Wednesday 28 January 2009

Bishop of Rochester continues to undermine Canterbury

Bishop Michael Nazir of Rochester was one of the speakers at the recent Mere Anglican Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

Bishop Michael has clear opinions:
· the instruments of unity have failed the Anglican Communion
· he singles out the Lambeth Conference as the worst offender

Bishop Michael said the Windsor Report specifically asked that those who participated in the ordination and consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson not be present at Anglican meetings.

"Despite this, they were invited to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting and they were the dominant presence. They were then invited to the Lambeth Conference. I asked why were they invited. I have not ever been given a satisfactory response. My concern is about those who laid hands on him. I am being responsible in asking that question. Of course I am willing to sit with people who differ. I have attended two Lambeth conferences, 1988 and 1998. It would have been my third conference. However (in conscience) I could not be present."

It was the Archbishop of Canterbury who invited the Episcopal Church bishops who participated in the consecration of Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference. Bishop Michael’s remarks are a direct criticism of Dr Williams and seek to undermine his authority. By his presence in Charleston Bishop Michael further challenges the integrity of the Anglican Communion by associating himself with those who are attempting to create a rival Province.

Bishop Michael was one of six bishops (the others being Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter and Winchester) who wrote in support of the Bishop of Pittsburgh in September 2008. Writing in Times Online, Ruth Gledhill said the bishops were "deeply saddened and shocked" by Bob Duncan’s deposition. In an interview the Bishop of Rochester said the time had now come for Dr Williams to create a new province for conservatives in the US.

At the time, Changing Attitude feared that all six bishops were set on undermining the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Instruments of Communion. Michael Nazir-Ali’s speech in Charleston confirms our suspicion. We worry that support for Bob Duncan and the creation of a new Church with the aim of replacing TEC in the Communion will be replicated in England. Those opposed to women bishops and gays in the church would like a women-priest-and-gay-free alternative CofE.

Changing Attitude doesn’t. We are fully committed to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Instruments of Communion, even though we are working for a radical change of church policy. We will be in Alexandria next week to show our commitment and argue our case.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Episcopal Diocese of Virginia shocks conservatives

The Diocese of Virginia isn’t noted for being liberal or radical. When it passed a resolution on 24 January affirming gay relationships, USA conservatives were shocked.

The resolution recommends the diocese to respond "to the pastoral needs of our faithful gay and lesbian members."

Conservative blogs in the USA have reacted with their usual fervour. Greg Griffith on Stand Firm claims the significance of the resolution cannot easily be overstated. Not only does it affirm same-sex behaviour but it comes out of what has been thought to be a moderate-to-conservative diocese.

Greg Griffith believes the passage of this resolution will send shockwaves through the entire church. Passing the resolution is a huge victory for ‘the opposition‘, he says.

Opposition - that’s one of the problems the conservatives bring to the gay debate - seeing us as polarised and supporters of gay and lesbian people as not even Christian.

Conservatives in the USA are obsessed with their own church (or ex-church for those who have left for Africa and the Southern Cone). They think TEC is the only Province where LGBT people are visibly present and praying for full inclusion.

The Most Revd Barry Morgan, Primate of Wales and patron of Changing Attitude (bet not many readers of Stand Firm know that) was chaplain for the diocese’s 214th Annual Council. In his closing remarks, he told them that Wales was in the same boat as The Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church and he would resist the formation of an alternative North American province with, in his words, “every fibre of my being.” The room jumped to its feet with applause and cheering.

Friends in TEC - you’re not alone - we’re working towards the same goals, with the disadvantage that fewer bishops here are willing to commit themselves publicly. It’s a weakness Changing Attitude proposes to work at changing.

Monday 26 January 2009

Blogging the Primates in Alexandria

I’m off on Friday to Cairo in the company of Brenda Harrison, CA’s amazing Hon Administrator and keeper of the evangelical faith.

We will be there, outside the meeting as we were in Tanzania, probably in the company of at least one conservative bishops, the odd media representative and the familiar faces of conservative bloggers.

Brenda and I both intend to be blogging daily, bringing you reports of nothing happening or exciting news of encounters around the swimming pool, if the precedent of Dar es Salaam two years ago is anything to go by.

Last time we were a group of 4, representing CA Nigeria, Integrity USA and Inclusive Church as well as CA England. We wish we were going to be a more representative group this time and we will miss the mix of skills and experience that Davis, Caro and Scott brought.

We will try to be as inclusive as possible in our reporting, though we are both white and on the ‘mature’, gay side of things. At least we represent gender balance!

Sunday 25 January 2009

Pasadena Rector stuns Oprah by declaring being gay is a gift from God

The Revd Ed Bacon, Rector of All Saints Church Pasadena, apparently stunned Oprah Winfrey in a recent appearance on her show by declaring that being gay is a gift from God.

He was invited back to elaborate on what he meant. "I meant exactly what I said. It is so important for every human being to understand that he or she is a gift from God, and particularly people who are marginalized and victimized in our culture. Gay and lesbian people are clearly outcasts in many areas of our life and it’s so important for them to understand that when God made them, God said you are good."

Changing Attitude joins Ed Bacon in declaring “Being gay is a gift from God.”

Our sexuality is one of the most powerful and enriching gifts from God to every human being. It is a gift to be lived into, explored and celebrated. Parts of the Anglican Communion are obsessed with our sexual identity and what we do sexually. It adds to people’s neuroses, guilt and anxieties about their sexuality and intimate relationships rather than affirming the good and holy in people and resourcing them to live more deeply loving and faithful lives.

All Saints Pasadena, where Revd Susan Russell, President of Integrity USA is on the staff, models what Changing Attitude is working to achieve in the Church of England - the blessing of lesbian and gay relationships and Civil Partnerships, in church, in public, with an authorised liturgy, by the parish priest, as an integral part of the congregation’s pastoral ministry.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Conservative evangelical disagreements

This week the Church of England Newspaper carries a story about the Ven Michael Lawson, the Archdeacon of Hampstead. He has said: “Rowan’s theological method is reflective and in a sense poetic. It’s a valuable contribution to the discussion. But there is a distinction to be drawn between even the best kind of speculative theology and the leadership required of an Archbishop.”

Archdeacon Lawson has inherited what the CEN describes as “a troubled position” after his predecessor, Dr Richard Turnbull, resigned amid acrimony after being faced with rebellion over a vote on the Jerusalem Declaration at the fifth National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) at All Souls, London, in November 2008.

Michael Lawson says that Rowan Williams’ actions as Archbishop of Canterbury have “created difficulties for people who are struggling with sexual temptations.” In view of what the CEN report goes on to say, this might be described as an attempt to divert attention from the CEEC’s problems by putting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the blame frame.

Conservative divisions
Archdeacon Lawson is reported as admitting that the CEEC is unrepresentative of the body of Anglican evangelicals. However, he is said to discourage the talk of division and denies the existence of separate camps within the evangelical community. The Rt Revd Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, contradicts the Archdeacon. He is quoted as saying: “I think there are major divisions. I think there is a denial on the part of some of the more conservative people that there are divisions. Unless they can get a bit of honesty about facing those things, it can’t be solved.”
Changing Attitude might be tempted to find satisfaction in the public embarrassment that divisions between, on the one hand, conservative evangelical groups such as Reform and Anglican Mainstream and more open evangelical groups and events such as Fulcrum, New Wine and Spring Harvest. Changing Attitude has a very positive relationship with Fulcrum and warm friendships with key Fulcrum leaders.

Although we differ about the church’s teaching for LGBT people, we are committed to friendship and dialogue with all who are members with us in the Body of Christ and participants in the church’s dialogue on human sexuality. These disagreements weaken the evangelical position. Any group experiencing inner conflict and division loses energy and authority as energy and attention is diverted to the internal dynamic. This is true whenever there is a failure to maintain good relationships and a common heart and mind, whether the groups are evangelical, traditional, liberal or radical.

Changing Attitude is committed to the goal of the full inclusion of LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion. We are committed to work towards that goal in relationship with those who support and those who oppose our goal. Whenever divisions, failure of communication and trust, and rivalries exist in any part of our Communion, the work of reconciliation within the Body of Christ is inhibited or diminished.

The way in which what we in CA would see as extreme groups within the Communion behave looks to us as being very far from the Anglican way of doing things and from the pattern of behaviour expected of us by Jesus Christ. The behaviour of some of those involved with the CEEC in the UK and ACNA in North America often feels abusive, manipulative and divisive.
We suspect the Archdeacon Lawson thinks he includes all LGBT people when he writes of those ‘struggling with sexual temptations’. Archdeacon, you are not ignorant of parish life. You know, I hope, perfectly well that heterosexual people struggle with sexual temptation just as much as LGBT people. It is not a temptation to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, nor to fall in love, nor to express that love in an committed, intimate relationship. The temptation is to be unfaithful or to lust.

What the majority of LGBT Christians struggle with is staying faithful to the church and finding people and congregations who will nourish their faith and affirm their sexuality when parts of the Communion devote so much time and energy to attacking us. Archdeacon Michael, your comment is made in ignorance of faithful LGBT Christian lives.

We know we create difficulties for the Archbishop of Canterbury because we represent a minority around whom intense controversy rages and who are blamed, in the person of Bishop Gene Robinson, for the chaos in the Communion. We can see that conservatives also create difficulty for the Archbishop, obsessing as they do about homosexuality, undermining his authority and setting out to destroy not the Anglican ethos (though they do) but the very nature of what it is to be a church committed to following Jesus in love through the crucifixion of false beliefs about human sexuality to the resurrection of all in transformed and transfigured relationships of love and deep, holy intimacy.

Monday 19 January 2009

Monica Furlong inspires CA blog

“…so that we may fulfil all things from love rather than from the fear of Him…”
Peter Abelard

Where to start a blog for Changing Attitude? I have been reading a book published 40 years ago. Having run out of new books to read, I casually opened With Love to the Church by Monica Furlong. A second hand copy has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for years. Monica was one of the first patrons of Changing Attitude until her early death. I have been astonished by her prophetic vision and courage.

I was 20 when the book was published. She wrote soon after John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, had published Honest to God; the Lady Chatterley trial and the outrage of many bishops was a recent memory; Harry Williams was beginning to explore his own faith in his published writings.
With Love to the Church expresses all that inspired me in the 1960s to be a passionate Christian. Monica Furlong articulated 40 years ago a vision which led in 1995 to the formation of Changing Attitude. It stands as a testimony to our vision for the Church of England and the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within our Anglican Communion. Our Communion – we will not let it be hijacked by those who wish to exclude us.

A few quotations from Monica Furlong can set the agenda for this blog. Monica speaks into the present, although she was writing and reacting to her experience of the Church of England in 1965:

“This is the old fear …. that truth will not prevail, that the moral structure of a nation is so fragile that it needs elaborate defences. Christians, it seems to me, have to choose between the safety of ‘morals’ and the danger of love. It is my own belief that Christ’s teaching was principally about the latter, but that if you do teach men and women to love God and love their neighbours then morals take care of themselves.”
“Love must be a process of learning to be vulnerable – to one another, to ideas, to knowledge, to the arts, even to the injuries which the forces of evil constantly try to inflict. It is impossible to love without getting hurt, if only because the loveless may be incapable of responding to love. This is what is meant about taking up the cross and following Christ. Being a Christian means believing that love overcomes lovelessness, though at a cost.” P78

I am a Christian because I believe I have been called by the God who risked all for love in the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. I am called to follow the same path and to attempt in my fallible way to love in as risky, vulnerable and sacrificial way as I am able. The capacity to be vulnerable in love is rooted in my practice of prayer and meditation. No other source is able to sustain such a risky endeavour.

Those who support Changing Attitude and engage in our work through the diocesan groups attempt the same path. We set out to change church attitudes not only towards LGBT people, but to the call of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

We live in a world in which fear is rampant – fear of the economic crisis into which we have been plunged, fear of the destructive effects of Global Warming, fear of terrorism, of difference, loss of power and control, fear of intimacy. Monica writes:

“The roots of such fears which choke love like weeds need repeated examination. Partly they spring from failures in loving within the family and within society; partly, also, from horror of the body and its desires which the Church has done much to encourage. The exaggerated emphasis on the sinfulness of sexual intercourse has led many sensitive people to a terror of any situation where they might lose control. This in turn leads in some cases to a fear of the opposite sex, or a dislike of even the briefest and most casual physical contact.”
“Yet to be comforted, to be assured that we are valuable and important, we need to be touched. We need our hands to be shaken, our cheeks to be kissed, our shoulders to be embraced, with the quick sympathy and affection of friendship or of kinship.”

Monica Furlong reminds us of human needs which are so basic, essential and holy – safe, gentle touch, a warm embrace, a kiss, the intimacy of another body, a person who trusts themselves to us in love.

This is the work of Changing Attitude, the goal to which we aspire. To achieve our goal means changing church attitudes towards LGBT people so that we can be blessed and affirmed for the faithful, intimate, loving relationships we create. Monica Furlong is just one of the many prophetic, faithful Christians whose life and writings inspire us.