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.