Sunday, 31 October 2010


Sonia made a deep impression on me from our first meeting, in January last year, at a Rainbow Space evening at St Anne’s Soho, where she was then a member of the congregation. An entirely passable Trans woman, with a beautiful face, I was surprised to learn from her, on that occasion, that she was not living full-time as a woman but still worked as a male. Unnecessarily diffident about her feminine appearance/presentation and even about her work as a human rights lawyer, which we now know was of the highest quality, I had hoped, on that occasion, that she would join Sibyls, Christian spirituality for transgender people, which she subsequently did.

The last time I saw her was in June this year, over dinner at the Sibyls’ London meeting, following Evening Prayer at St Anne’s. With a mass of bubble hair, and a Zara shopping bag at her side containing her latest purchase, she looked lovely, and over the meal, characteristically, took a newer, younger, disabled member under her wing.

My husband and I sat opposite them, enjoying her company and the conversation, during which I learned three things that I did not know about Sonia: she and I grew up in the same part of England, where our paths could have crossed, but didn’t; that she too had been a student in Cambridge, Sonia being a few years ahead of me; which was the third thing I discovered about her that night - although I’d assumed that she was younger than me, she was in fact older by about five years. As the summer months passed I continued to hear from a friend about how well Sonia was settling into her new church where she had begun to participate enthusiastically in the life and ministry of the congregation.

Autumn arrived, the beginning of the dark months which, in my experience, have frequently led me into a period of personal upheaval and psychological shadow. A week ago, on Monday 25th October, in the early evening, I was angry and agitated as I began undoing all the work I had been engaged in earlier that day and which was not right. I had no idea of course that at the very same time Sonia was in mortal danger.

The next evening, when Rob arrived home, he immediately drew my attention to the front page of the free London paper where the headline read: “Man in dress ‘pushed’ to his death on tube”. It seemed needlessly sensational, if not bordering on the offensive. Evidently there was a story here, and one that, whatever the details, was almost bound to have a trans-related angle. According to the reporters commuters had seen two women, one younger than the other, interacting excitedly with each other at the edge of the platform at Kings Cross underground station, one of whom then either fell, or was pushed, into the path of the oncoming tube train. Witnesses were shocked and travel chaos ensued. Police attending the scene discovered that the dead woman was a biological male.

It sounded a very strange case indeed. Never, though, even for a moment, did Sonia come to mind as the likely victim, but the next evening, by which time further information was appearing in the press, though not the name of the deceased, a friend from Sibyls rang to inform me that Sonia was indeed the person who had died. So began my grief at her loss, combined with disappointment and anger at much of the press coverage with its insensitive and inaccurate stereotypes of ‘a bloke in a frock’: an image far removed from the petite, fashionable woman I had known for the past couple of years. Commuters’ first impressions of her had been spot on, and whatever her anatomy might be, she was, in heart, and soul, and yes, when dressed, in body, a loving and lovely woman.

And even though she continued to present as a male in her working life, perhaps there too she operated as a female in masculine clothing; certainly, her family have emphasised that although she worked in male mode they would prefer her to be known as Sonia, because that is who she was. Meanwhile, her colleagues have paid tribute to her pioneering work as a human rights lawyer, and the landmark cases for which she was responsible, making her death not just the loss of a precious human being who will be sorely missed, but of a professional lawyer with a passion for justice and the marginalised who still had much to give to society.

This weekend, praying at the Eucharist with the Changing Attitude Trustees, I watched as leaves fell from the trees – light, delicate, beautiful – and thought of Sonia and the fragility of human life. She appeared physically fragile and yet, as her working life demonstrates, she had tremendous courage, strength and determination, and it is shocking that she should have died in the circumstances that she did, not gently, like the falling leaves, but violently and in public view.

Privacy, for all people, is a human right that promotes dignity and a sense of self-worth, and is particularly precious to Transgender people as they approach, hover on, or begin to cross gender boundaries, while negotiating this process with significant others in their lives; and yet, as the coverage of Sonia’s death shows, in late 2010, despite the media having being responsible for greater general knowledge about Trans people’s lives, in death a Trans woman can still be stigmatized by the press in the grossest possible way by referring to her as a ‘man’ or by the use of male pronouns. The Telegraph on-line report, somewhat surprisingly, was an exception, and exemplary in referring to Sonia throughout as a woman, which is what she was.

Let’s hear it too for the journalist who knocked a dozen or more years off her age – Sonia would have loved that!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Lead us into all truth with words that take shape in our hearts

In 1975 when Canon Nigel Harley, then Rector of St Michael’s Basingstoke where I worshipped, asked me if I was going to be ordained, I had no idea whether I had a vocation or not. I thought about the question overnight, took a risk, and the next day asked Nigel to put my name forward. At each stage of the subsequent selection process I felt a greater conviction that what I was doing was absolutely the right thing.

I didn’t believe in the creeds as factual statements of truth, nor did I believe in the Bible with any greater degree of certainty, the Book of Common Prayer had always been a stumbling block liturgically and theologically and the 39 Articles were archaic. Nor did I have a more coherent or defined understanding of the Eucharist and a conviction about it’s efficacy. The level of my conviction about creeds, scripture and communion remained roughly as they had been formed in my teens and twenties, from reading Honest to God and allied books by Eric James and others, engaging with South Bank Religion, and learning from a holy incumbent and an innovative curate at my childhood church.

My relationship with the creeds, the BCP and the 39 Articles hasn’t grown any closer with the passage of time – quite the reverse. It has always been somewhat indifferent. Their influence on my Christian formation has been primarily negative. However, my relationship with scripture is renewed daily and my eyes continue to be opened and my heart and soul nourished and nurtured by the Bible. My relationship with the Eucharist remains ambivalent. I know it’s good for me to be there but it’s rarely an unalloyed spiritual pleasure – something to do with the words and theology of hymns, the tunes, clergy voices, sermon content, the disembodied, cerebral routine.

I have been formed by daily reading of the Bible, prayer and meditation and a largely intuitive, innate sense of what I’m about as a Christian, living the life without ever quite knowing where I was on the path. I was convinced of certain truths about what it means to be a Christian gleaned from the Bible and the pattern of Jesus, moving more deeply into a contemplative pattern of prayer, rooted in the body, in the present moment, infinite and intimate.

I live by intuition, by an innate sense of who God is calling me to be and become as a follower of the Way. My sexuality is formed in the same way, by intuition and an innate awareness, conviction, of who I am in Christ. Nothing the church teaches is ever going to get in the way of my conviction about the nature of God and the nature of my own sexuality. The church is so, so wrong about my gay identity. From my perspective it is also often wrong about the nature of God, creation and the spiritual life.

Dogmas, creedal formulations, approved liturgies, ‘orthodox’ biblical interpretation, none of these has really inspired my search for the God of love, truth, justice and a life lived towards God. I have been inspired in my life of prayer and by the holy, unorthodox, saintly people who have accompanied me on my journey.

And now I’m reaching a double crisis. The Anglican Communion’s inability to deal with my sexuality is intolerable. Christian (and Moslem) teaching and preaching about homosexuality affects millions of people across the globe, consigning them to lives of fear, hatred, self-doubt, depression, lies and lovelessness. Homophobia describes a global mental and emotional attitude of prejudice and fear of difference. I hate it because it is hate-full, and time is running out for the church because millions of LGBT people need to be freed, now, from the yoke of ignorance and oppression. I’m in crisis because my heart screams with pain for my brothers and sisters whose lives are made intolerable by religion.

The second crisis concerns the way in which the church constructs its identity around allegiance to dogmas and formularies, concepts of sin, guilt and judgement, concepts of God and God’s relationship with the world and creation. We are still so incredibly obsessed by law rather than grace and by rules of belonging. We are tribal, literal in our beliefs, failing to respond to the potentially liberating insights of scientific research and discovery, spiritual renewal and global imagination.

I’m not going to explain this very well, but the God who encounters me and who I encounter in Jesus of Nazareth continues to be trapped by a failure of imagination and courage in the church – and I know it will always be so – that’s the nature of institutions and human systems. But we live at a time when people’s perspectives and imaginations are being transformed by new discoveries. They know there is more to life, to being fully alive and spiritual, than either secular agencies or the churches offer.

The church has become a battleground not just around the issue of human sexuality but for the survival of my integrity and my innate spirituality and faith. I don’t believe for one moment that God is concerned about our conformity to rules and dogmas, creeds and doctrinal formulations that define individual denominations and congregations. What I yearn towards is my immersion in the infinite, divine energy of love, goodness, truth, creativity and justice. Against this there is no law.

The trustees of Changing Attitude meet this weekend for a 3 day residential near York. Reflecting on our faith and spirituality, on the authenticity of our Christian lives and on our dynamic encounter with God which fuels our campaign for justice for LGBT people will occupy much of our time together. Next week I may be able to develop this theme further, with more insight into my own soul and greater clarity about how the Spirit is speaking to the churches.

Colin Coward

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Time for change – in depth

The tensions in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion surrounding the space it allows lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to occupy is reaching breaking point, I suspect. It is certainly driving many of us LGBT Anglicans who live within this insane dualism to the edge. In civil society we can contract civil partnerships (marriage in all but name) and create social lives which are largely free from anxiety about being gay, adult and equal. In the church we are a problem, a source of tension, guilt and embarrassment, a threat to unity and for some, a sinful body to be healed or an evil to be eradicated.

The practice of the Church of England encourages dishonesty, secrecy, collusion, fear, bad pastoral practice and bad theology. LGBT people either tolerate this unhealthy state of affairs, rail against it, or leave the church.

I don’t have the patience to wait while bishops revisit ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ – it needs to be binned. I don’t have the patience to wait for the church to opt to treat the key biblical texts about same-sex activity in the same way it has treated texts about divorce, remarriage, slavery, the wearing of hats, the length of hair and the role of women in leadership, let alone the patience for the church to come to a common theological mind about homosexuality.

I want to be part of a church which no longer has an issue with my innate identity as a gay man, nor my visibility in church, nor my relationship with my life partner. I want to be part of a church which has overcome its uncertainty about the place of women and LGBT people in ministry, lay and ordained.

Tensions are reaching breaking point in the Communion, having been stretched in one direction by the Episcopal Church’s election as bishops of a partnered gay man and a partnered lesbian and in the other direction by conservative leaders and networks organising schismatic, transgressive movements.

Two weeks ago I was sent a scan of the Ugandan Rolling Stone front page naming Uganda’s 100 “top” homosexuals, including a picture of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and a yellow banner saying “hang them”. The report has now been picked up by western media and websites. The Bishop of New York has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury and I’ve been asked whether the Archbishop is going to condemn the naming of and demand to hang Bishop Christopher (who of course is not gay) and the 99 other named homosexuals. Lambeth Palace usually tells me that private representations are being made and that these are felt to be more appropriate and effective than a public statement.

Changing Attitude may have acquiesced in this apparently reasonable justification of behind-the-scenes diplomacy for too long. The risk to the lives, security and emotional and physical well-being of LGBT people in Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, USA and elsewhere is too serious now for subtle diplomacy to be an appropriate response.

Homophobic individuals, newspapers, governments and churches need to know that the Anglican Communion condemns unequivocally all violence and prejudice against LGBT people (which is the Archbishop’s stated position). The fear of upsetting certain Anglican Primates, bishops and pressure groups inhibits a proper reaction.

In England, bodies have been busy planning their departure for the ordinariate or forming new pressure groups – the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda or the Society of St Augustine for the Anglican Mainstreamers – or not so mainstream following this development.

Archbishops and Popes and bishops don’t like schisms. They are symbols of unity and managing and containing threats of schism are a high priority compared with naming and condemning threats to the lives and well-being of vulnerable minority groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Condemning sexism and homophobia should be a priority, alongside the condemnation of racism, fascism, rapacious capitalism and fundamentalism. The position of the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury should be to unequivocally support the dignity and full inclusion of LGBT people in church and society.

In the Communion, every action taken against LGBT people should be condemned and challenged. The Church of Uganda has allowed Bishop Christopher Senyonjo to be vilified, impoverished and threatened with death in the Ugandan press. The church should have immediately condemned the Rolling Stone report.

In England, LGBT Anglicans must now work towards converting the House of Bishops and General Synod from their various shades of prejudice, intolerance, passive tolerance and active if circumspect welcome for LGBT people into a radical change of church teaching and practice. There should be no discrimination against LGBT people in congregational life or ordained ministry and access to all the sacraments, including the blessing of relationships and the marriage of same-sex couples.

A great deal of time, energy and attention has been given to the parish of St Peter’s Folkestone and to the four bishops who may leave the Church of England to join the ordinariate. Those thinking of leaving the Church of England issue threats and a bishop calls the church vicious, vindictive and fascist because they are negative, against things, ordained women, gay relationships, gay bishops (funny, that one), theologies of justice and peace. Their departure opens up space for people who feel differently, theologise differently and have a very different awareness of how God is active in their lives.

A mini-storm has been going on in the church where I worship following front page stories and pictures in the local paper about the civil partnership my partner and I are planning to contract. Some people have left the congregation, others have arrived, and the balance between conservatives and progressives has changed. Those arriving can’t fathom why the church is so obsessed in a negative way about women and gay people. God is about love, compassion, integration, justice and truth, isn’t s/he? they ask.

The sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury preached in India seems apposite. "Sometimes we have listened to the past," he said. "We have identified ourselves with our ancestors in faith. Sometimes we have listened to our own unconverted hearts and used the church of God for our own ends, welcoming people like us and rejecting those who make us uncomfortable. And when any of those things happens, the Church begins to fall apart. The wounds in the Body get wider and deeper, and we find ourselves giving great energy to justifying our decision not to be together. As we stop listening to one another, we stop listening to Christ. Whether this happens in the name of nationality or tradition or pride of achievement or purity of teaching, the effect is the same tragedy."

It would be easy to say the church is falling apart because it doesn’t unconditionally welcome women or lesbians or gays or bisexuals or transgender people or black people or people from different social strata – people “not like us”. Christians find it very difficult to listen to Christ and don’t find listening to each other much easier sometimes. A Reflections group meets monthly at my church to meditate together and talk about spirituality and faith. The conversation is very tentative because the members are unsure of their experience and of the language to describe their faith. We are learning together how inadequate the church has been in providing us with the resources to go deeper into ourselves and into God.

+Rowan was one of the people who provided me with the basic tools. If he were to focus on one thing which might stop splits from occurring in the Communion, it would be to teach people and churches how to go deeper, really deep into silence and stillness, heart and body and emotions, mystery and unknowing. But we live in a Christian era, internationally, when attending to ourselves and God in depth is one of the last things people want to commit their lives to.

Colin Coward

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

LGBT Anglican Coalition writes to Archbishop of Canterbury about sexuality, celibacy and secrecy

The LGBT Anglican Coalition, a network of eight Anglican groups, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury following his interview in The Times. The Coalition has issued the following press release, and below is a copy of the letter sent to the Archbishop.

LGBT Anglican Coalition Press Release 11 October 2010
Time to accept gay bishops, says Anglican Coalition

In a recent interview with The Times the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was unclear whether celibate but partnered gay clergy are acceptable as bishops in the Church of England. The archbishop stated his unwillingness to consider partnered gay men and lesbians as bishops because of their ‘particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the Church has to say about that.’

The LGBT Anglican Coalition believes that acceptance should be extended beyond those who are celibate, but says:

‘Your statement has also left ambiguity regarding those in loving life-long but celibate relationships. Such people would appear to be complying fully with the requirements of “Issues in Human Sexuality” and yet still seem to be excluded simply on the grounds of some other people’s disapproval. If this is not your intention, we ask you to clarify what you meant. Given that you said that you “have no problem” with gay bishops who are celibate, we would ask you to make clear your position on the acceptability for higher office of celibate gay clergy who are in civil partnerships.’

In a letter sent to the Archbishop, the Coalition criticizes the Archbishop’s remarks as ‘hurtful and undermining to the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who have been called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy’. The Coalition calls the Church of England to a renewed study of sexuality in the light of modern scientific and theological understanding.

The letter is also highly critical of the culture of secrecy, fear and dishonesty around human sexuality which is blighting the Church of England, and damaging our witness to society, and which urgently needs to be dispelled. It says that, ‘in numerous Church of England parishes, worshippers fully accept LGBT people, whether single or partnered, and believe that all forms of ministry should be open to God’s children regardless of sexual orientation.’


Full Text of Letter to the Archbishop

Dear Archbishop Rowan

We are deeply dismayed that, in an interview with The Times, you stated your unwillingness to consider partnered gay men and lesbians as bishops because of their ‘particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the Church has to say about that.’ This is not only hurtful and undermining to the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who have been called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy – a valued but rare vocation among people of any sexual orientation – but also to the life and witness of the Church of England.

Your statement has also left ambiguity regarding those in loving life-long but celibate relationships. Such people would appear to be complying fully with the requirements of ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and yet still seem to be excluded simply on the grounds of some other people’s disapproval. If this is not your intention, we ask you to clarify what you meant. Given that you said that you ‘have no problem’ with gay bishops who are celibate, we would ask you to make clear your position on the acceptability for higher office of celibate gay clergy who are in civil partnerships.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, we expect you to encourage the Church of England to continue to strive thoughtfully and prayerfully to discern God's will on human sexuality, taking account of the findings of theologians and scientists and in conversation with other Anglicans and the wider church. It is regrettable that some bishops elsewhere in the Anglican Communion remain unwilling to enter into dialogue with those in their own dioceses who are lesbian or gay, or to take note of the diligent work of scholars through which Christians can develop an ever-richer understanding of God’s creation, our place within it and where the Holy Spirit is leading us. However this must not deter us from acting justly and lovingly in the context of our own mission and ministry.

Increasingly, eminent theologians have come to accept that Christians who are neither heterosexual nor called to celibacy may acceptably enter into committed relationships with members of the same sex, in which they can grow more responsive to God’s love and be more faithful in following Christ. Likewise, in numerous Church of England parishes, worshippers fully accept LGBT people, whether single or partnered, and believe that all forms of ministry should be open to God’s children regardless of sexual orientation. Meanwhile, social and natural scientists have helped to throw fresh light on the complexity and diversity of life on earth and the role of same-sex as well as opposite-sex attraction.

As Sister Rosemary CHN, representing Religious Communities, explained in a debate in General Synod in 2004:

‘For those of us under religious vows, who treasure celibacy as call and gift, the idea of forced celibacy is as abhorrent as the idea of forced marriage...

‘Some gay clergy have reluctantly accepted celibacy as an imposed discipline. Some of these, I feel sure, have found that through their struggles they have been given grace... For others, however, misery remains just misery, and they are exposed to the danger of a kind of withering of the heart, which makes them less able to love anybody.

‘Christians who are happily married can bear witness to the way in which a partner's love can be both a means of grace and a school of the Lord's service: a channel of God's love to them and through them. Gay Christians in committed relationships say that it is the same for them. When I observe the quality of their lives, and feel warmed and healed by their friendship, I know that it is true.’

We regret that any senior clergy in the Church of England should seem to be moving in the opposite direction from ordinary members in order to placate the small minority among us who are fiercely opposed to greater inclusion and even some in other churches who also object. It is important that they, like the rest of us, be challenged to understand that the church is not the possession of one faction and that theological diversity is part of our inheritance as Anglicans. There is a culture of secrecy, fear and dishonesty around human sexuality which is blighting the Church of England, and damaging our witness to society, and which urgently needs to be dispelled.

We urge you to acknowledge the contribution of so many LGBT people, often partnered, to the ministry of the church, and to promote rigorous and prayerful study of the issues involved in the light of present knowledge.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Timm, Changing Attitude

On behalf of the LGBT Anglican Coalition

Accepting Evangelicals

Changing Attitude

The Clergy Consultation


The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians

Inclusive Church

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

The Sibyls

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Moderating and deleting inappropriate behaviour by Primates and bishops in the Anglican Communion

‘Anonymous’ continues to post comments to this blog. I have to read them to decide whether to post or bin them. It’s tedious. Sometimes I contemplate posting the less offensive in a spirit of openness and generosity, but think again. Tolerance and generosity are admirable qualities. But why would readers of a blog dedicated to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion want to read counter arguments about statistics proving that gay relationships don’t last and gay men die 10 years earlier than heterosexuals or that discriminating against homosexuality is more humane than affirming something that is mutually self-destructive? You see, I knew you didn’t want to read this!

The campaign against the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Communion was launched in Kuala Lumpur in 1997. I arrived at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 feeling positive and optimistic, have been invited by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town to make a presentation (with others) to the section dealing with human sexuality. We were denied, and spent the next three weeks trying to get a hearing from whoever would listen to us. Kuala Lumpur had already achieved its goal – demonize homosexuals – from which the attempted exorcism of Richard Kirker was a natural outcome. The plenary debate was a coup for the rabid, anti-gay conservative mob (for that is what they felt like) presided over by George Carey, then Archbishop, as if they represented normal Christian behaviour and attitudes.

We were thrown onto the defensive. Meanwhile, civil society in the UK began to work it’s way swiftly towards accepting LGBT people as full members of society, educated by a government which placed equality high on the agenda. We LGBT Christians lived in a state of confusion between a progressive state and a regressive Church. Let’s put it bluntly – the Church became an insecure, hostile, negative, homophobic, abusive place for LGBT people, driving gay Christians back into the closet. Conservatives set out to deliberately to attack us, eroding our faith and spirituality in the process.

Some of their tactics, as I commented in yesterday’s blog, have been abusive and infantile. We were having to defend ourselves against this background of anti-gay rhetoric to which was added a campaign to marginalize not just us, but any church, Province, Primate or bishop who supported us.

An extraordinary, dangerous change took place. Ideas about human sexuality and models of behaviour which find legitimacy in the Bible became accepted as appropriate in the Anglican Communion when they were being recognised in the secular world as prejudiced, homophobic and wrong.

Laws were introduced in the UK to protect the rights and dignity of LGBT people. In the church our rights and dignity have been and are under constant attack. In the USA, where equality for LGBT people is still being campaigned for, supporters of LGBT equality in the Episcopal Church have argued their case in the Communion and American society with force and clarity, and been repeatedly attacked for doing so.

In the ‘tolerant’ ‘broad’ Church of England we have been far more passive. I think we failed to recognise abusive, intolerant, infantile behaviour for what it is when conservatives have repeatedly behaved in this way.

The Archbishop of Canterbury found himself enmeshed in this dynamic following Gene Robinson’s election and the vitriolic campaign against Jeffrey John led by members of General Synod. The Archbishop has been treated by other Primates and bishops in the most abusive, unchristian, infantile way sometimes. +Rowan is a Christian leader of immense dignity, emotional and intellectual maturity, wisdom, grace, tenderness and love and has endured unbearable pain and anguish for most of the eight years he has been Archbishop. We, LGBT people, have added to the tension, by simply being who we are, wanting to be recognised appropriately and arguing accordingly.

We LGBT Christian advocates allowed the conservatives to distract our attention, pushing us onto the defensive, having to develop counter-arguments to their anti-gay rhetoric. I’m trying to look at the picture in a different way now. Conservatives have focused Church attention on disagreements about human sexuality, basing their arguments on particular interpretations of scripture, tradition and reason. There are other interpretations, as many theologians have articulated, the Archbishop of Canterbury among them.

Enmeshed in these arguments, played out in mini-dramas in ACC Nottingham and Jamaica, Primates in Dromantine, Dar Es Salaam and Alexandria, Lambeth ’98, the offices of Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion, GAFCON, FoCA, CANA, ACNA etc., we have been unable to focus proper attention on the abusive, immature, manipulative behaviour of many of the participants in these dramas.

It has happened many, many times, but Bishop David Anderson’s advice to conservative Anglican Primates treat the next Primates’ meeting as a battleground at which they can scheme to outflank the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury is a prime example and Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini’s reference to homosexuality as being ‘moral genocide’ another.

We will never, never come to a mature understanding of human sexuality and the place of LGBT people in society and church while bishops and Primates behave like this. They are setting an appalling, unchristian example before our Church, our Provinces and our congregations. Theirs is a disgraceful example of leadership, authority, power and spirituality.

I see this behaviour being acted out at General Synod debates on women in the episcopate, in the schismatic church bodies in North America and in the attitude towards LGBT people expressed by the majority of African Primates.

The Anglican Communion is faced with a huge challenge. How can the key decision making bodies, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates meeting and the Lambeth Conference (were the conservatives to attend) make considered, theologically competent, emotionally mature, adult decisions, when some of the participants are not able to act in a mature, adult way?

The comments posted by ‘anonymous’ may be given credence in the worlds of North American schismatics, English misogynists and African Provinces where concepts of sexual difference are novel, but at least I can moderate them and delete them when they are inappropriate. It’s not so easy to moderate and delete inappropriate behaviour from the Anglican Communion.

Colin Coward

Please help us to instill mature patterns of adult behaviour in the Anglican Communion by becoming a supporter of Changing Attitude or by making a donation.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Christian behaviour of Primates - do we expect appropriate or abusive, adult or infantile?

Should we expect senior Anglican leaders to behave in a mature, adult, non-abusive way? I raise the question as a result of reports ahead of the next Primates meeting to be held in Dublin in February.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all the Primates, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Dr Katherine Jefferts Schori. The Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest has already confirmed that he will not attend the next Primates’ Meeting because the US Presiding Bishop will be present. He wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the summer urging him to exclude her from future Primates’ Meetings and telling the Archbishop that he will not attend if his conditions are not fulfilled.

Presenting the Archbishop of Canterbury with conditions about your attendance at the Primates meeting is inappropriate. If the Archbishop has invited the Presiding Bishop and she is attending, whatever the difference of opinion in the Communion, Primates should be gracious and generous enough in their pattern of Christian life to attend. Ian Ernest issues threats and is trying to manipulate the Archbishop and it isn’t mature behaviour.

Global South Primates in general are apparently meeting later this month to discuss whether they will boycott Dublin, refusing en masse to attend.

The Rt Revd David Anderson, a suffragan bishop within the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, urges a different course of action in a letter which can be read here.

He encourages conservative bishops to attend and advises them that if Dr Jefferts Schori is there, they should either shut her out of the room or remove “by force of numbers” the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church (not physically, he says, but by either voting her off the ‘island’, or recessing to another room and not letting her in). Male power in action – how gallant.

The action proposed by Bishop David Anderson is infantile. If Dr Williams objects to this action he says, the meeting could go ahead in a separate room without the Archbishop. When my outraged infant considers what action I might dream of taking in response to something that has made me angry, I quickly see it for what it is and dismiss it, turning to a more adult course of action. Not so Bishop David Anderson.

He writes that without the orthodox Primates in attendance it could be a dangerous meeting, giving opinion and credence to teachings and beliefs that are not representative of orthodox Anglicanism. He doesn’t believe staying home from the field of battle helps win a war over the truth and nature of Christianity within Anglicanism.

As he contemplates a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, he sees war, a battle, something dangerous.

What’s more important – that partnered lesbian and gay people who chose as adults to express their love sexually in a relationship should be excluded from the Communion unless they change their behaviour and cease having sex, or that those who are responsible for the pastoral, moral and theological life of the Communion should model mature, adult, appropriate Christian behaviour?

For 7 years I have observed those Anglican leaders who claim to be orthodox acting and speaking in ways that are immature, sometimes infantile and abusive. My personal opinion as a gay Christian is that the behaviour of this group is doing far more damage to the Church than I am doing in expressing love for my partner.

Colin Coward

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The appointment of bishops – interviews introduced – is this news?

Behind the scenes all sorts of conversations are taking place amongst those of us dreaming of and working for a Church of England and Anglican Communion in which justice is done, women and LGBT people fully included, and where decisions are made in an adult way in an open process and communicated with clarity. At present in England a culture of secrecy predominates.

The LGBT Anglican Coalition is working creatively in relationship with Inclusive Church and Thinking Anglicans. The focus of our work is varied but there is a great capacity to be generous towards each other and to share dreams, ideas and strategies. We are, at heart, a fellowship of Christians, Anglicans, some with big egos, some with very practical skills, who enjoy working towards a common goal in the context of warm friendship.

That’s an introduction to yet another example of the way in which the Church of England works. It raises further questions about the culture of the Church and the way changes are made and communicated, reinforcing my belief that the whole system needs a dramatic and radical change of ethos. Information about change slides unwillingly into the public arena and often comes to light by sheer chance.

Thanks to Simon Sarmiento and Peter Owen at Thinking Anglicans I’ve learnt a bit more about the processes of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC).

Simon wondered if I had been referring to Jeffrey John and Southwark in a previous post. Jeffrey certainly knew he had been nominated, says Simon, because everybody nominated nowadays is asked to supply documentation to the commission. Starting last week with the Bradford meeting, those still remaining on the list for the second CNC meeting are asked to attend the CNC for interview. So they definitely know they have been nominated.

I wondered how widespread the knowledge about the change in interviewing practice that started with Bradford is. And I wondered what inadequacies are still in the system.

Peter says he’s not aware that there has been any formal announcement about interviews being introduced. Isn’t it surprising that such a significant change which affects the appointment of new bishops has happened without people really knowing? Those attending interviews will know and the members of the CNC will know. But the current version of the guide to the process (Briefing for Members of Vacancy in See Committees) prepared by the Archbishops' Appointments Secretary that you can download here is dated November 2009 and makes no mention of interviews.

Peter spoke to a member of the CNC who thinks people were told at July's General Synod but Peter (who was there) doesn't recall hearing anything. He says it could have been in a GS Misc paper or a notice that wasn't given to the press; it being somewhat hit or miss which papers are given to the press or put online. The first he knew that interviews had actually started was when he happened to see it mentioned on the Salisbury diocesan website when he was looking for something else.

This whole process highlights what is so wrong about the way the Church of England functions and the way bishops come to be. At present they are nominated, which may or may not be better than being appointed. A committee which meets in secret recommends the nomination following consultation. But the process is not transparent. Bishops are not elected as in the Episcopal Church, and the TEC process is such a novelty for the CofE and the rest Communion that few are aware that in the USA bishops are ELECTED – and meet real, ordinary people in the diocese first, so that the opinions and experience of the people of the diocese can be taken into account.

There are advantages and disadvantages, just as there were when diocesans appointed suffragans with a greater degree of freedom and Prime Ministers were able to impose their will on the process of diocesan appointments. At least back then we got some bishops with strong characters and personalities – but we also got the mavericks.

The second thing that is clearly wrong is the lack of transparency in making changes in the process of appointing bishops. Most of the changes being made in CNC procedures follow from recommendations made in the 2001 Perry report, although the report didn’t think interviews were a good idea. The Church, each diocese, those of us for whom the appointment of bishops matters a lot – women, LGBT clergy and others – need to know when the system has changed and why and how, because it can work to our very serious disadvantage as many supporters of CA have and are finding to their cost.

I wonder who is being best served by the current process. Is it the wider church, the people of the diocese, or is it, as I suspect, those who function within the system with a mindset that needs to control the process and the information that is made available publicly.

Colin Coward

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Monday, 4 October 2010

How to make a difference - but first, examples of dysfunction and abuse in the Church

In my post on Saturday about the existence of gay Primates and bishops I accused the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of being infected by a culture of fear, secrecy, bigotry, intimidation, abuse, dishonesty and collusion – quite a list! I argued that the Church is going to be healthier and more Christian the more it is able to be transparent, open and honest.

I was made aware last week of the dysfunctional workings of the Crown Nominations Commission. Leaks about the deliberations of the Commission have wounded individual priests who were not asked in advance whether they wished to be nominated but who learnt subsequently that they had been rejected. None of us likes to feel rejected, especially when we are rejected in our absence with no opportunity to speak for ourselves.

I also learnt about a priest whose appointment as an incumbent was about to be announced when the diocesan bishop intervened at the last moment and vetoed the appointment – because the priest is gay. LGBT clergy can experience rejection after rejection and never know for sure whether they were not appointed because another candidate had clearly superior gifts or because of their sexuality. These rejections play on your mind – is my sexuality the reason that I have been rejected – again – and this is even more true if you have been open and honest and taken risks. So resentment against the Church and bishops builds together with a feeling that it is better to join the ranks of those who dissemble, hiding their sexuality and their partner.

The corrupting, corrosive influence of dishonesty and secrecy impinges everywhere in the life of our Church, a fear driven by a group estimated in the UK at 1.5% of the population in the latest Social Attitudes survey (though I suspect the survey underestimates the total, certainly in the House of Bishops). Forward in Faith is an organisation in which a far higher percentage of its membership than the national population is gay (not sure about lesbians). It is also one of the most homophobic environments in which to be gay, in deep denial about the sexuality of its gay priests. It isn’t surprising that it behaves corporately in such a negative, defensive way. There is a sickness at the core of this group from its leadership down which denies that gay men form a significant percentage of its membership. Being gay is not an impediment to being a Christian, a priest, a bishop, but in my view, being misogynistic, dishonest, less than your true self, is an impediment.

Let me turn to another example – the presence of lobby groups at the Primates meetings in Dromantine and Dar Es Salaam. There is a world of difference between being present to report on the meeting and to socialise with Primates and organising an operations centre in close proximity or even in the same hotel where briefing papers can be written and distributed and strategy meetings held – with conservative Primates. Ask ++Rowan and other Primates who were present about the corrosive effect of these Primates and individuals from Anglican Mainstream England and VirtueOnline USA on the trust and atmosphere inside the meeting.

What about the refusal to receive communion alongside other Primates or the refusal to attend Lambeth, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion or the Primates meeting? Isn’t this absence a denial of Christian friendship and charity, a refusal to acknowledge another’s humanity? Isn’t this utterly basic to our identity in Christ? Sadly not. Conservatives stay away because those they want to eradicate from the Communion were invited and dared to attend. It’s happening again as preparations are made for the Primates meeting in Dublin in January 2011. These threats are utterly, totally unchristian. We should not be intimidated by them and name them accurately, as actions which corrupt the life of the Church.

Yet another example – I was told by someone who chanced on them that conservative evangelicals in the English House of Bishops meet separately in the course of HoB meetings at which they discuss strategies designed to undermine and challenge the Archbishops and the mind of the House (except that there isn’t a Mind of the House but 5 or more competing sub-sets of bishops). Other groups of self-interested bishops may meet, for all I know, but this developing pattern further undermines the coherence and integrity of the House.

One bishop, not a member of the House, Alan Wilson of Buckingham, who describes himself as the most junior of the junior (no Alan, I’m more lowly and insignificant than you!) wrote on Facebook that he sees the problem exactly and it's not about the ethics of sexual identity but our own integrity as a Church. Bishops are supposed to care for the wellbeing of the Church and any organisation that loses touch with its own values threatens its own credibility. The ethics of lying are pretty simple (thou shalt not bear false witness).

How do we work towards changing this culture of secrecy and dishonesty? I maintain that it is corrosive of healthy church life, together with the behaviour of closeted LGBT people and the impact of lobby groups which are unhealthily obsessed with other people’s sexuality.

Take small steps
There are many small ways in which we can be doing something that changes the dynamic of our church life. Becoming aware, having courage to initiate conversations, remembering to question what doesn’t feel right, learning to listen to your inner voice.

Getting the current state of affairs into a better perspective, ++Rowan, ++John, House of Bishops, General Synod, would be a dramatically significant first step. The behaviour of many in the Communion (independent of their views about homosexuality) is a disgrace which is infecting and corrupting the Church.

Build relationships
Create networks, relationships and friendships at every level of church life – and across difference – don’t allow others to marginalise us in their attempt to portray themselves as victims. It’s more difficult to be secretive, to organise conspiracies and to project onto others when you are in relationship with people rather than in denial of their presence and when you allow a holy light to shine on the encounters.

Well, obviously, for a gay activist, prayer comes first, 7am every morning! Pray openly, reflectively, trustingly, quietly attentive, yearning and listening to the loving, gentle, tender, intimate presence of God in your heart and soul. Trust – trust God, trust God’s infinite variety and complexity and simplicity in creation. Tune in to your own experience of God and trust, and pray for imagination, vision and enlightenment.

Colin Coward

Changing Attitude needs all the help we can get to further our campaign to change Anglican attitudes. To contribute to our work by becoming a supporter, please click here; or to make a donation click here.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Kenyan Government Minister urges acceptance of lesbian and gay people

The Revd Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude’s contact person in Kenya, has alerted me to pro-gay comments made by a Kenyan Government Minister. Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi (second from right in the photo taken at the symposium) told participants at a national symposium on HIV/Aids held last Thursday in Mombasa which targetted homosexuals, lesbians and sex workers that the government had no option but to address the community’s concerns.

She asked Kenyans to accept prostitutes and homosexuals as part of the society. "We have to accept people the way they are and embrace them in the society. We need to learn to live with men who have sex with other men… we are in the 21st century and things have changed,” she told the symposium. Ms Murugi said the group was an independent constituency and should not be stigmatised because of sexual inclination.

Michael is clearly excited by this development and told me that the minister is on their side in recommending acceptance of lesbian and gay people, embracing them in society and allowing them to marry. He met 5 Anglicans, all from the same congregation, at a gathering of LGBT people on 25th September. They promised to introduce Michael to many other lesbian and gay Anglicans and he says that there is evident interest in becoming involved with Changing Attitude.

Churches condemn the Minister’s remarks
The Federation of Evangelical Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya (FEICCK) representing more than 74 churches petitioned the President Mwai Kibaki to sack the Cabinet Minister over her remarks. FEICCK chairman Bishop Dr Joseph Methu said: “This should happen in the shortest time possible; failure to which we shall not be left with any other option other than to ask those who care about righteousness and morality to demonstrate against her.“

Ms Murugi discredited her reputation and was unfit to hold public office, he said, warning of street demonstrations. Dr Methu stressed that unless intended to invite God’s wrath, Kenyans should not dare to allow homosexuality and lesbianism to thrive in the country.

“God will punish all forms of immorality despite who is promoting it and at whatever level. We have observed Hon Murugi Transforming herself to becoming a trouble shooter and one who makes statements focused on demeaning and antagonizing the faith community in Kenya“ he told the Nation. He said the faith community in Kenya respects the rights of all persons but will oppose all forms of propagation of ungodliness and immorality.

Moslem reaction
The organising secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, said the utterances were “satanic and contrary to Africa culture”. “God in his holy books (Quran and Bible) cursed homosexuality and directed us to fight it. The minister has offended Kenyans who passed a new constitution that criminalises the vice,” he said.

Sheikh Khalifa urged President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to take stern action against the minister. The Kenya National Muslim Advisory Council chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao demanded that Ms Murugi resign or be sacked. “The minister and National Aids Control Council officials should create their own country which allows homosexual, lesbian and prostitution acts,” he said.

Colin Coward

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Saturday, 2 October 2010

Do gay bishops and primates exist?

I am utterly fed up with being talked about as if I don’t exist, by which I mean don’t exist authentically as a gay man as if I am mistaken in my awareness of my own identity. I am utterly sick and tired of having Genesis 2 (male and female he created them), Leviticus 18.22 (you must not lie with a man as with a woman) and Romans 1.27 (and men, giving up natural relations with women, too burn with lust for one another) quoted and thrown at me as defining me as a corrupt, inadequate Christian.

For 55 years I have known my identity and I have never wavered in knowing my identity despite the 55 years in which the church has tried to undermine, chip away at and denigrate my own self-knowledge and self-confidence. For 50 years I have been maturing in faith and prayer. The constantly corrosive narrative of doubt about LGBT identity, gay maturity, gay love, gay fidelity, in the Anglican Communion and other faith communities sickens me every day (and at times in my life, literally sickened me).

Archbishop Rowan’s inability to be crystal clear about the identity, Christian fidelity and integrity of my many hundreds of LGBT friends across the Communion, some of whom are friends we share, is both intolerable – and understandable. I understand why people have a different perspective on life and life’s priorities from me – I try to be a tolerant, generous, inclusive Anglican.

I want to try and explain something which I have found hard to think about and articulate clearly but which has come increasingly into focus. I had an incredibly valuable conversation with Andrew Goddard of Fulcrum yesterday in Pimlico where his wife Lis is now Vicar of St James-the-Less. Andrew and I first met some 10 years ago and we have continued to meet regularly and enjoy an extensive conversation in which we have both travelled a long way. Talking with Andrew, who is evangelical, orthodox and traditional in his own terms, has helped me learn about myself and explore my own theology, ethics and faith. We are nowhere as far apart now in our theology and thinking as we were ten years ago, but there are still important areas of difference. Our extended conversation offers an important model to the Anglican Communion, one that I have no doubt has the blessing of Archbishop Rowan.

Yesterday with Andrew, I was able to describe with more clarity than ever before why I have deep confidence in my awareness of my sexual identity, my faith and life with God, my prayerfulness and the integrity of my calling as a priest who is gay and partnered and does not have a vocation to celibacy. What is unusual about the conversation with Andrew is that I can tell him these things, a conservative Christian, with such freedom and clarity. Usually I am conscious of the need to be cautious, defensive and self-protective when engaging with less-generous people.

Let me try and take a next step in my thoughts (in my mind these things are all connected, but it doesn’t appear quite so obvious when I try and write them down).

On Thursday I attended the Westminster Media Forum Seminar on Reflecting Diversity – the LGBT Community and the Media. Another element in my thought process came into focus. Peter Tatchell talked about the double-standard of the BBC towards LGBT issues compared with black, Jewish or Moslem issues. The BBC still sometimes presents inappropriate gay stereotypes and interviews people with extremely homophobic views such as Stephen Green of Christian Voice ‘for the sake of balance’ who, if he represents anyone, represents a tiny minority on the extreme Christian fringe. Despite this, he was given a privileged role in Sunday Morning Live on BBC 1 last Sunday, having been flown to the Belfast studio when Sharon Fergusson and myself were confined to web cams at home.

When dealing with black or Jewish issues, the BBC does not wheel out neo-Nazis or anti-Semites to provide balance but in discussions about lesbian and gay issues uses Stephen Green, a homophobe. In the context of the BBC it is generally to be expected that zero tolerance will be given towards racism or prejudice against Jews and Moslems whereas in parts of the Christian community prejudice against Jews, Moslems and women, let alone LGBT people, is held to be appropriate and justified by scripture and tradition.

NO PREJUDICE which demeans or diminishes another human being created by God is tolerable in my reading of the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus Christ. The first and greatest commandment is to love God, neighbour and self. My goodness, doesn’t Christianity have a lot to learn about prejudice, abuse and intolerance.

The next step in my thoughts – how to tackle this institutionalised, incredibly powerful prejudice against LGBT people in Christianity? Dealing with it in the BBC or the Conservative party has been child’s play compared with the Church.
Every week I discover more and more about the corrupting effect of secrecy in the Church. This week I learnt something more about the dynamics of the Crown Nominations Commission and the appointment of bishops, having already blogged about gay Primates and gay Church of England bishops. On Thinking Anglicans, Bill Dilworth questioned whether there really are 3 gay Primates and Doug said he is interested to know if there is some secret list of Bishops and Primates who happen to be gay
Why can’t I name them? Why is the Church left guessing as to their identity? It is because of the hostility, aggression, prejudice and homophobia that is unleashed in the Anglican Communion when a gay or lesbian priest is elected as a bishop in the USA or enters the frame as a candidate in England. I put these numbers into the conversation because of the invisibility of gay Primates and bishops. Their invisibility is connected not only to the culture of institutionalised prejudice in the Anglican Communion but to deeply corrosive and corrupting culture of institutionalised secrecy and fear in the Church of England. This culture inhibits me from freely naming those bishops and Primates.

The culture of secrecy and dishonesty, the inability to be open and transparent and to communicate effectively affects Lambeth Palace, Church House, the Crown Nominations Commission, the Anglican Communion Office, General Synod, dioceses and parishes. It means that people either second-guess information or are left in ignorance. The culture is rampant and is corrupting the life of the Christian community. Every dimension of Church life is affected. People are intimidated by those who I might sometimes want to describe as prejudiced, loud mouthed bigots but whose self-image is as defenders of orthodoxy and tradition. They intimidate the ability of the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak and act freely and they intimidate me – but I have far less to lose.

At the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in 2009 I was challenged by leading conservative campaigners to justify why I claimed in the plural that there are three gay Primates. It was the claim of gay Primates in the plural that offended them. They demanded that I prove it by naming them. I refused to tell them because I do not believe it is right to violate people’s privacy and ‘out’ anyone who prefers to remain in the closet.

So how do I know there are three gay Primates? I know one of them personally. I know who the others are and the fact that there are three was confirmed in a conversation in the departure lounge at the airport in Cairo as we were flying back to the UK. I am tempted to name the person, but that would place him or her in a very difficult position and I have no wish to do so. This is the effect of the culture of secrecy and intimidation. It inhibits me from writing freely out of respect for a Christian friend and ensures the invisibility of so many potential gay and lesbian Christian role models.

How do I know there are between 10 and 13 gay bishops in the Church of England? Some I know personally. Friends and colleagues of other bishops repeatedly confirm to me that their friend or colleague is gay. One of them, Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton, was named as gay and partnered in the national press when first appointed, repeated at the time of Jeffrey John’s trauma in Reading. Two were members of my post-ordination training group in Southwark. One I trained alongside in Cambridge. Some are married, most are single.

The teaching of the Church of England says that being gay is no bar to being appointed as a bishop, and that even being in a Civil Partnership is no bar so long as the relationship is celibate. We know that these Church of England rules cannot be applied as a result of the aggressively hostile campaign against Jeffrey John when he was nominated for Reading in 2003 and the more recent furore over the possibility that he was being considered for Southwark. Bishops who are gay know that were they to come out and talk about their sexuality they would become the focus of abuse and a campaign by conservatives to remove them There would also be an inappropriate focus on their sexuality which would follow them wherever they went. Some of the homophobes in the Church of England would set out to research their past, and I know that some of them have pasts they would prefer to keep hidden.

So the 3 gay Primates and the 10 to 13 gay CofE bishops remain invisible. I understand why they are so discrete. As I know from my own bitter experience, the consequences of being open and visible can be traumatic - hate letters, innuendo, loss of PTO or licence, unwanted attention and media interest. But until openly gay bishops are able to be appointed or until serving gay bishops can safely come out, the Church continues to live with a false reality and their experience and witness is unavailable to the Church. There are no role models (except in the USA), no bishops who can describe their experience or be interviewed by the media (except in the USA), none who can talk personally about their experience in the Primates Meeting, English House of Bishops, in General Synod or their own Diocesan Synod.

Until the culture of fear and secrecy in the Church of England changes, the bigotry is challenged and our Church becomes a place which is free from prejudice against LGBT people, the Episcopal Church will remain the only place where LGBT people can come out and be elected as bishops. I’m tempted to start a new campaign. The culture of secrecy, intimidation and abuse in the Church of England has got to be challenged, undermined and changed.

Colin Coward

Changing Attitude needs all the help we can get to further our campaign to change Anglican attitudes. To contribute to our work by becoming a supporter, please click here; or to make a donation click here.