity of the church. Unity in Christ cannot be based on ignorance and prejudice.
“Spirit of the living God, in communion with you and with the cries of those who suffer injustice, work in and through us new deeds of discerning wisdom and true judgement, that we may know among us the fulfilment of your promises, even the firstfruits of your rule of justice.”
Coda to Psalm 94 by Jim Cotter from Out of the Silence ... Prayer’s Daily Round (Cairn Publications)