Friday 16 October 2009

Time for a new paradigm of thinking and action

Peter Selby expressed the hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s:
"giftedness in connecting with people and issues out of a deep and prayerful theological mind might assist all of us, whichever 'side' we were on, to move to a larger perception of this complex reality, and that from that movement might eventually come a new paradigm of thinking which would change us all - and hopefully unite us all - in ways we cannot now see, and would certainly help us to find ways of speaking that do not cause so much hurt to those over whose bodies and lives we are arguing.”
I have addressed different elements of Bishop Peter’s thinking in the last four days, against the background of other events unfolding, some much more sinister such as the proposed crime of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ in Uganda for which the death penalty will be imposed, and the gay couple in Kenya who are being supported by Michael Kimindu as they try and find safety following the violent attack on one of them.

Meanwhile, Bishop Jack Spong published a manifesto. He says he has made the decision not to debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. His position is one we all want to reach – a church free from homophobia and prejudice, about women priests and bishops just as much as LGBT people. But that isn’t where we are and few of us share the privileged position Jack Spong enjoys.

People have asked how we stop colluding with the prejudice of the church. Individuals can answer this for themselves. It means being out, open and honest, not ducking the issue when it arises and where possible, being proactive, asking questions, putting the issue on the agenda in our own context – congregation, home or Bible Study group, PCC, Deanery Synod – wherever there is an appropriate opportunity to engage the church with people who are gay or unashamedly pro-gay.

Some people, represented on this blog by merseymike, advocate walking away from an institution that seems to be intrinsically prejudiced and anti-gay. Their emotional and spiritual health may well be better served by leaving the church. The soon-to-be-published survival guide for LGB Christians, ‘Living It Out’ by Rachel and Sarah Hagger-Holt, suggests this as one option.

Changing Attitude is committed to action on a broad front. We are committed to change in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, change at grass roots and change in the systems and structures of the church, policy, teaching and theology. We are committed to action on behalf of those who are vulnerable and oppressed in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Do we continue to debate in England, to engage in the Listening Process, or do we opt out as Jack Spong has done? As a gay Anglican Christian, I don’t believe we have any alternative but to stay in relationship and engage in dialogue. That is the Christian way.

But Jack Spong and Peter Selby’s interventions also mark a change which I believe demand a change in strategy and tactics. These are already being explored and talked about in other contexts and will form part of the agenda for the meeting of Changing Attitude trustees on 30 and 31 October.

For me the change needs to respond to the new paradigm to which Peter Selby refers which connects with the writing and thinking of Marcus Borg among others.

It is time for those who are Anglicans in the best and most traditional sense, genuinely open, broad church, generous Christian people, to argue and work for the recovery of this tradition, in the process being clear that only a church which is fully inclusive of those at present excluded from full participation in all orders of ministry, lay and ordained, expect the church to change and will work together on a strategy to achieve change.

It is time to actively resist what has been tolerated for too long, the abuse of the Christian Church and her lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members by groups which advocate prejudice and intolerance.


  1. Colin,

    Thank you for this.
    I’m not sure I go along with your implied criticism of Spong as pretending that the church is already free of homophobia and walking away from engaging.

    He’s not advocating a complete dropping of the lgbt issue as though it was settled and needed no more effort.
    What he is saying is that he, personally, removes himself from an unprofitable debate that wastes his energies without making any real difference. Instead, he says “I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church”, and he is therefore offering very strong and very positive practical support which will be much more symbolic and therefore effective, than merely continuing with the conversation.
    Because of his position, he is indeed privileged to be able to do that and I’m delighted that he is recognising the strength of his position and finding a way of using it as profitably as possible.

    That lgbt people, especially lay people with no power to carry out any symbolic actions in the CoE, cannot withdraw from the conversation, goes without saying.
    And that CA needs to keep talking is also obvious to me. With luck, more and more bishops will follow Spong’s lead and will be creating new facts on the ground and shift the whole debate. Visible personal courage and integrity from our bishops is, after all, what we’ve all been hoping for.

    As you say, we need to formulate our own response, and a different emphasis and a drive to steer the conversation rather than react to it, seems timely.

  2. I believe that we must continue to engage in dialogue, especially with those who have prejudices against LGB Christians. There can be no "winners" when people refuse to communicate, as walls will not be broken down

  3. I marched though London on the first ever gay pride march. It was not an enjoyable experience but the following year we were back and marched again. And the next year, and the next. Until people realised that we were not going to go away. I was also a founder member of the Gay Christian Movement. I would never have believed then that 30 years later the position of lgbt members of the CofE would be much worse than it was in those days. The time has come for active, passive resistance. I urge CA at its meeting 30/31 October to adopt and promote 'Stay Away Sunday' on 31 January. We made our presence known by those early pride marches through London. Now we need to make our presence known by removing ourselves from our cathedrals, parish churches and university chapels on one Sunday of the year. Actions speak louder than words and the time for action has come.


    Terence Dear
    (Afraid I dont understand the 'Profile' bit - do not approve of anonymity but the other profile options are all very strange)

  4. A good article Colin. I thought Bishop Spong's words were very timely and quite frankly, they needed to be said. Why should we continue to appeal to human decency and human rights when the only response we get are from people such as Peter Akinola, Tom Wright, and sadly Rowan Williams? Why should we listen to their ramblings when their only intention is to treat LGBT people like second-class human beings - or not like human beings at all?

    I was slightly concerned at the way you perceive Changing Attitude's mission in the Church. You say that CA is committed to working within the CofE, which is what we need, but then say that we are also committed to action on behalf of those in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere. The situation is far from perfect in the UK - shouldn't CA be concentrating on action within this Church, rather than spending time, energy and money on campaigning in those churches in Africa.

    Change MUST come from within - if those African churches are going to change their attitude towards LGBT people, that change has to come from their own faithful. And if we are going to change attitudes in the Church of England, we NEED to focus our work HERE.

    If what you say is true, then I think CA is committed to action on too broad a front...

    Dan L

  5. I think some folks are over reacting to the good bishop. I think that is often the case. He does like to rattle folk's cages. But I cannot subscribe to calling clear, concise language a rant. Nor do I read the bishop as cutting off conversation, as this is being interpreted by Viagraville.

    To me what he is saying is that for him personally, which is why the "I" language, there are now well established facts about sexual minorities which are no longer up for grabs. They are settled. They are no longer debatable. Period. And he published this on his paid subscription website, not a public one, but one where he supplements his retirement income, so it was not published for a wider audience, even though it was bound to get out of the bag.

    In fact, I find his "I do not give a shit" attitude a refreshing change to the Casper Milktoast verbiage of many of our allies.

    Truthfully, as a gay man, and as an Anglican Christian, I wonder what has taken the good bishop this long to reach that point, because I reached it years ago. As you all know, I do not suffer fools with gladness.

    It is no longer useful to debate the clobber scriptures. They have not changed. Our understanding of them as translations and interpretations have progressed, but it is of no practical value to continue to hash them out with fundamentalists/conservatives. I know their position, it has not changed. As long as they are fundamentalists/conservatives it will not change.

    I will no longer debate human sexuality. My sexuality, whether it is a natural phenomena, whether it is God-given, or whether it is psychologically and physiologically healthy is no longer open to debate.

    I will no longer debate whether I am Christian. I will no longer listen to someone who wishes to question or denigrate my faith, my spirituality or my devotion to God.

    For me these are already the foundation stones, they are the givens. This is where the conversation, the "listening process" begins. So if you want to go poking around the foundation, I am going to chase you away, because you have nothing at this point to discuss with me.

  6. Anonymous and David

    It's not a question of withdrawing from dialogue. Of course conversation has to continue.
    It is a question of working out what kind of dialogue we are willing to engage in.

    For myself, I still have no answer as to how to steer the debate to an accetable level without actually getting involved at the level it is currently being conducted.

    I'd love to know what you, David, do in practice, or whether you have simply removed yourself from the whole conversation.