Sunday 30 August 2009

Greenbelt 2009: In the long now

Greenbelt's theme this year is 'In the long now'. It relates to a legend about the 14th century founders of New College Oxford:

They built the dining hall with a series of huge oak beams. 500 years later when the beams needed replacing they sought to find out if there were any oak trees on their land which might do the job. 'Ah...' said one of the tenants who farmed the land, 'we wondered when you'd be in touch'. It turned out the farmers had a tradition that back in the 14th century, a new grove of oaks had been planted to make up for those being cut down to provide the dining hall beams. The story was passed through the generations, and the oaks were protected, set aside for New College.

In an age of 'do it now' and the instant decision, when waiting times are always coming down, and the destination always trumps the journey, the idea of the 'long
now' is deeply resonant for people of faith.
To plan for a present we may never experience, to long for a world we may have left before it arrives. What would it be like if gratification was not instant, and the waiting had not been taken out of the wanting?

These words are hugely relevant to LGBT people right now. It goes without saying that those of us who are able to be out with integrity in our families, workplaces and churches today owe a massive debt of gratitude to those who had the resilience and courage to step out and be who they were, despite the often dire consequences for them personally.

But it also has huge resonance for the situation in the Anglican church today. When ++Rowan spoke out a few weeks ago, it felt like a huge slap in the face for many of us. How could we be expected to abandon our partners and put our vocations on hold for ten, twenty years or more whilst we waited for the rest of the church to come to terms with our reality? At a time when even Spring Harvest were starting to engage in dialogue with LGBT people, and recognise the validity of our lives, families and faith, it felt extraordinary that the Church of England was proving so intransigent. Some of us even talked about giving up and leaving.

In Jeff Heskins' second seminar today, about the issues faced by LGBT people who felt a vocation to enter church leadership, we heard from three people who had been told to not mention their sexuality in the selection process, and given tips to avoid having to answer direct questions about it. All three of them felt that they could not do that. Their calling was linked to who they were as LGBT Christians, and they could not work within the church without their integrity. They are all seeking ways of living out their vocation outside the Church of England.

'The long now' reminded me why we carry on fighting. It might not be for our vocations and our partnerships, or those of our contemporaries. It might simply be that we are fighting for a church where our LGBT children and grandchildren can live with integrity. And that's worth fighting for.

In the meantime, we will mourn the vocations which have been trashed. We'll mourn the LGBT people who have been forced out, and made to carry out their journeys of faith outside the church. And we'll apologise to their friends and families who have been left to wonder how the church has managed to reduce 2000 years of Christianity to a message about the wrongness of LGBT people.

Greenbelt 2009: On being unremarkable

Day two of Greenbelt, and we've just run a seminar led by Jeff Heskins about the issues surrounding same-sex couples seeking civil partnership blessings in church. As many will already know, Jeff has written a book about his experiences developing a liturgy for same-sex couples at his church in Charlton, South-East London, which you can buy here.

One of the main things Jeff wanted to emphasise about his ministry was simply how unremarkable he felt it had been. His contention was that much of the fuss in the church over same-sex couples stems from the fact that many within the church like to keep gay people at a distance. Taking their interpretation of Romans 1 as their understanding of what gay people must be like, they cling to a belief that LGBT people lead extraordinary, godless, hedonistic lives which pose a threat to families, children and the very fabric of society. His contention was that once they realised that we're just like everyone else, spending Saturday mornings buying flatpack furniture in Ikea and arguing with our children in Sainsburys, then they'd realise there's not much to get in a fuss about.

Some years ago, Libby Purves wrote in the Times talking about the fact that so often middle-class parents react with panic and fear upon discovering their son is gay, only to wonder what they were worried about when he comes home from university six months later with a quietly spoken cellist.

Similarly, when Bishop Gene took to the stage for the first time at Greenbelt yesterday, you would wonder what all the fuss was about. Instead of the highly alternative, wacky and generally 'out-there' liberal campaigner many were expecting, there was a rather conservative man talking in a very gentle and articulate way about faith, God and the Bible.

Some would like to caricature LGBT folks as godless, sex-obsessed libertines intent on undermining the church.

But as Larry King put it when interviewing Bishop Gene
'once they realise you're as boring as we are, it's all over'.

Or as a gay friend of a friend once put it,
'don't they realise we're about as much threat to the fabric of society as Viennetta'.

Saturday 29 August 2009

An Interview with a transgender Anglican lady

There’s a fascinating interview with a Christian trans woman on the conservative website Virtue on Line

In the introduction David Virtue explains that this was his first face-to-face encounter with someone who has transitioned; in this particular case from male-to-female. The interviewee - identified only as M - also a conservative Christian, had not stated beforehand the reason for the meeting, and David had no idea, when they first met, that she had undergone gender re-assignment. Thanks to modern medicine she ‘passed’ – in her case, as a woman - as many people do after transition.

Once transition is ‘complete’ – albeit that it is also a life’s work – most people prefer to ‘live by stealth’, as it often called, and to blend into society. Those who are prepared to acknowledge their trans status, either publicly, or, as in this interview, anonymously, usually do so to increase understanding about the condition of gender dysphoria, the dissonance between one’s perceived gender and one’s internal sense of gender identity, a conflict that is usually successfully resolved by a medical transition that involves hormone therapy and, possibly, surgery, though there are people who opt for a non-medical transition.

In the interview with David Virtue, M talks mainly about transsexualism, often seen as the extreme limit of gender dysphoria, when a person’s cross gender feelings and behaviour have become so intense that they have an overwhelming desire to transition. M does not use the sort of language I have just used. She has a more matter-of-fact approach, which is fine. For her transsexualism is a birth defect, a medical condition, that needs to be, and can be, sorted, and I liked the way that she dismisses the idea that transsexual people are confused about their gender. Trans people know what their gender is, she explains: their problem is that it doesn’t match their birth sex.

I’m a little uncomfortable, though, with the way M’s clear-cut approach seems to drive a wedge between transsexual people and transgender people, not least because all concerned will be experiencing gender dysphoria to a degree, and ‘transgender’ often describes a stage when people are exploring who they are, and whether they should transition, as well as being a valid form of transition in its own right for those who cannot, for whatever reason, proceed with a medical transition.

Similarly, M is keen to distinguish transsexualism from homosexuality, on the ground that the former is about gender, that latter about sexuality. But this kind of sharp distinction between sex and gender is somewhat simplistic, and indicates that M is talking mainly from a male-to-female perspective, given that many trans men have lived as lesbians before transition. Agreed, the LGBT alliance is not about saying that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are all the same, but we often face similar issues, one of which came up in the interview. Reparative therapy for lesbian and gay people is a hot topic at the moment, and M was asked to comment on an organisation that claims to offer a psychological ‘cure’ for transsexualism. Her robust dismissal of this option is great.

As a conservative, Anglican, Christian M, who fathered two sons, and is now divorced, upholds ‘traditional’ biblical teaching that sex is permissible only within heterosexual marriage and her review of the relationship options for post-op trans people is, understandably, inconclusive. She herself is celibate, and David Virtue was shocked to hear that M had been thrown out of two churches, ‘one Episcopal, one Anglican’ after informing the minister concerned about her journey. Sadly, this has all too often been the experience of trans Christians.

The interview is a very respectful piece of journalism by Virtue On Line and this was true, more or less, of Hans Zeiger’s coverage of last year’s Lambeth Fringe seminar ‘Listening to Trans People’.

Perhaps, as M implies, Christians are more comfortable talking about gender, than they are about sexuality (though it is hardly less controversial, given the issue of women bishops); and if you approve of the gender binary, as conservative Christians evidently do, then people who transition appear, helpfully, to reinforce it. (In his book, Exchanging the truth of God for a lie, Jeremy Marks has noted that some Evangelical pastors, unable to countenance same-sex relationships, on biblical grounds, have more readily accepted people who have transitioned).

There are other items in this interview that I hope to return to another time, but what strikes me today is how important it is that these conversations are going on; thank you David, and M, for allowing us to be ‘a fly on the wall’ of this one.
Christina Beardsley

Friday 28 August 2009

Do gay people exist in Anglican Mainstream’s world? If we don’t, how can there be ‘ex-gay’ ministries?

I was interviewed by the BBC for an article posted today on their website about Bishop Gene Robinson’s invitation to speak at Greenbelt. I commented that it is not appropriate to invite the "Ex-Gay" movement to present an alternative perspective to Bishop Gene. The “Ex-gay” organisations are on the fringe of the church whereas Gene Robinson is a bishop, elected by and in good standing with his church. I said there's a lot of evidence that trying to make somebody ex-gay doesn't work and can be abusive.

Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream says he is concerned that no opposing viewpoint on human sexuality will be aired at Greenbelt. It's a sign of prejudice that they haven't invited other speakers. He would like to hear from organisations who say they can either change same-sex attraction or enable gay men and women to remain happily celibate. Chris told me at the General Synod meeting in York that he doesn’t believe I am innately gay – there is no such thing as ‘being gay’.

Phelim McIntyre has reacted to my comments in a post on the Anglican Mainstream website. He accuses me of being economical with the truth. Phelim describes himself as an ex-gay who has counselled others who have left the “homosexual lifestyle”. Other conservatives I have spoken with are reluctant to use any of these categories to describe themselves (which is fine – I respect their self-identity).

Conservatives are not of one mind in their understanding of homosexuals and homosexuality. There are people who engage in a “homosexual lifestyle”; people who are ex-gay (were gay and now are heterosexual); people who thought they were gay and identified as such but now believe they were heterosexual all the time; people who believe they are homosexual but choose to be celibate because they believe God forbids same-sex activity. One leading American I met claims to be ex-gay and is now happily married with children but confessed to periods of troubling gay fantasies.

The problem for Mainstream and their supporters is – are there or are there not people who are innately gay? I believe there are people who are innately gay - that is my self-understanding. If, as Chris Sugden and other’s believe, no-one is really gay, then no-one can be ex-gay and the ex-gay movement is dealing with a different category of sexual identity – men and women who were mistaken about themselves but for a period of their lives enjoyed or engaged in sexual activity with other men or women (The ex-gay movement seems to be absorbed with gay men and less interested in lesbians).

In support of his argument that I am being economical with the truth Phelim refers to over 40 studies which show that therapy can help people. He says the only evidence for harm caused by such therapy are testimonies which have not been put through proper academic examination. He says it is a lie to state that reparative therapy is abusive. I have met many men who have been through ex-gay therapies and programmes and described them as abusive.

Phelim refers to “pro-gay therapy” and “gay affirmative therapy” which “is done with no recognised diagnostic criteria and with no research into its safety and effectiveness.” Professional psychotherapists do not engage in “pro-gay therapy”. They respect the client’s presentation of his or her crisis, dilemma or problem without making assumptions about what is best for the client.

So-called “reparative therapy” is conducted by therapists with an agenda, usually informed by involvement with a conservative Christian or other faith community. The majority of gay men and lesbians have no need of therapy in the UK now that we are increasingly integrated into society and can be open about our sexuality and our partners.

Organisations such as Anglican Mainstream are responding to a small minority of Christians who read the Bible literally and hold fundamentalist beliefs about gender and sexuality. The majority of lesbian and gay Christians have no difficulty integrating their faith and sexuality – any neuroses or problems we have arise from the attitudes espoused by conservative Christians who campaign against our full integration into the church.

Phelim concludes with an unwarranted judgement of Gene Robinson. He describes him as “a performer who loves attention and the spotlight, but otherwise did not come across to me as caring or even that nice a person. Greenbelt have invited a ‘persona’, not a person …” Phelim dehumanises Bishop Gene by categorising him as a ‘persona’ and not a ‘person’ vividly demonstrating the abuse visited by conservatives on faithful, loving partnered lesbian and gay Christians.

I object to the request that Greenbelt should invite an ‘ex-gay’ advocate to speak to balance the presence of Bishop Gene Robinson for three reasons:

Conservatives disagree as to whether anyone is innately gay.

There is a broad spectrum of conservative opinion about gay people, from those who don’t think we really exist to those who think we do but must be celibate – no single group or person can represent such a disparate set of opinions.

They are a tiny minority compared with the numbers of Christians who identify positively as lesbian and gay.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Spiritual Fruits, Not Religious Nuts

Spiritual Fruits, Not Religious Nuts was the title of one of the large display boards welcoming people to a barge in Canal Street Manchester today, the heart of the city's gay quarter.

In preparation for Manchester Gay Pride which begins in earnest tomorrow evening, volunteers from LGBT-friendly faith communities from across the North West, including Anglicans, Quakers, Catholics, Unitarians, Evangelicals and at least one Jew hosted a sacred space on the Eden Barge moored outside the Eden Bar in Canal Street. The Changing Attitude supporters taking part included supporters from Manchester and Liverpool groups.

The barge was decorated by the volunteers and included areas dedicated to meditation, reflection, creativity and prayer with volunteers on hand all day for visitors to talk with. The contemplative space at the prow of the barge was enclosed by white, gold and green gauze. The Changing Attitude banners were prominently displayed facing Canal Street and the latest edition of Forward Thinking was available.

The space aimed to show that it is possible to achieve a healthy integration of sexuality and spirituality, and to showcase the work of LGBT-friendly faith groups.

The Sacred Space will be on the move in the Manchester Pride Parade on Saturday through the city centre with a float and walking group representing the faith communities taking part.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Greenbelt 2009: First post

Well good evening,

This will be the first of several posts from the Greenbelt festival in Cheltenham.  Several of us at Changing Attitude will be blogging the latest goings on over the weekend, assuming the combination of camping, rain, mud and laptops does not cause IT meltdown.

On top of my involvement in Changing Attitude, I'm personally also involved in OuterSpace, which is just one of the LGBT groups involved in providing LGBT-focused content at Greenbelt, and creating a space where LGBT Christians can get together and have fellowship.  

When OuterSpace started working with Greenbelt at 2007, we were really interested in taking a different tack to many of the seminars on LGBT issues many of us had attended previously at Greenbelt and other Christian festivals.   This is how we described what we were trying to achieve, which in many ways also echoes the approach of Changing Attitude:

OuterSpace is committed to the church and to helping everyone find their way in the church, no matter what their background.

We try to look beyond the dry intellectual debates that surround the whole area of gender and sexual orientation, and to focus instead on hearing the stories of real people’s faith, in order to understand the different journeys that LGBT Christians are on.

It is by humanising the debates, by sharing experiences and by engaging in constructive dialogue that the church, in all its forms, can begin to reflect the reality of the world around it, and start to make a positive difference in people's lives – both within and outside the church.

Each year at Greenbelt, OuterSpace will outwork this belief by hosting speakers, discussions, times of reflection and times of fellowship - all with the aim of supporting LGBT Christians on their journeys of faith, and helping all churches to understand what it means to have LGBT people as part of their communities.

It was in some ways amusing, in other ways rather disturbing to see our words quoted on the Anglican Mainstream blog earlier this year as evidence of the 'gayification' of UK evangelicalism.  Needless to say, nobody gets 'gayified' at Greenbelt (whatever that means) unless being 'gayified' means opening your mind to the possibility that LGBT people are often well-balanced individuals with a genuine faith.   My goodness, what a dangerous liberal idea..

One of the most valuable things we've done as part of OuterSpace, and which we'll be doing again this year, is our stall in the Greenbelt resource centre.  There we've heard all kinds of stories from all kinds of people.  Young people who have been forced to leave churches, parents of LGBT people who have fallen out with longstanding Christian friends over it, vicars and pastors looking to understand how they can reach out to LGBT people in their own congregations and communities.   

It's sad that even in 2009, often the only perspective on LGBT people you'll hear at Spring Harvest or New Wine is one which either denies the existence of LGBT people, or caricatures us as deluded, confused, or worse.  (It goes without saying that this flies in the face of the vast majority of professional opinion, not to mention the reality of so many healthy happy LGBT people in the UK.)  However loving the intention of such groups, the effect is in so many cases simply to drive people away from the church, and even away from God.  

That's why we are so grateful to Greenbelt for allowing us the opportunity to suggest to LGBT people on the brink of leaving church that there IS another way, and that there is good news in the church for LGBT people.

On the cusp of another Greenbelt, we're looking forward to being able to report back positive stories of LGBT Christians getting on with their lives, and doing great things for God, their churches, families and communities.

And if you're coming along, or just are interested to see what we'll be up to this year, please do check out the OuterSpace website:

Bye for now - I'm off to track down my waterproof trousers...


Gay Sacred Space at Manchester Pride and Bishop Gene at Greenbelt

Changing Attitude is involved in two significant events this weekend. In Manchester, members of the CA groups in Liverpool and Manchester will be involved in the Gay Sacred space being created on a barge on the canal in – where else but Canal Street, the hub of Manchester’s gay quarter.

This evening a small group is continuing preparations in St Agnes Church, North Reddish. Rainbow sashes are being cut from strips of fabric, inspirational phrases printed for the Sacred Space tomorrow and finishing touches made to the panels which will decorate the barge. Decorations are also being created for the float which will form the centrepiece of the LGBT Christian presence in the parade on Saturday.

The Summer edition of ‘Forward Thinking’, the Changing Attitude newsletter, was collected from the printers yesterday. 850 copies have been mailed to our supporters and to every bishop, Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Social Responsibility Officer and Course and College Principal. A carton of supporter’s leaflets and newsletters has been posted to one of the two CA trustees who are participating in Greenbelt at Cheltenham Racecourse this weekend and they will be blogging from the festival. I'll be blogging from Manchester. If you would like to receive a copy of the newsletter, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude by completing the form on the CA web site

One of the many speakers at Greenbelt is the bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson. His presence has been challenged by Anglican Mainstream, a conservative organisation at the extreme end of the Anglican spectrum – anything but mainstream. AM believes that to provide a balanced presentation at Greenbelt, speakers from ex-gay organisations should have been invited. The most appropriate person to balance Bishop Gene would surely be another bishop, one opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people at every level of church life. Were ex-gay groups to be invited, then LGCM, Changing Attitude, Courage, the Evangelical Fellowship and Accepting Evangelicals would need to be there to represent positive LGBT Christians. A truly balanced spectrum would include speakers from True Freedom Trust representing celibate gay Christians.

The BBC contacted CA this morning wanting advice about the significance of the objections to Bishop Gene’s presence. They will publish a news item on the BBC web site on Friday. The BBC understands that at least one person will be present to challenge Bishop Gene. There will also be many people supporting the full inclusion of LGBT people at Greenbelt.

Monday 24 August 2009

The Bible as hate speech

Jackie Bruchi has posted an article about ‘The Bible as hate speech’ on Stand Firm commenting on my blog.

Jackie says I condemned the Bible as hate speech. I did not. I condemn those who use particular verses to preach in a hostile way against homosexuality. Her first paragraph is more accurate: “Colin Coward … has taken the position that the Bible is hate speech when used to preach the passages that are not on point with the GLBT agenda.”

Her prime concern seems to be the hate crime laws proposed by the Obama administration. She refers to the debate on the Coroners and Justice Bill in the UK and the amendment guaranteeing a defence of free speech (which was lost). Conservative Christians were concerned that the law would impose serious restrictions on the right of free speech and in particular on those who oppose homosexuality.

The comments on Stand Firm highlight key conservative arguments:

The Bible is “hate speech” because it speaks of hatred of sin.

There are people who love sin more than they love Jesus. They condemn what Holy Scripture says about sin.

Anyone disagreeing with homosexuality as normative is accused of hating LGBT people.
The 3-year Lectionary cycle omits the “clobber verses” and has been selectively edited to advance the pro-gay agenda.

The word ‘hate’ has been redefined to mean anything that disagrees with and opposes the LGBT agenda.

Christian ethics are being questioned while the Muslims are allowed to preach real hate from the pulpit - it’s unfair.

One more thoughtful comment notes that there are countless street preachers who proclaim a message which is little more than hate. In doing so they become the greatest allies the liberals could ever hope for. This is true, and not helpful to the moderate conservative position.

Another comment says that it is wrong, unbiblical, and neglectful of our duty to preach the gospel in its entirety. I’m not sure whether he didn’t mean the opposite: ‘not to preach the gospel in its entirety’.

No-one preaches from the Bible in its entirety – there just isn’t the time! Much of the Old Testament is ignored by conservatives and liberals alike when it comes to preaching.

We ALL choose the passages we preach on. Even when preaching from the lectionary, I choose which lesson or verses I am going to focus on.

Street preachers choose verses from which they can proclaim hell and damnation as a way to persuade people to turn to God. It doesn’t work for me. Conservatives preach about (or want the freedom to preach about) homosexuality and sin.

I choose to preach about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope, the reality of our lives, the reality of creation and my lived experience of God in dialogue with my understanding of scripture.

We are dealing with the church’s dilemma about human sexuality by polarising arguments and positions. This is not the Christian way. It does not achieve reconciliation and does not give people hope. It satisfies egos and confirms prejudice.

The church is learning about homosexuality with great difficulty and resistance. It doesn’t want, corporately, to change its mind-set (yet), its traditional teaching and attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Changing Attitude and other liberal groups represent a challenge to the church, a challenge presented by people who believe we are orthodox ourselves and are certainly speaking as Anglicans from within the church. We refuse to be marginalised or excluded from the life of the church. We want to be integrated in a church which embraces both us and those who disagree with us.

The language of Christians at the more extreme end of the conservative spectrum is hateful to us. They use the “clobber passages” against LGBT people because in their own integrity, they believe they are right. Tragically, they reinforce or encourage continuing prejudice against LGBT people, prejudice which at the extremes, results in hatred, violence and murder.

To satisfy those of us who are gay Anglicans, the church needs to engage with us without prejudging or condemning us. That means the conservatives have to relinquish their more extreme arguments, which I experience as hatred.

Saturday 22 August 2009

What happens if … thoughts on Covenant 2010

I had a four hour lunch with Andrew Goddard on Wednesday, the first time we’ve met for 18 months. The conversation with Andrew gave me the opportunity to float ideas about where ‘the gay debate’ and ‘the future of the Communion’ might be headed.

Some predict crisis, schism, doom and gloom, the exclusion of TEC, global domination. Others suggest that such predictions are wide of the mark. The centre will hold, the Primates, ACC and bishops of the Communion will continue to meet at assigned intervals with the majority, including TEC, staying faithful.

The review and possible moderate revision of the fourth part of the Covenant will be complete by the end of the year and it will be sent to the Provinces for consideration. At that point, Provinces that are autocratically rather than democratically governed have an advantage. They could sign the Covenant immediately, effectively hijacking it. That’s what they wanted to happen in February and why some delegates at the ACC meeting in Alexandria were so pushy and ultimately frustrated. They contributed to the chaos of the Covenant debate.

TEC has to take the Covenant through the General Convention process and the CofE through General Synod. I’m not sure whether in England it has to be sent down to Dioceses and Deanery Synods for consideration (others who know these things will advise, no doubt) before returning a year or so later to General Synod.

If a number of conservative Provinces and individual dioceses plus bodies like ACNA and FoCA sign, or try to sign, I predict that this will provoke a further crisis. There will be conflict between autocratic, centrally-governed and run Provinces and extra-Provincial bodies and those Provinces which are governed by more democratic, consultative, collegial processes – including the four UK Provinces. I predict that global arguments will intensify at that moment. Certainly, liberal, radical, traditional broad-church Anglican voices will be raised in defence of an inclusive Communion.

If the conservative coalitions sign first and try to hijack ownership and control of the Covenant, their own unstable alliances are likely to experience internal tensions and challenges. United against gay bishops and liberal trends they may be, they are also divided by attitudes towards the ordination of women as priests, let alone bishops, divorce and remarriage, anti-sacramentalism and Calvinism and Catholicism, let alone deep theological disagreements (see Warren Tanghe, New Directions

Having gained control, what would these Provinces do next? Put their master plan into action and declare that because of their sins over homosexuality, TEC and Canada will never be allowed to sign the Covenant and other Provinces (the CofE for example) will only be allowed to sign if we impose Communion policy (Lambeth 1.10, Windsor Report) ruthlessly (by which I mean, to their total satisfaction).

I doubt this scenario will come to pass – history is never that predictable. But the Covenant will not solve anything, certainly not the issue of homosexuality. It won’t create the Church so desired by the conservative coalition. It won’t diminish the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Communion. It won’t restrict our presence to celibate LGBT priests and platonic lay gay relationships.

We will continue to have what the conservatives don’t want and are so frustrated about at the moment – more time – time for more process (something else they hate), more listening, more global encounters, more threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had more time for Christian patience, hope, charity, gentleness and self-giving love?

And we will STILL be here in the Communion, women priests and bishops, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, those with liberal, radical, liminal theologies. While in Africa, Asia, the Far East, South America, secular gay rights movements will evolve and gay people will become more visible and vocal – outside and inside the Church.

Friday 21 August 2009

Another street preacher arrested for preaching from Romans

The tireless activity of the Christian Legal Centre in defending people arrested for daring to read in public from the Bible continues. The Church of England Newspaper (CEN) reports today that Miguel Hayworth, a 29-year-old street preacher has been released on bail following his arrest on Monday morning in Maidstone, Kent.

Mr Hayworth gets around the country preaching in the streets. He had been given an initial warning by Manchester Police at the end of July having been approached by Officers in St Anne’s Square where he was threatened (that’s the word the CEN uses) with an arrest and given a warning that reading portions of scripture in public could be classed as an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The Police had received a complaint about his conduct being offensive and inciting racial and religious hatred. (Are there people dotted around the country ready to make complaints like this to the police?)

Mr Hayworth apparently has a particular vocation to preach from Romans 1-6. He was arrested in Maidstone for preaching from the same chapters as he was preaching from in Manchester.

The CEN says Romans 1 to 6 deals with sexual orientation. This is clearly wrong. St Paul’s letter to the Romans doesn’t deal with sexual orientation. Nowhere does the Bible deal with sexual orientation. St Paul is dealing with the behaviour of members of the Christian community in Rome, turning his argument in chapter 1 back on his readers.

Onn Sein Kon is the case worker from The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) dealing with Mr Haywoth’s case. Mr Kon says that: “Romans 1 to 6 is (Mr Hayworth’s) normal modus operandi but under the Human Rights Act, why should this be an offence at all?” Do street preachers have a ‘normal modus operandi’?

Andy Banton, General Secretary of the Open Air Mission, is reported as saying: “We got legal advice on this two years ago so preachers know their responsibilities before the law and their rights and as far as that is concerned, we’re free to preach the Christian message. The difficulty is that the legislation is very grey and open to interpretation, which invites mischief-makers.

In an extract from a letter stipulating the rights of Preachers, Ormerods Solicitors note that freedom of speech “includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

Mr Banton added: “So few people are attending church, under 10 per cent a week, so 90 per cent aren’t hearing the most important message in the world. We’re braving the fear and going into the public place.”

Changing Attitude agrees with the argument about freedom of speech. No doubt our message will be irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical or unwelcome to some. I hope we are not teaching and preaching selectively but proclaiming the message of full inclusion for LGBT people in the context of the Gospels and the Christian message.

The problem for the CLC and the people it chooses to defend is that they are not preaching the most important message in the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ. They are preaching from passages condemning sexual activity between men. You might think they are obsessed about human sexual activity and especially same-sex activity.
I don’t know whether legally, reading Leviticus 18.22, 20.13, Judges 19.22-26, Deuteronomy 23.17-18, Romans 1.18-32, 1 Corinthians 6.9-10 and 1 Timothy 1.8-11 in public can be construed an offence. These verses are in the Bible, and I deal with them in the same way I deal with other offensive passages - those about dashing brains out and rejoicing over the killing of enemies.

I’m annoyed when bad translations are used, those which enhance the passages to read as condemnations of homosexuality (which is never an accurate translation in the first place).

These passages become problematic in public when they are read out of context and used to preach a message against lesbian and gay people (though the preachers would almost certainly use the word homosexual).

Changing Attitude argues that we are talking about different categories. Loving, faithful, adult same-sex relationships are not what any of the above passages in the Bible are referring to or describing. Therefore, I do find it offensive when I pass a preacher who is using these passages to condemn me and describes me as a homosexual. I’d prefer the Church to learn that condemnation of lesbian and gay people or faithful same-sex relationships is not found in the Bible.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Christian Legal Centre

Anonymous posted a comment on the thread about the Christian Legal Centre’s campaign, defending their freedom to preach publicly against homosexuality. He says “the evidence is that the Christian Legal Centre is doing a good job in protecting the civil rights of Christians.” My first comment – they are not protecting the civil rights of all Christians but only those who think in a narrow, biblically conservative way.

In support of his (or her) claim that they are doing a good job, he refers to the incident which took place in Chorlton in 2007. He gives the URL to the Christian Institute report. I’ve read the report, looked at the leaflet and watched the video clip. It doesn’t substantiate Anonymous’s claim.

Julian Hirst is interviewed. He says that two mounted policemen arrived as they were giving out invitations to Easter services. They dismounted and said it had been reported that they were handing out offensive literature. After 10 or 15 minutes three more policemen arrived wearing body armour, which Julian found a little bit unnerving (“Armour-clad officers jumped out of a police van” is what the written report says). With all these policemen around Julian wasn’t quite sure how they were going to react or how they would deal with the group.

The scenario is one familiar to many gay people from 20 or 30 years ago, when police could be very intimidating, were often prejudiced and set out to entrap gay men. Stonewall and Gay Pride came into being in response to just such an aggressive police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York.

Julian wryly comments that the broad response seemed disproportionate considering that the group was just giving out a leaflet advertising Easter services. Police take hate crime very seriously. The UK government and society have identified hate crimes involving racial, sexual and other attitudes to be unacceptable.

The police returned later and said they had spoken to the person who had made the complaint. He had changed the complaint, now saying that he found the leaflet offensive. He found the presence of Christians from an evangelical church offensive in a place where there is a sizeable gay community.

The complainant seems to be out to make trouble and his complaint is rightly rejected. But many who read this blog will feel instinctively uncomfortable with street preachers. I confess that I tend automatically to assume that part of their message will be a condemnation of gay people and sadly, I am often proved right.

The following day a policeman from the Race and Hate Crime Unit came. They had taken away a selection of the church’s literature and gone through it. He explained that everything was okay and there was no problem with any of the literature.

Julian said he thought freedom of speech for Christians and all members of the community is very important and everybody should have the freedom to express their view freely. If some people try to gag Christians then he thinks our society would be the poorer for it. I agree with freedom of speech and freedom to preach the Gospel, but I also think that freedom should be restricted when people incite prejudice and hatred.

The problem for conservative Christians is their inability to understand that the verses they like to quote about men having sex with men are hateful to gay men. The passages, especially in inaccurate translations used by conservatives, are offensive and do not, in any case, apply to the loving, faithful relationships embraced by Christian LGBT people.

Anonymous said in his comment “the police went in mob handed to stop an evangelical church inviting people to the Easter service.” They didn’t. Their response seemed disproportionate, as Julian Hirst, the pastor, says in the video, but they didn’t stop the church handing out the leaflet.

Anonymous enables me to point up some key lessons.
Conservatives repeat stories and misrepresent them to mean what they want, not what in truth happened. Don’t trust conservative stories until the facts have been checked. This takes time, but Changing Attitude is here to try and unearth the truth.

Conservatives use the 7 proof texts as anti-gay texts, not just anti-gay sex, but anti-gay identity, anti-gays in ministry, anti-gay respect and inclusion.

Conservative Christians are doing immense damage to the mission of the church in England and corrupt the Gospel.

The police should be targeting those Christians who demonstrated at London Pride and will almost certainly be present again at Manchester Pride on 29 August.

CLC cannot be trusted to present evidence truthfully. As with many extreme conservative groups, they will distort the reporting of events and research evidence to present a worse-case scenario.
Finally, the Christian Institute video ends with the text: “Let’s be free to disagree.” Amen to that. We also believe in free speech, but not in Christian preaching and teaching which is hateful and provokes hatred towards LGBT people.

Monday 17 August 2009

Christian Legal Centre continue campaign for freedom to preach hatred against homosexuals

The Daily Telegraph carried a report today about Mr Hayworth, a street preacher, and his father who the police “threatened to arrest for reading the Bible in public.” Andrea Minichiello Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre wrote to Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester after being contacted by the couple and arranged for them to be represented by a lawyer. She claims that Mr Hayworth and his father were unlawfully and unfairly treated as they preached Christianity in the city at the end of July.

I only have the Telegraph report as a source of information. The report says Mr Hayward was reading passages from the Old and New Testaments while his father distributed leaflets containing the message of the gospel. What Christianity were they preaching that day in Manchester, what passages from the OT and NT were they reading, what gospel message did the tracts contain?

The passages included Romans 1.27 and 1 Corinthians 6.9 from the King James Bible:
"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly…"

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind."
Chief Inspector Chris Hill said the police were called to St Ann’s Square following complaints from members of the public who considered the comments being made by two street preachers were racist and homophobic. "When spoken to, the men said they were quoting from the Bible. The officers confirmed they were entitled to preach on the street, but advised them offensive behaviour is not acceptable.”

It would seem that Mr Hayward was not preaching the Gospel, at least not the Good News of Jesus Christ as I understand it, but specifically preaching against homosexuality. The law says it is it is an offense to use offensive, threatening or abusive words or behaviour and to incite hatred on grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation. Using selective texts from Leviticus, Romans and 1 Corinthians is not preaching the Gospel of Jesus. It is preaching selectively with the effect of inciting hatred towards those of a particular sexual orientation.

The Christian Legal Centre is fighting for the right to incite hatred against homosexuals. The law says they can’t. The Centre maintains that Christians have a right to read the Bible in its entirety and preach from it, whoever they might offend - but most cases they represent seem to involve preaching against homosexuality.

The report says the Christian Legal Centre “seeks to promote religious freedom and, particularly, to protect Christians and Christianity.” It does not represent the majority of Christians in this country and it does not protect Christians and Christianity - quite the reverse. It is fuelling prejudice against LGBT people and doing untold harm to mission and evangelism, portraying the church as sex-obsessed and against loving, adult gay relationships.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Love is an Orientation – a book every evangelical must read, says Andrew Goddard

Two ‘must read’ recommendations from me today. You must read Andrew Goddard’s book review on the Fulcrum web site and you must read the book he reviews: Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community; IVP USA, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8308-3626-0, although reading Andrew may be enough – but I definitely want to read the book –asap. (Andrew is Tutor in Ethics at Trinity College Bristol and a member of Fulcrum’s leadership team)

I was very, very tempted to quote much of Andrew’s article here, including most of his quotes from Marin. Quoting the majority of both article and quotes would be ridiculous, so go and read Andrew for yourself – he gives an extensive summary of the book. Here are two quotes to persuade you to go there, NOW!

Andrew writes:
“[I]t is a book like no other I know, a book which desperately needed to be written, a book which sadly very few people could write, a book which every Christian – or certainly every evangelical - who wants to learn about homosexuality and a Christian response to gay and lesbian people – should read” and, quoting Marin “There is also the stark and perhaps for some readers shocking testimony that “I have never met a more loving community in my life than the GLBT community” (166).”

What does this mean for Fulcrum, Changing Attitude, conservative evangelicals, and others?

I’m wondering what kind of conversion experience Andrew might have undergone. We are due to meet for lunch this week (after too long a gap thanks to his relocation from Oxford to Bristol) and I hope to discover more over lunch.

I’ve learnt a lot in recent years about the subsets in the traditional, conservative wing of the church, the overlaps and distinctions between Fulcrum, Reform, Anglican Mainstream, CEEC, etc. More recently I’ve begun to discern subtle differences within each subset, and I’m now wondering about Fulcrum in particular, with the Rt Revd Graham Kings, Fulcrum’s Theological Secretary now a bishop in my diocese, Andrew responding so positively to Marin’s book, and the Bishop of Durham using language that Marin would question.

Andrew Goddard say that Marin:
“… warns against using “homosexual” (“instead use words like gay, lesbian, GLBT, gay and lesbian community” (60)) and shares three lessons he has learned over the years: get past our own issues regarding the GLBT community, do our homework (“we have to go to the culture before we know the culture”) and “prepare ourselves to not say or do anything that would be contrary to our intent to learn or serve…” (63).

One of the things that made me angry last week was the Bishop of Durham’s use of words and phrases which are offensive to LGBT people – ‘non-celibate homosexuals’, ‘homosexual behaviour’ and ‘those with homosexual and similar instincts’. Will Andrew be recommending ‘Love is an Orientation’ to the Bishop? Will Fulcrum’s leadership team follow Andrew’s advice, read the book, and discuss its effect on them and implications for them?

Let me conclude by quoting Andrew once more:
“I found that Marin powerfully expresses much of what I’ve begun to learn (and warns against much I continually have to un-learn) but also made me aware how much more I need to learn - intellectually, experientially and spiritually. In particular, his book showed me how narrow and in-house my listening – and probably most of the (admittedly limited) evangelical listening to GLBT people - has been, focussed as it has been on the church debate. It has left me wrestling with whether and how I can participate in that debate from a traditionalist position and also find a way of doing at least a small part of what Marin has been doing by going beyond the confines of the church and its political battles and seeking and sharing Christ in the GLBT community.”

Changing Attitude Black Caucus at UK Black Pride

Members of Changing Attitude Black Caucus staffed a stall at UK Black Pride yesterday in the grounds of Regent College, Regents Park in London. The stalls were spread around the leafy grounds of the college with a sound stage at the far end, a disco tent, bar and food stall and workshops to keep the punters entertained. MCC East London were well represented and the Soka Gakkai Buddhist Network had a stall. Stonewall and Imaan Muslim Support Group were among the 30 organisations present.

On the CA stall, Davis, myself and others were engaged in conversations from 12noon when the event opened to 7pm when we finally packed up, some to go home, others to dance and party. People expressed a real interest in the work of CA, both in Nigeria and also among people of African descent and black people generally. African, American, Caribbean and UK-born, all were present.

I was delighted to reconnect with members of our team from the Lambeth Conference just over 12 months ago. Mia, the transgender Buddhist Nigerian who was a member of the panel for the African Witness seminar was there as was Chris who joined us for one day at Lambeth.

I hadn’t met Jide Macaulay since he had left London to set up the House of Rainbow MCC Church in Lagos. He returned to safety in London after the church gained more publicity than was safe and came under attack in the media. Jide and the congregation were physically threatened and pursued and it became impossible for worship meetings to continue. It was good to learn at first hand from Jide, especially of the relationship with his father, a senior Christian pastor in Nigeria who was portrayed publicly as being hostile but who is in truth accepting of Jide’s sexuality.

I met Bisi Alimi (left, with his partmer) for the first time, the only person ever to have come out at gay on Nigerian television. Bisi is a man of great courage who has been granted asylum in the UK and continues to work in exile for a changed reality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Nigeria, as do Davis and Jide. None of them expect to be able to return to Nigeria in the next 5 or even 10 years. They will continue to live estranged from their home country, their families and friends.

There is a generation of LGBT people in Africa, many Christian, many Anglican, who the Church is failing and who feel abandoned by the mainstream Churches. Before change happens, a second generation, if not a third, will have become even more estranged from their Christian roots. The Anglican Communion now has sufficient first hand evidence to know that LGBT people exist in Africa and are subject to prejudice and violence, living under punitive ex-Colonial legal systems. LGBT Africans are being failed by the Church.

I have tried to digest the swirling thoughts and feelings I experienced as I engaged in many different conversations yesterday. Nearly all the time and energy of the Anglican Communion is being absorbed by the campaign being waged by conservative networks wgi want to force the Church into schism on the pretext of the consecration of a bishop who lives with his gay partner.

The Church of Jesus Christ, friend of sinners and outcasts, the imprisoned and vilified, should be pouring its time and energy into making the Church a just and safe place for all, LGBT people included.

The networks across the Communion working for peace and justice, of which CA is a part, have been slow to wake up to the need to work directly and passionately for all of God’s people. The Episcopal and Canadian Churches have led the way for LGBT people, but all of us have been pushed into a defensive position, reacting to the sustained campaign waged against us by conservatives.

Now is the time to wake from sleep, regain confidence in the Gospel of peace, justice and truth and work for change for all of God’s people across the whole Communion. Many never lost confidence, of course, but we have been distracted. It is time to work together for the change in attitudes we know to be holy and right to create a Communion in which women, black people, LGBT people, all, all, all, all, in Desmond Tutu’s powerful sermon – ALL have a place.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Angry Anglicans

The last four weeks have witnessed a dramatic change in the dynamic of the conflicts in the Anglican Communion. The Reflections on General Convention by the Archbishop of Canterbury and their elucidation by the Bishop of Durham have provoked a passionate reaction among Anglicans committed to truth, justice and inclusion. People are angry.

I am angry. Angry because of the language used. The Archbishop referred to ‘chosen lifestyle’ and Durham to ‘non-celibate homosexuals’, ‘homosexual instincts’ and ‘certain habits and styles of life’, language which I find provocative and offensive. Trying to be charitable, I can only assume the Archbishop’s paper was drafted by a member of staff whose natural instinct is to ally with the GAFCON/FOCA/ACNA axis and the Archbishop let the phrase stand.

I’m angry because of the disgraceful dishonesty which infects the Church of England. It is almost tedious to remind the church, bishops and archbishops included, that every diocese includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parishioners and priests, something they know (or should know) perfectly well. How dare they write as if LGBT people don’t exist here and are only present (problematically) in the North American Churches?

We are no longer invisible and neither are our partners. We LGBT Anglicans are present in General Synod, the House of Bishops and bishop’s staff meetings. Bishops lay hands on us and give us communion, appoint us, counsel us, take advice from us, anoint, heal and forgive us. How dare they write as if we don’t exist and are not fully present throughout the Church? We are a gift from God to the Church.

I’m angry because some of the conservative evangelical and anglo-catholic bloggers insidiously undermine the Church all the time by deceitful spinning. They poison the Church, damaging individual souls and the corporate body of the Church alike. They infect the Instruments of Communion - Primates, ACC meetings and Lambeth conferences with their own divisive views. I have witnessed the conservative lobby at work.

I am angry because some bishops in my Church, the Church of England, have bought into the lie about The Episcopal Church. They believe the lie that it has chosen to walk apart, torn the fabric of the Communion, and is alone responsible for the mess we are in. The reality is that The Episcopal Church has committed itself to walking together with the Communion. It is the ACNA/FOCA leaders who peddle the lie about the torn fabric. Indeed, their behaviour suggests that they delight in 'torn fabric'.

I am angry because English bishops prevaricate and hold the party line in public whilst partying with their LGBT brothers and sisters in private. Many of them offer wonderful, generous friendship and pastoral support and then, at critical moments, fail the test – deny couples a blessing in church, offer compromised support at times of sickness and distress, turn a blind eye and allow partnered LGBT lay people to preach and lead worship but refuse to grant licences.

I’m angry at the way the church's attitude to LGBT people undermines mission and evangelism. We are mired in controversy about something which no longer troubles British society. We are unfit for purpose as the Body of Christ at a time when society sees the church as less relevant than ever. I’m tired of the church wasting time, money and energy on something that can’t be resolved at present. The Church has to accept the diversity present within God’s people.

I’m angry because of the lies that are told about us, the smear campaign waged to link Changing Attitude’s work for the full inclusion of LGBT people with polyamoury, bestiality and sado-masochism. It’s an outrage being perpetrated by people claiming the moral, Christian high ground. They emphatically do not occupy it.

I’m angry because the small but significant LGBT Anglican minority is being asked to forgo progress towards full inclusion now. There are LGBT people in every Province, for goodness sake, some being persecuted, attacked and imprisoned because of their sexuality. It isn’t only LGBT people in the UK and North America who are paying the price.

We are not campaigning for schism or exclusion but for the Gospel of Jesus Christ which we live and proclaim and the God we love and worship. We have been too patient, too tolerant, too generous and understanding towards those who judge us unfairly. This month, the tipping point was reached. Our campaign for equality will become more vigorous and our defence of classic, Anglican, Christian values more assertive. Changing Attitude with our partner groups in the Rainbow Alliance are standing firm in the mainstream of Anglicanism.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

The Cloud of Unknowing - living with mystery

The Revd Henry Morgan writes that:

“... what humankind will ever know is but a small island among a vast sea of unknowing and mystery, The edges of the island will shift as new things are learnt and old things are forgotten, but mystery remains huge and overwhelming and touches us everywhere, wherever we look.”

"I don’t even know very much about God. God by definition is beyond our knowing: a vast, silent emptiness. We may sense God’s presence from time to time. We may believe that Jesus has shown us something of his nature, sufficient of God’s nature, even. But, in another sense, however true that may be, God will always remain beyond our knowing.”

“So, maybe we could usefully learn to approach all of life with a sense of mystery, wonder and reverence. It might usefully teach us a little humility.”

[The God You Already Know, pp95-96]

The two previous blogs about the Bishop of Durham have attracted a lot of interest – 1,650 hits yesterday, a variety of comments here, a Fulcrum Forum thread. Some TEC members are relieved to discover an English group prepared to be openly critical of a bishop whose views are problematic for them. Some conservatives have leapt to Durham’s defence and attacked CA. One person thinks +Tom Wright and the Archbishop of Canterbury are friends and +Tom must therefore be accurately expressing what the Archbishop truly thinks. Some have accused us of attacking +Tom Wright.

I very carefully referred to the Bishop of Durham and never to +Tom Wright. I know that in naming and writing about individuals, I risk causing them emotional hurt, much as I am hurt by what some people write about me. I distinguish between criticism of me and Changing Attitude, and between the writings of +Durham and +Canterbury (which articulate what the person thinks and feels in the role of bishop) and Tom Wright and Rowan Williams, people inhabiting roles who may have different personal thoughts and feelings.
I am not a friend of +Tom Wright. We met just once, at a Fulcrum Conference two years ago. He wasn’t very interested in me. I thought of various reasons why he might not have responded as I would have liked: he was preoccupied with other thoughts; I’m small fry compared with him; I represent a view and a reality he disapproves of; I’m not worth talking with. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed. Personal conversations are nearly always beneficial and often change perceptions on both sides.

I do count myself a friend of +Rowan Williams. We have known each other for 30 years. Not a pop-round-for-tea friend but a friend who always greets me warmly and communicates pleasure when we meet.

Personal relationships and encounter are at the heart of God and should be at the heart of the Anglican Communion. I am primarily a heart, not a head person. +Tom Wright comes across as a head person, +Rowan Williams much more as a heart person. Human bodies need hearts as well as heads, and so does the Anglican Communion.

Head people feel more comfortable living inside an intellectual, rational framework, one in which there can be correct and incorrect, accurate and less accurate, interpretations of scripture. Heart people are more likely to be living on a small island surrounded by mystery and emotions, sometimes huge and overwhelming, touching us wherever we are and wherever we look.

I fear that the campaign being waged by the self-proclaimed majority in the Anglican Communion – ACNA, FOCA, GAFCON, Anglican Mainstream, Reform, VirtueOnline, Stand Firm etc. - is being organised and driven primarily by head people. I know it isn’t as easy as a simple division between head and heart Christians – we are all a combination of both – but how else to explain the judgmental attitudes and adherence to rules that characterises those driving towards schism?

In my ideal world, we would all be better off if we allowed more space for the heart, for mystery, humility and unknowing. There would be a greater reluctance to make concrete judgments about people or over-define our experience of God.

I wonder whether the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reflections on GC09 with which I feel very unhappy, are a reflection of the potential breaking apart of the Communion, a prospect about which +Rowan Williams feels very unhappy. The more critical stance may reflect the difficulty the person inhabiting the role of Archbishop and the person of +Rowan Williams have in holding inner conflicts together, a break down between head and heart in which head seems to have taken greater control.

To resolve these tensions, the Archbishop opts for the needs of the Communion expressed so forcibly by the conservative faction over and above the needs of the Church of God that lives in the mystery of unknowing and dares to model radical justice, inclusive love and an unconditional welcome for LGBT people and The Episcopal Church.

I would experience such inner conflicts as intolerable. Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is charged with holding these conflicts together and steering us through choppy, turbulent waters to a new, yet-to-be-imagined place where all are welcomed, respected and honoured, whatever our differences. This is the place to which the Holy God is calling ALL OF US. If only we could learn to approach all of life with a sense of mystery, wonder and reverence. It might indeed usefully teach us a little humility.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

The dangerous Bishop of Durham – part 2

The Bishop of Durham claims to speak for the House of Bishops and to know the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury better than the Archbishop knows himself. He takes it upon himself to clarify and expand upon what the Archbishop ‘really meant’.

Hidden demons
He sees demons everywhere in the Communion. He warns the Archbishop that the Covenant process is ‘far too important to be left to a small group advising the Archbishop’ (para 17). The small group criticised by the bishop was, of course, chosen by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Complexity, says the bishop, ‘simply hands power to those with time on their hands and with well-developed skills in political manipulation’ (para. 18). Complexity is woven into creation and characterises human thought and activity. The members of the group appointed to advise on the Covenant are neither people with too much time on their hands nor politically manipulative people.

Durham has a solution to the problems of complexity and manipulation. ‘The ABC himself is now the main person, if not the only person, in a position to give a clear and authoritative answer’. The bishop has spoken. The Archbishop of Canterbury must take unilateral, authoritative action now, and the action must be what Durham has decided is for the best. But as the Archbishop has made very clear, he doesn’t have any legal, canonical authority over the Communion and neither does he want it.

Abusive language
The bishop uses language in a way which abuses LGBT Anglicans. He categorises some of us as ‘non-celibate homosexuals’. This is equivalent to calling married people ‘non-celibate heterosexuals’. It is a deeply offensive way of describing people.

He refers to people’s ‘sexual preference’ as if lesbian and gay people choose to be attracted to people of the same sex rather than being innately attracted just as he is attracted to the opposite sex. He is one of a small minority of people in the UK who continue to think in this way. Sadly, a significant proportion of this minority are to be found in conservative Christian congregations.

Durham refers to ‘certain habits and styles of life’ which are left behind when people rise to new life in Christ (para. 6). LGBT people do not have ‘certain habits’ which are different from the habits of heterosexuals. Nor do we have distinctive ‘styles of life’. His language is deliberately chosen to demean LGBT people. I have met hundreds of LGBT Christians whose lives are characterised by holiness and a renewed humanity. The bishop cannot know the people of his own diocese well if he hasn’t discerned holiness in many of his partnered lesbian and gay clergy and laity. Perhaps, like other bishops I know, he is blind to their presence.

In para. 12 the bishop addresses sex and ‘rights’. He refers to ‘those with homosexual and similar instincts’. He is wearied by the need to spell out yet again the difference, for those with such instincts, between their human dignity and civil liberty and their ‘rights’ as practising let alone ordained Christians.

I am wearied by his use of the phrase ‘homosexual instincts’. Lesbian and gay people do not have ‘instincts’ that distinguish them from heterosexual people. We have exactly the same range of human physical and emotional desires, the same ability to engage in appropriate adult behaviour and relationships. In the bishop’s mind we are not human beings similar in every way to heterosexuals but deficient in some way, corrupted, perverse.

In a confusing paragraph Durham writes about the categories of chastity, celibacy and a weak or negligible sexual drive as if they are alternative choices for Christians. Chastity – fidelity in love and sexual relationships - is for all, as he rightly says - the same for lesbian and gay people and heterosexuals. It is totally distinct from the call to celibacy, a charism given to very few people, and utterly different from having a weak or negligible sex drive. I know what the bishop really wants to say – no sex for gay people – God doesn’t approve. Why can’t he be honest?

Prejudice and bigotry
The bishop distinguishes between prejudice and bigotry and a principled, thought-out moral stance. He says the Archbishop ‘clearly indicates’ that the two must be sharply separated. I don’t think the Archbishop of Canterbury splits head from heart, prejudice from moral stance, in the way Durham imagines. However, the Archbishop does seem to have lost his empathy for the LGBT minority in his attempt to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion in the face of those driving towards schism. I can only hope and pray that this is a temporary loss.

Personal Identity
Durham states that ‘the Christian notion of personal identity has never before been supposed to be rooted in desires of whatever sort’. Durham knows perfectly well that desire is a fundamental theme in the Bible. The IVP New Bible Dictionary states that:
“in their numerous references to ‘desire’ the Old and New Testaments provide many acute and incisive psychological insights. Indeed both by the diversity of the vocabulary of ‘desire’, and the manner of handling it, the Bible makes plain an important part of its doctrine of man.” It continues: “In Hebrew psychology the whole personality was involved in desire.”

Durham wants a notion of identity which incorporates emotional and physical desires to be articulated on the basis of scripture and tradition. Those who, like the bishop, believe that the head can be split from the heart, that the self of emotions and physical desires is different from the rational, cognitive self, are dangerous. Durham introduces an attack on emotion and desire into his comments on human rights. He refers to the ‘supposed’ modern and scientific discovery of a personal ‘identity’ characterised by sexual preference.’

Head not heart
The Bishop of Durham is at his most dangerous in thinking that it is better to live predominantly or exclusively in the head rather than from the heart. People who live in extremis in the head with no emotional empathy are psychopaths. The bishop distrusts feelings and trusts only the rational intellect. Because his self is head-centred he has little or no empathy for the lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians and priests in his own diocese nor in the worldwide Communion. No wonder he is unable to appreciate the trauma suffered by so many LGBT people at the hands of the church.

The Bishop of Durham concludes by naming the main priority for the Communion as prayer. I agree 100% with his commitment to prayer and with the intentions he outlines:
‘Prayer for the church; for our beloved Communion and the many other Christians with whom we seek to deepen fellowship; for Archbishop Rowan; for wisdom, courage, clarity and vision; for God’s glory, the extension of his kingdom, and the power of the gospel and the Spirit at work in hearts, lives, communities and throughout our world’.

Changing Attitude also prays for these intentions and for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church of which we are already full members, though disenfranchised and condemned in many parts of the Communion.

Monday 10 August 2009

The dangerous Bishop of Durham – part 1

The Bishop of Durham’s paper claiming to ‘unpack’ the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reflections is dangerous for the Church of England, for LGBT people and for the worldwide Anglican Communion. People in the Changing Attitude network, gay and straight, are furious at his abuse and dishonesty. The paper reveals a bishop with a megalomaniacal drive to impose his own solution unilaterally on the Communion.

Durham would like The Episcopal Church and partnered LGBT people evicted from the Communion right now. His stand is unprincipled. The bishop has partnered lesbian and gay clergy in his own diocese and knows full well that there are many partnered clergy in the Church of England. Instead of addressing what he says is the impossibility of the church recognising same-sex blessings, he diverts attention away from home and focuses his attack on The Episcopal Church.

Interfering with The Episcopal Church
The Bishop of Durham sets out to exacerbate divisions within The Episcopal Church. Whereas the Archbishop of Canterbury writes of ‘the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican Provinces’, Durham claims that the Archbishop ‘rightly’ indicates that ‘the Communion is already broken’. TEC is not choosing to walk apart now but did so some time ago, he declares. ‘Schism has already happened’ (Para. 13 iii). The Bishop of Durham has joined those conservative pressure groups that have been campaigning for some years to evict The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. They misuse language and construct their own reality in pursuing their goal.

Durham slides statements which have no basis in reality into his argument against The Episcopal Church by stealth. In paragraph 4 he writes of ‘the theology which underlies the Communion’s constant and off-repeated stance on sexual behaviour’. The Communion as a whole does not have a systematic theology of sexual behaviour as far as I am aware. Neither does the Communion have a united, constant and oft-repeated stance. The Episcopal Church is not the only Province which dissents in whole or in part from Lambeth 1.10.

The bishop claims that prior to 1998 the church universally held a traditional stance on same-sex blessings and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. The bishop was ordained into a church which ordained closeted, partnered gay men. Resolutions at Lambeth 1978 and 1988 asking for the church to undertake a study of homosexuality did so because the church accepted that questions were being raised to which it did not have answers.

The official position of the whole of the Anglican Communion has not been repeated again and again by Lambeth Conferences, ACC and Primates as Durham claims. The resolutions of Lambeth 1978 and 1988 demonstrate that this is totally untrue. I doubt that any Lambeth Conference, ACC or Primates meeting prior to 1998 took a position on homosexuality. Such blatant distortion of the truth from a bishop who claims to be the interpreter of truth for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion renders him deeply dangerous to the Communion and to LGBT Anglicans.

Clarifying the Archbishop’s language and intention
For Durham, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been too ‘imprecise’ (para. 2) so at various points in the letter, the bishop clarifies what the Archbishop ‘really’ meant. The Archbishop’s language is complex and needs to be penetrated. The Bishop of Durham knows that General Convention really voted against two of the moratoria ‘in effect if not in so many words’. He knows what the Resolutions of General Convention really mean and he knows what the Archbishop of Canterbury really means.

The Bishop of Durham wants to short-circuit the Archbishop’s timetable. He wants a decision about who is in and out of the Communion to be made NOW, not postponed until the end of 2009 when Section 4 of the Covenant is finalised (para 19). ‘We do not need to wait until Section 4 is redrafted’ (Para 21(iii)). Interim structures are needed ‘now, not in six months, let alone six years’ (para. 21(iv)). The Archbishop of Canterbury should move unilaterally and ‘swiftly to implement what he himself has said’, ‘counting on support from bishops around his own Province’ (para 20).

Durham proposes using the Anaheim Statement as a rallying point for TEC dissidents. Signing Anaheim and Sections 1-3 of the Covenant could function as a ‘prerequisite for participation’ in representative Anglican functions and bodies. He wants to do away in one move, now, with the ACC, Primates Meeting and Lambeth Conference as at present constituted, ending TEC participation in the Instruments of Communion and all other bodies constituted under their auspices.

The Bishop knows that the English bishops do not fully support the policies that Durham, York, Canterbury, London and Winchester want to impose. They were defeated in the vote taken at the July 2008 York Synod on women bishops. Durham knows bishops can’t be counted on to support speedy action designed to punish The Episcopal Church, action which will also have a negative impact on LGBT clergy in England. He enlists as allies in this unsubtle move, ‘the whole Christian tradition’, ‘the real heart of all authority within the body of Christ’, and ‘the genuine apostolic authority of the word of God and prayer’, as Canterbury ‘has himself insisted’. This is a transparent attempt to enlist the heavy guns and bind the Archbishop of Canterbury to Durham’s own agenda.

He claims: ‘These are only suggestions, designed to help those on the ground’. They are nothing of the sort, but rather very concrete and dogmatic proposals designed to pressurise the Archbishop of Canterbury into taking action of which Durham approves and which short-circuits the Archbishop’s own careful (but ultimately misguided) strategy.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

Tuesday 4 August 2009

When words are no better than silence, one should remain silent

A married, ordained heterosexual posted an anonymous comment on Monday 27th’s blog about the Archbishop’s Reflections on General Convention. The comments were far too valuable to be left there, read by the few, so I am posting them here as blog in their own right. Thank you, anonymous, for your wisdom.


As I read the comments all I feel is a profound sadness.

To those who would quote scripture or cite tradition, they would do well to meditate upon the Christ who welcomed all but challenged those with fixed perceptions of 'who is in, who is out' in God's Kingdom. Our Lord welcomes the lepers, the adulterers, the Samaritans AND the Pharisees, The Romans, etc. I will not use the word 'sinners' - that was imposed on him by those who would judge. He simply welcomed openly, challenged where necessary, loved totally.

What Jesus condemned, quite voraciously, were those who placed burdens upon those simply trying to feel their way in finding God and reminded us all of the need for humility when proclaiming the limits of God's love: Judge not, lest ye be judged.

For those who would point to isolated scriptural texts or point to tradition, let's remember a Christ who sat lightly to the letter of Shabbat restriction, placed mercy above the death of an adulterous woman and rejoiced at a Samaritan's faith - hmmm - all of which would have been roundly condemned by many of the religious professionals of his time.

As Anglicans, our way has always been the three ingredients of scripture, tradition and rationality, feeding each other in dialogue and within a context. We are not a Church of Sola Scriptura - the Anglican Communion fought long within itself for a modest approach that counted all things as provisional before the unfolding of the Kingdom. For me at least, that is the great gift Anglicanism has given the world. It would be a shame now for the World to do so much better with it than us.

I am heterosexual, married, ordained and I will rejoice in the day when matters of sexuality, race and gender are placed in the context of all are one in Christ.

As for Rowan, there I feel truly depressed. He is a man of amazing talent and I respect his theological talents. I believe him to be a man of integrity trying to do what he thinks is right in the longer term. How long, though, must we be asked to understand the African context and yet not have the same requirement to understand the North American context, or any other for that matter? Today we remember William Wilberforce. As he was continually forced to go back to the drawing board men and women suffered greatly. Do we not find ourselves shocked that such suffering continued as those in power repeatedly said 'no' or the much more sinister 'we need to wait until the time is right' - a euphemism for 'we'll keep our economic power base for as long as we can thank you very much'.

If there should be a moratorium, perhaps it should not be on Provinces acting on their discerned conscience but rather on the continual war of words, which seems far more destructive and pours shame on the Church in the eyes of those we would seek to call into Christ's Kingdom. As a Zen saying has it - 'when words are no better than silence, one should remain silent'.

Perhaps it will be in silence that we will truly end up walking the road God wished us to walk down. It may be naive hope but at least it's a good one. If not, then at least in silence we can leave it all to the love and the judgement of the One who alone is fit to judge any of us.

So now I will follow my own advice and be silent!

Civil Partnerships and gay marriage in England – the church’s nemesis

Last Saturday I was privileged to preside at the blessing of a Civil Partnership of two long-standing friends, one a Changing Attitude trustee, at a small village in Yorkshire. Two hundred people attended the service held in a marquee behind the village hall. Local clergy were guests at the ceremony but felt unable to preside or allow the service to be held in church for fear of repercussions from the diocesan and area bishops.

The friends and family members present couldn’t understand why it wasn’t taking place in the parish church with the local priest presiding. Nearly every resident of the village came, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins came, friends came - straight supporters of Leeds United, members of the local hunt. All were totally supportive, many referring to the occasion as a wedding. They donated over £2,000 to be shared between Shelter and Changing Attitude.

Their reaction to a Civil Partnership followed by a Christian service of blessing is typical – what’s the problem with the church? Why is it unable to accept that lesbian and gay people fall in love and want to marry just as heterosexuals do?

The gulf between the views of the huge majority of the UK population and the views of conservatives in the church who oppose gay relationships is vast. People can’t understand why the church upholds tradition and proof texts from the Bible as reasons for not allowing blessings to take place in church. They know that there are thousands of lesbian and gay priests, Readers and lay people in the Church of England. They respect and value their faith and ministry. They think the bishops are being dishonest and deceitful.

There is a similar if less extreme gulf between senior CofE bishops and the majority of the House of Bishops, suffragan and area bishops. The majority have no problem in ordaining and licensing faithfully partnered lesbian and gay priests and people. They do it. They would almost certainly be more content if they knew their partnered lesbian and gay priests had contracted a Civil Partnership and made life vows to each other.

The views of the majority do not necessarily make something right. In the case of lesbian and gay couples, Changing Attitude thinks that the church should change its attitude and affirm faithful, loving relationships. When the gap between the views of the majority of the population and the official teaching and practice of the church becomes so great, the church’s claim that it is right to be counter-cultural becomes counter-productive.

I think the conservative groups holding the church to ransom on gay blessings and the ordination of women bishops are doing untold harm to mission and evangelism in this country. The arguments for a change in teaching are as strong as those in favour of the abolition of slavery, the ordination of women, the acceptance of divorce and contraception. Change in teaching and practice is driven by Gospel imperatives of love and justice.

The general population and the majority of CofE members have got there more quickly than the senior bishops. The bishops are being held to ransom by the demands of other Provinces in the Anglican Communion and conservative pressure groups in the UK and North America.

The recent interventions by the Archbishop of Canterbury and even more so by the Bishop of Durham have been disastrous for the Church of England, alienating it even more from the people inside and outside our churches. People yearn for spiritual resources, creative worship, integrity in leadership and truthfulness in preaching and teaching. They perceive the church to be prejudiced and dishonest.