Thursday 26 February 2009

Rowan Williams – brilliant strategist or man of God?

In a commentary posted on VirtueOnline on 25 February, David Virtue, my friend from Dar es Salaam and Alexandria, says the Archbishop of Canterbury sees the Anglican Communion as an open-ended chess game.

David senses that Dr. Rowan Williams is a brilliant theologian/strategist. If there’s one thing most people I talk with tell me, including the Archbishop himself, it would be that strategy isn’t one of his greatest gifts.

David goes on to describe the chess game this ‘brilliant strategist’ is playing. “It is a game which never really ends (there is no classic end game), no checkmate (no one can lay down his mitre or be thrown out of the communion), players go backwards and forwards, bishops, knights, rooks (castles) all move, but nothing is taken off the board. It is a game no one wins or really loses.”

“The odd pawn is sacrificed (like orthodox parishes in the US or the Diocese of Recife in Brazil), but the game goes on endlessly with the kings and queens (you may take the latter literally in the person of Gene Robinson), but even he gets to stay on the chess board as it is considered infra dig to hit on a queen.”

That doesn’t sound like a brilliant strategist at work. It sounds like David’s usual, slightly camp bitterness against a man he loathes. Rowan Williams is “the Grand Manipulator” according to David, who has “been able to duck and weave over black and white moral issues like homosexuality.”

David is angry that the closure many conservatives were confidently predicting has not happened. The schism hasn’t taken place. All the Primates gathered in Alexandria. Lambeth and GAFCON must somehow coexist. TEC and ACNA will muddle along glaring at each other across the great theological divide. The Windsor Report, in all its manifestations and permutations, lies in tatters. A Covenant, if it ever reaches a final stage, will have the value of toilet paper.

This is David’s estimation of where we are now (anxious liberals take note). He sees all this as failure. I see signs of success. The Communion holds, Primates and bishops meet and acknowledge one another, discuss and learn together. Different groups co-exist and muddle along. It’s an uncomfortable mess, for all of us, LGBT Anglicans and conservatives together.

The Rowan Williams I know is a person of almost infinite generosity and patience who givea himself daily to God, a contemplative whom God has called to very public high office. Rowan Williams’ “strategy” is to attend to God as openly and deeply as he can in prayer and contemplation. The resources for Archbishop Rowan’s “strategy” are to be found there. It is his Christian conviction that what matters most are relationships – with God, with ourselves, with one another, with friends and with those with whom we disagree. We are created to live the truth in relationship.

If David Virtue’s analysis of Archbishop Rowan as brilliant strategist, the Communion as finished and gays as damned is correct, why are we all still here, inside the church, working and praying for a future which holds us together in Christ? It is David’s analysis which is wrong and the strategy to bring about schism which is failing, thank God.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

First or second order Christians?

Reading the lessons for the 2nd and 3rd services of Ash Wednesday this morning (I lump them all together in the morning) I began thinking about first and second order issues as I contemplated what I might do for Lenten discipline. Gin and tonic, Pringles and afternoon cake – banished. Daily cycle rides for health – except my bike has a puncture today.

Same-sex relations are a first order issue, says Anglican Mainstream, while the ordination of women as priests and bishops is a second order issue. It’s a first order issue for Archbishop Deng of Sudan, says Chris Sugden. I’ve never understood why same-sex love and relationships are a first order, Communion-breaking issue.

To me, there have always been other, far more important issues which are first order. And isn’t one of the purposes of Lent an opportunity to remind ourselves of the primary reasons for being a Christian and attempting to root ourselves more deeply in a Christian pattern of life? I’m not giving up love for my partner for Lent. I have never read a verse from the Bible which tells me to stop loving my same-sex partner.

What I read this morning in 1 Timothy is that I, a person of God, must pursue justice, piety, integrity, love, fortitude, and gentleness. I am to run the great race of faith and lay hold of eternal life, for to this we have been called.

This is what I have always given myself to - issues which I believe are of first importance for Christians. We are to pursue justice, piety, integrity, love, fortitude and gentleness because these qualities characterise the Christian life.

Changing Attitude exists to pursue justice. I give an hour at the beginning of each day, not piously but in piety, to prayer and the contemplation of God. Changing Attitude has always placed integrity at the centre of our work, being open and honest about ourselves and granting integrity to those who disagree with us.

Love is at the heart of God and at the heart of our work, which is to so change church attitudes that all can discern the holy love which can be present in adult, faithful same-sex relationships. Fortitude is essential. The road to full inclusion is long and the abuse and misrepresentation we are subjected to causes deep pain. Gentleness must characterise our work. We are too gentle for some, those who grow impatient with the church and find us too reluctant to demand change or confront prejudice in others.

“But while he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him.” Luke 15.20

I pray for change now, justice now, equality in the church for LGBT people now. I am patient enough to know that change is achieved by a combination of those who are angrily impatient and those who work patiently and prayerfully.

How far off was the son when the father saw him - at the farm gate, the end of a long farm track, a mere speck in the distance? I like to imagine that the father saw the son coming home the moment he set off from the piggery.

God is watching those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians and has been watching our slow journey home for some considerable time. I like to imagine that, with many of us, God is impatient at the time the journey is taking. I have no doubt that God recognises us as first order Christians, people pursuing justice, piety, integrity, love, fortitude and gentleness

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Canon Chris Sugden on Archbishop Deng of Sudan in Evangelicals Now

I was present at the press conference in Alexandria in February when David Virtue asked Archbishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan whether he had changed his stance from the statement made at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Then, he called on Gene Robinson to resign and The Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC) to repent.

Archbishop Deng replied: "We are asking that within the primates meeting, and the situation on the statement remains the same. We have not deviated. What is needed is for churches in the Anglican world to wrestle with these issues so it comes to an end." He spoke at the Primates Meeting, not because homosexuality and Gene Robinson were on his mind but because David Virtue asked a question irrelevant to the topic the Archbishop was there to address.

Canon Chris Sugden has returned to the Archbishop’s comments in an article written for the March issue of Evangelicals Now. He carefully outlines the growth being experienced by the Church of Sudan and the poverty which affects the church. My diocese is Salisbury and our link Province the Sudan. I was present in the cathedral for the pre-Lambeth welcome service. I know of the profound challenges faced by the Church there.

Chris argues that Archbishop Deng has the courage to forfeit $100,000 from The Episcopal Church in the USA, refused “because he continues fearlessly to call TEC to account by saying that there is no solution for the current crisis in the Anglican Communion till TEC repents and undoes what it did in making Gene Robinson a bishop. He does this because same-sex relations are a primary issue and he is prepared to sacrifice the desperate needs of his people and church to uphold his position on homosexuality.”

The apparent integrity of this statement doesn’t convince me. Archbishop Deng is willing to enjoy the fruits of his Province’s relationship with the Diocese of Salisbury and the hospitality freely given here. The Archbishop, so determined to punish Bishop Gene Robinson and The Episcopal Church is nevertheless able to compromise his principles and share worship in Salisbury Cathedral with partnered lesbian and gay clergy, myself included.

Chris Sugden says Archbishop Deng shares the strengths of transparency and accountability with the primates of Tanzania, Rwanda, West Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Southern Cone. Transparency and accountability are not words that come to mind when I consider the statements made by then Canon Tunde Popoola on behalf of the Church of Nigeria about Davis Mac-Iyalla. If Chris Sugden wants to maintain transparency, accountability and integrity across the Communion, he should brief Archbishop Deng about senior, partnered lesbian and gay clergy in Salisbury Diocese and advise him to refuse money and sever the link.

I hope and pray Archbishop doesn’t do any such thing. Perhaps it’s only bishops who are gay that worry Archbishop Deng. Perhaps it’s just TEC bishops who are gay that worry him.

Archbishop Deng told his impromptu press conference at Lambeth Conference that some of his people were being killed by Muslims because they were identified as members of the Anglican Communion that condones homosexual practice. He should also know that in countries in Europe, North America and Africa, homosexuals are killed because of their sexuality. It is the Muslims and the homophobes who kill who are in the wrong, and the Christians and lesbians and gay men who need protection and justice.

Davis Mac-Iyalla's Sunday in Brussels

I visited Holy Trinity church in Brussels on Sunday for worship. Because of heavy traffic I arrived late but I was glad to see a community of people from different ethnic backgrounds worshipping together. Most of the people were elderly English speaking people and it became clear they are of an older generation that still holds to conservative views while giving support to refugees and any one who comes in to their church. I could see that the attitude of hate the sin and love the sinner was still in place.

I was very happy to find out that the Chaplain is from Nigeria and a school mate to some of my friends who are priests in my home Diocese of the Niger Delta. I could see some worries on his face when I rang his bell after the service to introduce myself. He was very welcoming, however and introduced his wife and two beautiful girls. I was offered food and drink and was welcomed very well.

However there was no time for me to ask his views on the debate about human sexuality in the Anglican Communion - he was running late for the next service. I left Holy Trinity rejoicing because the Chaplain wanted me to join the next service, a Youth dedication service where a young Ghanaian who is a member of the youth group was to preach the sermon.

Beloved friends, you don’t often find Nigerian priests opening their doors to welcome fellow Christians who are LGBT. Even those living in the West are still trapped in the politics of the Church of Nigeria because they don’t want to go back home and be rejected by their home bishop.

The welcoming attitude of this Nigerian priest opened my mind to begin to research how many Nigerian priests are in Europe and are really welcoming to everyone. Changing Attitude Nigeria will continue to seriously challenge religious homophobia not only within the Nigerian Church but also in Europe and other parts of the World.

Later I met with an African Gay Pentecostal group. They are very much underground as gay people but also form an open choir, singing the Holy Spirit down on bishops, priests and lay people every Sunday in their churches. Many conservative Christians claim to be hearing from the Holy Spirit directly, but I keep wondering why the conservatives have still not got the message that there are many LGBT members in their churches who sing the melodies in choirs and congregations every Sunday, singing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Davis Mac-Iyalla meets Commissioner General and Flemish LGBT group

Friday started with a rush as we didn’t want to miss our appointment with the LGBT Responsible at Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless, and Foreign Affairs.

The meeting with the Commissioner General was very productive. I was told that the Belgian Government have been granting LGBT people asylum based on their sexuality. I shared my story and experience during my asylum screening and experience in an asylum detention centre. I was pleased to find out that the Belgian government have researchers who are working on LGBT issues. I was told there was no record of any Nigerian who has applied for asylum based on their sexuality since 2008 in Belgium.

The researchers for Nigeria and Togo-Benin both met with me and showed me documentary evidence that they are following all the LGBT issues and will need assistance to break through the LGBT world in Africa since most of them are in the closet and underground.

I was told that they need to collaborate with us because there is evidence of people faking to be LGBT in order to claim asylum. This is shocking and sad because it then puts the real LGBT people in doubt when they are in serious danger.

After the meeting with the Commissioner General we went to lunch in a nearby Chinese restaurant and meet with Xavier who is going to interview me for the Bang Bang radio program to be broadcast on Sunday.

We then travelled from Brussels to Antwerp where I was interviewed by Yvan Brys who writes for Zizo Magazine.

In the evening I spoke at the Roze Huts with the main Flemish LGBT organization. It was joy for me to meet Dennis of WISH-Antwerp. The group has been a supporter of CA Nigeria since 2005. I told the audience about the life of LGBT people in Nigeria and my story as well as answering the many questions they asked. It was so good to see more gay Catholic priests who came to hear me speak and to encourage me in my ministry.

It was the birthday of one of the lesbians with us so we joined her in celebrating her birthday. I was really exhausted as everyone in the hall was seeking my attention and asking lots of questions. Some wanted me to assure them whether they can travel to Nigeria and be safe. Others wanted to know why Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Akinola is so interested in sex. At some point I got confused because I was not sure of whom to give attention. It was encouraging to hear from one of the members that he has adopted a 17 year old Nigerian boy from Edo as his son and is taking care of him.

The meeting has helped me to think of a possible new project I will start within the European Union.

Press coverage: go to "VRIJDAG 19 FEBRUARI" Page 14-15

Links to Belgian blog coverage:

Friday 20 February 2009

Davis Mac-Iyalla visits asylum reception centre and Radio Centraal, Antwerp

I started my programme at noon today with Kathleen who is working on a project on interculturalisation within the LGBT federation. She drove us to the federal reception centre for asylum seekers in Sint Truiden. We were welcomed by Bart Hermans, initiator of the AHHA project, a project to customise counselling for LGBT Asylum seekers.

He took us round to have a look at the centre and to give us a broad explanation about how the daily life in the Centre is organised. He allowed access to view all the facilities at the centre and also allowed us to takes pictures of anything we saw there, except for the inhabitants of the centre themselves, according to the respect for their privacy.

At 3pm we were invited to an audience of about 20 staff members from the centre A few came from another centre to join the event, among them the two directors.

Bart gave a brief introduction about how the project started and the future targets, which include raising awareness about the presence of LGBT people in the reception centres and developing capacity to counsel them. They then plan to transfer the experience from this centre where they are trying out initiatives and going through a learning process to other centres as a training programme.

The audience was invited to hear my story. I told them about my family background, my faith as a Christian, the decision to come out as a gay Anglican, and all the impact it had on my life, and also about how it is to live as a refugee and to go through an asylum determination procedure. The audience was listening carefully and put forward very interesting questions, raising issues that were of relevance to the situation in their own centre.

The position of women, the role of religions, the discussion about identifying as a gay or being in the closet, we shared ideas and visions about the issues. I could feel that listening to my life story was a revealing experience for them and I can now hope it will help the centre to better understand LGBT people.

From Sint Truiden we had to travel to Antwerp where we were invited to the studios of Radio Centraal for the weekly queer radio program Pink Wave, which is broadcast every Thursday between 20.30 and 22.30. Radio Centraal is an alternative socially engaged local broadcasting initiative but the Pink Wave program is also streamed to their website, where you can listen to it. I will post the link to the programme as soon as it is out on the website. The interview gave an opportunity to tell my story once more and to raise issues concerning LGBT people in Nigeria. My faith as a Christian Anglican was a strange experience for the people interviewing me. They mostly know people turning their back on the church, but when I said we LGBT’s will not pack our bags and walk out from the church where we belong for the sake of some conservative hypocrites, I could feel that they were supporting my assertive attitude towards the church as an institution.

The details of the interview you will listen to when I post the link, so there’s no reason to write out details here. Antwerp Central railway station made a big impression on me - it is a real cathedral for trains and passengers. On our way to the radio station, we passed the tower of the cathedral and Europe’s first skyscraper called ‘boerentoren’ a 98m high art-deco tower. The story goes that the towers are in love and in the past they even wrote public love letters to each other, which they then rolled out from their tops so the public could enjoy their relationshop.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Davis Mac-Iyalla visits Belgian and European Parliaments and ILGA in Belgium

Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, is in Belgium this week for a series of meetings with secular and Christian groups and individuals. Here is his report of the first three days:

I arrived safely in Brussels on Monday and met with Nissim from the Marhaba Muslim LGBT group for dinner. We discussed the situation of his group and the role they are playing to support LGBT Muslims in Belgium and I talked about the history of CA Nigeria from the beginning to the present day.

I began with a visit to ILGA Head Office and met with Patricia Curzi who is the Women’s Project Coordinator. Steve Barris and other colleagues are on vacation at this time. I raised the issue of the lies being told by the Nigerian Government about the non-existence of LGBT people or groups in Nigeria and the concerns we have. I talked about CA Nigeria and the journey so far as well areas where we need ILGA to collaborate with us. We talked about the structure of CAN and Pan-African ILGA. We also discussed the possibility of training Human Rights Defenders in Africa. The meeting lasted for two hours and Patricia promised to convey my message to the Board of ILGA and thanked us for coming.

My next meeting was at the Belgian Parliament. I meet with five members of the Belgian Parliament and again raised the issue of Nigeria. I was able to tell them about CA Nigeria and what we are doing as a group. I told my story and asked them how refugees like me can be supported and what resources are available to help us. The parliamentarians listened carefully and promised to take up the Nigeria Human Rights issue with their colleagues who are responsible for foreign affairs. They noted different possibilities they can activate to support LGBT rights in the developing countries and promised to bring me back to address a wider audience.

I went from the Belgian Parliament to be interviewed for a Dutch Daily News Paper.

After the interview I went to the European Parliament to meet with the Chairmen of the Intergroup. I was feeling so important walking into the EU Parliament only to be told that I can’t enter without a photo ID, but I hadn’t brought my travel documents with me. The clerk called the MP to come in person to take me in. I raised the issue of the Nigerian Government and told the MP how angry we are in CA England and Nigeria with the Human Rights report. I was able to tell our story and asked that the Intergroup help us put out a statement. EU MP Michael assured me he will do everything in his power to follow the issue. He explained the structure and functions of the Intergroup within the European Parliament.

I left the European Parliament assured that our case will be taken up by the authorities.

The next meeting was at the Amnesty Office where officials of the LGBT Chapter of the University in Brussels came to hear me talk and asked how they can support and work with CAN. I told the story of CAN and the situation of LGBT people in Nigeria up to the present time when I was granted refugee status. The students have agreed to invite me soon so I can speak to a wider audience. Many questions were asked by the members of the LGBT Chapter. Other people were taking notes during all these meetings and I am sure more reports will be posted from other sources.


I met Andre Nuyttemans, who is a theologian and a counsellor in a Catholic school in Brugge. Andre has been involved with the European Gay and Christian Movement for over twenty years and knows most of the leaders in the UK. He asked me to extend greetings to Richard Kirker whom in his word he called a fighter for freedom.

Andre told his story of how he was raised as an orthodox Roman Catholic boy with a strong conservative background but found his life changed at the age of twenty when he realised he was gay and never wanted to be with a woman.

He was lucky because at that time his parish priest who was not gay was very supportive when he went to confess his sexual orientation during mass. He told us it was the priest who told him not to enter into the priesthood since the Catholic Church will not accept him for who he is. With the encouragement of his priest he was able to apply for a secular university and not the Catholic seminary that his parents wanted him to attend at the time.

At the university he became more open with his sexuality but thought less of his membership with the Catholic church. It was his priest who visited and made him realise that it is much more easy to change the church from inside than outside. That is how he picked up his faith again and has been involved with various support groups to the local LGBT people who are mostly Catholics. It was interesting to meet more than six Catholic Reverend fathers who told me more than I ever imagined about the Pope and the Roman Catholic church. They concluded by saying the Pope knows that once gay people are stopped from entering the priesthood that will be the end of unmarried priests in the Catholic church. I now understand that from the back door; authorities of the Roman Catholic Church turn a blind eyes to the many gay priest, bishops and officials while the Pope can express negative views in public. I never knew the Pope has a made up artist until yesterday. The artist has now been asked to keep a distance because fingers are pointing to him.

I shared my story and talked about CAN and what the Nigerian Government and political leaders are doing to silence LGBT people in Nigeria. At the end of the meeting fresh Belgian beer was served which is made from the hands of lesbian monks to celebrate my visit. (That’s what Davis wrote!)

I posed for an artist who wants to make a portrait of me and ended the evening with curious young Belgians who wanted to know how it feels to be black, gay and Christian and be so lively about everything!

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Changing Attitude plans for the ACC meeting in Jamaica

Changing Attitude has begun to think about our presence at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica from 2 to 12 May. Brenda’s budget research suggests that it might be nearly four times more expensive to go to Jamaica than Egypt (and that doesn’t include the cost of staying in the same hotel as the meeting (which is any case already fully booked).

Being present in Jamaica presents a great possibility than in Egypt of connecting with LGBT activists and Christians, and with Anglicans in particular. The only LGBT organisation that my research has so far discovered is J-FLAG

The web site contains a page addressing Body & Spirit - Religion and Spirituality:

“One source of real pain for many of us is the rejection we receive from the church and our spiritual communities. Being raised in a spiritual community, whether Christian or other can and should be a very nurturing experience, but for many of us, our experience of such communities is the opposite. From an early age we are taught that to be anything other than heterosexual is evil, sinful, corrupt, and that we are destined to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity.

This kind of rejection by our churches and our communities is very damaging to our spirits. Many people internalise this message and it takes a lot of strength and courage to reject this way of thinking, especially when the fundamentalists have armed themselves with quote after quote from the bible to justify their bigotry. Fundamentalist Christian churches dominate the spiritual landscape in Jamaica, making it difficult for people to explore alternative thinking on homosexuality.

However, there are alternatives to the mainstream church, including some Christian churches which focus more on nurturing the spirit and drawing the positive from people, rather than on condemning people and focusing on guilt and sin. Some of these alternatives operate from a Christian perspective, and others present alternative belief systems.”

The web page has a link to follow for information on gay-friendly churches in Jamaica. I for one will be interested to discover if there are any Anglican churches listed as gay friendly.

CA being present in Jamaica for the ACC meeting is advantageous, as we have discovered in Alexandria and Dar es Salaam. Telling the story of meetings from a pro-gay, inclusive, open church perspective makes a difference. If we weren’t present, the story would be told by George Conger, who reports wisely for the CEN and Living Church from a conservative perspective, and David Virtue, who is homophobic and obsessed with homosexuality. Riazat Butt may also be there with other media people in a dual role – accompanying their bishop as well as reporting the event.

I realise that being in Jamaica could present a bigger opportunity for engaging with the homophobic culture of Jamaica than I had imagined. Amnesty International and ILGA may help us communicate more effectively, highlight Jamaican prejudice and add to the pressure on the Anglican Communion to change its teaching, its collusion in violence and oppression against LGBT people in Jamaica and elsewhere.

With your help, we can be present in Jamaica and effective in communicating to the wider Communion. Visit the CA web site to make a donation.

Monday 16 February 2009

Nigerian Government lies to the UN

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs made a statement to the UN periodic review of human rights in Geneva on 9th February. The United Kingdom had asked to know the position of the Nigerian Government on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Davis Mac-Iyalla and other leaders of Changing Attitude Nigeria reacted with fury and described the statement as a lie.

The Minister, Ojo Madueke, said:

“As we have indicated in our National Report, we have no record of any group of Nigerians, who have come together under the umbrella of “Lesbian, Gay and Transgender” group, let alone to start talking of their rights.”

“During our National Consultative Forum, we went out of our way to look for the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender group, but we could not come across Nigerians with such sexuality.”

I agree with Davis and the other leaders – this is a blatant lie. Changing Attitude Nigeria (CAN) and other LGBT groups exist in Nigeria. CAN is a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group has received widespread publicity in the Nigerian media and online. The group is well known to the hierarchy of the Church of Nigeria, as documents on the CA website prove. Senior bishops and archbishops have close connections with the government. LGBT contacts in Nigeria repeatedly tell me of politicians and senior government figures who are known to be gay.

It is a lie that the National Consultative Forum went out of its way to look for LGBT people. They didn’t look very far. An Google search for LGBT Nigeria groups lists as the first find, a report of CAN’s letter to the Anglican Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in May 2007.

The report continues:

“If they are an amorphous group, then the question of violence against them does not arise, let alone negotiating special rights for them.”

As reports on the web site show, LGBT people in Nigeria are repeatedly subject to violence, by the police as well as civilians. The UK Government has granted asylum to Davis Mac-Iyalla and Stephen Wariebi Hobo because they were deemed to be at serious risk were they to return to Nigeria.

I fear I will wait in vain for Archbishop Peter Akinola and the Church of Nigeria to denounce the report and remind the Nigerian Government of the presence of LGBT people and CAN as an advocacy group. How about CANA and Bishop Martyn Minns, Anglican Mainstream, and all the other conservative groups working to divide the Communion on the basis of people’s sexuality? Do they only acknowledge the presence of LGBT people in North America, or will they have the courage to admit meeting Davis?

My fear is for the tens of thousands of LGBT people in Nigeria who live in fear in a country that is institutionally homophobic, with encouragement from the church. As one of my friends in Nigeria commented:

“They know fully well that its not true, it’s all lies. Nobody will even want to come out now, they 'll be more scared. Anyone who stands to be blunt and truthful about anything they silence. They see magazines each day publish gay stories in the same country that we live in right before the Minister’s nose in Abuja where he lives. That report I find very, very annoying and if I was to write publicly about it, they would even arrest me. It’s their way of putting every LGBT person's work to waste so people can feel nothing happens here and I wonder which person would even try to think that gays don't exist in Nigeria.”

Friday 13 February 2009

General Synod Thursday - Bishop Don Harvey

Bishop Don Harvey, moderator bishop of the Anglican Network in Canada was Anglican Mainstream’s speaker at their fringe meeting on Wednesday lunchtime. I arrived somewhat later, unsure whether the Director of Changing Attitude would be welcome. I’m told he began his address by saying the Network is not obsessed with homosexuality and then spent the next 30 minutes talking about it.

He listed all the wicked things that have been happening in Canada, including the 1 million dollars it will cost both sides in litigation. The Church of Canada was blamed for everything. Referring to the invitation of the Canadian Primate to take issues up at Diocesan level and negotiate, he said this was like negotiating a settlement after a divorce – the split has happened and this is now history.

The liberal church must repent for the things it has already done. When repentance is talked about, what liberals, mean, he said, was that the church should repent to the homosexual community for the things it has done to them.

What is happening in Canada is being blessed by God. Two years ago, they had 2 bishops, 2 priests, 2 deacons, 2 parishes, and now they have 3 bishops (all brought out of retirement until they get new bishops from within the new church), 68 priests, 27 parishes – the Lord is blessing us, he repeated. We have an average Sunday attendance of 3,500, bigger than 9 Canadian dioceses. There are bishops in England sympathetic to them, he said. In the worldwide Communion, Primates who lead 45 million Anglicans, have given their support.

Later, without any sense of irony, he said that others use statistics to buttress up the case they are trying to make, but they are people who have lost sight of the biblical message – Pentecostals are attracting people in Canada in a real way, we need to do the same.

Those who think we can live together in our diversity don’t know the enormity of our diversity – it is impossible.

Bishop Greg Venables (who greeted me warmly again in Alexandria) has taken them under his wing, not as part of the Province but as a gentleman’s agreement.

Expectations of the Primates meeting were far too high. If you wait for Primates or the Anglican Consultative Council to launch a new Province, we will never get it. We have to initiate, maybe piecemeal, until we get a majority of the Primates to support us.

The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is held in great esteem, and with prayer, we will get the support of the ABC. He is walking the yellow line and so far we have heard nothing negative from him.

My reflections
It’s all very familiar, and was delivered by a bishop who is clearly likeable and passionate. Those listening to him were enthusiastic about his message. Those around the table I joined assumed without question that I agreed with them. I applauded to ensure I wasn’t lynched by a rather frightening looking woman who kept turning to share her enthusiasm. I was relieved to see liberals at the adjoining table and spread around the room. Later I discovered some of them were relieved to see me arrive, confirmation that they hadn’t made a mistake.

Blame is endemic to the conservative narrative. It is our, liberal fault, we who believe we are maintaining the tradition of Anglicanism against those who are trying to destroy the Elizabethan settlement and create a schism. What they are doing is blessed by God and they are right. There is no sense of the complexity of human feelings and actions, no thought that those they oppose might also have a degree of integrity and a conviction that what we believe is has a holy dimension and stands in a great tradition of the biblical call for justice.

They live in hope either that the Archbishop of Canterbury will recognise them, or they achieve success by force of numbers. Nothing that happened at the Primates meeting last week should give them any hope of success. The ABC and the Global South Primates were inside the meeting and all signed the final letter.

Changing Attitude at Synod
We had a display as usual in the Charter Room. This time, we brought two of the panels from our stand in the Market Place at Lambeth. I’d bought a suit on Monday for reasons not connected with Synod and arrived wearing it, causing shock in many who are used to my usual more casual style.

On Tuesday, John Plant from MCU and General Synod, and Ruth Gledhill of the Times, shared a moment of hilarity with me. I add this picture as an example of the many warm conversations and encounters that are possible at Synod. Changing Attitude has created many friendships with a diversity of Synod members and media people which have helped communicate our message.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Who wrote Archbishop Peter Akinola's letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury?

The American Anglican Council has published an open letter sent by Archbishop Peter Akinola to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Why was the letter sent now?
The reports which accompany the letter were prepared prior to the Primates meeting, shared with Global South colleagues but not released more widely in the hope that they “would receive assurances from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada that they were willing to exercise genuine restraint” towards their Anglican compatriots in North America.

This is a remarkable hope from Archbishop Akinola and his Global South colleagues, and I don’t believe this explanation. Could there be another reason? Comments posted on Stand Firm and VirtueOnline might provide an answer. Conservative Americans are critical of the GS Primates because they weren’t more vocal in Alexandria. For example:

“I don’t see why the report wasn’t issued to the participants at the meeting, or released before the meeting.”
“Supposedly the vote for the communiqué was unanimous. I find it hard to believe that ++Akinola, ++Kolini, ++Orombi would sign onto a pledge to not proselytize.”
“I am very sad: such a loss of an opportunity for the GAFCON Primates.”
“So, if I read people’s comments right, it’s over? The liberals won, the Primates rolled over and, if you’re a Christian in the Anglican communion you’d better find yourself another denomination? GAFCON and co. proved to be paper tigers and, thus, there is no real protection for the orthodox and it’s just game over for Anglicanism, full stop.”

Who initiated the letter?
Archbishop Akinola says he asked The American Anglican Council to prepare the report (actually, two reports were attached) in preparation for the meeting. I suggest that the letter was initiated by American secessionists who were being criticised by their own constituency who were accusing the Global South Primates of selling out on them. The letter was posted on the American Anglican Council web site, not the Church of Nigeria web site.

Who wrote the letter?
Talking with senior members of General Synod, the name that came immediately to mind was Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream. My textual analysis experts haven’t been let loose on the letter yet, but there is a confidence in ascribing the letter to Canon Chris and not Archbishop Peter.

In the letter, Archbishop Akinola says the Primates were “treated to presentations that sought to trivialize the situation and the consequences for those whose only offence is their determination to hold on doggedly and truthfully to the faith once delivered to the saints.” This bears no resemblance whatsoever to the description of what was taking place inside the meeting that I gained from a number of primates. There was no trivialising of the situation. Archbishop Peter was in the meeting and knew the reality of what happened – Canon Chris wasn’t there. It is this dishonesty and misrepresentation which is repeated over and over again which so damages the Christian community and the integrity of our faith in Jesus Christ.

What is the purpose of the letter?
Well, it’s unlikely to change the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is patiently working to hold all strands of the Anglican Communion together. It’s another attempt to persuade people who haven’t yet got it that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are the bad boys. According to the secessionists (who are of course innocent of any offence), the brokenness of the Communion is entirely the responsibility of others who need to change their behaviour radically. Their constant caricature of the two North American Provinces continually leads to a further erosion of respect for the conservative coalitions and the Christian high ground they claim to occupy. What annoys me is the assumption in the final sentence of the Akinola/Sugden letter that only conservatives do nothing “that will compromise the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ that is our only hope.”

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Andrew Carey's veiled attack on Canterbury

Andrew Carey in the Church of England Newspaper, bemoans the dearth of journalists covering the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria and the lack of lobbyists – only two, he writes, both from Changing Attitude!

At the last Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania as at the Lambeth Conference, writes Andrew, there were minders all over the place and lobbyists and journalists were kept firmly in their place. In contrast, at Alexandria there was little interest and little need for security. It’s true that there were only 7 of us in the press briefings, and Canon Julian Dobbs and Brenda Harrison were the only other people on the fringe of the meeting.

The absence of the conservatives speaks volumes about the state of the Anglican Communion, says Andrew. He blames the failure of the Anglican Communion to seriously address the Windsor Report or take disciplinary action. This has led to disillusionment and disengagement. The only process at work in the Communion is a dishonest attempt to prolong inaction until terminal boredom and frustration sets in, he claims.

This is a veiled attack on the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is always in Andrew’s sights. Andrew is quite wrong. The Archbishop of Canterbury has patiently and sensitively set out his understanding of what it means to be Christian and Anglican. He has a vision of where he wants the church to go and although not a great tactician, has allowed his own faith and intuition to be his guide. As a result, following Lambeth and the Primates meeting, the Communion finds itself more at one with itself and relationships between Primates, bishops and provinces slowly but surely being restored.

My understanding, contrary to Andrew’s negative assessment, is that the usual suspects from the conservative lobby groups, Canons and Bishops as they may be (and white and western) were told to stay away by the Global South primates (who have the authority to do so). I did not pick up a mood of disillusionment and disengagement in Alexandria. Quite the reverse was true.

There was a new optimism and a re-engagement from those primates who had boycotted Lambeth.As I’ve commented before, there is almost a programme of disinformation from some commentators, David Virtue and Andrew Carey among them. Before the ink had dried on communiqués from the past few meetings, said Andrew, the conclusions of the Primates had been flouted and abandoned. He means gay blessings, of course, which are being discussed but have not yet been approved. Meanwhile, cross-border interventions continue to take place, but they don’t count for the likes of Andrew and David, or they are justified, because they are right and we are wrong.

General Synod Wednesday - Women bishops and LGBT Anglicans

On a bitterly cold morning, Brenda and I joined members of WATCH with their two banners at the Dean’s Yard entrance to Church House at 8.30.

The debate on the women bishop’s Measure followed. Various speeches evoked thoughts connecting with LGBT issues.

For example, the Bishop of Beverley spoke about the importance of priests operating with the authority of their bishop, and of those catholic (Forward in Faith) bishops against the ordination of women bishops who need to be under the authority of a male bishop. This got me wondering about some of the FiF priests I know, who seem ready to ignore Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the Windsor Report and what CA is repeatedly told is the historic and official teaching of the church on homosexuality. Obedience to church teaching by priest and lay members of FiF is clearly selective. Anecdotal evidence from Walsingham, St Stephen’s House, Mirfield and the now-closed Chichester comes to mind.

Another speaker referred to those priests who have been ordained since the late 1980s into a church whose polity is to ordain women. I was ordained into the 1970s church in which it was commonplace to ordain gay men and not ask questions about relationships. Church teaching and practice changed. Questions that had never began asked began to be asked, sometimes directly of candidates for ordination. The church changes, church teaching changes, and it is up to us who disagree with integrity to push the boundaries and live into new possibilities in the Spirit.

Rod Thomas spoke of the effect on the number of ordinands against the ordination of women who are coming forward for training, numbering in tens every year. Changing Attitude doesn’t keep similar records on the numbers of LGBT Anglicans who have reluctantly decide not to proceed to selection because of the hostile message given by the church.

The Archdeacon on Chichester spoke of feelings about his place in the church, about the need to feel welcome and secure. Our security, I thought, lies not in the church but in God, who gives us the freedom to live in ambivalence, diversity and confusion.

The need to find security is, of course, a strategy for dealing with anxiety. In my psychotherapy training, one of the most valuable things I learnt was the universal nature of anxiety – that anxiety was going to be a fundamental emotion for every client who walked through the door.

Those on the extremes of the church, conservatives crying for protection, are in part trying to excise their anxiety – about human authority figures or God or personal salvation. For me, confidence in God is fundamental, and that confidence brings freedom in relation to God, other people and the structures of the church. In the public gallery I sat next to man who, when I applauded a speech, three times told me it was against the rules to clap in the gallery. I thanked him for telling me. I confess I used to be similarly offended by others who broke that rule, but I’ve broken enough church rules in my time not to worry, and in any case, it’s a silly rule!

The Bishop of Manchester, whose introduction to the debate was passionate and clear, said in his summing up that we need to be seen as a church which at the first big hurdle in the process leading to the ordination of women bishops, lifted up its hands in horror and gave up. I hope when the process of revising legislation affecting LGBT people starts, there will be bishops encouraging the church to have a similar courage.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

General Synod Day 2 - Archbishop of Canterbury Presidential Address

At the beginning of this afternoon’s session in Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his Presidential Address, beginning by reflecting on the Lambeth Conference and last week’s Primates meeting in Alexandria.

The Archbishop spoke of two things which were established at the Lambeth Conference last year. Firstly: “the significance of a climate in which every participant is guaranteed a hearing.” The hearings that were part of Lambeth didn’t work well and underlined the likelihood and reality of polarisation. The indaba process, on the other hand:
“acted as a reminder that not every discussion in the Church should reduce to a zero-sum game, and that what looks utterly urgent here may elsewhere be either deeply problematic or simply not on the radar.”
The two big issues we face in the Communion are the place of women and the place of LGBT people in the church. Changing Attitude has never believed we are involved in a zero-sum game. The place of LGBT people in the church is clearly on the radar of those driving the conflict – conservatives in North America and the Global South. Homosexuality is deeply problematic in some Provinces, not only in itself, but because sexuality is not something about which particular cultures allow public of private discourse. This was made clear to me by several African Primates last week in Egypt, who are not afraid to talk about homosexuality themselves but explain that sexual matters are just not talked about openly in families.

The second thing to emerge, he said, was: “a strong sense of what might be lost if the Communion fragmented further or found itself gathering around more than one centre.” Throughout the Lambeth Conference, said +Rowan, bishops developed new relationships and commitments of mutual support, formal and informal.

Turning to what people do not want to lose in the life of the Communion, +Rowan addressed:
“the difficult but unavoidable search for the forms of agreed self-restraint that will allow us to keep conversation alive – the moratoria advised by Lambeth, very imperfectly observed yet still urged by the Primates as a token of our willingness not to behave as if debates had been settled that are still in their early stages at best.”
Changing Attitude, of course, does not agree that we should abide by the moratoria. We can understand why they were proposed, and we do not wish to close debate – listening needs to continue on all sides, and in many places listening needs to start. But in North America and the UK, LGBT have waited long enough for the church to bless our relationships and grant equality to clergy.

The Archbishop repeated at Synod what he has said at the Press Conference in Alexandria last Thursday, that “when talk of replacing Communion with federation of some kind was heard, nearly everyone reacted by saying that this was not something they could think about choosing.”

Note the nearly – I don’t know whether +Rowan means that not everyone reacted, or they did react, but there are some Primates who do think about choosing federation rather than Communion. Communion, relationship, koinonia, were repeatedly the words used last week in Alexandria to describe the vision Archbishop Rowan has for our Communion, and the majority of Primates are with him.
“Somehow, the biblical call to be involved with one another at a deeper level than mere affinity and good will is still heard loud and clear. No-one wants to rest content with the breach in sacramental fellowship, and everyone acknowledges that this breach means we are less than we are called to be.”
“Underlying this is something that dawned on me last week with renewed force. We
have not yet got to the point where we can no longer recognise one another as seeking to obey the same Lord.”
“…common Bible study would not be possible if we did not see in one another at least some of the same habits of attention to and devotion to Scripture, whatever the diversity of interpretation. We can see that the other person is trying to listen to God’s self-communication in scripture, not just imposing an agenda. But this entails a more complex and challenging point. If we recognise this much, we have to recognised that the other person or community or tradition is not simply going to go away. They are near enough to be capable of conversation, shared prayer and shared discernment with us. They are not just going to be defeated and silenced. For the foreseeable future they are going to be there, recognisably doing something like what we’re doing. We can’t pretend.”
In this paragraph, +Rowan presents conservatives with a truth which has always been obvious to me. My integrity as a gay Christian is as authentic as any conservative’s. In Changing Attitude we have always affirmed our commitment to the Communion. We are not going away. LGBT people have always been integral to the church and always will be. We are simply becoming more visible. No-one is going to be defeated or silenced, that is not the Christian way. We will continue to rise to the challenge presented by the conflict, seek friendship with all who are prepared to acknowledge us, and firmly advance our goals.

General Synod Day 1

Changing Attitude has been present at every General Synod meeting for the past 8 or 9 years. The primary purpose of being here (given that I am not a member of Synod) is to network, to sit with friends in all three houses, review developments, catch up with news both personal and ecclesial and make contact with new bishops and synod members I have never met before.

Changing Attitude always has a display at Synod. This time we have brought two of the panels from our stand in the Market Place at Lambeth. The latest CA newsletter is on display, together with the post-Lambeth edition and a new supporter’s leaflet (though all 1,000 copies have to be reprinted due to a printer’s editing error). Davis Mac-Iyalla is due to join me in Church House at noon today and Brenda Harrison is also registered as an exhibitor and may come later in the week. Being an exhibitor gives us access to the coffee area, and it’s possible to sit there all day and never be in want of a good (mostly) conversation or encounter.

I didn’t arrive until 5.30 yesterday, and the conversations I had were mostly about my experience at the Primates’ meeting and my reflections on what happened, plus some looking ahead to the Covenant debate on Thursday. MCU has produced a helpful paper:
At the end of the session at 7pm I went for a Chinese meal with synod members from Ripon and Leeds, including Nigel Greenwood, trustee of Changing Attitude who was made a lay Canon in Ripon Cathedral last month. Also eating Chinese was Justin Brett, friend and supporter of Changing Attitude who blogs here:

I will be present at the WATCH reception this evening and up early tomorrow morning to take part in the vigil prior to the debate on women bishops.

One of Monday’s conversations, set in the context of the Primates’ meeting, reflected on the prospects of bringing a motion to Synod looking to change policy on same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered lesbian and gay clergy. Paul Collier, chaplain at Goldsmiths, thought the possibility of introducing legislation had been delayed, and might not happen for 10 or 20 years.

I think that the situation continues to be very fluid in the Communion, and as each meeting happens and new developments arise, interest groups react and reposition themselves and the dynamic changes. I’m more optimistic about achieving some success in Synod, even if it is in the form of a permissive rather than legal motion. Changing Attitude is committed to explore the possibility of moving ahead with legislation through our partners in the General Synod Human Sexuality Group.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Moratoria - who agrees with all three?

Changing Attitude is committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England. We oppose the moratoria against the election of bishops in same-gender unions and Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. In this we disagree with the majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference and with the call in section 12 of the Primates Meeting Communiqué that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding or hostility cease.

The three moratoria divide the church as does Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, as do gay bishops, same-sex blessings and cross-border interventions. Different wings of the church support one or two of the moratoria but not all three. Similarly, different wings support particular paragraphs of Lambeth 1.10 but not the resolution in its entirety.

At least the Communiqué recognises the depth of conscientious conviction involved on all sides. But it then asks for gracious restraint on all three fronts to open the way for transforming conversation. Changing Attitude longs for a way forward to be found where mutual trust can be re-established. This cannot be at the cost of LGBT Anglicans. The Communion needs to honour the present reality, not just in North America but in several other provinces, of the presence of partnered bishops, priests and deacons and the blessing of same-sex unions.

General Convention needs to do what is right for TEC and for LGBT Christians
Changing Attitude England fully supports the Revd Susan Russell, President of Integrity USA and Ruth Meyers, co-convener if the Chicago Consultation, in their separate calls for General Convention in Anaheim this summer to achieve full inclusion of all the baptized in The Episcopal Church and to be a voice of witness with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people across the Anglican Communion.

Susan Russell comments: “Scapegoating a percentage of the baptized by excluding them from a percentage of the sacraments of the Body of Christ is participating in the appeasement of bigotry.”

She continued, "Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is absolutely correct in stating that moratoria are a matter for General Convention. Resolutions have already been submitted that would move the Episcopal Church beyond the non-canonical restraints imposed by B033 and forward on marriage equality. Integrity USA believes that General Convention will reaffirm that all the sacraments are open to all the baptized. We will be working with our allies to achieve that gospel agenda item next July."

Ruth Meyers said: We reject the false choice suggested by the Primates communiqué that God asks Episcopalians to deny either faithful mission with the worldwide Anglican Communion or full inclusion of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers. We look toward General Convention 2009, where we will work with a broad coalition of allies.”I have been present working with the Integrity team at the last two General Conventions, supporting their strategy of working to achieve full inclusion. CA England and Integrity USA share the same goals and will continue working in coalition with the Chicago Consultation, Inclusive Church and other partners to achieve our objectives.

Friday 6 February 2009

Primates meeting - Schism or division? - and refugees

Archbishop Rowan made further comments in the course of Thursday’s final press conference, highlighting the issues he saw as fundamental. The spirit of the meeting had been very constructive, he said. Although not many had changed their minds (suggesting that some had), there was a willingness to listen on both sides, and patience.

Commenting on the Windsor Continuation Report, he said there was a need for a shift of focus, from the autonomy of individual Provinces with communion added on, to communion with autonomy and accountability following from there.

The recommendations about the Instruments of Communion suggest that all four need looking at in terms of how they are working and whether the structures are adequate to purpose and our present and future needs.

He addressed the current situation in North America, referring to the coalition of ACNA churches which had grown out of Common Cause, and the difficulties of parallel jurisdiction – and their desire to be Anglican. It is not a new province, he said, but a coalition which has said it would like to be a province. He talked about the mediation process which has been proposed, and said that a form of it had been tried out over Recife between Brazil and the Southern Cone. It can bear fruit, he said.

When asked what discipline really means in the context of the moratoria and the proposed covenant, he said each province has a procedure for discipline but there is no Communion-wide canon law. He would like to see a convergence of canon law. Why didn’t he intervene in other provinces, he was asked. Because I took canonical promises as Archbishop of Canterbury and they define what I can and cannot do.

In response to a question about whether there was schism, he said schism no, deep division yes. There has been a breakage of relationship and as global church, we don’t have all that it takes to make it work. Whenever the word federation is mentioned in place of Communion, people back off. The Episcopal Church will need ownership of the pastoral scheme which has been proposed. The Windsor Continuation Group report shows that the moratoria are holding badly but not completely ignored. There has been restraint on the consecration of openly gay bishops and approved rites of blessing.

Are the coalition members refugees?
Earlier in the week, one of the African Global South primates described the dissidents from the Episcopal Church as ‘refugees’. Perhaps dissident is a loaded word and not one they would choose for themselves. They see themselves as ‘standing firm’, mainstream, orthodox – and I would describe the faith of Changing Attitude supporters with exactly the same words.

Refugees are people fleeing persecution, war, famine or violence. They are people from the countries whose primates have described their plight in detail at the press conferences this week – Zimbabwe, Sudan, Bangladesh. It seems to me almost blasphemous to compare refugees fleeing to South Africa from the terror of Zimbabwe with the comfortably-off TEC dissidents.

What might the TEC dissidents be fleeing from? Are they being persecuted, attacked, threatened with violence, starved? Clearly not, unless you stretched reality and said that TEC’s Christian diet was starving the conservative faithful of spiritual nourishment. That is one of the lies put about by the dissidents – that TEC is no longer Christian. It is a lie to be repented of one day, a falsehood deliberately created by those who in their own minds clearly believe it to be true – but it isn’t.

The dissident version of reality only works if you believe that the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the full inclusion of women and LGBT people at every level of the church’s ministry – of ‘all the baptised’, as the Revd Susan Russell reminded us regularly at Lambeth – is a corruption of Christian truth and life. That is not what the churches of the USA and Canada believe and nor do the majority in the Church of England – but we are still playing catch up (and hide our own reality while we do so).

Thursday 5 February 2009

Primates meeting Day 6 – Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint

Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint is the title of the letter from Alexandria to the Churches of the Anglican Communion issued at the conclusion of the Primates’ meeting in Egypt. The text of the letter was agreed unanimously by those Primates present here. The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the letter at a press conference held at 5.30 this evening.

Colin Coward asked the Archbishop whether there was any good news for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of the Communion resulting from the five days of the Primates’ meeting. In response the Archbishop pointed to section 13 of the letter which says that a transforming conversation needs to open which

“… will include end continuing the Listening Process, and the ‘Bible in Church’ project. It is urgent that we as primates, with the rest of the Communion, directly study the scriptures and explore the subject of human sexuality together in order to help us find a common understanding.”

Archbishop Rowan said this commitment was supported very clearly from both sides of the discussion. Changing Attitude welcomes the renewed commitment to the Listening Process and the ‘Bible in Church’ project, both of which will help the church engage with us as we LGBT members of the Communion seek to be heard and become more visible and ultimately, fully included. We especially welcome the renewed commitment to the Listening Process from more conservative provinces.

Section 12 of the letter notes the “continuing deep differences especially over the election of bishops in same-gender unions [and] Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions…” and that the moratoria were much discussed. While they are “aware of the depth of conscientious conviction involved, the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains ….”

Changing Attitude has repeatedly argued for 1.10 to be observed in its entirety, at the same time disagreeing with the sections which are hostile to LGBT people’s integrity. We will continue to support clergy who bless same-sex relationships and especially those partnered lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy who have the courage to be open about their sexuality.

Changing Attitude welcomes the “discernible mood of graciousness” in the primates’ engagements (Section 5), a mood which extended to Brenda and myself as we engaged with primates from different parts of the Communion.

The Primates’ letter reveals what Changing Attitude was picking up in the course of the past five days. They “are conscious that [their] attitudes and deliberations … have sometimes inadvertently given rise to disappointment and even disillusion.” They acknowledge that they still struggle to get the balance right in their deliberations (Paragraph 7). The honesty of the primates in acknowledging their own role in failing to conduct their deliberations with the right attitude gives us hope that the ethos of respect for difference and transparency before God will serve as a model for the listening process which we hope will be opened in every province.

Paragraph 8 confirms that there has been “honest exchange and mutual challenge at a new and deeper level…” and paragraph 9 that matters “are not as clear-cut as some portray.” Honesty and mutuality must be a mark of the encounters with LGBT Anglicans which will continue to evolve in the coming decade.

Paragraph 9 continues “We have experienced God drawing us more deeply into that honest engagement and listening which both require and engender trust, and which must continue and intensify if we are to move forward under God.” Changing Attitude couldn’t have put it better. Many conservative Anglicans would be amazed at the depth of experience of God which LGBT Christians share with them.

Our ethos has been to encourage deep, honest engagement and listening and this is risky and challenging. We welcome the commitment to continue and intensify engagement and listening, knowing that the attitudes of all who take part in such a process can be changed in unexpected ways.

Primates meeting Day 5 - Sudan, Bangladesh, Global Warming and sex obsession

Yesterday’s press briefing focussed on global warming, the Sudan and Bangladesh. But we were given information about changes in the Instruments of Communion before the three Primates present spoke.

The Province of the Indian Ocean is celebrating because the number of members has risen about 250,000, entitling the Province to two members on the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Primates Standing Committee elects alternates, but until now, they have only attended following the retirement of the primary member. In future they will be able to attend in place of the primary member.

The change which might most concern conspiracy theorists, following the failure of the proposal to make all Primates full members of the ACC, is a new proposal from the Primates. They propose to increase the number of Primates on the Primates Standing Committee and the Joint Standing Committee to ensure there is a better representation of Primates world-wide. The proposal will have to be negotiated with the Anglican Consultative Council and the Joint Standing Committee. Some will see this as a way of increasing the Primates’ influence in the ACC.

The Primate of Bangladesh, the Rt Revd Paul Sarkar, described the environmental pollution which is having a destructive effect – arsenic poisoning and deforestation. They are a tiny church but doing good work despite their small size.

The Primate of Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng spoke at the press briefing of the letter which the Sudanese bishops had written to the Primates. The Peace and Reconciliation Commission of the Church of Sudan is one of the largest civil organisations in the country.

The border between the north and south is still not demarcated and there is tension between the north and south governments. One town of 50,000 people has recently been destroyed and the people displaced twice. He would like the Primates to maintain pressure on the government to implement the peace process and bring peace to Darfur. The church in the Sudan has en extensive reach on the ground in the Sudan and access to information that is often lacking to the government. Returning refugees have no access to water, health care or education. He invited people from across the Communion to come to the Sudan and witness for themselves the situation the church is responding to.

Archbishop David Moxon was left until last to talk briefly about the Primates’ response to global warming. Time was short and his words were sketchy – they considered the moral leadership they might offer, joining the fight against global warming, preventing carbon emissions, all as an act of participation in God’s creation.

David Virtue wonders why I continue to mention him here on the CA blog. It’s because he has asked questions and made comments which astonish me at every press briefing. Yesterday, his question to the Archbishop of Sudan was about homosexuality and the statement made at the Lambeth Conference. The crisis in the Sudan seems of little import to David compared with the Anglican Communion’s engagement with homosexuality. Who fuels this conflict over sexuality? Not most of the Primates and not those working patiently for LGBT inclusion. It is obsessive individuals from the Episcopal Church.

David’s comment on a briefing which had considered Darfur, Bangladesh and global warming: “Another non-event.”

Primates meeting Day 5 - Are Primatial attitudes changing?

It’s time to remember that Changing Attitude is here in Alexandria in the persons of Colin and Brenda primarily because we are working towards the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Anglican Communion. Has our goal been advanced in the course of this Primates’ meeting? If we are looking for moments of decision in which our cause has been advanced, then clearly not. This is a long, slow process, and very little (perhaps almost nothing) of substance has changed in the course of this meeting. Things haven’t got worse, but they haven’t moved forward either.

We have to look elsewhere for any signs of change Brenda and I have experienced here. We have had many conversations with Primates and those on the periphery of the meeting, the Communion office support staff, reporters and hanger on. These conversations have in many cases deepened friendships and understanding. The cab ride to a downtown fish restaurant provided an opportunity for George Conger and myself to learn more about each other. Conversations after press briefings and during the meal with Riazat Butt have illuminated understanding. Conversations with the Primates of West Africa, Southern Africa and Mexico have shed light on their lives as Primates at home, their patterns of ministry and the social and political background in their countries. I have learnt more from some Primates about the place of LGBT people in their culture. It is in these quiet, personal conversations, where friendships are made and deepened, that the most profound change happens.

We are also inside the Primates meeting. There are Primates who are gay, but understandably conceal their sexuality. One of the heterosexual Primates, the Archbishop of Wales, +Barry Morgan (who is here with his wife), is a patron of Changing Attitude and robust in his defence of a Communion which respects the listening process and is working to full inclusion. Our voice has been more confidently represented here than at any previous Primates’ meeting.

What hasn’t been discussed here in any detail is the listening process. Does the listening process continue? In some Provinces, the church is way beyond the need to listen, LGBT people are broadly fully welcomed and included. In England, some dioceses have just begun and others are tackling it again. In many Provinces little or nothing has yet been done. There may be a change of tactic from those responsible for monitoring the process, from advocating direct engagement such as we expect to happen in the west, to a more subtle approach. Changing Attitude will continue to encourage bishops and Primates to take listening seriously. We know what many Primates are blissfully unaware of – that in almost every Province, LGBT are present and increasingly aware, thanks to the internet, of the possibility of achieving change in their lives. We are a hidden, subversive presence around the Communion.

If you who are reading this blog value what we in Changing Attitude have been doing here in Alexandria, then please visit our web site and become a supporter or make a donation. We raise about £35,000 a year, which is not enough to pay salaries to those who work for us. If you would like to ensure that we are present at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica next May, please donate now –

Primates meeting Day 5 - Biblioteca Alexandrina visit

Yesterday afternoon we joined the Primates as they visited the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, inspired by the Great Library of Alexandria established by Ptolemy 1 in 283 BC.

The visit began with an exciting high speed drive along the sea front, police car siren wailing followed by a coach-load of Primates ...

followed closely by plain clothes security guys in a white car weaving and dodging through the traffic followed VERY CLOSELY by staff and reporters in a midi-bus.

The building is dramatic and features a planetarium on the sea front entrance. The library was opened in 2003 and is an impressive piece of C20th architecture designed as a gigantic discus embedded in the ground with giant letters, pictograms and symbols from every known alphabet.
+Rowan and +Mouneer were welcomed to the library, with security guards still in evidence.

In the entrance foyer the Primates were seated to be greeted by senior library staff members, except Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori who was left standing.

The staff introduced themselves and described the work of the library.

The interior of the reading and research spaces is dramatic.

We divided into two smaller groups and were taken on a tour of the library.

The library has an amazing range of exhibition spaces and the staff slowly guided us through giving detailed descriptions of manuscripts, books, early photographic records and artefacts from every period of Egypt’s history.

I found some homoerotic interest – a Roman wrestler featured in a mosaic - though his wrestling partner has been lost.

Adjacent to the mosaic was this clenched fist – symbolic of the attitude of some who would like to preserve Christian tradition at the expense of full inclusion.

And if they can’t succeed in excluding LGBT people, then emasculating gay men might be their next strategy.

An emperor’s head – here for no other reason than because I liked it.

We were taken on a mystery tour through the huge conference centre performance space where a jazz band was rehearsing – to take another group photograph on the balcony – I’d rather have listened to the jazz.

Archbishop Barry Morgan, patron of Changing Attitude, paused for a moment to admire the harbour and the setting sun.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Primates' Meeting Day 4 - The mysterious Mr Dobbs

Rumour has it that the Primate of Nigeria was detained for two hours by Immigration authorities on arrival in Cairo, and was released only after the intervention of the Dean of Alexandria’s driver. He was then whisked off by car by one Revd Canon Julian Dobbs, who is not accredited to the conference but staying in the Helnan Palestine Hotel. Archbishop Akinola was previously refused entry to Jordan in 2008 for the GAFCON conference which then hastily decamped earlier than planned to Israel.

Mr Dobbs was
engaged in deep conversation with David V yesterday at the hotel bar, hastily breaking off when the Primates emerged from their afternoon session to grab ++Peter and hurry him down a corridor. He was later seen pushing a paper into ++Peter’s hand as he went to dinner.

Bearing in mind the absence of Chris Sugden et al, apparently on the instructions of the conservative Primates, Mr Dobbs’ presence is of considerable interest. He was appointed in December 2008 by The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) to the position of Canon Missioner.

According to the CANA website:

"Mr. Dobbs works to establish a CANA Clergy Deployment Office, help Anglicans in North America to understand and engage with the challenges posed by the rise of Islam, and develop a mission partnership with West Africa for the development of Anglican clergy and lay leaders.”

An ordained Anglican priest, Mr. Dobbs was most recently the U.S. executive director for the Barnabas Fund, at which he developed awareness for the persecuted church and this growing ministry across the U.S. Julian Dobbs is quoted as saying:

“I am glad to join CANA at this critical juncture in the history of the Anglican Communion. As Christians, we face many challenges towards spreading the Gospel, and I am dedicated to finding ways to meet these challenges. One way to do this is to find and develop clergy who will stand for Biblical truth. Anglican Christians have great opportunities to spread the Gospel and CANA is leading the way.”

Is Mr Dobbs singlehandedly standing in for the conservative lobbyists, acting as their Go-Between to keep the conservative Primates `on message’ when they might be showing signs of wanting to follow a path of reconciliation?

Primates meeting Day 4 – Will the Communion hold?

The Primates have been told to be cautious of the media and lobbyists who are here, and I respect the privacy of their discussions. I also know what it feels like to have people intruding on your personal space with their personal agendas. As at previous meetings, this means that the secular press (sole representative Riazat Butt) are denied the stories that might spice up their reports.

Nevertheless, I have had conversations every day with Primates, some of whom are well known and good friends, others whom I am meeting for the first time. These conversations confirm my impression of hope, that the atmosphere at this meeting is radically different from Dar es Salaam and dramatically different from Dromantine. One Primate for whom Dromantine was his first meeting wondered what he had walked into – and assumed the dysfunctional model to be normal for a Primates’ meeting. At Alexandria, the mood is far more relaxed and healthy.

The dynamic here is totally different, even amongst the Global South Primates who boycotted Lambeth, though they have to some extent been playing catch-up with those who were at Lambeth. There are apparently times when reactions and stances are less mature and a more infantile model of behaviour momentarily raises its head, but generally, the relationships inside the meeting are far more honest and far more respectful of each other’s integrity.

I’ve asked whether any of the Global South Primates are raising the issue of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) in the meeting and requesting that it be put formally on the agenda. The answer to the second question is no, but the issue has been raised in the context of other discussions – the Covenant, for example.

The comment from one Primate was – the centre, the Communion holds. Another was less sanguine about the future, as are other reporters on the Anglican scene, who believe a split or schism is inevitable.

The question people are inevitably asking is, will the ACNA proposal be formally tabled at this Primates’ meeting? There are just two days left. It may be that the person with the greatest interest in the ACNA question being put is not one of the Global South Primates but the author of VirtueOnline, David Virtue himself. Some examples of the comments made by David’s supporters show the constituency he is writing for and pandering to:
“The week is not yet done, although it is all over for our Communion. GAFCON will not stand for this. They have an understanding of Mortal Sin, even if these play-actors do not.”

“Please excuse me for saying so but koinonia, relationships and bonds of affection are pure nonsense when trying to establish discipline in an organization.”

“TEC is a gnostic organization and needs to be purged from Anglicanism. If this is not done, the entire Anglican communion will collapse within 50 years or less.”

“Another waste of time and money. This cannot be fixed unless the heretics repent which they will never do. They only thing left to do is walk apart. All this blabbering is useless!”

“Stand, bow your head, and thank God. We are observing the final act in the destruction of the Communion. That which Schori and her homosexual gang have purchased, God will dispose of by the administration of His Wrath!”

“One can only hope that eventually the GAFCON Primates open their mouths and take some action. So far the silence is deafening.”

If ++Aspinall truly speaks for the Primates, then all is lost. The "so called" Anglican "Communion" is no longer Catholic nor Christian. GAFCON rise up, it is our last chance.”

David has a huge vested interest in provoking division in the Communion and attends every Anglican event to lobby conservative Primates to this effect. Some of the GAFCON Primates present here may be planning to demand recognition of ACNA. That isn’t what the Primates I have spoken with expect to happen.