Saturday 2 May 2009

What do Jamaican Anglicans really think about homosexuality?

I’ve just got drenched in a tropical downpour following a media briefing by Bishop John Patterson, Chair of the ACC and Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. Just seven media people were present. Questions were asked about tensions in the Communion, what weighty matters might arise, the Ridley Cambridge Covenant draft, the Windsor Continuation group and the proposed (or does it now exist in reality?) North American Province. The question about the latter was, will it be part of the agenda? The answer, no, it hasn’t been referred to ACC 14.

After the briefing I bumped into a number of friends attending the meeting in different capacities and on my way out of the hotel, engaged in a final conversation with a number of the (mostly) student volunteers from Jamaica who are giving their time to look after the ACC representatives. I was wearing my press accreditation badge and one of them eventually asked what Changing Attitude does. Taking a calculated risk, I told him and those standing listening.

I needn’t have worried. They were all thoughtful and open to talk and think about homosexuality, though all cautioned me to be totally discrete and exercise great care in public. One had witnessed two men from another Caribbean island kissing in public, and then witnessed the brutal attack inflicted on them.

I asked whether the church taught against homosexuality and if priests preached about it. No, never, they said, it isn’t an issue in our church. Their own opinions seemed to be tolerant. They talked about the abuse and humiliation inflicted on gay people in their schools and their attitude was, why would anybody choose or want to be gay when that’s what happens to you. Why not keep your homosexuality hidden?

I explained that being gay or lesbian is as normal for those who are as being heterosexual is for them, and to imagine not being free to be yourself.

The conversation reinforced what I know to be true. The obsession with homosexuality in the Communion is driven by individuals and interest groups who are obsessed about it. When people around the Communion tell me it isn’t a big issue for them, I know they are speaking the truth. Their bishops and primates are not telling the truth when they say that their whole church of Province is of one mind - against.

If the Listening Process were being implemented in Jamaica with people like those I encountered this afternoon, it might genuinely be possible to open people’s hearts and minds and come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of human sexuality in its infinite, holy variety. I suspect there are many bishops who would be willing to take the risk but don’t because their Primate has issued an edict against it.

The challenge for this meeting is to rise above the narrative of conflict and schism which conservatives are imposing on the Communion. The structure of this meeting has been designed to allow a genuine conversation in smaller groups about the issues brought to them for decision. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when talking about the Windsor Continuation Group report and the Listening Process, the ACC representatives were able to listen carefully to each other and engage in a conversation as open and free from Primatial assumptions as the one I enjoyed this afternoon.

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