Monday 11 May 2009

Bishop James Tengatenga, new ACC chair, responds to question about lesbian and gay Anglicans

This afternoon’s press conference was attended by Bishop James Tengatenga, newly elected chair of the ACC and Archbishop John Paterson, outgoing chair.

Questions ran in two directions – back to Friday’s Covenant vote from some - and from me, looking forwards, I asked Bishop James how he would ensure a continuing place for lesbian and gay people in the Communion when we are faced with an extensive period of listening and Covenant process and moratoria.

Bishop James was present at Lambeth 1998 and voted for resolution 1.10 but recognised that it is internally contradictory. As a Church, he said, we have said that we have and recognise gay and lesbian people. The question Lambeth 1.10 poses is how we deal with this in terms of different orders and ministries.

Sometimes it may seem as if the Church does not acknowledge gay and lesbian people but we do, he said. We are engaged in a slow process of discernment in a Communion of 80 million people across the world. The Church is a big institution and it is amazing that we are able to hold so much diversity together. He said this gives him hope that we can move ahead together.

I had met Bishop James at a PWM conference in 2007 and enjoyed a long conversation with him then. He is conservative about the gay issue as might be expected but he is an open person and understands what it means to be gay and to be marginalised and oppressed.

I am suddenly struck by the contrast between the attitude and behaviour of Bishop James from Southern Malawi and Bishop Ikechi from Nigeria. The Nigerian view that homosexuality is satanic is not just abhorrent to someone from a western culture like the UK – it is not a way of looking at human sexuality that Bishop James would recognise, nor would Archbishop Thabo from South Africa. These bishops have both related to me in a warm, pastoral way. The Nigerian bishop was abusive and threatening. How can I be in communion with a bishop who believes he is entitled to bully and abuse people?

A further short step in the thought process makes me wonder how the North American members of the Church of Nigeria relate to the Nigerian idea that homosexuality is satanic. There are insane relationships between these boundary crossing parts of our Communion.

Bishop John Paterson briefly reviewed the 21 years he has been a member of the Anglican Consultative Council. He was asked about the confusion in the Covenant debate on Friday and his chairing of the debate. John Rees was also on hand to answer questions. John Rees said the excitable comments were coming from who were not in the room and did not witness the debate.

John Paterson said he has always tried to be as fair as possible as chair, measured and slow. The Council is composed of intelligent people who knew what they were voting for.

James Tengatenga said the problem the ACC has is that the process seems to work okay debating certain resolutions and then we come to other resolutions and the process is not okay – people want to work at contentious resolutions clause by clause.

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