Thursday 7 May 2009

Is the Listening Process report good news for LGBT Anglicans?

But first, what about the suffering of the unheard North American secessionists?
The first person to rise following Canon Phil Groves presentation was Stanley Isaacs, lay delegate from Southeast Asia. He didn’t so much ask a question as make a statement.

As we receive this report on the Listening Process and the resolution, he said, can I ask this house to consider the problems that have been caused in the Episcopal Church in North America, affected by the affirmative actions on human sexuality. TEC is somewhat fractured with groups forming dioceses and provinces of their own.
There should be a listening process for those who have are affected by and suffering from these actions.

He suggested that a form of words be added to the resolution to require the Communion to listen to the case of these disaffected people - those requesting alternative Primatial oversight and seeking a total (I was tempted to write final) solution to the North American problem.

The portrayal of those seceding from the Episcopal Church as victims was repeated today by Stanley Isaacs. He spoke for a minority in North America who feel themselves to be marginalised.

If they are small, marginalised and unheard in the way described by Mr Isaacs, what do we make of the rhetoric of ACNA, CANA, AMiA, GAFCON and associated networks and groups, which constantly claim to be successful, growing, and to represent the huge majority of Christians in the Communion.

ACNA, GAFCON and the other complex variety of North American groups and networks are not unrepresented at the ACC meeting. They have bishops, priests and lay delegates from each of the African and South American Provinces to which they are affiliated.

What Stanley Isaacs clearly doesn’t understand is the oppression, prejudice and violence which LGBT people are subjected to in countries of the Communion where penal codes are harsh against homosexuality.

LGBT people have no voice in the ACC. There are no delegates who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It is as difficult for a gay delegate to be nominated as it is for Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Jerusalem, to meet a gay person in Egypt, as his questioned indicated.

And next, what’s the point of listening to homosexuals?
The Rt. Rev. Mouneer H. Anis of the Epsicopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East rose to ask what was the purpose of, what is to be achieved by, listening? Combating homophobia is an honourable aim to achieve but we don’t know how to care for people with a homosexual orientation. Should we be caring if we tolerate the practice of homosexuality?

He said that when he was a doctor in Iraq, he knew people with a homosexual orientation who wrote him secret letters seeking help. Secret, because homosexuality is something abnormal, a shameful thing, a crime in our culture and people can be punished if they are spotted practising homosexual activity.

It is difficult in some Provinces (because of these legal and cultural attitudes) to have actual listening. He had invited an Egyptian homosexual he had met at the Lambeth Conference to come and talk with him, but the man didn’t come. I would welcome the listening process across the Provinces, Dr Anis said.

I sensed a genuine conflict in Mouneer Anis as he spoke. He was troubled by the supreme difficulty he confronted of finding a homosexual person in his own country to have a listening conversation with. I disagree with his understanding of homosexuality but I think he is genuinely confronting himself and the issues being raised.

He continued - God witnesses to what I am saying, that one bishop said to me, I disapprove of practising homosexuality. I know it is contrary to scripture but I can’t say this openly because my diocese is dependent on finance from the West. The dilemma experienced by bishops such as this needs to be addressed. It is exactly this kind of coercive, manipulative relationship about which Canon Phil Groves was speaking and which makes transparent, trusting listening impossible.

Bishop Anis, a medical doctor, distinguishes between having a homosexual orientation and being a practising homosexual. I’m not sure whether, when he uses the word orientation, he means that homosexuality is wilfully chosen as a movement away from the heterosexual norm, or he genuinely recognises homosexuality as an identity.

Mouneer Anis and Stanley Isaacs have internalised an interpretation of Scripture and church teaching that sexual activity between people of the same gender is always, under any circumstances, condemned by God.

They have a problem imagining the possibility that being gay and practising being gay, as Bishop Anis puts it, can and should be integrated and that to split, dis-integrate the identity and physical expression of love for another person is to damage the humanity and integrity of lesbian and gay people.

Is the report good news for LGBT Anglicans?
My answer – no if you live in a country which has already granted near-equality to LGBT people – yes if you live in a country where gay people are criminalised and live in secrecy and fear.

The continuing Indaba and mutual listening project offers the possibility of real meeting and listening across difference with LGBT people in Provinces where little or no work has yet been undertaken. The process will be slow and demand almost infinite patience and trust, but it holds out the possibility of real change on all sides.

There’s nothing here for members of Changing Attitude or Integrity who are planning a wedding or Civil Partnership in the next year and want a blessing in church, nor for those partnered priests who are just waiting for that letter from Downing Street confirming their Episcopal ambition.


  1. What Stanley Isaacs clearly doesn’t understand is the oppression, prejudice and violence which LGBT people are subjected to in countries of the Communion where penal codes are harsh against homosexuality.Ah, but they do understand it - the just see it as righteousness as they are the persecutors. Oppressors seldom, if ever, see their actions as oppressive; rather, they see it as "for the good" of those being oppressed.

    The only modifier in that belief is when the oppressors feel themselves being oppressed.

  2. Justice delayed is justice denied.

  3. As Susan Russell of Integrity USA has so clearly said, there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you don't get your own way and being excluded because of who you are.