Thursday 30 July 2009

Changing Attitude response to Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future

The Church of England

The Church of England is already a church which incorporates the ministry of partnered lesbian and gay lay people, priests and bishops. Hundreds of LGBT people in the ordained ministry, including the episcopate, act in a representative role in apparent contravention of the Church's teaching.

The majority of bishops, priests and lay people in the Church of England have not waited for the Church Catholic or the Anglican Communion to formally recognise the blessing of same-sex unions. Many Anglicans in every order of ministry have contracted Civil Partnerships and live in union with their same-sex partner. They have an appropriate representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with the culture of British society and the majority of people in our congregations.

Changing Attitude is campaigning for honesty about the recognition of same-sex unions by allowing couples to receive, in public, the blessing of the church that is equivalent to Christian marriage.

Changing Attitude is campaigning for the General Synod of the Church of England to change its official position based on the report ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ to affirm that partnered lesbian and gay people can be ordained and lifelong couples can have their relationships blessed openly and publicly in church.

The Anglican Communion

We call on the Anglican Communion to formally repent its failure to oppose prejudice against LGBT people.

We call on the Anglican Communion to formally recognise the human dignity, civil liberties and place within the Body of Christ of LGBT people. The two-track model proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury formalises structural homophobia in the intensified relationships of the 'covenanted' Anglican global body.

Painstaking biblical exegesis rooted in solid theological grounding for the blessing of same-sex unions has been undertaken. The result of this work is disputed and has not yet received wide acceptance within the Communion, but the work has been done and is publicly available.

Theologians in Europe, North America and elsewhere have been offering their responses to the question of same-sex relationships and the need for a change in practice and discipline in the light of new facts and contexts for over 30 years.

Formal approval by the Church Catholic, the Anglican Communion and our ecumenical partners of the holiness of same-sex relationships will take many years but will eventually reach the necessary strong level of consensus. Formal approval by the Church Catholic would require an Ecumenical Council.

The Archbishop of Canterbury rightly states that unexamined prejudice and violence perpetrated against LGBT people is sinful and disgraceful. The Provinces of the Anglican Communion which support harsh laws which sanction intolerance and prejudice against LGBT are guilty of sin.

The Church is imprisoned in a global cultural environment which views homosexuality as sinful and contrary to nature. This view began to change in the C19th and evolved rapidly in the west after the Second World War. Further cultural change followed the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the development of gay liberation movements which began to reveal what had until then been invisible to the majority.

LGBT people are present in every culture and society despite conservative or hostile social and cultural attitudes. We are equally present in Nigeria, the Philippines and Argentina as in the USA and England. Changing Attitude believes the church at the level of the local congregation, diocese and Province is called to be prophetic and counter-cultural.

New developments in teaching and doctrine about the place of LGBT in the church have emerged in different parts of the Anglican Communion. Bishops and Provinces have responded according to local circumstance. Local churches are not becoming isolated or imprisoned in their own cultural environments but are responding to a movement of the Holy Spirit.

One day the global church will come to a wider corporate discernment which will recognise the sinfulness of past attitudes and recognise that God’s creation includes people with same-sex as well as opposite sex attraction.

LGBT Christians have not waited for the church to change its attitude and neither should Provinces where LGBT people are visible and active in the church. We will continue to create loving, holy, faithful relationships which have the same dignity as marriage. We wait impatiently for the global church to catch up with us. The danger for the mission of the church to all people and to LGBT people specifically is not the risk of responding to local pressure but to ignorance and prejudice.

We are LGBT Anglicans. Our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. Our Anglican Christian ethos holds us in a global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are high. The risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are not simply worrying but frightening for us. The rhetoric from some Provinces makes the Church a dangerous place for LGBT people. Intolerance and prejudice are sanctioned and encouraged by some bishops and Primates.

Mutual respect for the integrity of each province must be balanced by respect for the Christian faith and integrity of LGBT Anglicans and those who support our full inclusion in the Church.

The Covenant and two ecclesial realities

The Archbishop considers the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance, a ‘two track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage. On one track would be a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, sharing a vision of how the Church should be and behave and therefore able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. On the second track would be Provinces which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had declined a covenantal structure. These Provinces would be related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with the first track, 'covenanted' provinces.

Any Province which opts to accept the ministry of partnered lesbian and gay people and bless same-sex relationships would be excluded from the covenanted Anglican global body and would thus fall into the second track and be excluded.

Changing Attitude’s desire to be part of a Church of England which models greater integrity and consistency and our campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people means we will never accept the possibility that in a two track Communion, the Church of England could sign a Covenant which compromises our full inclusion.

We are committed to co-operation in mission and service and oppose any competitive hostility between parts of the Church. We are also working for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained.

We hope that this period in the Communion’s life might genuinely be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth. It must includen all who value the Anglican name and heritage and are committed to listen openly and speak truthfully. It must not be a tactic to delay the full inclusion of LGBT people which will eventually become an issue in every Province.

The Archbishop of Canterbury highlights the risk of a church becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, rendering it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe. For Changing Attitude supporters, a Church which is able to recognise partnered lesbian, gay and bisexual priests is more fully Anglican.

Monday 27 July 2009

Archbishop's Reflections impossible for Changing Attitude supporters to accept

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention are going to satisfy very few, if any, people. Perhaps that’s the intention.

Conservatives posting on Stand Firm think this is just a form of words to ‘suggest’ TEC is little bit ‘hasty but not wrong while the rest of the communion is just slow and dumb. Conservatives think +Rowan Williams and +Katherine Jefferts Shori are allies. The Archbishop is judged to be not orthodox but 100% liberal to his core and in grave theological and moral error throughout, determined to keep TEC in the family, no matter what, and willing to redefine the Anglican Communion in order to do so.

On Thinking Anglicans Fr Mark, a partnered gay priest, comments that he was:
“brought up in a Church of England which has all my life surrounded me with partnered gay priests and laypeople. I find this really horribly and personally offensive in its degree of failure to recognise the lived reality of members of the Church of England. According to this statement, no-one living in a same-sex relationship can ‘have a representative function’ in the Church. That means farewell to partnered gay singers, organists, teachers in church schools, as well as clergy in civil partnerships.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury says: “ … no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ.” We in CA agree with that. The “particularly bitter and unpleasant atmosphere of the debate over sexuality, in which unexamined prejudice is still so much in evidence and accusations of bad faith and bigotry are so readily thrown around” which the Archbishop describes is bitter and prejudiced exactly because of the church’s traditional teaching about homosexuality.

He then recommends a course of action which does just that – reinforces prejudice and questions human dignity and our place in the Body of Christ. The Archbishop writes that it is hard to see how a partnered lesbian or gay person “can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate” requires because “a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”

That puts the Archbishop of Canterbury at odds not just with the supporters of Changing Attitude but with the majority of the bishops, priests and lay people of the Church of England. Members of our congregations no longer believe that the church can draw lines where it used to. The CofE I know has always ordained partnered lesbian and gay people. Bishops have turned a blind eye to the partners of lesbian and gay clergy. With the advent of Civil Partnerships the majority and priests and laity can see no reason why the church should not bless those unions and that is true even of FoCA and HTB churches. Couples are welcome by most congregations who see no reason why faithfully partnered people should not be ordained and minister to them.

If the process of accepting the Anglican Covenant, and the Covenant itself, is intended to impose the teaching of Lambeth 1.10 for the indefinite future then Changing Attitude is totally opposed to the Covenant. We will work with our partners in the church to ensure that the Church of England never adopts a Covenant designed to inhibit our full place in the church of God.

With our brothers and sisters in the USA and Canada, we refuse to accept the imposition of a moratorium on our place in the church. We are here now, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, single and partnered, lay and ordained. Our sexual identity is not malleable but as with every person, we hope to mature with age.
We are not leaving the church, not denying our orders, not abandoning the love and intimacy of our partners to whom we remain more faithful than the church is faithful to us.

One trustee of Changing Attitude identified three things in the Reflections that make life impossible for LGBT Anglicans:

1. Does the Archbishop really and truly expect LGBT Anglicans living in 21st century western countries to wait a matter of decades until churches entrenched in deeply homophobic African cultures have come to terms with same-sex relationships before we are allowed to form relationships?

2. Does the Archbishop really expect those of us living in long-term relationships, whether the church recognises them or not, to break up with our partners and live solitary lives, even though there is nothing in our conscience or our own theology which would suggest it was a bad thing? Or is he happy for us to lead those 'lifestyles', as he puts it, as long as we keep them separate from our church and our God?

3. In paragraph 14 the Archbishop talks about a local church becoming 'isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment'. At the moment the Church of England is isolated and imprisoned from her own cultural environment. We are being expected to cling onto outdated and desperately damaging prejudices from our past, which impair and undermine our mission to our own society. What use is a church which is 'in communion' with churches overseas, but is a laughing stock and a peddler of bigotry within its own constituency?

Sunday 26 July 2009

LGBT Voices at Greenbelt

As one of the organisers of OuterSpace, one of the organisations which is providing LGBT content at Greenbelt this year, I'm a bit baffled as to why Lisa Nolland is so incensed by the fact that Greenbelt permits our involvement in the festival.

I'm also an evangelical, and core to my faith is the belief that salvation comes through Jesus Christ.  As far as I'm aware, it doesn't come through holding a particular position on homosexuality, although from the way Lisa talks, you might think that it did.

Of course I also believe that scripture is instructive and authoritative for Christians.  But on lots of issues, including divorce, the flatness of the earth, women in ministry, evolution, contraception, polygamy and the rightness of slavery, the Bible has appeared to point in a different direction to what most evangelical churches in the UK would now believe.  Findings from science and personal experience have rightly always affected and qualified how evangelicals interpret scripture.

This doesn't of course mean that people who would argue for a revision on the acceptability of gay relationships, on this token alone, are necessarily right.

But it does mean that even evangelicals need to look at the new evidence prayerfully, sensitively and intelligently, and listen to the experience of gay Christians and of secular experts in the field, before coming to any hard and fast conclusions either way. 

The reality is that even in the USA, the only Western country where there is any significant ex-gay movement, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychoanalytical Association all believe that homosexuality should not be treated as a mental disorder, and that human sexuality cannot be changed using reparative therapy.  What's more, the evidence from the world around us is that lots of gay and lesbian people are leading long-term, mutually fulfilling relationships.  (Lots of gay people aren't, as Lisa noted from the recent Pride events, but nor are lots of straight people.)

I can understand why Lisa Nolland's understanding of the Bible may lead her to a place where she believes that gay relationships are unacceptable.  However, what I can't understand is how she can be so certain of that, so certain that she would not even allow LGBT people to have a voice in any Christian context. 

At Changing Attitude, and in OuterSpace's sessions at Greenbelt, we do not seek to silence the voice of ex-gay experience, and we welcome public debate.  We are all Christians, and all part of the Body of Christ, and therefore our intention is not to vilify or caricature those who would disagree with us.   Rather we seek to provide opportunities for LGBT Christians to explore how to live out their faith and their sexuality or gender identity in a constructive and spiritually healthy way.  Some may indeed come to the conclusion that an ex-gay movement might be the appropriate way forward.  We're simply keen people make that decision from a place of knowledge, rather than ignorance.

If the Bible is as clear as Lisa Nolland makes it out to be, and the claims of the ex-gay movement are as convincing as she would have us believe, then surely there is nothing to fear in allowing people to hear the other side of the argument, and make up their own minds?

Saturday 25 July 2009

A Nigerian priest condemns the Church of Nigeria attitudes to homosexuality

A Nigerian priest has posted a comment on the blog written by Davis Mac-Iyalla about the service at Christ Church Beckenham at which Bishop Okohn preached. The priest writes:

“I'm a Nigerian Priest. The Church in Nigeria has lost her focus in Christian teachings. Condeming people because of their sexual orientation is evil and wickedness in the sight of God and man. International Organizations on Human Rights should rise against this injustices and act of wickedness on the people involved including those so called bishops that think they're God.”

Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, comments:

“I can understand why a Nigerian priest will post anonymously because revealing his identity will mean that he will lose his priesthood and be thrown out of the church. I can agree with him that the Church of Nigeria has lost her focus on Christian teaching because they are actively encouraging and supporting the Nigerian Government to pass a bill that will further suppress and punish LGBT Nigerians.

“We in Changing Attitude Nigeria have bishops and priests in the Church of Nigeria who have been actively but anonymously supporting us since we started in 2005. Changing Attitude Nigeria is working towards engaging more with the Church of Nigeria and continues to welcome priests and bishops who are willing to engage with us.”

The priest confirms what we know to be true, that despite to repeated assertions of Global South and GAFCON leaders, Global South churches are not monolithic in their attitude towards homosexuality. In a reversal of the usual Nigerian narrative, the priest has written in unusually forthright terms, describing the condemnation of people because of their sexual orientation as wickedness. Many Nigerian priests and lay people and some bishops totally disagree with the opposition of the church to her LGBT members.

He reveals a difference between Nigerian bishops and bishops in the UK and North America. Nigerian bishops and archbishops have a tendency to think of themselves as God-like in their power and authority. Archbishop Nwosu who confronted me so angrily and aggressively in Jamaica thought, even if only for that moment, that he has God-like authority to demand my camera. Many other Nigerians, gay and straight, describe the aloof, authoritarian style of Nigerian bishops.

It is hard for bishops from such a culture not only to accept homosexuality but to understand the relationship bishops in the UK and N America have with their priests and people. There is authority but it is more consensual. In the UK God-like obedience is rarely demanded and then only by bishops sharing un-Christ-like delusions of authority and power. In The Episcopal Church where bishops are elected, the relationship is even more consensual. Many in the Church of England find this degree of mutuality and accountability difficult to understand.

If the priest who posted the comment or other Nigerian priests with similar views would like to contact me in the strictest confidence I would be very happy to hear from you –

Thursday 23 July 2009

Demonic attacks on LGBT people

Pinknews reports today that a number of fundamentalist Christian churches in Britain are thought to be performing 'exorcisms' on gays and lesbians to cure them of homosexuality -

Their report is based on the Metro which says that a Pentecostal church in north-west London is using exorcism as a 'cure' for gay and lesbian people.

The Rev John Ogbe-Ogbeide who runs the United Pentecostal Ministry in Harrow says he carried out exorcisms on gays four or five times a year and that the procedure always worked. He said: "The evil spirits are telling you what's wrong is right, the opposite sex is not attractive." He cited a recent case where he exorcised a young man who was about to get married but was in love with a man. Rev Ogbe-Ogbeide added that the procedure could be carried out at any age, as demons could take hold of a person at any time.

Peterson Toscano who was invited by LGCM to perform at Lambeth, has been subjected to three exorcisms. He said: "The premise of these was that foreign demonic forces infiltrated my body and manipulated me so that I could not turn from being gay. I felt desperate for a cure especially after trying so hard to change through other means. This is a form of religious abuse and spiritual violence. I found the experienced traumatized me."

Meanwhile, I learnt from Giles Goddard that Anglican Mainstream has sent an email to members of General Synod and others to tell them that the Inclusive Church web address is an “attack website”.

The person responsible (or irresponsible) for the email is Canon Chris Sugden, member of General Synod and Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream International.

Chris was responding to an alert from an Anglican Mainstream supporter and tech specialist. In he email he says he really appreciated the supporter taking the time to write “and fill us in on how to respond to some disconcerting technological challenges. The link his computer found to be a known attack website was that of Inclusive Church.”

The Mainstream supporter says his computer security system classified a link to the Inclusive Church website in a news item posted today by Mainstream as a 'known attack website'. He said this meant that the website contained a malicious program designed to infect the PC when visiting. 'Attack' programs are designed to install programs that steal private information, use your computer to attack others, or for spying purposes.

A cautionary warning might have been sensible, with all this possible spying going on and demonic forces being manifested by gays in the church and computers being used to attack others - a frightening scenario indeed.

On the other hand, it would have been more sensible for Mainstream to have linked to the current, healthy, virus–free Inclusive Church URL: It would have been even more sensible and Christian to have checked with Inclusive Church before sending an email to all members of General Synod telling them that Inclusive Church’s website is an attack website. This is how unhealthy demons and viruses designed to poison attitudes to LGBT people get spread in our church.

Stages of spiritual growth

I’ve been musing about the interplay between two events that happened yesterday. One was a conversation which took place over a Costa latte with a member of an HTB church plant. The other was a chance visit to the Anglo-catholic church in South London where I was baptised and confirmed. A dialogue between these two was inspired by reading a chapter this morning about stages of spiritual growth in ‘The God You Already Know’.

As I drove past the church of my childhood, I noticed that the chairs on which I first sat 58 years ago in Sunday School were being replaced by new upholstered chairs. Shock number one. Shock number two – the new incumbent has reverted to using the high altar at major festivals and altar 30 yards away, raised 15 steps above the congregation, back to the people. I rebelled against this distanced relationship with the congregation 30 years ago. I prefer to worship in a congregation visibly gathered together around the altar.

The stages of spiritual growth chapter affirmed my present experience of being in the third, individual stage of development, where it is possible to be creative in handling paradox, complexity and ambiguity. My criteria for action and belief come from my intuitive, inner contemplative life and are not simply those inherited from church, society or family. I am also frequently frustrated by conservative theology, teaching and practice – use of distancing high altar on the one hand and the use of proof texts against LGBT people on the other. I can do adult and mature in some areas and revert to childish frustrations in others.

HTB churches seem to embody a duality which I fail to understand. The theology and teaching, biblically-based, seems to come from the first stage of spiritual growth, conformist mentality. Rules are important and the leaders take to themselves authority to tell others how to think and behave. Things are seen in black and white with little allowance for individual difference and independence of thought. How do otherwise mature, intelligent adults survive in this environment?

At the same time in many HTB and evangelical churches there is a freedom and openness of experience and expression in prayer and worship and enthusiasm and warm, loving friendships in the congregation, all of which are more characteristic of later stages of spiritual development. Many Church of England congregations would me more attractive and feel far more alive and might experience God more intimately if they had something of the HTB fervour and joy.

There are no individual wrongs here, no judgement - just people at different stages of spiritual growth. But I observe that HTP churches are run by leadership teams which exclude those not deemed to be kosher – gay men, for example – and impose their will unilaterally on the entire congregation who are not consulted. We are going to be a FoCA church and support ACNA, people are told.

Hierarchical, authoritarian leadership can be a problem in any congregation. The schismatic developments in the Anglican Communion are being driven by individuals operating from a first stage of spiritual growth mentality where control, order, orthodoxy and authority are paramount. This results in tragedy, not just for LGBT Christians but for those maturing into the second and third stages of spiritual growth.

It’s a tragedy also for the growth, mission and ministry of the universal church. The church is failing to provide resources which nourish people and give them confidence to trust the God they already know and follow their mature intuition, leaving behind childhood images of God and ways of praying and risking trust in the God whose creation is good and whose love is universal and infinite.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Changing Attitude’s contact in Kenya reports on his ministry

The Revd Michael Kimindu, contact person for Changing Attitude in Kenya, has emailed today updating about the ministry he is developing amongst Anglicans. Michael is an Anglican priest and was part of our team at the Lambeth Conference last year. He was an army chaplain and has children but is now distanced from the Church in Kenya because of his support for lesbian and gay people.

A small group of LGBT Christians meets every Sunday in his house to worship and pray and Michael continues to offer his wisdom and training skills to Anglican groups.
He also offers ministry under the banner of Other Sheep Ministries, a US-based non-denominational international ministry to LGBT people. On July 18th Michael conducted a one day seminar about homosexuality in Kisumu attended by 12 people, two of them priests and ten lay people, all Anglicans from two different Dioceses. They all expressed satisfaction and asked for frequent similar seminars.

Michael preached in an Anglican Church on July 19th invited by the priest who had helped organise the seminar. In his sermon he preached about church growth and how inclusiveness is important for growth. The congregation have requested that he returns to preach again.

On July 21st Michael addressed an early morning meeting of the All Saints Cathedral Church Men's Committee. The six men included one priest. He talked about homosexuality and the need to be open to discussion and was well received. The Chairman of the HIV/AIDS committee invited him to talk to people living with HIV/AIDS soon.

In the afternoon, he talked to a meeting of a similar association representing four dioceses with 15 members attending. They expressed the need for future meetings with him. Michael says the day was very exciting day for him.

A number of Anglican clergy in Kenya have told Michael they would like to have a forum where they can express their opinions about homosexuality without fear and talk honestly and openly. It is, of course, very difficult for priests to find anyone with whom they can explore their feelings and thoughts about homosexuality. In a very small but significant way, Michael is contributing to the Listening Process and is helping some clergy in Kenya to a better understanding of human sexuality.

Michael says the clergy are looking for leadership and hopes Changing Attitude will not shy away from supporting him. Changing Attitude is committed to support people from around the Communion who share Michael’s bravery in risking his livelihood for the sake of teaching an inclusive Gospel.

He has asked for an appointment with the new Archbishop and promises to report following the meeting. Donations to be sent to Michael to enable him to develop his ministry among Anglican congregations in Kenya can be made on the CA web site.

Monday 20 July 2009

Copernicus, Galileo, moon landings and human sexuality

Forty years ago today human beings first stepped onto the surface of the moon transforming our awareness of our fragile planet in context of the universe. Four hundred years ago this year Galilei Galileo confirmed Copernicus’s revolutionary theory about the solar system. It took the church nearly 400 years to formally accept that Galileo was right.

We are living in an era in which God has placed human sexuality centre-stage on the agenda of the church. God has focussed our attention on two issues; the ordination of women and the ordination and blessing of LGBT people – on gender (51% of the world’s population) and sexual identity (about 5%). Actually, gender and sexual identity issues affect 100% of human beings.

What humankind learnt about the nature of the universe, creation and human identity grew dramatically in the twentieth century and will continue to grow and expand in the twenty first. We have been changed and revolutionised by the growth of life sciences, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and psychiatry.

The values of reactionary conservative Christians who claim to uphold the highest ideals of truth, integrity and sexual responsibility fail because they deny or ignore human reality and the discoveries which challenge biblical understandings of creation, sexual biology and human sexuality.

If it takes the church as long to acknowledge new understandings of human sexuality as it took the Roman Catholic Church to formally accept the teachings of Galileo, we are in for a long, rough ride. Fortunately, globalisation, the spread of global communications and increasing human literacy and education mean that new ideas can be both more rigorously tested and questioned and also achieve widespread acceptance more quickly than Galileo’s discoveries about the solar system.

The idealised values of fidelity, monogamy and sexual responsibility are the right values. They are as right for LGBT people as for the heterosexual majority. The problem we are living with is the head-in-the-sand equivalent to Galileo as the church explores human sexuality. Conservatives ignore the reality of the way in which the heterosexual majority behaves.

A new reality slowly dawned on human conscious in 1609 and a new reality dawned on 21 July 1969. A new reality in human consciousness is already in being for millions of LGBT people, their family, friends and neighbours.

I know from my own and others’ experience that I am not troubled by being a partnered gay Christian. I am deeply at ease with myself. Disturbance comes from those who in their own Christian integrity wish to deny my reality and freedom, some of whom are also prejudiced and homophobic.

Christian arguments against homosexuality do not come from contended LGBT people but from heterosexuals with a conservative relationship to the Bible allied with those with a troubled past who describe themselves as ex-gay or mistakenly-gay or never-really-gay.

How will this transformation of awareness of human sexuality play out in the global church? I have no idea! The Episcopal Church has passed resolutions which are moderate in intent. They are committed to the integrity of the Anglican Communion and to the proper place of LGBT people in the church. TEC has been exploring this in depth for over 40 years.

Changing Attitude is campaigning for exactly the same place for LGBT people in the Church of England and ultimately in every Province of the Anglican Communion. Partnered lesbian and gay priests and bishops are already being ordained in many Provinces and priests are blessing gay relationships. What is lacking is honesty, better understanding and a positive commitment to change.

Conservatives are trying to resist an unstoppable movement in human history and understanding which is re-evaluating human sexual identity. There is clarity in this re-evaluation about what is healthy, natural and holy despite repeated conservative attempts to discredit and undermine the integrity of faithful LGBT Christians who stand firm in the faith. Let’s hope the church universal acknowledges the revolution in the understanding of human sexuality more quickly than it acknowledged the Copernican revolution, without which we’d never have dreamed of landing on the moon.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Is this the Schism (finally)?

There’s been a lot of shouting about the Episcopal Church choosing to walk apart and abandoning the Communion but if you read Resolution D025 most of it is about staying in the Communion. It doesn’t even mention the moratorium on bishops whose ‘manner of life’ is a problem to the wider Communion. So is it an end to the moratorium or not?

It’s a long resolution and it can be interpreted in different ways. The clearest bits are the ones that say the Episcopal Church is NOT walking apart. The questions come about the resolve which says that God may call partnered gay and lesbian people to any ordained ministry, and that the Church will use its usual discernment process to discern their call.

The Presiding Bishop has stated in a letter to Rowan Williams and the other Primates ‘This General Convention has not repealed Resolution B033. It remains to be seen how Resolution B033 will be understood and interpreted in light of Resolution D025. Some within our Church may understand Resolution D025 to give Standing Committees (made up of elected clergy and laity) and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to Episcopal elections. Others, in light of Resolution B033, will not.’

So once again this resolution ‘holds the tension’ and provides a big tent within which people of many different theological stripes can come together. It’s classical Anglicanism – both/and not either/or and that drives some people crazy!

The Presiding Bishop describes D025 as descriptive not prescriptive and that’s probably what she’ll say about C056 as well which allows bishops to make a ‘generous pastoral response’ to those in same-gender relationships. It also calls for collecting and developing theological and liturgical materials for blessing same-gender relationships. It does not go as far as developing a rite for public blessings.

Just like D025 the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. How bishops interpret this will depend on their local circumstances. America is a big country and things vary a lot from place to place so local discernment makes a lot of sense.

All this reminds me of the ‘coming out’ process for LGBT people. However cautious and careful you are there comes a point when you just have to be yourself and stop worrying about Mum and Dad (and Grandma and your cousins). It’s not that you don’t want to be part of the family anymore, but it really isn’t family if you’re trying to be something you’re not just so you can come home for Christmas. The Episcopal Church has finally had the guts to say who they are and we’ll wait and see what that actually means.

As far as I’m concerned they’re welcome for Christmas (and Thanksgiving!)

Revd Caro Hall
Priest-in-charge, St Benedict's Episcopal Church, Los Osos
Board member, Integrity USA

Friday 17 July 2009

Why does Anglican Mainstream continue to attack Greenbelt?

Why does Anglican Mainstream think it has the right to attack Greenbelt and accuse it of being one-sided and post-orthodox Christian? It’s because Anglican Mainstream and allies think that they alone are orthodox and hold the true faith. Anglican Mainstream’s self-identity is arrogant and abusive. They are right and any group which welcomes LGBT people in any way is wrong. It doesn’t matter whether LGBT people are single and celibate and conform to the teaching of the church. As Phelim comments on the previous post, gay identity is false identity for Mainstream.

As Anglican Mainstream continues its campaign of attack against Greenbelt I thought I’d take a look at the website to see how Greenbelt understands itself.

Greenbelt’s mission statement describes it as “an independent Christian charity working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.”

The web site says it was “a dream born on the unsettled non-conformist edges of the church during the early 1970s.” Greenbelt “was about a 24/7 faith, it was a theology with ‘no-splits’…”

It gained a reputation for introducing people to the UK church who came from places where the struggle for justice was more pressing than, say, ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’. Artists were invited because their vision overlapped with the biblical one of global justice or engaging with political powers or was simply fuelled by a divine sense of wonder.

Greenbelt has cemented its partnership with Christian Aid, translating debate about political engagement and international justice into vigorous campaigning. CMS, SPCK, USPG, YMCA, ICC and the Church Times have collaborated with this. They have helped Greenbelters re-imagine the church as an infectious global conspiracy, working for God’s peace, healing and friendship in previously unimagined ways. This is Greenbelt today.

Changing Attitude supporters and trustees are involved with Greenbelt. It is an event which is safe for LGBT people and which offers creative resources for our spiritual nourishment. Greenbelt inspires Christians who have a passion for justice. It brings together people from wildly diverse traditions and who experience God in a rainbow variety of ways.

Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel attended and spoke at Greenbelt in the seventies and eighties. They now accuse Greenbelt of having become an indiscriminate market place with an ethos Greenbelt no longer consistent with the Christian gospel.

CMS, defending it’s involvement against the Mainstream attack, says Greenbelt is a brilliant platform from which to offer hospitality and share the gospel.

Greenbelt continues to offer thousands of people, many of them on the fringes of the church, an experience which encourages them in the faith and restores their confidence in God. Changing Attitude wouldn’t dream of trying to dictate what Greenbelt should be or who it should invite. It is what it is, and we rejoice in it’s openness, diversity and passion.

Greenbelt resonates with people’s experience of God in the UK in the 21st century far more than Anglican Mainstream will ever do. In attacking Greenbelt, Mainstream simply reveals more of its prejudices, offends more people, strengthens Changing Attitude’s resolve to work for justice and shows how marginal it is to the faith experiences of the majority in the UK.

Lies and poison from Anglican Mainstream

Lisa Severine Nolland has written a second article for Anglican Mainstream about the ‘gayification’ of Greenbelt.

Lisa returns to this ‘dreary’ topic, as she calls it, because Greenbelt hasn’t replied to her phone and email messages expressing concern about the presence of Bishop Gene Robinson, Paula Gooder, Robert Beckford, Giles Fraser and Dave Tomlinson, Journey MCC Birmingham and OuterSpace at Greenbelt and the showing of the film Priest.

Firstly, Lisa thinks expert, authoritative, orthodox, ex/post gay voices should be granted equal access, visibility and air time if those with an LGBT agenda are going to be handed the microphone. She says the decks have been stacked, disadvantaging the audience.

The problem with this argument for Anglican Mainstream is that leading figures such as Canon Chris Sugden and others not associated with Mainstream such as Peter Ould, and the experts from the USA that Mainstream import for their conferences don’t accept that there is any such thing as a gay identity. Gay people are heterosexuals who have been seduced and corrupted by secular culture and a bad relationship with their father. They can be returned to hetero-normativity by repentance, therapy and healing. If heterosexuality is normative and makes people happy, why is Lisa such an obsessively worried heterosexual?

The people who attend Greenbelt are intelligent, thoughtful Christians. They can choose which events to attend and use their God-given minds to assess whether what they hear is truthful to their experience of God’s creation. They are not stupid and vulnerable, as Lisa seems to imagine.

Secondly, Lisa’s knowledge of the history of marriage in the Christian and pre-Christian era is abysmal. She naively states that: ‘Over the millennia the Judaeo-Christian sexual ethic had insisted that sex remain within the context of mutually loving and giving, exclusive, until-death heterosexual marriage.’ Lisa has forgotten about polygamous relationships in the Old Testament, the inferior status of women in marriage until the modern era and the way in which the nature of marriage has constantly changed historically.

She next justifies divorce by referring to scripture. How dare she, when those in Mainstream quote proof texts at LGBT people. Jesus said definitive things about divorce. He said nothing about same-sex activity. I am not taking his silence to mean he approved. I take it that he saw no need to condemn men who had sex with men in the same way that he condemned divorce.

Lisa says sexual liberation, authenticity, exploration and autonomy are core parts of the LGBT agenda. I think she really means licentiousness and promiscuity. Some secular LGBT groups may advocate such a sexual ethic, as do many secular heterosexual groups. Changing Attitude emphatically does not. We advocate authenticity and the exploration of intimacy and love in fidelity to one partner for life.

Lisa asks whether Christian LGBT groups insist that their members keep all sexual relating within the perimeters of civil partnerships or gay ‘marriage’ (in countries where SSM is legal) and whether they insist that if one is not in such a relationship, then one must remain sexually chaste. She links to the Changing Attitude and Chicago Consultation web sites. Lisa, do heterosexual Christians follow your expectations? What does Anglican Mainstream’s research show – or is it only concerned with trying to expose the worst of LGBT experience? Is the dominant heterosexual culture setting an example of sexual restraint? No, it isn’t. We LGBT people may well be setting a better example and be more honest than those obsessed with sexual activity in Anglican Mainstream.

Lisa says it is LGBT culture that has set the trend and is profoundly influencing heterosexual culture. We are responsible for inspiring heterosexuals to abandon the ’no-sex-until-you-are-married-and-then-only-with your-spouse’ Christian ideal. Let’s blame the gays for all moral ills in society, shall we? Let’s make gays the scapegoats for the failure of idealised heterosexual Christian ethics. This is a scandalous argument for Lisa to make and verges on the evil of fascism – let’s scapegoat the Jews and the gays. There is indeed a loss of ethical values in our church. Falsely blaming a minority group provides one example.

Finally, Lisa believes that the LGBT agenda as articulated by such groups as Inclusive Church is either dissimulative or woefully ignorant and naive. Lisa introduces another of her pet obsessions at this point. She asks whether IC understands the full spectrum of what it is embracing and endorsing. What Lisa thinks IC and CA tacitly endorse are such ‘orientations’ as polyamory, sadomasochism, bondage and domination, zoophilia and paedophilia.

Reading Lisa’s false accusations makes me really angry. She claims the Christian moral high ground but repeatedly makes false claims and insinuations about Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude. Our Christian ethical position is utterly orthodox in reality. We believe in the highest ethical values for LGBT Christians. Let me answer Lisa’s final rhetorical question. No - individuals with these identities and corresponding lifestyles will not be encouraged to come out of their closets by IC or CA.

The people in local congregations that Changing Attitude engages with hate (and I mean, really hate) the way in which Anglican Mainstream repeatedly links zoophilia, paedophilia, etc with LGBT identity. Members of our church think Anglican Mainstream behaves in a way that is totally unfair and irresponsible.

In her third article on Greenbelt, Lisa Nolland asks whether Christian Aid, Church Urban Fund, YMCA or the Church Times would be happy to be associated with an event which had as one of its associates the BNP. Her argument sinks to the depths at this point, associating Christian LGBT groups with the tactics and beliefs of the BNP. She repeats the lie that LGBT advocacy groups will be present at Greenbelt. They will not. LGBT individuals will be present and so will groups ministering to LGBT people. Lisa’s argument is exclusive and fascist. She doesn’t think any group representing or ministering to LGBT people should be welcome at Greenbelt. If we let the gays in, she implies, we might as well let the BNP in. The idea is deeply offensive to Changing Attitude.

Anglican Mainstream is an organisation on the fringe of the Church of England, ready to jump ship if it doesn’t get its own way. It is allied with groups like ACNA and FCAUK which do have a schismatic agenda, unlike Changing Attitude. They claim The Episcopal Church is schismatic when in reality Mainstream is one of the groups actively planning schism.

Anglican Mainstream is dishonest, negative and plays to the very worst in the human psyche by attempting to poison people’s hearts and minds against LGBT people. They are doing incalculable damage to Christian witness and ministry in this country.

Thursday 16 July 2009

English bishops are compromised, lack integrity, fail to tell the truth

Jonathan Wynne-Jones’ article in the Telegraph typifies reactions to the passing of Resolutions D025 and C056. Jonathan writes that the Anglican Communion has finally split. The Episcopal Church has delivered a fatal blow to hopes for unity.

Commentators in the USA and UK claim that the Episcopal Church has chosen to walk apart. Bishops Tom Wright of Durham, Pete Broadbent of Willesden, Graham Kings of Sherborne (and Fulcrum), John Hind of Chichester and others have criticised TEC.

Each of them is deeply compromised and lacking in integrity. Perhaps those newly appointed don’t yet know the reality of life in every diocese of the Church of England (I’m trying to excuse Graham Kings who I count as a friend).

Tom Wright knows partnered gay priests in his diocese. He knows he is impotent to discipline them. How dare he criticise The Episcopal Church for passing Resolutions which give permission to do things that happen in his own diocese and in the Church of England.

One of the other bishops named above is in a diocese where a previous diocesan was gay and another of the bishops is a partnered gay man.

John Hind is Bishop of Chichester, a diocese with one of the highest concentrations of gay priests in England, many of them partnered, and where a previous bishop was gay.

Pete Broadbent is a bishop in the Diocese of London, another diocese with a high number of lesbian and gay priests, many of them partnered.

Graham Kings has recently been consecrated and arrived in the diocese where I live, where I have Permission to Officiate and where there are many lesbian and gay priests. Graham knows many gay priests himself and it saddens me to read what he has written on the Fulcrum web site.

The corruption and fault lines in the Anglican Communion, if they are to be found anywhere, lie between those who are naïve, ignorant or dishonest and those who try to live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are faithful, truthful and live with integrity.

Provinces in Africa, South America and the Far East are not immune from my strictures. I know perfectly well that the Nigerian church has tens of thousands of lesbian and gay men worshipping week by week, many of them sexually active.

Returning to Jonathan Wynne-Jones analysis, I don’t think it is the Resolutions passed at General Convention that have dealt a blow to unity. Evangelicals in the UK have continued to destroy whatever fragile unity there might have been between them. Anglican Mainstream attacks Fulcrum and Greenbelt while Fulcrum attacks Mainstream.

The tiny minority of English bishops who have publicly declared support for FCAUK have deliver a blow to unity in the House of Bishops, where the other 90% of bishops do not support FCAUK.

There are lesbian and gay priests in every diocese in England and a number of gay bishops. The Church of England bishops may have adopted Issues in Human Sexuality as policy and issued a Statement on Civil Partnerships. I estimate from Changing Attitude’s research that over 50% of Church of England bishops know clergy in their dioceses who have contracted Civil Partnerships.

Bishops that don’t know they have lesbian and gay clergy in their dioceses are either naïve or stupid or both.

Bishops Tom Wright, Pete Broadbent, Graham Kings and John Hind have deeply compromised themselves, their truthfulness and integrity, by criticising The Episcopal Church. The Lambeth Conference may have passed Resolution 1.10. The prejudice and ignorance of the majority doesn’t make the attitude of 1.10 towards LGBT Anglicans right.

The crisis in the Church will not be solved by reacting negatively to the actions of the American Church. It will be solved when the Communion has the courage to face the truth about human sexuality, straight as well as LGBT.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

The God we already know

I had a really good conversation with Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream on Sunday afternoon at the University of York when he was taking a break from General Synod business. At least, I thought it was a good conversation.

We tend to meet in contexts where feelings are running high and the issues that divide us are the focus of our encounter. On Sunday the issues were part of our conversation but I felt we met as Chris and Colin, two Christians pausing for a moment to listen and explore our differences. It felt like two real people meeting rather than two campaigners defending our opposing positions. Chris might feel that we always have this kind of conversation. I certainly don’t.

I concluded the conversation by recognising that despite our radical ethical, theological and scriptural differences we are still members together of the body of Christ, held together in the church by God. Chris might not agree with me about the authenticity of my faith but for 20 minutes I felt authentic in Chris’s presence, present as a gay Christian rather than as a Christian whose sexuality is being scrutinised and judged.

Later, Anglican Mainstream posted the story about Greenbelt, condemning it as too gay friendly because Bishop Gene Robinson has been invited to speak. My spiritual director, Henry Morgan, has just co-edited a book with Roy Gregory. ‘The God you already know’ arose from their work together in ‘Soul Space’, part of the Greenbelt Festival since 2000, a listening place and prayer corner.

In their introduction to the book, they write:

“Our work has led us to believe that most people know most of what they need to know about God already . . .

“We believe that if we pay attention life will teach us what else we need to know. God’s creation is good, and life is basically friendly and can be trusted. In our experience, God is not a punishing God but a loving God. God’s creation is basically good, and we as a part of that creation are basically good too, at least in God’s eyes.

“We further believe that we can for the most part trust ourselves, our deepest desires and our instincts. [The task} is not without its problems, but we are made in God’s image, are usually doing better than we think, and have the capacity, under God, to do even better.”

In my experience, this is most significant difference between those welcoming LGBT people as Christians and those who believe either that God doesn’t create gay people or that we are only acceptable to God when we are repentant and sexually inactive.

All that we can desire to know and experience is already fully present. If we learn to trust and to work through our anxieties, insecurities and guilt (feelings often induced by the church) we begin to encounter God in a wholly creative, loving and self-giving way. This, of course, is what grace is all about. Conservative Christian grace, Anglican Mainstream grace, seems to be conditional and hedged about with rules. Such grace has nothing of the quality of grace extolled by St Paul in his letters.

God is present when people drop their defences and allow real meeting and encounter to take place. Such a meeting happened between Chris Sugden and me at Synod. When will groups and Provinces in the Anglican Communion drop their defences and allow real meeting, real listening, to take place with LGBT people?

The God You Already Know – Developing your spiritual and prayer life; Ed. Henry Morgan and Roy Gregory; SPCK; ISBN9780281061556

Living, Praying and Worshipping outside the box

Reactions to the passage of Resolution D025 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Anaheim have been predictable. They come from people living within particular boxes labelled traditional or orthodox or Bible-believing Christian. These are not boxes into which I fit. Nor do many of the supporters of Changing Attitude, of the Episcopal Church, the Church of Canada or members of other churches that make up the Anglican Communion.

My images of God, of the way in which God is present in creation, the nature of human sexuality, my experience of contemplative prayer, my understanding of human identity, of authority and power as exercised by the church and bishops, are radically different from the way in which the church operates in the England.

Despite ‘Fresh Expressions’ the church continues to be trapped in norms and traditions which represent tribal interests – Calvinism, conservative evangelicalism, Anglo-Catholicism, liberalism, etc. I am frustrated by the failure of imagination and the fear of freedom to risk and adventure which inhibits the church and makes it reactionary and out of touch, not only with the majority in our society but with God.

I find it difficult to respond to Resolution D025 and the Private Members Motion at General Synod asking Synod to ‘…express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America.’

It is so obvious to me that the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England is a good thing. It is obvious that one day, every society will grant full dignity and human rights to LGBT people. It is obvious that the Church of England consecrates gay priests and bishops. What the Episcopal Church has done in passing D025 is simply recovering what was lost in B033 and restating the obvious.

The Church of England is not losing members in this country because it is not faithful to old formularies and to a conservative interpretation of scripture. It is losing contact with society and church attendance is falling because the church maintains prejudices against women and LGBT people and fails to help people explore their innate spiritual awareness. They turn to other practices and new age experiences instead, to older and newer wisdoms.

Those who condemn the members of General Convention of The Episcopal Church for passing D025 and those members of General Synod who have signed the GS PMM are followers of a dying tradition. They look to the past in the wrong way, wanting to secure themselves in old boxes, old traditions rather than responding to the dramatic changes in our culture and seeking to respond to God there.

The majority of people in the UK have responded to traditional churches by walking out of the box. Conservatives believe they have the answer because their congregations are growing. Conservatives are never going to persuade the majority of people that the role of women is different from and inferior to men. Nor will they convince people that LGBT people are less equal than heterosexuals in the sight of God.

People look for spiritual paths which deepen in them honesty, truth, integrity, genuine love and compassion. There are all sorts of whacky seekers around and whacky spiritualities and discerning the healthy from the misguided is always critical. The Christian tradition is an essential ingredient in keeping us faithful to the loving God who has expressed himself in creation and in the life of Jesus Christ. So is openness to the new thing God is doing in creation.

The church, sadly, so often doesn’t get it. Those who become bishops don’t get it. They become enslaved to the system and structures, to ‘the way we do things’. Congregations don’t get it. Individual Christians don’t get it. It is so hard to think and pray, live and act outside the box.

People have been claiming to be in or out of communion with TEC for six years now. The PPM wants to declare that the CofE be in communion with ACNA. Will the motion make a difference to the connection between the church and the majority of people in this country and their spirituality? Nope.

Over 100 members of General Synod have signed the motion and want to be in communion with a schismatic church which is a fragile coalition of extremes drawn together by opposition to the ordination of women and lesbian and gay bishops and to prophetic social and spiritual movements in the church. Seven bishops have signed it. Forty diocesan bishops on General Synod haven’t signed it.

The reactionary groups consume the creative energy of the church and divert attention from those places where the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in creation. Changing Attitude is among those movements which are genuinely and creatively proclaiming the gospel and inspiring liminal people to hold the faith and live sacrificially and passionately into Christ outside the box.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

A Place at the Table

It was Jesus’ table-fellowship with tax-gatherers and sinners, as much as what he preached, that upset and angered the self-righteous ones, who were scolded by the Lord for their pride and hypocrisy. But saints and sinners, smug and meek alike, have found, and still find, a place at the table of which Jesus is the host; and Christian worship now is just as much a foretaste of the messianic banquet as the great feasts that Jesus celebrated with the multitudes.

So, if there are two versions of the gospel and the faith today then I would like to align myself with this New Testament vision of inclusion, rather than with people who try to demarcate between those who are in and those who are out. And this is not merely because I am likely to be seen as 'an outcast and a reprobate', according to the latter model, but because this is how I read the Scripture images about the life of the people of God.

It was, therefore, highly symbolic, in my opinion, that at a General Convention hearing where one of the Transgender resolutions was heard, committee members were seated in a horseshoe arrangement rather than as a panel. An open space was provided so that, as people stood to give their testimony, they formed part of a continuum rather than ‘them’ and ‘us’.

The committee members had ensured that there was a place at the table, where people could be properly heard. The outcome of this, and other deliberations, as we now know, is that General Convention, through its House of Deputies and House of Bishops, has declared that, in the Episcopal Church, there is a place for LGBT people, not just at the table, but also in the discernment process for ministry. No one is to be excluded just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Those who were there have testified that they could feel the Holy Spirit working powerfully. I can and do believe that. Alleluia. Amen

Sunday 12 July 2009

Listening to Trans people

The Changing Attitude banner and presence at the General Synod in York looks great. It’s a pity, though, that we were unable to send anyone to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, taking place in Anaheim, California at the same time.

And it would have been very appropriate, on this occasion, if Changing Attitude’s Trustees for Trans people could have been at Anaheim, given that five Trans inclusive resolutions have been put forward there. No matter, the Integrity team at General Convention are well aware of the love, support and prayers of Changing Attitude, England, and I am in close touch with the Trans members of that team.

‘Listening to Trans People’ was the title of the seminar I convened and chaired as part of last year’s Lambeth Conference Fringe, where I was joined by the Revd Dr Cameron Partridge of TransEpsicopal and Integrity; Mia Nikasimo, the founder of Trans Afro, Stephanie Sheppard of the Methodist Church, and Steven, a member of the UK based group for Transgender Christians, the Sibyls. The Lambeth Bishops’ programme was intense and relentless, but several bishops made a real effort to join us (they should have been at provincial meetings) for what proved to be a moving contribution to the listening process.

From what I can tell, a similar profound listening seems to have happened in the committees of General Convention where the Trans resolutions have been presented. It is not automatic for resolutions to reach the main convention. Each one is scrutinized carefully in committee, and additional evidence reviewed before a decision is made.

The Trans resolutions are of two kinds. One set, heard before the committee on National and International Concerns, invites the Church to support transgender civil rights. The other set, heard by the World Missions Committee, calls on the Church to include “gender identity and gender expression” in its ministry non-discrimination canon.

Two hearings on transgender matters in just twelve hours was exhausting and exhilarating for the Trans Christians who gave their testimonies, but it is obvious that they felt heard, sometimes by committee members for whom the whole idea of Trans was relatively new.

The Episcopal Church is often demonised for pushing ahead with an inclusive agenda in defiance of the rest of Anglican Communion, but the World Missions Committee was the setting for the resolutions about ordination precisely to look at the global implications. There, Cameron was able to point out that there have been transgender priests in the Church of England since at least 2000. And as Mia’s evidence to the Lambeth seminar showed last summer, Trans people are to be found in African churches and culture and not just in the West.

In Changing Attitude we wait and pray hopefully for further gracious listening when the resolutions come before General Convention.

Christina Beardsley

Saturday 11 July 2009

Changing Attitude at General Synod in York

Changing Attitude is present at the July meeting of General Synod at the University of York. Four volunteers have joined Colin Coward, Director or Changing Attitude England. CA has a display in the exhibition area of Synod. We are here to network and engage with members of Synod, those who are Changing Attitude supporters, those who are supportive of the full inclusion of LGBT people and those who oppose our full inclusion in the church.

On Friday evening we welcomed members at both entrances to the Synod meeting hall with the Changing Attitude banners and leaflets handed to synod members telling two stories, one of a lesbian and the other of a gay couple, all committed Christians, one couple committed evangelicals, who have been deeply wounded by the church’s refusal to bless their relationships.

The new CA banner is based on the Stonewall campaign of 2008 and reads ‘Some Christians are gay. Get over it!’ The banner was welcomed enthusiastically by many Synod members. Those who disagree with our presence walk past and refuse to take a leaflet. They are, of course, the people who would most benefit from reading the testimonies, supporters of FOCUK.

Thursday 9 July 2009

‘Liberals’, ‘moderate’ evangelicals and ‘traditionalist’ evangelicals

Anglican Mainstream has linked to a blog by The Urban Pastor which attempts to unravel what is going on in contemporary Anglicanism. He is a conservative evangelical and outlines in a helpfully nuanced way some of the differences of position in those who are lumped together under the label ‘traditionalists’. ‘Traditionalists’ doesn’t do justice to the coalition of evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics. They are morally traditional, doctrinally conservative, missionally innovative but not ‘hardline’ (Ruth Gledhill in the Times). ‘Conservative’ is not a label they are keen on.

There is a fair degree of diversity within the ‘traditionalist’ camp. They are distinguished by their attitude to scriptural interpretation. They are heading towards biblical orthodoxy and away from biblical heterodoxy, trying to steer towards biblical obedience and away from biblical revisionism.

On the other side of the argument, he says, are the liberals, labelled by him ‘revisionists’. What they believe is governed by trying to understand the culture. He is certain that they’re not a monolithic group either.

The ‘traditionalists’, he says, have the gospel. Their churches are growing because people are being converted. They preach the truth, so people are generous and sacrificial with the money God has entrusted to them. (I might think these claims are just a tad arrogant and confirm one of my prejudices about ‘traditionalists’.)

Liberals have the positions of power - the vast majority of Bishops, Archdeacons, Rural Deans are liberals. ‘Traditionalists’ are massively under-represented in England. Though ‘revisionists’ have the power in the Church of England, it doesn’t actually belong to them but to the ‘traditionalists’. The ‘traditionalists’ are doing nothing more than reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs. (I might think this is also a tad arrogant. It also reveals how important the acquisition of power is to conservatives.)

The situation is complicated by a split between conservative and ‘moderate’/'liberal' evangelicals. ‘Moderate’ evangelicals claim to agree with the traditionalists on biblical ethics and the importance of mission but disagree with the way conservatives seek ecclesial reform. ‘Moderates’ think conservatives bully people that don’t agree with them. They are reasonable, restrained and sensible. Infighting between these groups is bad.

‘Moderate’ evangelicals get promoted because they are not ‘conviction’ evangelicals. Maintaining unity is the most important thing for liberal evangelicals. They place church order above gospel convictions. Fulcrum and Graham Kings, recently appointed as the Bishop of Sherborne are under attack here.

Being a liberal evangelical is an inherently unstable position. Liberalism compromises evangelicalism and evangelicalism tarnishes liberalism.

The big issue isn’t homosexuality but the Bible. ‘Traditionalists’ believe that you should do something because the Bible says it, even if the culture doesn’t approve of it. ‘Revisionists’ say that we should do what the culture says because that’s the prevailing view, even if the Bible says that we shouldn’t. These are two different religious systems which are implacably opposed.

This blog is very revealing of conservative evangelical mentality. Life is unfair. Having power is important. They do not perceive those who disagree with them as being Christian. They are the only ‘real’ Christians.

The subtle or not-so-subtle differences between those gathered under the FCAUK banner are also unstable. They disagree not only about homosexuality and the ordination of women but about whether these are first or second order issues. For anglo-catholics, women are a first order issue, homosexuality second order and vice-versa for conservative evangelicals.

Of course, there’s madness here as well. Gay priests form a high percentage of Anglo-catholic organisations which are homophobic in their public utterances. Insane. What is less recognised is the insanity among conservative evangelicals who deny the presence of partnered lesbian and gay people in their congregations when they know full well they are present.

Conservatives want to replace the perceived liberal power base and the broad church ethos of the Church of England. Changing Attitude wants honesty, transparency and integrity - Biblical virtues – and Christian witness and mission which proclaims God as loving, passionate, creative and just. Who is more Biblical?

Wait a moment, Colin, this isn’t about competition or rivalry, who is more or less Biblical. God creates all, loves all, redeems all. Ah, there’s a critical fault line – for conservatives, God does NOT redeem liberals or homosexuals, Jews or Moslems. God is selective, not inclusive.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Time for T

It took over thirty years, but finally, in 2004, the British Parliament passed the Gender Recognition Act, and at long last, it was ‘time for T’.

After years of struggle by trans activists – notably Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and Claire McNab, of Press for Change - transsexual people in the UK, who have undergone gender re-assignment, and swear to remain in their ‘acquired gender’, are allowed, under certain conditions, to change their birth certificate.

This was not so much the granting of new rights as the restoration of rights that were withdrawn in 1970 by the notorious ruling of Mr Justice Ormrod in Corbett versus Corbett, known as the April Ashley case.

It is well-documented that prior to that ruling unofficial changes were made to the birth certificates of transsexual people who had transitioned (or ‘changed sex’ as people called it in those days), some of whom went on to marry.

The stunningly beautiful April Ashley (whose birth certificate had not, in fact, been amended) had the misfortune to marry an eccentric aristocratic, who, when they divorced, argued that the marriage was null and void because his former wife was still a man. The judge agreed, and transsexual people endured three decades of discrimination, only relieved in 1999 by an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act which protects the employment rights of those about to undergo, who are undergoing, or who have undergone, gender re-assignment. Before that, many Trans people were dismissed by their employers once they began to transition.

The 2004 legislation isn’t perfect, and there are various anomalies, principally its implications for married couples, which I won’t go into now: maybe another time, because it would be relevant to raise it here, at some stage.

The point I want to make is that many Trans people in the UK can now complete their transition, and get on with their lives. Not so in the US, where the struggle for Trans rights continues in various States, and hence there are two Transgender resolutions at this year’s General Convention of The Episcopal Church, one from the Diocese of Michigan, the other from the Diocese of Massachusetts, calling on the Church to support secular civil rights legislation. In addition, there are three other resolutions which call on the Church to end discrimination in relation to gender identity and expression. More of all this, I hope, in another post, but the message is clear: at this year’s General Convention, Trans Christians and their allies are hoping and praying that it will soon be ‘time for T’.

Christina Beardsley

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali condemned by The Times

A leader in today’s Times newspaper takes Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali to task for comments made prior to the launch of FCAUK. (We have yet another acronym to add to FCA or FoCA).

Changing Attitude took to task the group of bishops supporting yesterday’s launch back in September 2008 when Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Rochester and Winchester wrote in support of Bishop Bob Duncan in the USA. Chris Green, Vice Principal of Oak Hill, wrote asking CA to support Bishop Duncan, copying his letter to the bishops.

I replied declining to write to Bob Duncan and said: “The support given to Bishop Duncan by seven of our bishops is very worrying. By the stance they are taking, and from the comments made by some of them, they are contemplating taking similar action to Bishop Duncan. Their stance is a threat to the leadership of Archbishop Rowan, to the integrity of the Church of England and is also a rejection of the Windsor process.”

Today’s Times leader says that Michael Nazir-Ali is willing to provoke splits and risk schism within the Anglican Communion and has now signalled insubordination to the authority of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Bishops of Exeter and Winchester emailed me in anger last September, Exeter saying there was absolutely no reason to assume that any of them were contemplating or would desire the kind of action about which I speculated. Yet at the time, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said a new Province was needed in England and all six bishops either attended or send messages of support yesterday.

The Bishop of Rochester thinks homosexuals should “repent and be changed.” The Times says he has “inflamed an issue on which social attitudes have changed radically for the better within a generation.”

I have yet to hear any of the other five bishops publicly disown the stance taken by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, either in his comment about needing a new Province or in his attitude to lesbian and gay people which is doing so much damage to ability of the Church of England to evangelise in England.

Conservatives will claim that theirs are the growing churches and I value their gift in being able to attract new people. At the same time they are doing immense damage to the majority of congregations and are one of the reasons people are turning away from the Church of England. They attract the like-minded. They are not attractive to people who value the reforms enacted by this government to enhance the status of LGBT people. The majority despair of a church which seems so obsessively prejudiced where conservatives repeatedly link homosexuality with pederasty and bestiality. The majority know this is an infantile, deliberately abusive prejudice.

The Church of England should be proclaiming a welcome to LGBT people, affirming our love and fidelity. Instead, FCAUK grabs all the media attention and is seen as the voice of the CofE. The Church of England needs to be proclaiming a gospel of radical love, justice and inclusion to this country.

Davis Mac-Iyalla reports on Archbishop Okoh’s visit to Christ Church Beckenham

Davis Mac-Iyalla reports on his visit with Chris Okudili Okenwa, representing Changing Attitude Nigeria to the FoCA service at Christ Church, Beckenham on Sunday 6th July to hear Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria preach.

The service led by the Revd Nicholas Wynne-Jones was attended by not more than fifty people.

Bishop Nicholas began his sermon by greeting the congregation. He explained that he has been sent to represent Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria. The theme of his message was being "Contend for the faith" Jude 3.

Bishop Nicholas explained that the secularity of society is taking over the world and that Christians needs to stand up against it. Our problem is not Roman Catholics or Pentecostals but liberalism and Islam. He said he is proud to be among those in the Communion who can raise their hands to say that have different views. He said they are not planning to start a new church but to find a safe place for Bible-based orthodox believers.

He talked of the rising influence of Islam in Nigeria and other parts of the world and the dangers coming ahead if people don’t do anything. You must start speaking out or you will become a slave in your own country, he said. He talked of the need for a stronger worldwide evangelism to tackle the influence of Islam and secularity.
He said that the fabric of the Communion is torn apart by those who want to accept false teaching. Moslems are influencing Africans with money and converting them to Islam. The issue of polygamy is a problem for the Nigerian church and they are addressing it. He said the Nigerian church is challenging the government over corruption but he is also aware that corruption is a global issue - he was following the news in Britain.

The bishop carefully chose his words. He talked of the power of anointing in the Holy Spirit and the gift of the Holy Spirit and charged the congregation to be bold and start going out to preach. He is concerned that prayer and preaching are offensive to many in Britain. The mother church needs to realise that any action they take will be affecting others in the communion.

After the sermon, the bishop was asked to come out so he can be prayed for. Bishop Okoh said the church of Nigeria needs prayers because those in the Nigeria government don’t like to hear the truth or take advice. The church needs prayers to keep speaking out. Pentecostal churches are spreading and preaching materialism which is causing problems for Anglicans. (At the beginning of his sermon he said their problems have nothing to do with the Pentecostals)

An elderly man prayed for Dr Allen and his wife Elizabeth, both doctors working in Zambia. He extended his prayers to attack the Episcopal Church in America asking that God help them to repent and come back to the Biblical truth.

The majority of the people at the service were white and elderly. I wondered where the young evangelicals in the Church of England and the ethnic minority Anglicans were. Why didn’t they come to hear the representative of the Primate of All Nigeria? I had expected to see the church full of Nigerians who had come to hear their Archbishop speak. Part of the answer is that the ordinary people in the pews in Nigeria don’t have an interest in homosexuality. The issue is a problem to the leaders of the Church of Nigeria and their allies.

Why didn’t these elderly white people come with their family and friends? I don’t think using issue of homosexuality as a tactic to divide has given the conservatives much gain. The British younger generation as in Nigeria or elsewhere are not interested in homosexuality as divisive issue, thanks be to God.

After the service I was the first person to approach Archbishop Nicholas. I greeted him and introduced Chris to him. I asked him if he was aware that in his own province in Edo State men suspected of being homosexuals were arrested and paraded on TV as common criminals. He said he had been away from home for a long time so he wasn’t aware. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he said no because he doesn’t like his photo being taken.

Archbishop Okoh and all those involved with Anglican Mainstream and FoCA present us with a big challenge. The work we LGBT Christians are called to is to evangelise and bring new gay people to Christ and to reconnect with those who have left because of the hostile attitude of the church.

Monday 6 July 2009

FoCA damages the faith of LGBT Christians

I participated in a discussion about the Bishop of Rochester’s Telegraph interview on the Chris Moyles show on Radio 5 Live last night. The conservative viewpoint was represented by George Hargreaves of the Christian Party. George proved a good examplar of strands which will be in evidence at the FoCA launch in Westminster Central Hall today.

1. George played the numbers game. He claimed that the only churches exhibiting growth in the UK are Bible-based conservative congregations. Later he contradicted himself and said numbers don’t matter. FoCA will claim that 80% of the Anglican Communion are with them. When they leave the Church of England to form a schismatic church, that claim will be put to the test.

What is demonstrably true is that 90% of Church of England bishops are faithful to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the historic foundation of the CofE and to the generous, broad church ethos of Anglicanism.

2. George claimed that Bishop Michael Mazir-Ali wasn’t singling out lesbian and gay people as sinners. He said the bishop was clear in addressing all sinners. What the bishop said was: “. . . it is not just homosexuals who need to repent, but all who have strayed from the Bible’s teaching.”

Conservatives believe the church has strayed from Biblical teaching in blessing gay relationships, ordaining gay priests and bishops and ordaining women. Conservatives rarely target heterosexuals who engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sex or who divorce or engage in usury as straying from the Bible’s teaching.

3. George played the victim card, claiming that orthodox conservative Christians are being prevented from following their brand of faith in UK society by new legislation. The leaders of FoCA claim they are being oppressed and persecuted, enduring suffering and a scandalous great ejection (Richard Turbull’s letter of support to FoCA).

4. George misquoted the Bible and plucked texts out of context. He quoted a translation which used the word homosexual and then claimed it was an accurate translation. It isn’t.

What makes me angry is the way conservatives who claim to be Biblically faithful and orthodox quote proof texts but fail to notice the context. Romans 1.26-27 must be read in the context of Paul’s extended argument which runs through the whole letter and targets those who condemn themselves by sitting in judgment on others (Romans 2.1).

5. George claimed he is being excluded from church by gay people like me who allow no room for dissent in a pro-gay church. What George and the FoCA leadership mean, of course, is that a) they don’t like having to accept partnered lesbian and gay people in church and b) they want the freedom to preach homophobia because they have convinced themselves it is one of the things God hates most – God hates fags as Fred Phelps has it.

Let’s quote another Romans text, 14.13-14. “Let us therefore cease judging one another, but rather make up our minds to place no stumbling block in a fellow-Christian’s way. All that I know of the Lord Jesus convinces me that nothing is impure of itself; only, if anyone considers something impure, then for him it is impure.”

Those aligning themselves with FoCA believe that they represent a majority of the orthodox. They claim England will be saved as a Christian nation by following their gospel and depriving women and LGBT people of their birthright and full dignity in Jesus Christ.

At the same time they believe that because the majority of people in this country and members of the church reject them, they are proved to be faithful and righteous – and victims at the same time.

These people are bad, very, very bad, for LGBT Christians. They undermine our faith, our God-given identity and our self-worth. They damage the parents, friends and siblings of LGBT Christians.

And as with the Stonewall riots of 40 years ago, they strengthen the resolve of faithful LGBT Anglicans to work and pray and fight with heart and soul for our place in church and society, educating people as we go out of their prejudice and homophobia.

Changing Attitude marches with Pride

Davis Mac-Iyalla, David Scott, Chris Okudili Okenwa and Rev Stephen Coles carried the new Changing Attitude Banner at London Pride yesterday.

The banner adapts the theme of Stonewall’s ‘Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!’ campaign. It will be carried in other Pride marches this summer.

Changing Attitude carries a powerful message not only to the churches of the Anglican Communion but also to LGTB people who have abandoned their Christian faith because of the judgmental hostility shown by many Christians. Others who are deeply spiritual are unlikely to explore their spirituality in a church context.

Changing Attitude is taking a powerful evangelistic message to the LGBT community. Some Christians are gay and proud of our faith and follow Jesus Christ who is our way, our trutht and our life. Those carrying the banner received a lot of warm applause and support from the crowd.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Schismatic bishops obsessed with gays

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali and 15 other bishops are attending or supporting the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in Westminster Central Hall tomorrow. Thirty eight diocesan bishops are not attending nor are sixty three area or suffragan bishops. The 16 bishops are divided from the majority of English bishops in at least three ways.

The majority of bishops of the Church of England do not support this schismatic movement which is destined to become yet another sect.

The majority of bishops understand what it means for a person to be lesbian or gay even if some, such as Graham Kings, newly appointed bishop of Sherborne in my home diocese of Salisbury, hold a conservative teaching on homosexuality. Bishop Graham will be a good pastor to LGBT people.

The majority of bishops do not think there are two different sorts of religion in this country, one which is pro-gay and another which is traditional and orthodox. The fault lines do not fall so simply.

Bishop Michael claims that he welcomes homosexuals and then adds conditions which judge and condemn lesbian and gay people.

I suggest that Bishop Michael’s words show that he is not telling the truth, and is unaware that he is not telling the truth. LGBT people in his own diocese have not felt welcomed by him. In my one encounter with him, he distanced me and refused to reveal his own thinking.

LGBT people know they are not welcome at FoCA churches nor welcomed by FoCA-supporting bishops. Their claim to be welcoming to us is a lie. My encounters with some of their leading figures at Anglican Communion meetings reveal them to be hostile and judgmental. They demand repentance. They deny that people have a gay identity. They see sin where we experience love and holy intimacy. FoCA is obsessed with sex – gay sex.

Michael Nazir-Ali’s ignorance is shocking. Does he not see through his own duplicity and double-think? Where is his or FoCA’s parallel campaign against the millions of heterosexual people who stray from what he claims is the Bible’s teaching by enjoying not only pre-marital sex but sex with multiple partners prior to marriage. Where is the campaign against divorce which gives couples the freedom to enjoy sex with more than one partner?

Bishop Michael repeats the favorite conservative canard – that there are two different sorts of religions, one having a completely different view of the Church and Christianity from the other. This is why these 16 bishops feel justified in creating a new sect. They are so obsessed about the moral degradation which they think goes with homosexuality that they lose all sense of perspective. Bishop Michael and I continue to share the fundamentals of Christianity with the 101 bishops not attending tomorrow. We differ in our understanding of my sexuality and how I live as a partnered gay Christian. Is this really cause for schism? Not for the majority of bishops or people in this country, no it isn’t.

The majority are wise and mature enough to know that LGBT people are integral to the life of the church and are not to be distinguished from heterosexuals in terms of our morality or holiness of life.