Wednesday 24 February 2010

Brenda Harrison – a brief in memoriam

Brenda died on Wednesday 24 February in the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham. Pam, her life partner, slept in the Hospice and was at her bedside for the final hours of Brenda’s life.

Brenda was an amazing person, an evangelical Christian with a passion, and a key member of the Changing Attitude team. She was a campaigner and fighter and was always totally committed to whatever she became involved with. Brenda became involved with Changing Attitude in the early years and was instrumental with others in creating a strong, independent LGBT Anglican witness.

She worked half-time for Changing Attitude for 3 years as administrator and continued to work unpaid with the same commitment until a few weeks before she died. She had also become a trustee and ensured that we adhered to all the legal and financial rules.

Changing Attitude wouldn’t have been organized with such efficiency and we wouldn’t be in such a stable financial position without Brenda. But more than her practical skills, Brenda brought her cheeky smile and a bouncy attitude to meetings and events.

She was involved with many other groups, had been a president of the European Forum, a member of the Evangelical Fellowship, CA convener for Guildford and a member of the Human Sexuality Group in Guildford Diocese. She had many more irons in the fire, all of which helped her cross boundaries and form friendships with a huge network of people.

Brenda was an inspiration to so many and we all have so much to thank her for ~ a determined fore-runner who campaigned for many of the things some now enjoy and take for granted. Brenda wanted the campaigning to continue until all are able to enjoy freedom in the Kingdom of God. Her inspiration and love touched many of us over the years.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Civil Partnerships: Letter and Leader in today’s Times

The Times has published a letter today signed by a number of bishops including several patrons of Changing Attitude, and a leading article. The letter argues in favour of an amendment to the Equality Bill by Lord Ali which would allow Civil Partnerships to be registered in religious buildings.

All but one of the bishops is retired and the bishop of Salisbury is to retire later this year. The bishops of Winchester and Chichester are among those consistently opposing equality for LGBT in the House of Lords. The House of Bishops was described to me two weeks ago by one of the bishops who signed the letter as a dysfunctional mess (or something like that!).

Why do bishops opposed to LGBT equality turn out en masse to vote for intolerance while bishops who support LGBT people in private and actively encourage clergy to register Civil Partnerships stay away when these matters are debated? Are they bullied and intimidated by their conservative brothers in the House? (Shades of Gordon Brown?).

The current stance of those bishops who are vocal is unrepresentative of the majority of Anglicans, destructive of the Church’s mission in England and is having a terrible negative effect on LGBT people, our friends and families and all Christians who believe that justice, truth and love are prime Christian values.

It’s discrimination to stop gay couples taking vows in church

It is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the CofE but also deny the spiritual independence of three small communities

Sir, The Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain. Three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians — have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. An amendment to the Equality Bill, to allow this, was debated in the House of Lords on January 25. It was opposed by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester on the grounds that, if passed, it would put unacceptable pressure on the Church of England. The former said that “churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, the distinction” between marriage and civil partnership.

In the same debate, the bishops were crucial in defeating government proposals to limit the space within which religious bodies are exempt from anti-discrimination law. They see that as a fundamental matter of conscience. But it is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the Church of England and simultaneously to deny the spiritual independence of the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else).

The bishops’ “slippery slope” argument is invalid. Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory. In the US it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . of religion.

The amendment will be re-presented by Lord Alli on March 2. We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.

Iain McLean, Professor of Politics, Oxford
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford
The Right Rev David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury
The Right Rev John Gladwin, Former Bishop of Chelmsford
Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Former Bishop of Oxford
The Right Rev Bill Ind, Former Bishop of Truro
The Right Rev Peter Selby, Former Bishop of Worcester
The Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson, Former Bishop of Portsmouth
The Very Rev Nick Bury, Dean of Gloucester
The Rev Jeremy Caddick, Dean, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans
The Very Rev Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark
Canon Dr Judith Maltby, Chaplain, Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church, Oxford
Canon Jane Shaw, Dean of Divinity, New College, Oxford
The Rev Sarah Coakley, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Cambridge
Sarah Foot, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History
Alec Ryrie, Professor of the History of Christianity, Durham
Stuart White, Director of the Public Policy Unit, Oxford
Jill Green, Quakers

The leading article:

Equal before God

This Government has done much to bring the law into line with modern attitudes towards homosexuality. It scrapped Section 28 , equalised the age of consent and ended the ban on gays in the Armed Forces.

Now it must resolve the legal asymmetry that prevents homosexual civil partnerships from taking place on religious premises. In a letter to The Times today, a distinguished group of mostly Anglican clergy correctly point out that “straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice”. That clearly discriminates against homosexuals who are also believers, and three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians — now wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. A legal amendment permitting them to do so is expected to be debated in the House of Lords next month.

The Church of England has so far resisted change, arguing that if some religious groups are allowed to hold civil partnerships then the pressure on the C of E to follow suit will become intolerable. It is a feeble argument. No one is arguing that any church should be forced to conduct a civil partnership. But willing churches should not be precluded from doing so.

Benjamin Disraeli believed the Church of England to be “a part of our liberties, a part of our national character”. If it has any hope of continuing in that role, the Church — and the Government — must recognise that our liberties today should include the right of homosexuals to register the most important promise of their lives in a church.

Monday 22 February 2010

Are there signs of hope for LGBT people in Africa?

The possibility that there might be signs of hope for LGBT people in Africa seems unlikely in the context of the violence in Kenya and elsewhere and the proposed legislation in Uganda and Nigeria.

On Saturday gug blogged about the Barzai in Kampala, the forum he attended and tweeted from. He reports that he stood and spoke, but not as gug. His closet, he said, is wide open and he just needs a little nudge to come out and flower. But the forum wasn’t the place.

Gug got me thinking. In the month following the publication of the Anti-homosexuality Bill in early October, there were signs that it might lead to the introduction of similar legislation in other African countries. For some time, I feared that it might lead to the introduction of a wave of similar punitive Bills. Many African members of the Commonwealth already have draconian ex-colonial legislation on the statute book so that any new legislation is really unnecessary and looks simply vindictive.

The future looked bad for some weeks, with the probability of increased public hostility, prejudice, intolerance and aggression, which has indeed happened in Uganda and Kenya. It looked (and may still look) as if an increased risk of public humiliation, arrest, imprisonment and death is the inevitable outcome for LGBT Africans. But the multiplying of Bills didn’t happen and it has become more than a possibility that the Uganda Bill itself will not be enacted.

All of the above risks to LGBT people are ever present risk and may yet become reality. But I think that another scenario is unfolding at the same time as the potential for punitive legislation and a diminishment of safety and dignity for LGBT people.

What difference would the Uganda Bill make in reality? Would priests and bishops, for example, refuse to listen to and talk with LGBT people and report anyone they knew to be gay to the police? In Nigeria, what difference would the anti-gay marriage act make? No-one was proposing to legalise gay marriage in the first place so the bill was always an attempt to play on prejudice and pre-empt moves to acknowledge the presence of LGBT people in society.

At the moment, it looks likely that neither bill will be enacted. There was strong international condemnation of the Nigerian Bill by LGBT organisations and the Ugandan Bill has created huge international political condemnation with economic sanctions threatened. Martin Ssempa’s display of pornographic gay images in church has made him a figure of derision. The Million Man March so loudly trumpeted by him never materialised.

Both bills have mobilised opposition to LGBT people in their respective countries, using conservative Christian teaching (labelled traditional and orthodox) to mobilise Christian support.

But I think there is good news as a by-product of the various anti-gay initiatives.

LGBT people in Africa may have been intimidated by the anti-gay hysteria but some of them have also been motivated to work for change and stand up for themselves and their human rights.

International networks and relationships between pro-LGBT groups and individuals have been activated and strengthened. This is certainly true for Changing Attitude and our links across Africa. The internet is proving to be a huge influence in disseminating news and information and creating effective alliances.

A public discourse in each of the countries concerned has been started - not, perhaps, what the homophobes anticipated. Lesbian and gay attacks and anti-gay campaigns are regularly reported by the media. This means that people are learning about the real presence of LGBT people in their culture even if their prejudices are being fuelled at the moment. But people will also ask questions, especially if they suspect that someone in their own family or social network might be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Pro-gay arguments are also being articulated and the subject is now irrevocably on the agenda – it will never go away.

Even were the Ugandan or Nigerian bills to be passed, this process will continue. I suspect that far more positive progress has been made in the past 4 months since the Anti-homosexuality Bill was published than is as yet obvious in the public domain.

I prophesy that the anti-gay campaigns will be counter-productive and will eventually bring about the very thing they are set up to eradicate – the acknowledgement and acceptance of LGBT people in African societies.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Uganda pastor Martin Ssempa screens gay porn in church

Pastor Martin Ssempa, the Christian leader driving support for the Anti-homosexuality Bill, whose Million-Man March was supposed to have taken place on Ash Wednesday until banned by the police, decided instead to screen gay porn in Pastor Kiganda’s church in Kampala on Wednesday evening. The screening was attended by around 300 supporters crammed into an evangelical church. This is the most astonishing way to mark Ash Wednesday that I have ever heard and if a church in the UK or North America chose to screen gay porn in church on any occasion, let alone Ash Wednesday, the backlash would be intense and unforgiving.

Martin Ssempa told the supporters:

"We had planned to have a million-man and -woman march in Kampala but unfortunately we were told that we could not march because of security concerns. The major argument homosexuals have is that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is nobody's business but do you know what they do in their bedrooms?," he asked, and then displayed a slide show of gay pornographic pictures. "This one is eating another man's penis," the pastor said, before going into even more graphic descriptions. "Is this what Obama wants to bring to Africa?" he said, following fierce US criticism the Anti-homosexuality Bill.

In his report about Ssempa’s gay pornography Ash Wednesday in church, gug says he has heard that some mainstream Christians have had enough and are going to publicly oppose the bill. They are Anglicans and their strongly heart-felt opposition will be in marked contrast to the 'wishy washy hypocrisy' of the Church of Uganda. If they are to have any more credibility, says gug, Christians will have to claim back their Church.

Gug watched the programme Agenda Uganda on NTV last night, in which Pastor Solomon Male justified the killing of gay Ugandans because they have refused to change. He said gays should be killed because the Bible says so, and the audience applauded – another extraordinary message for Ash Wednesday.

This morning, gug decided to send an email letter to the key supporters of the Bill:

MP David Bahati, sponsor of the Bill, who is doing all this in defence of the traditional family
MP Benson Obua Ogwal, co-sponsor the bill, who calls gug a gay pervert because the Bible calls him so
MP Nsaba-Buturo who is a born again Christian, fierce proponent of the Bill and the Minister for Ethics and Integrity
Speaker Ssekandi, the man with the official final say with what goes on in parliament
Stephen Langa, the 'ideologue' behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and a fierce defender of the family (but presumably not against gay porn!)

Gug wrote:

Dear Sirs,
Last night, I watched Pastor Solomon Male on Agenda Uganda on NTV justifying the killing of gay Ugandans, because they could not, or would not change.
This morning, I see this article: Ugandan Pastor screens gay porn in Church.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t the truth. Of course Ssempa has done exactly the same thing many times. And, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity looks on... Martin Ssempa has screened gay porn at press conferences. He has done so at the National Theatre. He has done so at many other places which the press has simply not reported about. He has gone into graphic descriptions of gay porn on Television, and the Broadcasting Council is yet to caution any of the stations, or even the man of God.

Is it because it is Gay Porn? Or is it because it makes gay people look bad? Or, will someone soon claim that there are laws against 'straight porn' and none against 'gay porn'? This debate has reached, or has always been at the heights of hypocrisy.

Or, maybe it is the Christian thing to do, to screen porn in Church? Maybe I used to know a different Christianity.


Gug says Ssempa is breaking one of the clauses of his own Bill, which says:

Section 13; Promotion of homosexuality.

(1). A person who -

(a) participates in production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality;

commits an offence is liable on conviction to a fine of five thousand currency points or imprisonment of a minimum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Gug reports on the Ugandan Anti-homosexuality Bill march in Jinja

Gug has blogged today about the demonstrations that happened in Jinja on Monday. For some reason The Monitor took two days to report the demonstrations and New Vision carried no reports. The demonstration drew hundreds of people and lasted 2-3 hours. The pictures come from the Monitor.

Here are excerpts from the Monitor reports:

Hundreds of Jinja residents took to the streets on Monday in support of the anti-homosexuality Bill. Chanting messages peppered with anti-gay slurs and displaying placards denouncing the practice, the demonstrators made their way around the town led by religious leaders in a procession that brought business to a temporary stand still.

Western leaders rebuked

The demonstrators also criticised Western leaders’ disapproval of the Bill. “Obama leave Ugandans alone,” “Obama to hell with your aid,” were some of the messages written on the placards.

“Of what importance is homosexuality to us? It is as if we have no brains. Let them keep their homosexuality and keep their money as well!” a woman among the shouting crowd yelled.

Speaking following the procession that lasted about two hours, Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the prominent supporters of the Bill, said it was a shame that the US president had taken to supporting the un-African custom and expected Uganda to follow suit. “Obama even if you do not give us money for medicine for our people, to hell with that money, we would rather die but die in dignity,” he said.

He added: “This is Uganda and we also have our rights just like the Americans have theirs. We decide for ourselves what is good for us. So these leaders should leave us alone to make our own legislations that are good for us.” The clerics, who preached against the practice at a crusade held at the Kazi Mingi grounds in the town, also claimed the media had failed in its duty to fight the practice.

Pastor Matthias Sserugo said: “The anti-gay federation is not here to express their hatred for homosexuals but to tell them that they can change and society can accept them once more.” President Museveni recently expressed opposition to some sections of the proposed Bill noting that they would harm Uganda’s foreign policy.

Martin Ssempa had been proclaiming that today, Ash Wednesday, a Million Man March in support of the Bill would take place in Kampala. Ssempa has been declaring that the Lenten season is the period of mobilisation and mass action to have the bill passed so that by Easter Day the bill should be law.

It would seem that the international pressure and the political implications of the Private Members Bill are having an effect not only on its progress but on the ability of Bahati and Ssempa to organize support in favour of the Bill. I sense parallels with the Nigerian Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill which although not dead, has never been passed into law. There are also echoes of the failure, to date, of the conservative pressure groups in the Anglican Communuion to achieve their goal of splitting the Church and isolating the North American, openly gay-affirming Provinces.

Conservatives have campaigned on these three issues with great confidence and conviction. Things are not working out as they planned, for which I give thanks. Forces hostile to LGBT people are still intense and well organised, but other, more benign forces are at work in creation. Affirmative campaigns can achieve significant change by mobilising pro-gay political and Christian opinion and individuals like gug can move mountains by staying in the heat, telling the truth and allowing the world to learn from the experience of one honest, courageous gay Ugandan.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address – Jean Mayland, Changing Attitude Patron and Trustee responds

Changing Attitude patrons and trustees hold a spectrum of opinions about the stance we should take in response to the Anglican Covenant and the strategic attitude towards the process of changing Communion attitudes towards LGBT people. The Revd Jean Mayland, retired Church Life Secretary for CTBI holds a more hawkish position than me and reacted more negatively to the Archbishop’s Presidential Address. She is pictured below on the Modern Churchperson's Union stall at Lambeth 2008. Her response follows.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address - a personal response

I first heard accounts of the Address as I drove home from York and felt very angry. I read the analysis of the speech by Ruth Gledhill in ‘The Times’ and read the text of the address through twice. I am still angry and I will try to define why.

I think it is because the Archbishop rebukes everyone else but never seems to acknowledge his own responsibility or failure of leadership. The only positive aspect is that he makes a half hearted apology to gay and lesbian people.

But first, the issue of women bishops and those of us who are campaigning for it. The Archbishop accuses us of not listening and just pushing our own demands.

I made my first speech in Church Assembly on the ordination of women in 1967 when I was 31. I listened to Dr Demant who told us that we only wanted to be priests because we were jealous of men as we did not have a penis. We wanted one too, aparently! I am now 73 and I have been listening to our opponents from both ends of the ecclesiastical spectrum for over 40 years! What a time in the wilderness. As well as listening we have been discussing and arguing and working and debating on and on and on and they never change - in fact Forward in Faith and Reform have become more and more rigid in their stance.

How dare that man tell me to listen! He came in at the end of the process and did not listen himself!

In his address the Archbishop accused us of jeopardising the current situation by insisting on provision just on our terms. He also says that what we hear is the rest of the Church saying, ‘Of course we want you – but exclusively on our terms, not yours’; which translates in the ears of many as ‘We don’t actually want you at all’.

I actually do not hear the Church saying this about women - the great majority of the Church wants us. It is the Archbishops who give us the impression that they are not listening to us and that we are expendable and of little value. We have asked for terms which place proper value of women and will not harm the church.

We oppose ‘Flying Bishops’ because they have entrenched opposition, supported the bullying of women and marred the catholic nature of the Church. We have never defended privilege or our own 'rights’. We have made demands which the majority of the church and those in secular society who have an interest at all, can see are just, fair and moderate. I do not think that over the years WATCH has campaigned in any way of which we should be ashamed .We have tried to be 'wise as serpents' but we have also tried to be 'harmless as doves.'

Gay and Lesbian People

The Archbishop in his address did give a sort of half hearted apology to gay and lesbian people and yet at the same time he defended the opposition of the Church in the House of Lords to the Equality Bill .He argues that the Bishops in the Lords were arguing for Religious Freedom. When one remembers the real struggle for religious freedom that took place in the Communist countries in Soviet times, then he does not have a clue. Anyway what was the religious freedom he was arguing for? It is freedom for the Church to discriminate against women and against gay and lesbian people. He says the discrimination against the latter was a small exception - but it means that gay ‘would be clergy’ living in a faithful partnership cannot be ordained - or if they do many of them live in fear. It means that they and lay people can be denied jobs if homophobic church members oppose them.

Behind this is the demand that clergy and church lay workers in civil partnerships should be celibate. Why? Celibacy in the Church of England has always been a vocation and not a matter of compulsion. Faithful commitment should be supported and not condemned and gay people have as much right to enjoy the God given gift of sex as straight people. The Bishops also made serious demands about transgender people that showed complete lack of understanding and care. Only the Bishop of Chichester wavered a bit and showed a bit of care and said it was very complicated.

Why should the Church seek an exemption from the Equality Bill so that it can exclude people in this way? When I worked at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) the first discussion papers about bringing the legislation concerning different marginalised groups together were published and they struck me as caring and concerned and Christ-like.

Now I am ashamed and angry that the Church seeks exemption. What about Genesis in and even Paul about no Jew or Gentile etc?

The Covenant

The situation became even worse when the Archbishop moved on to the issue of the Covenant which he praised and desired. This would create a two tiered Anglican Communion and would be an instrument for the oppression of gay and lesbian people.

I assume that Nigeria - homophobic, anti women, allowing and even supporting violence against women (but of course very Biblically based!!!!) would be in the top tier and the USA – open, liberal, caring, mission conscious, generous but very suspect because of its Biblical criticism and gay clergy would be in the bottom tier.

The other quite amusing thing (one either laughs or cries) is that I am sure the Archbishop assumes England will be in the top tier. What would then happen if the General Synod decides that we should have women bishops, ordain practising gay men and women and bless civil partnerships? Do we then go down to level two? The province of Canterbury a second class Anglican Province – at last one can laugh rather than scream.

Jean Mayland

Monday 15 February 2010

Pro-gay meeting held in Kampala and alternative march held in Jinja as Ssempa’s million man anti-gay march cancelled by the police

The Daily Monitor in Kampala reports that the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kampala, one of the few religious organizations in Uganda that supports the gay community, held a conference on Sunday to highlight the need for an end to discriminatory treatment of the gay population in Uganda.

According their website, the Reverend Martin Lavanhar, President of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry and senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church arrived in Uganda on Thursday last week to launch a campaign against the Bill. Bill Sherman, one of the organizers of the conference, declined to disclose details of the meeting citing security reasons.

“Under most circumstances I would be happy to give you this contact information. But with security concerns so high, I am reluctant to do so,” Mr Sherman told the Daily Monitor in an e-mail. However, the Inspector General of Police, General Kayihura said he was not aware of the meeting and vowed to arrest them.

Gug, being, as he says, an infidel and non believer, didn’t go to the campaign meeting at the JBK Hotel but was there in spirit. He was there in the flesh later for the ‘after-party’ event, when they gathered in a bar, drank and laughed and danced and met others that they never knew existed in this world. It was a blast, he says. He had never seen so many kuchus gathered in one place, celebrating something as simple as St Valentine’s day of love.

The Daily Monitor also reports that on Sunday, the police moved to halt the planned million man demonstration in support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was scheduled for Wednesday, saying that the government is still sorting 'issues out' Police halts anti-gay demo as pro-gay activists secretly meet in Kampala.

Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the organisers of the demonstration confirmed that the Inspector of Police Major General Kale Kayihura had contacted them and proposed a meeting on Tuesday before the Wednesday demonstration. “It is true Gen. Kayihura sent us a text message that he hasn’t cleared the demonstration. He said we should meet him on Tuesday to forge a way forward,” Pastor Ssempa said. Gen. Kayihura said, “We asked them to postpone the demonstration because government has some issues to sort out and they agreed.”

Alternative demonstration held in Jinja today

Gug has just confirmed that there was some kind of smaller demonstration in support of the bill by Pastor Martin Ssempa and and his supporters in Jinja, Uganda's second largest town. This is an interesting development and here is assessment why:

The government wouldn’t want a demonstration because they have realised that the waters they have stirred up are too stormy on too many fronts. So, they have to calm down those waters.

Ssempa follows a different agenda. He wants the demonstration; he wants to show support for the Bill and wants it to become law.

So, from what I gather from the Monitor report, Sunday, the Inspector General of Police who is head of all the police in Uganda, Kale Kayihura, said they didn’t have permission for the march on Kampala. They had scheduled Tuesday as the date to meet with him and discuss options.

Why would a spontaneous demonstration have been organized in Jinja? I would understand that if Ssempa wanted one and didn’t want the police to meet him with tear gas and batons, he would organise it very fast and not in Kampala.... and hope the government accepts the fait accompli, which is what happened.

The demonstration in Jinja means that Ssempa is going rogue, counting on popular support to force through the bill. He is, of course, dumping the government in the process, which does not take such things very happily, especially if there was an agreement that they would meet on Tuesday to discuss a way forward.

Gug admits his assessment may be wrong because the government could have given the green light for the demonstration. The police have proved themselves adept at stopping opposition demonstrations in the past, so how could Ssempa's have taken place without their tacit approval?

After a week of Big Questions – the Communion still survives

Participating in The Big Questions debate yesterday morning about the division or unity of the Anglican Communion reinforced my sense of confidence in the signs that I picked up in General Synod last week.

I was seated next to Lorna Ashworth in the studio. Lorna had tabled the private member’s motion about ACNA which was debated in General Synod on Wednesday afternoon. To her far right was Charles Raven from Kidderminster, the priest who was inhibited by Bishop Peter Selby when he challenged Peter’s authority. Between them was a conservative Christian lawyer who contributed to the opening debate about the torture of terrorism suspects and the second debate about fidelity in marriage. In both the views he expressed were not unreasonable, but when he joined in the debate about the Anglican Communion he suddenly inhabited an extreme world of sin and judgement in which any person who was neither married nor celibate like him was destined for hell.

There was intense heat in the debate between those who were arguing for inclusion and generosity and the conservatives who revealed more and more extreme views as the debate proceeded. Although the programme researchers had clearly been disappointed that all of us seemed to agree that the unity of the Communion should be maintained, it became apparent in the studio that this is not what the conservatives want. They want to be split from people like me who believe in a generous, forgiving, loving, ultimately inclusive God.

If they want to push this to its logical conclusion, all we need to do is stay. They have to decide whether to leave. I know it isn’t quite as easy or simple as this – staying in a Church where people express such prejudiced, hostile views and feelings isn’t comfortable. Sometimes the homophobia and the prejudice against women becomes intolerable.

Several people in the audience approached me afterwards and expressed astonishment at the views held by the conservatives. They had no idea that this is what an extreme minority in the Church of England believe. They wondered what had happened to what they remembered as the traditional Anglican ethos of generosity and welcome to all, whatever degree of faith people have.

There is a fault line in the UK more dangerous than the fault line within the Church between conservatives and liberals. It is the fault line between those who think it’s more important for Christianity to be doctrinally pure than it is for Christianity to model God’s generous love. An exclusive Church is not just the kiss of death for gays and women priests and bishops, it’s the kiss of death for a lively, loving, healthy, evangelistic Church of England which has any chance of connecting with real people and real lives. Why would anyone watching The Big Questions and hearing the conservatives bother to enter a church which is so judgmental and intolerant?

A friend sent me a text after the programme saying they think we have a mountain to climb. We are climbing it, and the further up the mountain we climb, the more the clouds begin to clear and the potential for a glorious view becomes apparent. Both global forces and history are against the conservatives.

I’ve now had time to read in detail the comments on and reactions to the debate on Lorna Ashworth’s motion in Synod. I was in the public gallery for the ACNA debate and present at the fringe meeting on Tuesday lunchtime when the ACNA case was presented.

There were a considerable number of people at the fringe meeting who were not taken in by the confident presentation, and several asked firmly probing questions, which did not receive honest answers and some weren’t answered at all. The voting figures on the motion tell the true story. The majority of members in each House voted consistently against Lorna’s motion – which was there to be accepted if Synod really wanted to state its desire to be in Communion with ACNA. Some comments on Thinking Anglicans still seem uncertain about this.

There may well be attempts to set up a parallel to ACNA in England. There will be further attempts to marginalize TEC and Canada. There will be attempts to inflate the success and importance of ACNA. Some leaders in the Communion will continue to vilify LGBT people while at the same time claiming they want the best for us.

I think Lorna’s motion was a disaster for ACNA. They were firmly rejected by the Church of England and the whole idea kicked into touch. The large contingent which had flown over and were much in evidence at Synod got nothing for their trouble, but seem to have been flattered into a false sense of success by our English ‘niceness’. We nod and smile sweetly and agree, whilst holding to a totally different view inside.

Lorna’s motion was lost.
Greater pension equality for Civil Partners was passed.
Archbishop Rowan apologised to LGBT people and described the Uganda Bill as repugnant.
The studio audience though conservative Christian views were shocking.

The conservative leaders in the Communion are not making the progress they claim. Their reports are grossly inaccurate and they misrepresent reality continually. No group confident of their position would do this. I receive many more reports in confidence that tell me the Communion is not with them. Bishops are not with their Primates. The Church of England is not with the bishops who support ACNA. International opinion is against the Uganda Bill. The UK Government is against repressive homosexuality legislation in the Commonwealth.

Most importantly, Christ is risen, God is love and Creation is good. Truth, justice and love shine in people’s hearts and lives whether or not conservative Anglicans think that the 39 Articles, the Ten Commandments and a literal interpretation of the Bible are fundamental to salvation.

If the Christian lawyer in the audience really thinks my eternal salvation is at risk because I love another man, well, bully for the celibate him. Me – I’m for life with a joyous God.

Sunday 14 February 2010

The Future of the Anglican Communion - a Big Question

I’m in York courtesy of the BBC, preparing to participate in The Big Questions on BBC1 at 10am this morning. The big question this week is the future of the Anglican Communion.

In the conversation last week I asked Bishop David Anderson where he thought ACNA and TEC would be in relation to each other in 10, 20 or 30 years time. With litigation being pursued in so many directions at the moment and deeply hostile positions being held across the divide, it’s not the time to think about reconciliation or resolution. But I found myself thinking a lot about the need to attempt to reconcile differences one day and achieve a reintegration of the many diverse strands in our Communion.

Everyone taking part in today’s programme apparently thinks that maintaining the unity of the Communion is a good thing, from what the researcher told me. If we each think the other, those against gays and women bishops and progressive Christian theology as well as those in favour, has to be won over to our cause, then there is no hope of achieving reconciliation.

At the moment, minds are focussed on the Covenant, on the implications of signing and whether it can or will be used as an instrument to punish and exclude.

I feel far more optimistic about the future at the end of a week at General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury apologised and made strongly positive statements about LGBT people in his Presidential Address. Synod voted for equality in pension provision. The Church of Uganda announced that it was not supporting the Anti-homosexuality Bill. There was significant movement in a positive, pro-gay direction.

The conflicts in the Communion are not going to be resolved in a way which fails to recognize the place of women and LGBT people in every order of ministry. Space has to be created and will be created. In Africa, LGBT people will begin to create space for themselves in society and in church. There is a huge, hidden presence of LGBT people across Africa. Even if few of them are networked with each other in local communities, they are increasingly part of a global network through the internet and they are far more secure in their sexual identity and have access to far more resources online than I did at their age.

Why did General Synod vote so decisively for pension equality? The Church of England seems to have been quietly coming to terms with the real presence of LGBT in the two years since the ‘gay-Tuesday’ debates at Synod, let alone the 19 years since ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ was published. Several gay people spoke in the debate, not all of them out to Synod in the way they are out in other circles. General Synod still doesn’t know who it has in its midst.

According to Christian Today one Synod member, who asked to remain anonymous, said conservative Synod members had deliberately withheld from taking to the floor to speak against the motion for fear of reprisals. “They didn’t dare to. There would have been screams of homophobia if anyone had dared oppose it,” he said. This would not have happened 10 or even 5 years ago. Then the conservatives were confident about their position of opposing equality for LGBT people. They are no longer confident, and it isn’t only for fear of accusations of being homophobic in General Synod. In UK society, and especially those under 40, the majority think conservative Christians are prejudiced and intolerant of sexual diversity in creation. The majority are not necessarily right, but on this issue, the Church is never going to convince them they are wrong.

In addition conservatives repeatedly distort facts to support their own version of the truth. This was shown in the way conservative sites reported Lorna Ashworth’s motion about ACNA. When your position is untenable, distort the facts. Reports about the Church of Uganda position paper on the Anti-homosexuality Bill were similarly inaccurate, as was the paper itself.

The Church of Uganda and other African Anglican churches certainly have no idea how many LGBT people worship with them Sunday by Sunday, people who either reject their church’s teaching and inwardly affirm their own identity or are deeply damaged and depressed by what they hear.

In England, the stance of churches towards equality for LGBT people in ordained ministry as well as in lay ministry and other posts will eventually be conceded, sooner rather than later if the church’s credibility and mission is to be maintained in this country.

I know I’m an eternal optimist and there are some mighty big obstacles to be overcome in the next two or three decades. But those forces which have attempted to split the Communion have failed to do so thus far, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t do everything in our power to maintain the unity of the Communion at the same time working towards full recognition for LGBT people in every Province.

Where others in the Communion have a narrow view of a God who is primarily exclusive and judgmental, we have to live into our experience of God who has created us gay and loves us gay and is calling us to transform the Church and bring another dimension of the Kingdom into being.

Truth will out - the truth about LGBT people in our Communion and the truth about the way in which people are selectively using the Bible to oppose homosexuality when they hold divisive views about women in the church, marriage and divorce.

I will be engaging with people this morning who also believe the unity of the Anglican Communion to be a ‘good thing’ but from a rather narrower ecclesiological and theological framework.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Changing Attitude Sussex launched in Brighton on Monday 8th February

Monday evening seems a long time ago, but I took the train from London to Brighton to address the inaugural meeting of Changing Attitude Sussex (which effectively covers the Diocese of Chichester). Around 70 people attended the meeting which was held in the Chapel Royal in North Street, a really beautiful venue.

Both the organisers of the meeting and myself were amazed at the numbers who attended. The clergy persons amongst those present were, of course, a sub-set of gay clergy in the diocese. My hosts pointed out that an unusually large percentage of the 350 priests in the diocese are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. A significant number are members of Forward in Faith and the last place they wanted to be seen was in the Chapel Royal, which is an inclusive church, at a meeting advocating honesty and inclusion for all gay people in the Chichester Diocese.

I wasn’t sure where to pitch my address. Having introduced myself and the ethos of Changing Attitude I opened the floor for questions and an amazingly cathartic hour followed. It was refreshing to hear people speak openly and honestly about themselves as LGBT Christians, about Chichester’s attitudes to gay people, and the stance taken by the bishops.

Amongst the diocese's bishops there appears to be little real understanding of gay people. There is deep prejudice which creates a climate of fear and mistrust and this makes the lives of gay clergy very difficult. I had hoped to meet John Hind at General Synod and talk with him about Monday evening’s launch, but our paths never crossed. He seems to live in denial of the reality over which he presides – a diocese with so many LGBT people, lay and ordained, whom he probably divides into sheep and goats – those who are anti-women bishops and those who are failing to conform to the church teaching he would want to impose. This is particularly the case in the east of the diocese where the are bishop is president of the Church of England Evangelical Council.

I hope the new Changing Attitude group will bring courage to those who want to change the diocesan culture and bring honesty and integrity to a diocese which, in attitudes towards LGBT and women, is sadly lacking.

The Sussex group will be campaigning to get a number of churches in Brighton to register officially with Changing Attitude as ‘Open and Welcoming Congregations’ to gay people. They also intend to compile a ‘Which Church?’ dossier for gay people dividing churches into four categories from ‘open and welcoming’ to ‘judgemental and rejecting’.

The provisional group convenor, Keith Sharpe, said in a press release:
‘as the British Social Attitudes Survey recently showed, attitudes to same sex relationships have become much more liberal. In the Church however things are getting worse not better. Church leaders increasingly make overt homophobic statements which foster hatred and bigotry and demonise gay people. It is very damaging for gay people’s mental health to find themselves in a judgemental and rejecting church, and we hope that our ‘Which Church?’ dossier will give them the information they need to make an informed choice. We also hope the publicity surrounding the dossier will encourage more churches to reconsider their position and become open and welcoming.’
For further information please contact or visit

Thursday 11 February 2010

General Synod approves pension parity for Civil Partnerships

At the conclusion of an extremely good debate in which every speaker voiced unprecedented approval for Civil Partnerships, in a vote by Houses, Synod approved Mark Bratton’s motion unaltered by the amendments proposed by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and by Philip Giddings. The voting figures were Bishops, for 12, against 2, abstentions 3, Clergy for 97, against 23, abstentions 10, Laity for 78, against 59, abstentions 9.

The motion read:
That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council and the Church of England Pensions Board to bring forward changes to the rules governing the clergy pension scheme in order to go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provide for pension benefits to be paid to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.

To be honest, I’m astonished. This isn’t the result I expected. The cumulative effects of the week at Synod from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology and very strong comments about the Uganda Bill in his Presidential Address on Tuesday to the Church of Uganda’s decision not to support the Anti-homosexuality Bill to this afternoon’s debate suggest significant movement in the Church of England’s attitude to homosexuality. In the period since gay Tuesday two years ago, the Church seems to have changed its attitude even more radically in understanding the issues of generosity and inclusion which affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The big issues of equality and inclusion still have to be faced – real quality for LGBT clergy and lay ministers and the celebration of Civil Partnerships in church – but unless I am very mistaken, our church is learning and changing and this is a cause of real thanksgiving and celebration.

The amendments would, from Ripon and Leeds, have offered hardship grants rather than pension equality and from Philip Giddings, have extended equality to any qualifying relative living as a member of the deceased’s household for more than 5 years. Both amendments were lost, the first by 110 to 154, the second on a show of hands.

Giles Goddard was called first in the debate and in a confident maiden speech, said that this was about justice, generosity and care. Stephen Coles declared that he had a strong interest at the beginning of his speech and John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, added strong support.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was strongly affirming of LGBT people in his Presidential Address before offering a profound apology. He said:

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation. There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.

He also expressed repugnance at the infamous legislation being discussed in Uganda and in comments about the Anglican Communion, said:

“There is an undoubted good in the independence of local provinces, and there is an undoubted good in the fact that some provinces are increasingly patient, compassionate and thankful in respect of the experience and ministry of gay and lesbian people – entirely in accord with what the Lambeth Conferences and Primates' statements have said.”

It wasn’t all good news, but throughout this week at Synod, there has been much stronger recognition of the reality of LGBT lives and ministries in our Church and for that, I am quietly thankful to God.

Lorna Ashworth’s motion about the Anglican Church in North America

Suffragan Bishop David Anderson, President and CEO of the American Anglican Council based in Atlanta, has been present at General Synod this week and I’ve enjoyed two lengthy conversations with him. We had met previously at TEC General Conventions and ACC meetings. I start with David because we had a genuinely easy conversation, but I want to write about the distortion of reality which characterises the conservative reporting of events.

Bishop David was here with the four ACNA leaders who spoke at a fringe meeting organised by Anglican Mainstream on Tuesday lunchtime. I was present at the meeting, illicitly because the Bishop of Winchester who chaired said at the beginning (looking directly at me, I thought), this meeting is open only to members of General Synod, asking anyone else present to leave. I remained in my seat, waiting to be named. I’m sorry, bishop, for having ignored your request.

The four speakers at the meeting representing the Anglican Church in North America were Bishop Donald Harvey, Mrs. Cynthia Brust, Dr. Michael Howell, and the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum. They were confident and convincing in their presentations and any one not knowing better would have been convinced by what they said. Speakers from The Episcopal Church would have been equally passionate and convincing. That’s what North Americans are like.

Yesterday I met one of the BBC reporters covering Synod. What they said isn’t true, he commented, having visited both TEC and ACNA parishes. ACNA distorts statistics to their advantage and are riven with tensions and disagreements. ACNA is an unstable network. This is very different from the idealised picture presented on Tuesday of a network which is modelling Anglican breadth and inclusiveness with far more success than we in the Church of England have ever been able to achieve.

Could their picture be true? Let’s look at the way conservative groups, including ACNA itself, are reporting yesterday’s debate on Lorna Ashworth’s Private Member’s Motion.

The Anglican Mainstream headline is ‘ACNA a member of the Anglican Family says Church of England General Synod’.

David Virtue headlines his article: ‘ACNA recognised in spirited debate by Church of England Synod’.

The ACNA website reports: ‘General Synod affirms Anglican Church in North America’.

The Bishop of Bristol’s amendment does none of the above. It recognises and affirms the desire of ACNA to remain in the Anglican family; it does not recognise ACNA nor say ACNA is a member of the Anglican family nor affirms ACNA.

The conservative reports reveal their desperation to be recognised as members of the Anglican family and the lengths to which they will go to convince themselves by totally distorting the truth. This is a repeated characteristic of conservative groupings.

Comments on the Stand Firm web site reinforce this inability to tell the truth. Baby Blue, who has generously acknowledged me in the past, writes that “the Church of England recognizes the ACNA. We are not ‘schismatics.’” Sorry, but no, the Church of England did not do that yesterday. Baby Blue claims it is brilliant and changes the whole conversation because ACNA remain Anglicans in the eyes of the Church of England. I think she and other commentators are grasping at straws. Many of those asking questions at the fringe meeting on Tuesday were critical of what they had heard. The first questioner asked whether those on the panel were all in denial about what is happening in North America. Another asked whether they were saying the Episcopal Church is not now part of the Anglican Communion, such was the distorted impression they created. Cynthia Brust pointedly refused to answer the question.

Still on Patrol’s analysis on Stand Firm started with the thought that “the C of E passed something expressing generally positive sentiments toward ACNA which probably infuriated the Presiding Heretic which by definition is a good thing.” This kind of abuse towards the Presiding Bishop and The Episcopal Church is characteristic of the attitudes held by conservatives and revealed by Stand Firm and VirtueOnline. They are not Christian. They are poisonous.

The debate itself was brutally interrupted by a malfunction of the electronic voting system which caused a long hiatus while arrangements were made to vote through the lobby doors. It was a mess in the middle of a debate was something of a mess, avoiding the underlying issues and the ultimate need for Christians to be reconciled with each other.

I asked Bishop David Anderson where he thought ACNA and TEC would be in North America in 10 or 20 years. He had no idea. If we are not working towards a reconciliation and reintegration of churches and ministries, then we are failing to pursue fundamental Christian ideals. At the same time, I affirm that Changing Attitude can envisage nothing other than a fully inclusive Church in which the ministries of women and LGBT people are fully integrated into the life of the Church.

At the moment, there is a visceral hatred of women priests and bishops and a loathing of gay people in ministry among certain groups and networks. Thank goodness for John Ward, lay member for the Diocese of London, who brought personal reality into yesterday’s debate when he spoke to his amendment. We are talking about people who have left and walked away from the Communion, he said. He talked of his 14 year relationship with the man who is now his Civil Partner and linked the gay issue and Gene Robinson’s ordination with those he cannot affirm because they have split over the issue. He asked permission to withdraw his amendment and received the warmest applause of the afternoon for his honesty and generosity.

At the moment, all groups in North America are finding it impossibly difficult to be honest and generous towards each other. My conversations with David Anderson told me that we can be friends and acknowledge each other’s humanity, but only when we set aside differences over gender and sexuality. One-to-one we can do that, but in the arena of Church politics and structures it is at present impossible. People prefer to carry their prejudices, projections and demands for a Communion that excludes certain categories of people.

It isn’t difficult for Changing Attitude to stand firm with those who want women and gay people fully included in our Communion. It’s much more difficult to work and pray for an outcome in which present divisions are reconciled and all are united in one Communion. It is a dream which we have to try and turn into reality. We must refuse to be corrupted by the distortions of reality which characterise conservative campaign strategy.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Church of Uganda issues position statement opposing Bahati Anti Homosexuality 2009 Bill

Where to begin? So much has happened since I last blogged and there a several stories which I want to write about.

Let’s begin with Uganda and gug’s latest blog.

“At last the Anglicans in Uganda have decided that a good Anglican cannot support the Bahati bill.

“Thanks to all people who pulled and pushed for us. Changing Attitude England, Leonardo pushing and pulling and ranting and reving, and all Christians out there. Archbishops of York, Canterbury. Cant forget you guys. You weighed in late, but you did.

“You may wonder what it does for the bill? Just remember, the bill is only a symptom of the homophobia in Uganda. It has to be undercut. Uganda must be safe for those of us who will live there. And, never again to Genocide, which this bill is.

“Here, at long last, is the absolute about turn from Uganda’s Anglicans.”

Gug's blog is based on a report carried in the Ugandan Monitor. The full text of the Church of Uganda’s statement is here.

The Church of Uganda associates itself with the concerns expressed in the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 but instead of a completely new Bill, recommends a Bill that amends the present Penal Code. The Church of Uganda does not support Bahati’s Bill.

The stance of the Ugandan Church distances itself from support for the present Bill and would effectively kick the whole process into the long grass. They propose amending existing provisions by means of a new Bill which might be called “The Penal Code Unnatural Offences Amendment Bill” and recommend that a comprehensive legislative and literature review of all the laws and literature related to the subject at hand be undertaken in order to identify the actual gaps in the existing legislation.

The position statement is cleverly worded. It doesn’t explicitly state opposition to the Bill but effectively does so by recommending the introduction of a completely new Bill. If the Bahati Bill is passed, the Church of Uganda will be on record as not having supported it. If the Bill fails to pass, will there be any traction behind the proposal to amend existing legislation? I doubt it.

The Church of Uganda proposals for the new Bill addresses three loopholes: protecting the vulnerability of the boy child; proportionality in sentencing; and ensuring that sexual orientation is excluded as a protected human right.

Changing Attitude welcomes the first two proposals. Girl children are protected under existing legislation against abuse by adults. Boy children are not and must be. The paper doesn’t explain what is meant by proportionality in sentencing, but I understand it to mean opposition to the death penalty, which we also clearly welcome.

We disagree with the proposal to exclude sexual orientation as a protected human right. This is in contravention of Anglican Communion policy. Lambeth 1.10 recognises the reality of homosexual orientation and assures us that we are full members of the Body of Christ. The Church of Uganda has yet to accept Lambeth 1.10 in its entirety. Likewise with Dromantine which unreservedly commits the Communion to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people and describes the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex as anathema.

To its credit, the Church of Uganda commits to ensure that the law protects the confidentiality of medical, pastoral and counselling relationships, including those that disclose homosexual practice in accordance with the relevant professional code of ethics. There are members of the Church of Uganda engaged not in the counselling approach advocated by ex-gay ministries but are in accord with professional, non-judgmental practice.

This part of the position statement is clearly in conflict with other recommendations. It uses the phrase ‘homosexual disorientation’ which a professional counsellor would never use. It would prohibit and penalise homosexual behaviour and links homosexuality with sexual perversion.

But this is a dramatic change from the Church of Uganda and Changing Attitude welcomes their opposition to the Bahati Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Sexuality and Human Flourishing

Changing Attitude was one of five national organisations which together organised a very successful conference in Birmingham on Saturday. The other groups were The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, Inclusive Church, LGCM and The Sybils, with Church members from Norwich and Birmingham. The conference was designed to explore and celebrate our relationship with God, with each other and with our inner selves, and for me, it opened windows onto all three.

The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, Priest-in-charge of Edgbaston Old Church, introduced the day and welcomed the two speakers who delivered addresses in the morning. The Revd Arnold Browne talked about Sexual Diversity in Scripture and Tradition and Alison Webster about Sexual Diversity in one human journey.

Lively 5 minute buzz groups followed each talk, and the 100 or so conference participants then separated into ten groups to discuss questions arising from the talks and their own experience. Group themes included Parenting; Issues with the Church; Christian Ministry; Cultural Loyalties; Issues at Work; To disclose or not to disclose? and Under Pressure.

Lunch followed with soup provided by the local group. While most were enjoying lunch, members of CSCS met in the side chapel and held their AGM. CSCS has had a good year, partly reinvigorated by involvement in the Conference which had happened as a result of their initiative. Finances are healthy and a new chair and treasurer were elected, with Jane Frazer standing down as chair and Daphne Cook as Treasurer.

We reassembled for a panel of speakers who were chaired by Brian Thorne and invited to share their own pitfalls, opportunities and spiritual resources on the journey.

We split into groups again for another 50 minutes. Discussion in my group second time around was fired by what we had heard from the panel. People wanted to know how they could bring pressure on the Church and especially on bishops, who seem to live in a fantasy world disconnected not only from LGBT Christians but from majority opinion in our congregations.

Tea and coffee followed with a fabulous range of cakes, and the final plenary session brought as much as possible together in the last 20 minutes.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Anglican attitudes maintain regimes of terror and inhumanity against LGBT people

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people hurt, deeply and painfully, as a result of Christian attitudes towards homosexuality. I am old enough and I have a secure-enough sense of myself not to feel pain most of the time now. But tens of thousands of LGBT people do. It’s an intolerable outrage and it takes a person like gug, the gay Ugandan, to describe the feelings and the scenario in which gay people the world-over endure the intolerance and prejudice of well-meaning Christians.

Gug has been coming out to his brothers (of which he clearly has many) one by one - yesterday to another. He doesn’t want them to discover from the TV that their brother is an out and out homosexual. He tells them quickly, not giving them much time to digest the news, because for him it’s a stressful, embarrassing task.

The brother goes and tells my dad, who was 72 yesterday, something about it. His dad is an elder of the village, the clan, the tribe. He has taken a lifetime of work to get to this position of respect. He was not happy with the news. The old man has designated gug, the second son, the apple of his eye, as heir apparent.

He has pleaded with gug to get married. He even offered gug a girl, but he laughed at him and said no thanks. Then his father told him, at least have children. Then, a year ago, he pleaded please have at least one child, even if it is a girl. Gug was deaf to his entreaties
His whole day was spoilt yesterday but today he tried to cover up the loss that he felt, even though it hurts, very badly. It hurts. But he cannot respect his dad’s request to remain silent, not with the threat of life imprisonment and death for gays in Uganda. There is work to do with the bill still before parliament.

Today he concluded his blog by referring to a swell office spac right in the middle of town on Kampala Road, the home to Andrew Wormack's ministries and books. He is an American evangelist married to a Ugandan woman, and robustly defends the Bahati Bill. Gug wants to know why any sane human being would support the Bill. I wondered why conservatives and so-called orthodox Christians claim, falsely, that homosexuality in Uganda is fuelled by western money and decadence, when American Christian money is channeled through Ugandan Christians to support the Bill and fuel their intense prejudice.

Gug reports a story from the USA, about Moses, a gay man from Uganda seeking asylum in the United States, who gug thinks he knows as a gay Christian with an interesting story to tell. Read gug’s own blog here.

Moses gave a chilling account of the harassment and terror he withstood growing up in Uganda. He addressed reporters with a paper bag over his head to conceal his identity, speaking of how in Uganda, “one would rather die than come out of the closet,” because LGBT people are so terrorized in a culture that portrays homosexuality as “deviant” behavior. He described being beaten at school and living in constant “fear of rejection, fear of isolation by my family, making my family a laughingstock... fear of losing friends, fear for my life.” He experienced a “constant feeling of shame,” and ultimately abandoned his studies and lost his job.

Moses said that he was raped by a policeman, but feared seeking medical attention because “if I told health workers they would not give me help. They would instead report me, and the next day I would hit the headlines in the newspaper.” Moses displayed lists of suspected homosexuals published in Ugandan newspapers with headlines like “Top Homos” and “Homo Terror.” People lost their jobs and received death threats as a result of their names being published, he said.

These are the experiences of gay Ugandans and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the Anglican Communion. Our Communion is complicit in terrorizing and persecuting gay people. The voices raised against such inhumane attitudes are still sadly few in the Communion despite the obvious Christian demand that gay people should be treated with equal dignity and respect. The poison is allowed to spread, and gay Christians wear paper bags over their heads to protect their identities and their life. Shame on the Anglican Communion and on all bishops who fail to denounce such inhumanity.

Time for resolute resistance and repeated challenges to a dishonest Church

I’m reading ‘Rowan’s Rule’, the Biography written by Rupert Shortt. This morning I reached the end of Chapter 3, ‘Where all the ladders led’, which deals with the Tony Higton motion in General Synod in 1987, the eviction of LGCM from St Botolph’s Aldgate in 1988 by George Cassidy, then Archdeacon of London, and Dr Rowan Williams’ Michael Harding Memorial Lecture ‘The Body’s Grace’ in 1989.

Dr Williams described the General Synod motion as a: “shabby compromise … held up by bishops as representing the ‘mind’ of the Church, and accorded something like legislative force.” He continued, “It is becoming harder all the time for a gay person to be honest in the Church. We have helped to build a climate in which concealment is rewarded …” And that was twenty years go.

Lisa Nolland and others have repeatedly criticized Changing Attitude for having published ‘Sexual Ethics’ on behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation, a report which included: “… we think it is important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace.”

Rupert Shott reminded me that ‘The Body’s Grace’ “… included a forthright defence of sex outside marriage in some cases. Dr Williams said: “… an absolute declaration that every sexual partnership must conform to the pattern of commitment or else have the nature of sin and nothing else is unreal and silly. People do discover … a grace in encounters fraught with transitoriness and without much ‘promising’ …”

Dr Rowan Williams, as he was then, articulated ideas about sexual encounters outside of marriage which are very similar to the thoughts of those who contributed to the Consultation Sexual Ethics report. Quite possibly Rowan’s words were consciously or unconsciously in mind. Lisa would no doubt criticise Rowan for holding such thoughts. I still believe such an attitude towards sexual encounters to be congruent with Christian ethical teaching.

I don’t know whether Rowan Williams the private person would still hold to the same views now. What alarms me is that as Archbishop of Canterbury, he presides over a House of Bishops (which includes patrons of Changing Attitude) that sends 8 Lords Spiritual to speak and vote in the Equality Bill debate last Monday week in defense of a position which continues to reward concealment in the Church by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and makes it as hard as ever for us to be honest with bishops and congregations. Thank God for those who are honest – but why was Lord Harries of Pentregarth, also a CA patron, alone in voting for the relevant clauses?

This week, Pope Benedict XVI joined those Christian leaders arguing against equality legislation, indicating that equality for LGBT people will “… impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.” This is clearly not true but a myth successfully created by conservative Christians opposed to any action which enables LGBT people to open and honest rather than concealing our identities.

The Pope and Church of England Bishops together argue that Churches should have the freedom to be prejudiced, unjust, dishonest and discriminatory. Dr Rowan Williams was right to argue in 1989 that the Church wrongly rewards concealment by LGBT clergy and encourages dishonesty – dishonesty by archbishops, bishops and opinion-formers in the church as well as by LGBT people.

The Churches think defeating the amendment enshrines their right to act in a discriminatory way against us. In truth, the exemptions remain where they have been since the Bill was first passed. The bishops’ opposition makes gay Anglicans more resolute when confronted with bigotry and prejudice in the Church. In a comment on Thinking Anglicans, Craig Nelson, a supporter of Changing Attitude, says it is time to bear witness in a clear, resolute, respectful and peaceful way – and we will!

Like the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church is officially against the demonisation of gay people; yet cardinals and archbishops regularly do so - apparently the Archbishop of Mechelen and Primate of Belgium said that homosexuals were like anorexics on TV a fortnight ago and Mexico's Cardinal Barragan said two months ago that gay people will never enter heaven. The Church of Uganda, meanwhile, remains silent in the face of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which threatens execution and life imprisonment.

What is so intolerable in the light of the views expressed by Dr Rowan Williams two decades ago is the failure of English and Ugandan bishops to understand what the Dromantine Statement means when it commits the Anglican Communion unreservedly to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people, assuring us that we are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best bishops can give of pastoral care and friendship. Do the bishops really think these commitments are fulfilled by silence in the Uganda Church about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and opposition in England to the Equality Bill amendments?

No they are not, and Changing Attitude will pursue our bishops until as a House they have the guts to be honest about the LGBT clergy they license and support in private (or conduct witch-hunts against in some dioceses) and learn from Dr Rowan Williams’ prophetic remarks from a time before he assumed responsibility for the unity of the Anglican Communion.