Tuesday 15 September 2009

How can LGBT people begin the conversation with the church? – part 2

In the final chapter of the book, ‘Good News for gay Christians’, Oliver O’Donovan explains the failed hopes of the St Andrew’s Day Statement.
“Of course, no secret was made of the fact that the authors of the Statement approached the discussion with the assumption that the right category for the relationships of gay people was singleness, not marriage, and that this implied doing without an exclusive, intimate and permanent relationship. But it was never the intention of the Statement merely to declare what its authors supposed to be the case.”
I admit I read the St Andrew’s Day Statement with a prejudiced mind. I prejudged the intention of the evangelicals who issued it and assumed exactly what Oliver says was not its intention.
“Its intention was to pose open questions to gay Christians which might elicit what they supposed to be the case. It was an invitation to dialogue within the basic terms set by Christian faith. The authors knew full well that other answers might be given to these questions than the answers they themselves would give, and they wanted to discuss those other answers, too.”
As a committed Christian with a very strong pro-gay agenda in the church, I want to respond positively to Oliver’s challenge – I’m excited by it. If any of us are to move this so often polarised, sterile debate to a new, more creative level, we all need to allow ourselves to participate in a mutual process of open exploration.

I have already participated in a number of explorative encounters, at St George’s House, Windsor (when Oliver participated) and the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, Limehouse, the latter including Canadian representatives. There have also been three encounters between representatives of Inclusive Church and Anglican Mainstream and the Goddard2Goddard posts have explored the territory in cyberspace.

Oliver wants: “…to hear the question discussed by gays, rather than by liberals.” Are “stable relationships” key to our experience, he asks:
“Or is there something important in the roaming character of some gay relations? There is room here for a seriously interesting discussion among gay people which will be instructive to us all. What the gay experience really is, is a question of huge importance both to gays and non-gays.”
Let me out myself - I was a member of the member of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation Working Group which produced the Sexual Ethics report published by Changing Attitude and available on our web site. I wanted to include the sentence about causal sex being often addictive and destructive, yet thinking it important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace (p11). This is the one part of the report which Lisa Nolland takes exception to and has referred to in several reports attacking CA’s sexual ethic, accusing us of dishonesty in claiming to that we are committed to permanent, faithful, stable relationships as the model for LGBT people. We are.

We also recognise that the church acknowledges that not all heterosexual Christians are capable of fidelity to the ideal and are allowed to divorce and remarry (in church), sometimes serially. The church knows that many heterosexuals fail to live up to the ideal.

I want the church to allow similar latitude to LGBT people, not a wider scope for infidelity but the same generous acknowledgment that some relationships fail, become sterile, unhealthy for the couple. Oliver asks the question: “…is there something important in the roaming character of some gay relations?” I would like to participate in what, as he says, could be a seriously interesting discussion.

Three final thoughts for this post. How and where do we conduct a more frank public debate in the church which will help “the rest of us” as Oliver puts it, “…feel our way towards an understanding of the dynamic of the experience and a sense of how the good news may bear most importantly on it.”

Secondly, who within the world of LGBT Christians is prepared to pursue this debate? So many are disheartened with the church and have lost the will to engage, exhausted by the constant conservative attacks. Who has the capacity:
“…to engage in analogical thinking, which is central to moral reasoning. They will need to ask themselves about likenesses of experience and about unlikenesses, about ways in which known patterns illuminate unknown, about the extending of paradigms to encompass new types.”
Thanks are due to Oliver for having written his “Seven Sermons on the Subject of the Day” and to Fulcrum for having first posted them on their web site.

My third and final thought. The debate proposed by Oliver will take place against a background of schismatic threats and attacks on the integrity of LGBT identity from Anglican Mainstream, VirtueOnline, Stand Firm and the GAFCON/FoCA axis. Are any of these organisations or the individuals involved in them prepared to review their hostile strategy to enable LGBT Anglicans to engage in public debate in a less hostile environment? The reaction to Bishop Gene’s presence at Greenbelt suggests not.

Is the Archbishop of Canterbury in conjunction with other Church of England Bishops and Communion Primates prepared to make a stand and commit publicly to the creation and maintenance of safe space in which LGBT Anglicans can confidently participate?

The Bondo Gathering - a further update

Henry Mayor has now added to his report of the Bondo Gathering, the six-day Retreat/workshop for the clergy of the Diocese of Bondo and a few others.

He is now known to virtually all of the 45 plus clergy in the Bondo diocese. He won’t remember all of them, he says, but some were particularly keen to talk with him and to express their appreciation for what they had heard. It was good to see Bishop Johannes Angela engaging with his clergy, in a way which struck Henry as approachable and good-humoured. He was present in all sessions but said very little, letting the discussion take its course and make its own impact independently of his views.

Now Henry is in Nairobi and has linked up with Michael Kimindu and Anna Booth, an Anglican who is also a member of the Metropolitan Community Church in Manchester. Together they are working out an itinerary which should enable them to meet a lot more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kenyans, and talk with other Christians who are either already engaged in discussing the topic, or may be so in the future.
Henry would be glad to be put in contact with anyone in the media, especially Christian media, who might publish the details, and he’s open for invitations to talk, discuss, broadcast etc. when he returns to the UK.

Last but by no means least, he would like to thank all who helped the Bondo Fund committee to raise around seven thousand pounds, which seemed to him an unreachable figure when they started, and all who have supported him and the Kenya programme in prayer.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Anglican Mainstream, Greenbelt, OuterSpace and next – Spring Harvest

The Anglican Mainstream website has posted four reports connected with this year’s Greenbelt Festival. The first is a letter to the Church of England Newspaper from Andrew Presland, General Synod member for the Diocese of Peterborough. He complains that the Greenbelt tradition of only including speakers who seek to explain away the traditional Biblical teaching on homosexuality continued for another year.

The next two are links to information about OuterSpace, the first posted on Greenbelt’s website before the Festival took place.

The most recent is a lengthy anonymous eye witness report from someone present at Greenbelt. The eye witness says one thing he (I’m assuming the person is male) saw that he hadn’t seen before at Greenbelt was overt physical affection between homosexuals in the beer tent. What he thought odd about this was the unnecessary nature of it. He was enjoying a beer with his friends at about 3pm, the place was half empty and “It was almost as if they were daring someone to make a scene, Of course no-one did and they were ignored, but it highlighted a difficulty that Greenbelt is going to face.”

Anglican Mainstream is determined to reinforce the message that Greenbelt has abandoned its early evangelical origins and is now a liberal festival entirely committed to a pro-gay stance.

From Changing Attitude’s perspective, that has to be a good thing. Our networks include evangelical LGBT people for whom there is no incompatibility in being gay and Christian (and partnered). Greenbelt still attracts many evangelicals, who are more open-minded about human sexuality than their conservative elders.

Mainstream is disturbed by developments at Greenbelt and conducted an ineffective campaign to intimidate the organisers and sponsors into providing a “balanced” view on homosexuality by inviting leaders of the ex-gay movement to speak.

I understand that Spring Harvest, a festival about which Anglican Mainstream might more confidently expect to toe the conservative evangelical line, polled participants to find out which issues that they hadn’t dealt with were of most concern to them. Top of the list was human sexuality/homosexuality. As a result next year’s programme will address the issue. Andrew Marin, whom I met on Thursday and about whose book I enthused, is speaking at all the Spring Harvest venues.

As we know, whenever LGBT people and issues are engaged with, prejudices and fears tend to give way to a recognition that we are no different from anyone else. Hence the opposition to Bishop Gene speaking at Greenbelt and the Listening Process in general. Many Provinces refuse to contemplate any listening to LGBT people, despite the commitment made in the otherwise binding Lambeth 1.10.

I predict that Anglican Mainstream will attack Spring Harvest next year for daring to put homosexuality on the agenda and inviting Andrew Marin to speak.

Friday 11 September 2009

Changing attitudes in Kenya – The Bondo Project

The Revd Henry Mayor, a retired priest and supporter of Changing Attitude England living in Manchester is at present visiting Kenya to participate in a number of events, some Anglican, others involving wider Christian and gay communities. Henry was born and brought up in Kenya this visit follows two previous visits undertaken on his own initiative.

Henry has raised funds in the UK for the Bondo Project, which in part has helped to fund a six-day Retreat/Workshop for the clergy of the Diocese of Bondo and a few others, from August 31st to September 5th 2009. It was on the theme of same-gender sexual relations and the Bible. Henry gave four presentations: my personal experience of the Bible; a discussion of terms used in discussing homosexuality; my personal experience of LGBTI people; and a discussion of Bible texts which condemn and support same-gender relationships.

There were also two presentations by Professor Dr. David Kodia about the Lambeth Conference and the Global Anglican Futures Conference, several inputs by local Christians, time for group discussion and plenary sessions, and a daily Bible Study (led by Henry) on Jesus’s and the Church's response to marginalised people.

Henry reports that the response was generally favourable: people were glad that for the first time they were able to discuss same-gender sexuality (or indeed sexuality in general), and happy to receive new information and perspectives. Some people asked for more literature. The pastoral care of LGBTI people was discussed and there was a concern to follow it up. The Retreat will be followed by a report and another day of meeting to decide on future courses of action.

Henry notes that the attitude of clergy and others towards LGBTI people is unlikely to change overnight, but he is confident that in the hands of capable Kenyans who are supportive of, or sympathetic to, LGBTI people, the process of change in Kenya will continue. He has already been invited to address a one-day meeting of clergy of Maseno South diocese on the same topic.

Other Sheep Kenya Seminar in Nairobi

Henry also took part in a seminar on “Religion and Sexuality in African Cultural Context” organised by Other Sheep Kenya held on 22 August 2009 in Nairobi. Twenty five people drawn from the LGBTI community and PFLAG attended the seminar. They came from diverse religious backgrounds and organizations including United Methodist Church, Baptist, Anglican, Kenya Assemblies of God, Catholic Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Apostolic Church, Redeemed Gospel Church, Islam, Changing Attitude, Reconciling Ministries Network, Ishtar MSM, Daystar University and United States International University (USIU).

Henry described how he had come to Kenya to help the Anglican Church discuss homosexuality and told them about the Bondo Project. Henry said that there are people who say being gay is not African but a western import. He believes his calling is from God. He said, “there is no human being who is normal except Jesus Christ”. He said that homosexuality has become a great sin in the way it is dividing Christianity. Christians should love all people without discrimination based on sexual orientation Christian communities must change their attitude and be positive about LGBTI people.

Rev Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude’s contact in Kenya, said that there are people whom the clergy and laity do not accept in the church such as divorces, homosexuals, people living with AIDS, polygamists and alcoholics. “These are the other sheep”.

Michael said that sexual orientation is not an issue that is to be fought but to be accepted. Religious leaders should serve God by serving the vulnerable such as gays and lesbians. The gospel is not about hate but about repentance, reconciliation and renewal. Jesus did not die so that our sexual orientation can change but our hearts. He said there are thousands of LGBTI persons who think God hates them. The message from Other Sheep is that God loves you.

Other people who contributed to the seminar were Rev John Makokha, a United Methodist minister and Other Sheep Kenya Coordinator, Anne Baraza, Other Sheep Advisory Counsellor and Riruta United Methodist Women President and Peter Wanyama, an Anglican and Other Sheep Kenya treasurer.

An extended report on the Seminar can be found on the Changing Attitude web site

Wednesday 9 September 2009

How is the Anglican Communion graciously going to open herself and make room for us?

The question posed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members of the church to the Anglican Communion is, how are you going to make room for us, for our spiritual journey, for our ministry, for those of us whom God has called and is calling into faith and service?

We are already present in the church. However, we are clearly not fully present. Our presence is fully welcomed and accepted in a few Provinces, tolerated in others and invisible in the majority of Provinces.

Where it is now legally possible, we are contracting Civil Partnerships and Marriages. Elsewhere we are creating relationships equivalent to marriage - loving, lifelong, faithful and monogamous.

We are present at every level of church ministry, lay and ordained, readers, deacons, priests, bishops and archbishops, celibate, single and partnered.
We are present across the whole Anglican Communion, LGBT people of faith, the majority of us invisible to and unrecognised by the church.

The attention of the Communion is absorbed by consideration of the Anglican Covenant, questions about church order, authority and doctrine and an obsession with homosexuality.

Our very presence demands an answer to the question we pose, a question that will never go away because we LGBT people will never go away. LGBT people will continue to be born and drawn into a life of faith by the Holy Spirit in OUR as yet unwelcoming Anglican Communion.

How IS the Anglican Communion going to make room for us? I know how the church is pragmatically making room for us in England and Wales, the USA and Canada, in South Africa and New Zealand. I know how the church is trying to deny room in Nigeria and Uganda, the Sudan and Kenya, the Southern Cone and South East Asia.

The conservative tactic has been to focus on the USA and Canada as the Provinces presenting the Communion with a problem. These Provinces present the Communion with a challenge, one which will engage every Province. LGBT people are in the midst of the church, woven invisibly into church life. We are constructing healthy, creative and holy lives in response to the call of God, inspired by political change in the secular world.

We are a minority in the church. We are caught in a trap. We cannot easily show the church how profoundly committed and faithful we are to God because the prejudice and hostility directed against us intimidates us into silence and invisibility.

How is the Anglican Communion graciously going to open herself and make room for us?

Revd Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude contact in Kenya, meets the new Archbishop

The Revd. Michael N. Kimindu is the Changing Attitude contact person in Kenya and Coordinator for Other Sheep East Africa. Michael is an Anglican priest and was a member of our team at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Yesterday, Tuesday 8 September, Michael formally met the new Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Rev. Dr. Eliud Wabukhala.

In May 2009 Michael wrote a congratulatory letter to the Archbishop-elect and requested a meeting with him at the earliest convenient time. He waited until this Monday before calling to remind the Archbishop and was invited to meet him at 10.00 yesterday at the Anglican Church of Kenya Headquarters.

The Archbishop stood to receive Michael and enquired how he has been doing. The last time they met Michael was a military chaplain. Michael felt relaxed as he narrated how he left the military on reaching the retirement age of 55. He showed Archbishop Wabukhala the letter that had then posted him to St. Luke's Parish in December 2007.

The conversation moved on to the scholarship Michael was awarded in 1993 by the World Council of Churches to study Pastoral Care and Counselling in the USA. Michael specifically studied pastoral counselling to LGBT people. He described his USA experience, his struggles with human sexuality issues and his eventual decision to take the subject seriously as a church minister.

He told the Archbishop how he encountered gay clients in his counselling ministry on returning to Kenya both outside and in the military and about his discussions with the two retired Archbishops, Dr David Gitari and his successor Benjamin Nzimbi.

In 2004 Michael founded of Other Sheep ministry in Kenya and in 2007 met the Rev Steve Parelli (founder of Other Sheep internationally) through Canon Samuel Tei. Michael explained how he moved to St. Luke's and how, while there, his pro-gay debate sermons and connections with Steve Parelli became suspect, culminating in his suspension until he had talked with the Archbishop.

Michael narrated how he met Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi in March 2008. The Archbishop was convinced that Michael’s ministry was legitimate and promised to come back following a meeting to be arranged between him and the Archdeacons. That meeting took place in August 2008 after Michael had attended the Lambeth Conference. On hearing about the hostility Michael had experienced from the Archdeacons, the Archbishop’s words and body language showed real concern.

Michael talked about the work he is doing for Other Sheep in East Africa, his contact and involvement with Changing Attitude, his licensing as an MCC minister and the congregation of LGBT people which meets in his house. He described the seminars on the Bible and homosexuality, the concern for men who have sex with men (MSM) and HIV/AIDS.

Michael delivered a verbal message from the General Manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK). He wished the Archbishop to know that the hostile stand taken by religious leaders in Kenya was like supporting death for LGBT people. By ignoring them, the church leaders were effectively saying they do not care if people die as a result of HIV.

The Archbishop responded:

• He said was sorry that Michael is not in a paid job, but advised that he maintains his present work. The Archbishop has over 100 clergy to serve a diocese of 11 parishes.
• He promised to find an officer in his office who will relate with Michael on regular basis. If Michael initiated contact himself, the Archbishop thought they might not respond positively.
• The Arhcbishop is still listening and consulting with the Provincial Synod about the debate on human sexuality but indicated that there may not be immediate significant change .
• He suggested that if other collaborators (meaning people from outside the Province) could take a lead, then the people would respond more positively. This has been confirmed by the seminars being conducted at present by the Revd Henry Mayor, a priest and CA supporter from Manchester, UK.
• He is following developments in the Communion. Michael said he sounded like Archbishop Rowan Williams, not so far yet not so near, which he thought was a wise position to take.
• The Archbishop promised to meet the Archdeacons to hear their side of the story from 2008.

Michael’s evaluation of the meeting is positive. He believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. He asks for prayers for the Archbishop and that his own ministry may be more active in Kenya.

After his meeting in the Archbishop's Office he visited the Directorate of Social Services (ACK-DOSS) HIV-AIDS Project Officer, the Rev Rhodal Dzombo. He asked her what they were doing for gays and HIV. She said they had done nothing at all due to the stance of the previous Archbishop. She said the Anglican Church of Kenya is on a journey on the issue of homosexuality and many people, ordained and lay are afraid to speak openly about it.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

How can LGBT people begin the conversation with the church posited by Oliver O’Donovan?

I’ve begun to read ‘A Conversation Waiting to Begin’ by Professor Oliver O’Donovan, a collection of essays first published on the Fulcrum website. In his preface to the book, Oliver writes: “Nothing will do but that we bend our minds to the task of thinking deeply together, asking basic and open ended questions about the challenges we face and the authority we acknowledge.”

At the end of chapter 1, Oliver asks questions about the pastoral and hermeneutic challenge that the gay phenomenon presents to the church.

• How is this form of feeling to be understood?
• What are the patterns of life with which it may appropriately clothe itself?

“As far as I can tell” he writes, “it is deeply in the interests of gay Christians, men and women, that their experience – by which is meant not merely sexual experience , not merely emotional experience, but the whole storehouse of what they have felt and thought about their lives, should become a matter of wider reflection, reflected on by those who are called to live this experience, by those who are called to accompany them in their living, by all who share their understanding of living as something they owe an account of to God.”

Oliver O’Donovan asks whether the gay Christian movement can present itself as the bearer of an experience of the human that is, at the very least, of irreplaceable importance for our understanding of our own times. Is it of an age, able to speak for itself?

I accept Professor O’Donovan’s challenge and I believe it is one we LGBT Anglicans have to respond to. Any response will take time to develop, a great deal of time if we are to engage in truth from the depth of our own faith and experience.

The challenge of developing a response is, however, difficult in the current circumstances. One – we LGBT Anglicans are constantly on the defensive, reacting all the time to a co-ordinated attack on our presence in the church and our very identity.

Anglican Mainstream posts articles which in the main reinforce their own arguments. Articles published in the past week when I was on holiday demonstrate the nature of the attacks against us. These are the secular proof texts for conservative Christians that parallel the seven Biblical proof texts.

• We don’t exist as lesbian or gay people – we are really all heterosexuals waiting to be shown the light by conservative Christians. Straight is normal, gay is deviant from the norm.
• We can be put through courses which enable those with ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’ to access our true, heterosexual nature.
• Gay people are sexually irresponsible – gay and bi men are 50 times more likely to have HIV says one headline.
• Same-sex marriage is responsible for undermining traditional heterosexual marriage.
• LGBT people are responsible for revising the Bible, for erroneous teachings and false doctrines.
• We are responsible for promoting a libertine culture of sexual freedom and anarchy.

In this circumstance, is it possible to respond to Oliver’s challenge? We are constantly on the defensive, constantly under attack, reacting all the time to threats against us, distortions of the truth, deliberate lies told about us. Many of us have been drawn into a defence of LGBT people, our lives and experience and faith. I fear that I may become deeply entrenched in defence as the attacks continue and intensify.

Two - at the same time, there is an urgency to demand change now. Every day I encounter people across the world who are impacted by the conservative Christian rhetoric against us. Many give up on the church and some abandon their faith entirely. Others live in despair and depression, trapped between the true self they know and the false self advocated by conservatives. Others live more tragic lives, isolated, suicidal, surviving by suppressing emotions and living a lie, to themselves as well as family, friends and colleagues.

How is it possible to create space in which we can respond to the pastoral and hermeneutic challenge presented by Oliver O’Donovan when we are confronted with immediate, intense spiritual and pastoral need and constantly have to protect and defend ourselves against attack from brother and sister Christians?

Wednesday 2 September 2009

LGBT Christians march with pride in Manchester

Last Saturday supporters of Changing Attitude (including the Director and one trustee) marched with a float celebrating LGBT Christians in the Manchester Gay Pride parade. There were 30 of us altogether, Anglicans, RC members of Quest and members of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.

The float had been designed and created by members of the congregation of St Agnes Church, North Reddish.

A thousand-plus LGBT people took part in the parade on floats and on foot. Tens of thousands lined the streets to watch, cheer, applaud and whistle enthusiastically, large numbers of them lesbian and gay.

Gay Pride provides an opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to let their hair down (or bank it up) and be outrageous for a day, entertain the masses, be totally extrovert and provoke conservative Christians into ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ mode.

The drag queens were out in force, looking gorgeous

There has been a growing number of LGBT members of the police force marching each year, and they were received with huge cheers.

LGBT members of the Prison Service marched with their float. I addressed their conference in Nottingham last year.

The Manchester Lesbian and Gay Foundation were there, marching in force as homo-heroes.

No gay pride would be complete without some muscle men – these were from Manworth-tv and were videoing and interviewing all and sundry.

Nor would Pride be complete without a group of leather men. This group agreed to be pictured with one of the priests from CA.

An outrageous group of old queens marched under the banner ‘Salford Ladies United Temperance Society’

… accompanied by a number of relevant placards.

A conservative Christian group occupied their usual place holding banners with quotations from Romans 1, kept at a safe distance by the ploice. I don’t know what those poor Romans ever did to be pilloried this way at a Gay Pride Parade in 2009 Manchester.

They were tastefully countered by three members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Increasingly, Christians are participating in Gay Pride around the UK, outnumbering those objecting to our presence and getting an enthusiastic welcome from the crowds. We reflect the mood of the majority of Christians: some of us are gay – get over it!

Gay Pride parades provide overwhelming evidence against those conservative Christians who think that LGBT people are an insignificant minority of the population. Where is the ex-gay contingent? Nowhere - because there is no point to being ex-gay apart from the need to conform to a conservative evangelical understanding of the Bible and a reactionary stance to the varieties of human sexualities and expressions created by God.

Statistics and scientific research are used by various sides in this debate in evidence of particular polarised positions. We are here to change attitudes, using academic research, theological study, and last Saturday, bu gathering, enjoying ourselves en mass and entertaining the crowd.