Monday 26 April 2010

St Paul sowed the seed for a new paradigm for Christianity and the unfolding of a new Christian vision

At the moment, in different areas of my life, in my local parish and Changing Attitude networks, I’m encountering people who are longing in their hearts for something different from the church. Their longing transcends frustration and anger with the church which doesn’t ‘get’ LGBT people and ties itself in knots as it struggles to make space for women in the House of Bishops. Why are we expending so much time and energy on these issues, they ask, to the almost total neglect of people’s spiritual experiences and their yearning for spiritual vision and nurture?

Total neglect is an unfair assessment. There is, in many places in the Church of England, a flourishing depth of prayer and spirituality, but it is often peripheral to the habitual life of the church as manifested on Sunday mornings or in PCC meetings. Teaching and preaching rarely embrace the vision of what it could mean to be fully human and fully alive, as I’m sure the majority of you reading this know only too well.

There is a yearning among Changing Attitude supporters and trustees for a transformation of the church, for the courage to take risks and explore and experiment with language and music, stillness and silence, visual imagery, creative use of space, thinking outside the box – and freedom from those who trap us in a church bent on self-preservation and the maintenance of tradition, addicted to what I would see as peripherals.

St John’s Devizes held it’s AGM yesterday. Most of those who spoke voiced complaints and moaned about this and that. No, said one person, to a reordering of our church if it means making it warm, user-friendly and carpeted like a recently reordered local church. Consider the (poor, hard-done-by choir) said another, forced to robe in the challenging circumstances of finite space. ‘Twas ever thus, and, it seems, ever shall be.

Thank God, therefore, for Clive Larsen and Jenny Clark, one recently appointed, one recently retired as a trustee. Both of them engage me with new paradigms for Christianity and a new unfolding of the Christian vision. They have introduced me to CANA, Christians Awakening to a New Awareness and to the Wrekin Trust.

CANA is a loose-knit community of explorers who have Christian roots and share different experiences and insights for living out the teachings of Jesus in holistic and integrated ways. They are open to the moving of the Spirit to seek and explore God and the spiritual dimensions of life in a way that is open-ended and free from the boundaries that most religious frameworks and structures have imposed.

CANA recognises that we are all one through that of God within us from whatever background we come. It is a group where risk becomes safe through trust and where exploration is key. Everyone’s contribution is a valued part of the whole and none is dispensable. We are challenged to find new expressions of the emerging vision: global, ecological and mystical.

The Wrekin Trust is not specifically Christian. It is part of a world-wide movement towards personal and planetary transformation at a time of major social change. It seeks to awaken and revitalise a spiritual dimension in society and to encourage the emergence of a culture of love, healing and forgiveness, wisdom and harmony with nature.

The Wrekin Forum’s purpose is to empower and support a deeper connection between visionary organizations and individuals whose approach is based on holistic, spiritual and ecological principles. By exchanging ideas and perceptions and by combining resources and skills, a greater synergy can be created.

The Wrekin Forum’s guiding principles are:
The interconnectedness of life and the unity of consciousness
The intrinsic value and potential of each individual
A deep respect for the wellbeing of all interdependent life forms
A planetary ethic of interdependence
The recognition that diverse faith traditions and secular knowledge contribute to our collective wisdom
Mutual learning through open inquiry

The work of Changing Attitude is inspired by many diverse sources, scriptural, traditional, radical and liminal. Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, who descended to earth “… is none other than he who ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill the universe.” (Ephesians 4.10) He has given us gifts in ministry “… to equip God’s people for … the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity inherent in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God – to mature personhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.12,13)

Both CANA and the Wrekin Trust help me catch St Paul’s extraordinary vision of what it can mean to be growing towards maturity as a person and of the presence of God in all creation, filling the universe transcending all dualism and human divisions. I pray that those pursuing their particular agenda in the Global South may also catch something of St Paul’s sublime, expansive and all-embracing vision of God, woven into creation.

Colin Coward

Saturday 24 April 2010

The LGBT Anglican Coalition met in London today for the third time

The LGBT Anglican Coalition met in London today for the third time
The eight groups who form the Coalition have agreed to meet every six months with the objective of providing UK-based Christian LGBT organisations an opportunity to share resources for the Anglican community and develop resources for the full acceptance of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion.

We spent the morning focussed on organisational details – media releases, website content and management, how we deal with email enquiries, the purpose of the group (which inevitably provoked a complex discussion), the creation of a welcoming and open churches register and who might participate in ‘A Conversation Waiting to Begin’.

Andrew Marin, author of ‘Love is an Orientation’, had been invited to join us for the day. In the afternoon he told the story of how, when he was 19, each of his best (and only friends) came out to him as lesbian and gay, and how he inadvertently outed them to each other.

Andrew has been in the UK at the invitation of Spring Harvest where he addressed 1,000-strong audiences on multiples occasions in Skegness and Minehead. His experience there reinforced what I have been learning from conversations with young people in Africa and the Caribbean and from the Barna Group research published in ‘unchristian’ and anecdotally in the UK. Young Christians attending Spring Harvest don’t share their elders’ conservative evangelical attitudes to homosexuality. It isn’t an issue for them, they have been longing to be given space to talk about it, it isn’t an issue for them and the judgmental stance of older people leaves them baffled.

A dramatic change took place this year at Spring Harvest. Homosexuality was discussed openly, Andrew’s sessions were attended by huge crowds longing to engage (something the leadership hadn’t been prepared for) and many young LGBT people came out for the first time at Spring Harvest. Andrew is continuing to work with the team, exploring new initiatives based on the ‘Living in the Tension’ gatherings which form a key part of his work with the Marin Foundation in the USA.

Groups in Chicago and elsewhere meet twice a month for 90 minutes, people coming together from a diverse spectrum, LGBT and straight,, ex-gay, conservative, orthodox, liberal, radical, Christian, agnostic, atheist, where openness is expected, pat answers are challenged and all are expected to engage and contribute.

Andrew sowed the seeds for a number of practical ideas with the Coalition. We are already committed to a conversation with a number of conservative evangelicals and a group was authorised to take this forward. With Andrew’s help, we hope to find other ways in which we can live into the tension with those who hold a range of views about sexuality and faith.

Conversations in the Anglican Communion about human sexuality are plagued by the polarised views of extremists at either end of the spectrum – those who place their faith in the ex-gay movement at one end and those committed to human rights at the other. It is a struggle to find people willing to engage in conversations which can live into the tension.

Andrew Marin has been led by God into a ministry which is achieving something of a revolution in the USA, from Boy’s Town, Chicago to the White House in Washington. The work of his foundation is successfully bridging differences in people’s attitudes and bringing them together in a journey to mutual respect. I hope and pray that something similar can happen here, in communities across the UK.

Colin Coward

Friday 23 April 2010

What has emerged from the Fourth Global South to South Encounter in Singapore?

The Global South Encounter ended today when the Fourth Trumpet was issued. Most of its content is very predictable but there are things of more value to be learnt from other reports about the Encounter.

Two proposals

The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of the Middle East, proposed a new global Anglican structure to compensate for the ongoing 'ecclesial deficit' in the communion and sustain and enhance Christ's mission. He later clarified his idea saying that he was proposing a new structure for the global South only and not the Anglican Communion as a whole but some nevertheless saw it as an unofficial declaration of the Global South's independence from official Anglican Communion structures.

The second proposal came from Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda. He called for an Anglican Ecumenical Council of the worldwide Anglican Communion which he believes will bring to an end a dozen years of primatial communiqués, reports and endless talk of "process" and "listening" that has achieved nothing to resolve the crisis of faith and leadership within the Anglican Communion.

Kolini argued that the renewing of the Anglican Communion through such an ecumenical council would be binding on the church with Scripture as the church's supreme authority. Those provinces and dioceses that would not accept the Council's authority would place themselves outside the communion.

David Virtue claims than an archbishop told him; "The Ecumenical Council is the way forward. This is an unstoppable movement not another communion. We will prevail. The trumpet blast is the call for a new Council. The hope is that we can get it done this year."

The reality is that such proposals have been made repeatedly at Global South gatherings. The Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t going to call an emergency Primates meeting or an Anglican Ecumenical Council. The only way that Archbishop Mouneer Anis’s idea can come to fruition is if the Global South formally declares schism and claims to be the real Anglican Communion by the number of member it has. They haven’t declared schism yet and I wouldn’t bet on it happening this year.
Positive qualities

I’m grateful to Father Ron Smith who found the time to watch the video clips of talks give by the Primates of The Middle East, and Singapore. Commenting on Thinking Anglicans, he said that Archbishop John Chew’s was strangely moving. The Archbishop urged the delegates to listen to the message of Isaiah in the Suffering Servant passages. Father Ron saw hope for the Gospel of God's radical love and forgiveness to be taken seriously - by those of the Global South, as well as the rest of us. He also listened to Bishop Rennis Ponniah's Scriptural study on Isaiah.42:1-9 “…where he so beautifully speaks of God's love and compassion for ALL people.”

Father Ron reminds me that those gathered in Singapore are Anglicans, Christians on the road with us, and however uncomfortable they make life for us, they are still, like it or not, in communion with us. Neither side particularly likes this state of affairs, but I don’t believe we have the option (which they take to themselves) to say we are not in communion and do not recognize them. We in Changing Attitude recognize them and disagree totally with their attitude towards LGBT people.

Old guard and new recruits

David Virtue who was present in Singapore reported that the older generation of archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya, Central Africa and Rwanda are retiring while other Global South bishops in Singapore are new to leadership roles in the Anglican Communion and are not completely familiar with some of the personalities and the nuances of the Communion. Says David “…it will be important to get the new archbishops and bishops up to speed so they won't be blindsided by the power of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of ‘unity’.”

Some archbishops and bishops speaking to David Virtue in private expressed concern that Rowan Williams will try to exploit, conquer and divide the Global South bishops because many are inexperienced and lack the ability to challenge his authority. One archbishop apparently told David that +Rowan could exploit their inexperience, which anyone who knows +Rowan knows to be untrue. This shows the lack of respect some of the GS Primates have for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Nothing new there, but it’s always interesting to me that David Virtue wants to publicise the fact.

David thinks +Rowan “is trying to wait them out.” He knows the next generation needs a learning curve and “will exploit it and hopefully prevail. He can drag his heels with endless talk of ‘process’ and ‘listening’.”

American Conservative bloggers at war

David Virtue reported that “Everyone is upbeat, cheerful and at peace. The archbishops and bishops are smiling; they are not fighting liberal and revisionist archbishops and bishops who have a different religion. Only God knows what they really believe, but whatever truncated Christianity they have, you won't find it here. There is no tension here. There is joy and peace. No one is being asked to reconcile the irreconcilable. This is Anglicanism at its finest."
This is David’s typical idyllic, fantasy version of the reactionary and progressive parts of the Anglican Communion.

And then … on Tuesday Greg Griffiths (who wasn’t in Singapore) posted on Stand Firm that “...after Archbishop Rowan Williams' video address to the Global South-to-South Encounter audience was over, there was silence. No one applauded, and glances around the room revealed lots of head-shaking and eye-rolling.”

David Virtue (who was there) sent an email to various people which you can read here if you really need to. David abuses Stand Firm and uses language which, if Changing Attitude used such language, he would torment us with for eternity.

The comments thread on both Stand Firm and VirtueOnLine usually display the most prejudiced opinions in the Communion and the most vitriol towards the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop, +Gene Robinson and the Episcopal church in general. Commentators now turned their fire on Greg for having posted David’s email in the first place and on David for attacking Stand Firm (not for the first time) and for using such abusive language.

This outburst reminds me to continue live by faith, stay deeply centered in the love of God and continue to trust in the Kingdom qualities which Jesus proclaimed. There is, when all is said and done, something deeply unpleasant and totally unchristian among those who claim the Christian high ground. They accuse us of betraying the Gospel whilst doing the same themselves. It’s such an easy and cheap point to make against them, but when you are among those who have been repeatedly abused and vilified by the American Christian right, there’s something satisfying when they publicly reveal the true nature of their shadow selves.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Why are Global South leaders tempted to follow old-paradigm, British Colonial Christian ideas?

Yesterday’s lectionary readings from Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 2 set off a train of thought in me.

Deuteronomy gives substantial support (for those who give equal weight and authority to the whole of the Bible) to those who claim to be orthodox, conservative and evangelical in their commitment to a God of rules who wields power and authority. God has commanded Moses to teach the Israelites all the commandments, statutes and laws so that they may “fear the LORD your God and keep all his statutes and commandments.” (Deut 6.2) If they go after other Gods, “...the anger of the LORD your God who is among you will be roused against you, and he will sweep you off the face of the earth ...” (Deut 6.15) “The LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes and to fear the LORD our God...” (Deut 6.24) God commands obedience to law and is to be feared.

Paul on the other hand, writing to the church in Ephesus, reiterates again and again that it is by grace that we are saved (Eph 1.7, 2.5, 2.8), grace has immense resources (Eph 2.7). God has lavished on us all wisdom and insight (Eph 1.8) that we may know “how rich and glorious is the share he offers you among his people in their inheritance...” (Eph 1.18) and has raised us up “ that he might display in the ages to come how immense are the resources of his grace...” (Eph 2.7) because “...we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the life of good deeds which God has designed for us.” (Eph 2.10)

Now, if you are a Global South Anglican, the teaching of Deuteronomy is as much your guide as is Paul, and you can use Leviticus 18.22 to condemn LGBT people. It will be clear to Global South Anglicans that the grace and gifts lavished by God and described by Paul in Epehsians cannot apply to loving, partnered LGBT people. I, partnered, gay Colin Coward, am mistaken in my experience of the lavishness of God’s grace and God’s gifts and blessings on my life – not so?????

How has this state of affairs arisen? How can the Revd Dr Paul Swarup in the third thematic address in Singapore say that we can only be a light to the nations by following God’s instruction and pursuing justice and encouraged the Encounter delegates to pursue justice by calling people to be accountable, speak the truth in love and expose what is not of the Lord, which means, of course, exposing TEC, Mary Glasspool, Gene Robinson and all the faithfully partnered Christians in the Communion?

Let me float a theory. The ‘west’ - Britain in the case of Anglicanism - exported the Empire Brand, Colonialism, a system of power and control (and rape of other world resources) by ‘us’ over ‘them’ for our white, British benefit. The British integrated a version of Christianity into the British Empire Brand, modelled on Victorian colonial values and norms – hence, obedience to the Ten Commandments, to authority, to the teaching of law, not grace, and submission to the rule of God and the Queen, both symbols of supreme autocratic power. This model continues to work well for some authority figures in Africa, those who enjoy holding, wielding and abusing power and authority.

Meanwhile, many Anglicans follow an entirely different Christian model which bears little relationship to the brand exported to the colonies. The Colonial brand continues to achieve surprising success in various parts of the world, but would be the kiss of death for the UK and, in its extreme form, in the USA also.

What can we do about this dire state of affairs in which what I believe to be a largely misguided, old-paradigm, Empire Brand Christianity has become dominant and is accepted by the majority of adherents as historically orthodox and congruent with the teaching of Jesus? The answer to this question is what I am daily trying to work out as I live into my faith. I remember core truths - I remember that God is the loving creative energy at the heart of the universe, not Global South Primates and leaders. They have their place in the witness to Jesus Christ, but it isn’t at the centre controlling the destiny of all, which is where they are trying to place themselves this week in Singapore.

Colin Coward

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Fractious times in the Central African Province as clergy go unpaid while 4 clergy fly to Singapore

Anglican-Information – which calls itself ‘a voice for the voiceless’ in the Anglican Central African Province - issued e-letters this week revealing that the acting Dean of the Province, the Rt Rev’d Albert Chama (pictured below left) has flown to the Fourth Global South Encounter in Singapore accompanied by Bishops William Mchamba of Eastern Zambia and Godfrey Tawonzvi of Masvingo, Zimbabwe together with Fr Christopher Mwawa formerly Dean of the College of Christian Ministries, Diocese of Lake Malawi.

Currently, the clergy of Zimbabwe and Lake Malawi are unpaid, surviving by scratching a living from their smallholdings. The cost of the first class flights and accommodation for the four attending the Global South-South Encounter in Singapore roughly equals a whole year’s pay for the unpaid clergy of the Province. It is not clear where the finance for their attendance in Singapore has come from but Anglican Information assumes it is from conservative, schismatic North American Anglicans. Dismay and anger are now being expressed against the acting Dean for such a profligate waste of money.

Yesterday, a letter issued by the Diocesan Secretary of the Diocese of Lake Malawi announced a change in date for the consecration and enthronement of the Venerable Francis Kaulanda as the next Bishop of Lake Malawi. Originally scheduled to take place on Sunday 2nd May it has now been postponed to Sunday 9th May ‘in order to accommodate as many Provincial Bishops as possible’ says the letter. The real reason is the absence of the acting Dean of the Province and other bishops who have flown to Singapore.

Shockingly, the letter repeats a request for desperately needed funds for the Diocese. Donations tend to come largely from the UK and the USA, the very churches which the Global South Conference has been called to condemn. Donors are likely to think twice this time. As Anglican Information puts it, those attending the South-South Encounter “… are currently pursuing a fissiparous agenda in their battle against the American Episcopal Church and a disruptive and schismatic programme in the Anglican Communion.”

As I reported, Ian Earnest, the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean and a key member of the Global South-South Encounter, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury on 13th April insisting that at further meetings of Anglican Primates the North Americans should specifically not be invited. His presence combined with Albert Chama’s attendance affects Bishop James Tengatenga (pictured right) of the Diocese of Southern Malawi. Bishop James was elected chairperson of the Anglican Consultative Council at the Jamaica meeting last year. The ACC has, of course, been severely criticised by the Global South. Bishop James, whom I have met on several occasions, is currently on sabbatical study leave in the United States with the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana and Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare also have reason to feel aggrieved with Chama’s actions because they have been closely associated with the North American Churches and have remained loyal to Canterbury.

It is not clear where Albert Chama’s authority to attend on behalf of the Central African Province has come from. He has neither the approval of the Provincial synod nor the support of the other bishops. By attending the Conference in Singapore he allows the Province to be counted as supportive of the schismatic movement, when this is clearly not the case.

The scenario in the Central African Province reveals the divisions which in truth underlie the false claims to represent a unified majority in the Anglican Communion made by the Global South leaders.

Colin Coward

Tuesday 20 April 2010

No escape for the Global South from the challenge to engage with LGBT Anglicans

The Global South leaders gathered in Singapore yesterday for the Fourth Global South to South Encounter. The theme of the Encounter is The Gospel of Jesus Christ —Covenant for the People; Light for the Nations.

The questions facing the Anglican Communion around the issue of human sexuality look radically different to a 64 year old gay man writing this in the Spring sunshine as he glances at the cherry blossom in a Wiltshire garden, compared with the view of the Global South leaders in Singapore or of the Archbishop of Canterbury sitting in Lambeth Palace.

In his introduction yesterday evening, Archbishop Peter Akinola, Chairman of the Global South Primates Steering Committee, said “People are perishing and we dare not remain silent. We must proclaim the Word that brings life and hope. I pray that we will have the inspiration and courage to do so.” It is the same word that brings life and hope to Global South leaders and LGBT Anglicans alike, the same Gospel, the same message from Jesus the Christ. It is the same word of life which is inspires them and us, because we are not in truth, ‘them and us’, but one in Christ.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people perish in the domains of the Global South because the Christian words preached by many Global South leaders are words of condemnation and prejudice, exclusion and judgment. There is no hope and no life for LGBT people in a gospel which wants us to conform to a heterosexual agenda and hetero-normativity, or thinks we are willing, for the sake of ‘Covenant values’, to endure enforced celibacy and emotional abuse at the hands of church leaders.

We are not prepared to endure such a life and never will. Neither will we allow ourselves to be excluded from the Communion by whichever group appoints itself ‘the orthodox majority.’

In his sermon later in the Cathedral, Archbishop Akinola asked, where are we to go from here now that The Episcopal Church has confirmed the election of Mary Glasspool and she is about to be consecrated? The ‘real’ mission of the Church, he said, “…is to make Christ known to all is suffering and in some cases neglected.” Surely, Archbishop, the real mission of the church is TO the suffering and neglected.

In the Archbishop’s Christian vision, we LGBT people, The Episcopal Church in general, Mary Glasspool and Gene Robinson in particular, are apparently part of the darkness which needs to be banished wherever it is found. LGBT Christians follow the light and live in the light, and Changing Attitude is attempting to extend the realm of light and banish the dark tomb in which Peter Akinola would like to incarcerate us.

In his message to the Fourth Global South to South Encounter the Archbishop of Canterbury said ‘all of us’ share the concern that the Episcopal Church has deepened the divide between itself and the rest of the Anglican family. Changing Attitude, with members in various parts of the Anglican Communion, does not share this concern. We welcome her election and imminent consecration which for many in the Church of England is a sign of light and hope that at least one Province in our Communion can do justice and walk humbly with our God.

The Archbishop says most Anglicans will want to express the sense that this decision cannot speak for our common mind. Supporters of Changing Attitude are not among that number. We ARE included among those who are willing to share a sense of repentance and a willingness to be renewed by the Spirit. For us, this means repenting of homophobia in the church and of the appalling prejudice and ignorance found in Anglican attitudes towards LGBT people. We want daily to be renewed by the Spirit in the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control.

The Archbishop speaks of allowing the Holy Spirit to lift our eyes to that broader horizon of God’s purpose for us as Anglicans, as Christians, and as human beings. There are indeed, as the Archbishop says, no quick solutions for the wounds of the Body of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit that heals the Body of Christ, not the plans or the statements of any group, or any person, or any instrument of communion. This will only happen as our Communion continues to engage with LGBT people where it has already done so, and has the courage to begin to engage where at the moment it maintains a stand-off.

There will be no cheap, simple, structural solutions to the conflict revolving around the presence of LGBT people in the Communion. Schism will resolve nothing because LGBT people will be present in every splintered fragment. Sooner or later, the churches will have to engage with us, including those who are priests, bishops and archbishops, learning from us and embracing us in Christ.

Colin Coward

Monday 19 April 2010

Working for change in contemplative and activist ways

In a recent comment posted on the blog, Erika Baker, contact person for Changing Attitude in the diocese of Bath and Wells, posed a question that I promised to respond to: “How can you be part of a pressure group created to change people's minds when you can no longer engage in the mind-numbing nonsense that is the de facto baseline of the debate?”

Erika said she had decided neither to get involved in futile arguments nor to allow opponents to set the framework of the conversation. Because there is little intelligent conversation to be had outside the a narrow set of parameters, she has pretty much opted out of the conversation altogether, no longer engaging where Changing Attitude needs to engage.

She ends up “just living, just worshipping, just focusing on God and my neighbour” but in doing experiences gain as well as a loss – and doesn’t know how to resolve the paradox.

I suspect Erika’s experience is common to many. Certainly it is shared by some of the people who I was on a 48 hour silent retreat with this weekend at Abbey House in Glastonbury.

I think that living, worshipping and focusing on God and neighbour are not “justs” - they are the essence. If 599 Changing Attitude supporters are focusing on self, God and neighbour in depth and ‘just’ one is engaging in the conversation, I doubt that our work would necessarily be any less effective.

Having said that, I think that being and doing are both important and of great value, but some may be called to ‘be’ and others to ‘do’, and some to both, and some to one or other at different periods of life.

In truth, the conversation about human sexuality in the Church of England is apparently going nowhere right now, especially for those LGBT Christians who experience a strong connection with God, friends and neighbours, and in the depth of their own heart and soul (though possibly they feel less connected when they step inside a church building or engage with their parish priest and local congregation, let alone bishop or diocesan structures).

We are being held by the church in a conversation that feels futile and which many of us are outgrowing. We are trapped in a dynamic which is spiritually and emotionally unhealthy for us and in truth, for those Anglican leaders and the 40million majority they claim to represent. They do not, as they imagine, represent pure Christian truth and orthodoxy. For a start, the leave no room for those called to leave home and family, security and safety, to journey into the wilderness to encounter God, sometimes in agonizing silence and sometimes in the most profound, loving presence.

I am consciously trying out new possibilities, new options for Changing Attitude, at the moment. One possibility is that we have been doing ourselves a disservice by engaging too much with the arguments and obsessions of those who oppose the full inclusion of LGBT people.

Those who ‘just’ live, worship, focus on God and neighbour, may be effecting changes in church attitudes just as powerfully as those who engage in conversation, dialogue and argument for change. I believe that change is ultimately most effective when generated from the grassroots, and not just by the grassroot activists but by those who ‘just’ are as fully and prayerfully themselves as possible.

The path to God in the depths of our heart and soul is not easy. It can be so much easier to live anywhere else but in the present moment and inside our own thoughts and feelings. Those who claim to be right because they lead majorities and experience dramatic growth in numbers and can interpret the Bible more accurately than anyone else are in truth fools.

Without calling others fools (because that would be to diminish their humanity and denigrate that which is of God in them), Changing Attitude supporters have somehow to live where we are, as we are, knowing that we often experience a profound relationship with God. Prayerfully and patiently we can demonstrate our truth and faith to other members of the Anglican Communion. One day, they will wake up, open their eyes, and see us for who we truly are.

Colin Coward

Friday 16 April 2010

Not in my name, George Carey

‘UnChristian’,the report of the research undertaken by the Barna group into the attitudes of 16-30 year old Americans by conservative, Born-again Christians, demonstrates that the strategies being followed by those who label themselves orthodox conservative Anglicans are detrimental to Christian mission, evangelism and witness, let alone being detrimental to the status and well-being of LGBT people.

Conservatives such as George Carey reinforce the younger generation’s experience of the church as being homophobic, too political, judgmental, hypocritical, insensitive and taken to demonizing sections of society.

Ruth Gledill wrote in her blog that Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and his fellow ‘victims’ are giving all Christians a bad name – too right! The lions don’t exist beyond their imaginations or the arena beyond their story books. She issued a challenge to liberals – time for us to stand up and say: “We will not be slain by this malevolent spirit, not even when the persecutors are our fellow Christians.”

George Carey is so very, very wrong every time in his interventions and his attempt to defend and protect the church as are the bishops of Winchester, Exeter, etc. He is utterly arrogant every time he claims to speak on behalf of ‘all Christians.’ In his statement, he says: “I am confident that I have substantial support from those in the Church of England and other Christian denominations.” Let me assure you, George, that you certainly DO NOT! You speak on behalf of a narrow-minded, defensive, insecure minority.

He is intervening with the judiciary to protect the prejudices of individual Christians in their stance at work towards LGBT people. The Court of Appeal makes ‘disturbing’ judgments and hold to ‘dangerous’ reasoning in his mind only because they uphold the equality law of the UK against a minority Christian mindset which is bigoted and narrow-minded.

Henry Orombi, Mouneer Anis and Ian Earnest pursue a similar, obsessive, selfish path in their demands that the Archbishop of Canterbury dances to their expectations. The younger generations in their own countries as well as Anglicans of a different mindset dismiss their attitude as arrogant, bullying and unchristian.

They put the Archbishop in an impossible position, one he has found it difficult to extract himself from, compromising his friendship with many erstwhile supporters. To exclude the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Primate of the Church of Canada from the next Primates meeting would be guaranteed to release a furious determination among liberals in the Church of England to fight every step of the way to protect a Christian ethos which is of the essence to us and which is being dramatically eroded by Carey, Scott-Joynt, Nazir-A;I, Oromibi, Anis et al.

Et al in the UK includes the appalling Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre who thinks "Recent decisions of the courts have illuminated insensitivity to the interests and needs of the Christian community and represent disturbing judgments.” She believes the decisions undermine religious liberties and affect the fundamental freedoms of every UK citizen. She thinks this is now a critical election issue. She’s off the wall. I’m a Christian and the courts aren’t insensitive to my needs as a gay priest.

The tragedy for us is that these people get reported as if they represent the majority of Christians in this country. They don’t, but when people read what they say, they think this is what Christians think and believe.

Enough of their arrogance and prejudice – it is time to reassert that Christians live by other values – and at least the authors of the report ‘UnChristian’ know what these values are – unconditional love, radical transparency, personal integrity, maturity.

Those of us who are gay, those who work for LGBT Christian equality, those who practice generous inclusivity and hospitality, have lived through more than two decades of abusive attitudes, Synod reports and of bishops claiming they know the mind of God and have the sole right to interpret scripture.

These Primates and bishops do NOT SPEAK IN MY NAME. I will NOT be slain by their malevolent spirit. Join Changing Attitude and help us change the ethos of the church from bigotry, intolerance and prejudice to truth, love, wisdom and a commitment to the Jesus of the Gospels who proclaimed justice and grace for all in the Kingdom of God.

Colin Coward
(Note: comments are now being moderated. I am away on retreat in Glastonbury with my parish until Sunday afternoon, and any comments will not be approved until then)

Monday 12 April 2010

Younger generation perceives conservative evangelical attitudes to LGBT people to be hypocritical, bigoted and prejudiced

I have been reading ‘unChristian’ what a new generation really thinks about Christianity ... and why it matters’. The book reports research conducted by David Kennaman and Gabe Lyons for the Barna Group.

The research is conducted from a theologically conservative, ‘orthodox’, born again tradition, ‘upholding the standards God has set’, believing that a commitment to Christ alters one’s destiny.

It is based on interviews with a representative sample of sixteen- to twenty-nine year olds, plus interviews with pastors and church leaders. The research finds that young people view Christians as unchristian and hypocritical. One of the key negative themes to emerge was that Christianity is thought to be anti-homosexual – no surprise to those of us engaged in working for a change in Christian attitudes towards LGBT people.

To quote the book: “Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians. They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them.” [p29]

Remember, this is a report written by and for conservative evangelical Christians who want to connect with and evangelise un-churched young people. The research shows that young people within conservative congregations share similar ideas. It is American research but there are surely lessons here those advocating ex-gay ministries in the UK and for those bishops who oppose equality legislation for LGBT people.

The fifth chapter deals with the young outsider’s perception that Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians. The chapter wants to create a new perception, that “Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.” That word ‘lifestyle’ gives away their stance – and the problem they face in trying to achieve their objective.

The research showed that:
“...the perception that Christians are “against” gays and lesbians – not only objecting to their lifestyles but also harbouring irrational fear and unmerited scorn towards them – has reached critical mass. The gay issue has become the “big one,” the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation.” [p92]

“Out of twenty attributes that we assessed, both positive and negative, as they related to Christianity, the perception of being antihomosexual was at the top of the list.” [p92]
The negative perceptions included being “judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocrites, insincere and uncaring.” Hostility towards gays has become “virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.” [p92]

The researchers encountered considerable resistance among some Christians towards having their views about gays and lesbians challenged whereas the new generation of adults has significantly shifted its view and now accepts homosexuality as a legitimate way of life.

It says the “...unconventional values of young adults will play an increasingly important role in shaping put society in the years to come, making it much more difficult for those with other views to achieve political traction in this area. As these new generations begin to make up a larger share of the public, homosexuals will gain greater rights and protections – and widespread acceptance – in our culture.” [p100] “The absence of relational and spiritual solutions to “the problem of the homosexual lifestyle” in conservative evangelical churches “has left the church particularly vulnerable.” “While most young churchgoers believe the Bible does not condone homosexuality, their conviction about this is waning, and they are embarrassed by the church’s treatment of gays and lesbians.” [p101]

Because young outsiders are very attuned to people’s hearts and motivations and their respect for others and relativistic viewpoints they “...value what they perceive to be a more embracing and accepting mindset within the gay community.” “Christians who show no compassion, kindness, or grace make them feel at odds with whom they want to be as people.” “If some people interpret the Bible to make gays out to be abhorrent creatures, and if Christians make homosexuals feel like second-class human beings, young Christians start questioning their own loyalty to the faith.” [all p103]

The chapter ends with a patronising conclusion: “If our theology says homosexuality is wrong and sinful, is it still true that homosexuals have deep sexual needs, just like the rest of us? How can we not utter compassionate words and perform compassionate acts?” [p108]

The problem for conservatives is their fundamentalist theological starting point. They are never going to resolve the problem the church has with homosexuality until they abandon it. Meanwhile they are doing incalculable damage to the church, to mission and ministry and to individual lives, as the Barna research so honestly reveals.

I have followed the news stories of the past week in the light of this research – the further revelations about the Pope’s collusion in protecting abusive priests and failing to protect victims of abuse in any way, the letter from Archbishop Henry Orombi to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the GAFCON/FCA Communiqué from Bermuda and another letter from retired Archbishop George Carey, the Bishop of Winchester and others.

All are manifestations of a Christianity which young people are rejecting en masse because they accurately perceive it to be hypocritical; abusive, judgmental, bigoted, prejudiced and unchristian.

Changing Attitude is working towards a very specific goal, the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Anglican Communion. We hail the approval given by the Episcopal Church to the ordination of the Revd Mary Glasspool as a bishop. We are glad that the Rev. Michael Barlowe -- married to his partner, the Rev. Paul Burrows, both friends of mine, is one of those standing for election as bishop of Utah.

Changing Attitude’s agenda clearly has to expand to embrace a holistic vision for Christianity which embraces all that is good and holy, including the lives and loves of LGBT Christians, articulating and arguing for a new paradigm, new rich wine in new bottles. I confess that until recently I have suppressed my conviction that this is the direction Changing Attitude needs to embrace. The Barna research demonstrates the urgency with which we need to challenge the reactionary conservative campaign against gays in the church.

Colin Coward

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Rowan Williams’ belief in the priority of personal relationships and explosive, puzzling resurrection experiences

What did we learn from the interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on ‘Start the Week’ yesterday? We learnt that the BBC blew up his comments about the Catholic Church in Ireland out of all proportion. What he actually said didn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic or critical as the news stories put out on Saturday.

I learnt that Rowan still expresses his ideas about faith and the Christian life in ways that are recognizable to me from his teaching and preaching thirty years ago at Westcott House.

Commenting about the problems the church has as a human institution I heard the Archbishop saying that the Anglican Covenant is dealing with the problems of the Communion at a structural, institutional level and it’s a short term solution to a long term problem which is in truth about personal relationships, not systemic problems. Doing work at this level as Archbishop is deeply frustrating and seldom feels as if it’s got much to do with the core of things, he said. There is a core, I heard him say, he is being distracted by arguments about things which are not that important to the essence of Christianity from focussing on what is of the essence.

The New Testament is witness to a central event, he said, the words of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and for Rowan also, the resurrection of Jesus, which caused such an explosion of ideas and puzzles that the language that exists can’t cope and you have a very complicated period during which the language is settling down in new ways and you then begin to see the emergence of bureaucracy, an institutional structure to hold it all. But no-one came along and said this is a really good idea, by which I take Rowan to be saying that it isn’t a good idea, just inevitable.

Lectionary readings for Easter Week provide a startling example of how the explosive experience became tamed and modified by those who in the aftermath of the resurrection picked up and immediately and dramatically modified the experience.

John’s tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first visitor the tomb, the first to tell others about the empty tomb, the first to meet the risen Christ. Luke tells us that Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Mary the mother of James an the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee were the first to find the stone rolled away, to hear news of the resurrection and report it to the eleven and the others. Later, Jesus appeared to men, to Simon, the two on the road to Emmaus and those assembled in Jerusalem.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 tell how he handed on the tradition he had received: that Christ was raised to life on the third day and appeared to Cephas and afterwards to the twelve and then to over five hundred brothers at once and then to James and afterwards to all the apostles. What happened to the women, Paul – to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary, the women from Galilee?

How easily the women were written out of the story, how quickly the early church made them invisible. The church continues to make women in the Gospels and the New Testament narratives invisible. How rarely, if ever, have I heard a sermon about women, the key witnesses to the resurrection and bringers of good news to the community.

Those Christians who direct us to the Bible as the sole authority and witness of the events of Jesus’ life and teaching direct us to the institution’s tamed narrative and away from the explosive ideas and puzzles referred to by Rowan. The transformed place of women in the inauguration of the Christian community is tamed as is the transformed place of all in the Kingdom of God. I don’t trust conservatives to be faithful guides to the true Gospel.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those in Changing Attitude working for our full inclusion are working for an explosive, untamed Christianity, to use the Archbishop’s own words.

The storm that raged on Saturday around his reported remarks about abuse and the Catholic church arose from the institution reacting and defending the system of theology and practice which, working in secrecy, creates the culture in which the abuse of children can take place. It then, outrageously, defends itself by turning the tables and blaming others for abusing the Pope – which is exactly the same strategy used by reactionary conservatives against LGBT Anglicans.

Colin Coward

Saturday 3 April 2010

Why has homosexuality become such a major issue for the church at this moment in human history?

There are clearly many contributory factors to this question, why homosexuality, why now? The campaigns for homosexual equality which arose after the Second World War is but one of the reasons. When asked for my own thoughts, one answer I give, not entirely glibly, is that God is forcing Christians to face up to and deal with the reality and complexity of human sexuality with honesty for the first time in 2,000 years.

I don’t think the Christian view of sex and sexuality is very healthy – perhaps we who are Christian simply reflect a generic human neurosis about being sexual. Others I have questioned about this tell me I am wrong, conservative heterosexual Christians in particular. Their own relationship with their sexuality may indeed be very healthy – but then why the obsession with homosexuality? The traditional Christian teaching and ethos of sexuality is clearly not healthy – it is fatally flawed. A number of Christian teachers including Paul and Augustine bear some responsibility (this is a briefish blog and I expect to be shot at from all directions!).

The major western denominations are living through unprecedented traumas relating to human sexuality – homosexuality in the Anglican Communion and paedophile abuse in the Catholic Church.

One argument in defense of the church says the level of abuse by priests is no different from the level of abuse in society in general. If the church really had a healthy view of human sexuality, a Christian ethos of sexuality, surely abusive sexual activity would be negligible.

On Good Friday Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher likened criticism of the Church over the sex abuse scandal to “collective violence” suffered by the Jews. The Catholic Church reactions to reports about priests abusing children are turned round to become reports of abuse against the Church and the Pope, a strategy deeply offensive to Jews. Both the Church and the Pope are corporately responsible for maintaining a culture which breeds abusive persons and fails to deal with it appropriately.

The Anglican Communion’s various strategic reactions to the challenges homosexuality varies from Province to Province as well as their being a corporate strategy. Pro-gay advocates distrust the corporate strategy fearing the Anglican Covenant will be used as a further instrument of abuse by inhibiting progress towards the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Communion.

In England, dominant conservative bishops argue for exemption from equality legislation and for ‘Issues’ and Lambeth 1.10 to be imposed as church policy. Both documents impose abusive rules for LGBT people. Reactionary conservative evangelicals and catholics deny the presence of healthy, faithfully partnered lesbian and gay people in their midst while attempting to impose their prejudice and fear on the whole church. They also contribute to the abusive culture of the church.
In Africa the church reacts by supporting punitive, abusive legislation against LGBT people and constantly repeating lies and myths about us.

The church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality is promoted within a general culture about human sexuality in the church which is in denial of reality, unhealthy and creates the breeding ground in which systemic abuse occurs.

I believe the edifice is crumbling, destroyed from within by 2,000 years of unhealthy teaching and attitudes towards sexual diversity, the status of women and the role of women in marriage among other strands, and destroyed from without by global social changes which are deconstructing unhealthy taboos (and at the same time grossly over-sexualise our culture – getting human sexuality into healthy balance isn’t easy!).

The church reacts defensively, the Catholic Church attacking it’s critics, the Anglican conservatives attacking LGBT people.

In his interview for BBC Radio 4's Start the Week programme to be broadcast on Monday the Archbishop of Canterbury names the abuse in the Catholic Church. This is the only way our churches will begin to confront systemic abuse and ultimately create an environment in which healthier attitudes to human sexuality can flourish.

Rowan Williams says the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility over the way it has dealt with paedophile priests. This has, he says, been a "colossal trauma" for the Church which has affected the wider public. A report in The Telegraph today says that an abuse hotline set up by the Catholic Church in Germany melted down on its first day of operation as more than 4,000 victims of alleged paedophile and violent priests called in to seek counselling and advice. The Telegraph says they are ‘alleged’ victims (I have corrected this sentence - surely they mean that the allegations are made against priests who abused children, not that someone is alleging that victims were abused?).

I note the language being used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, “colossal trauma”, and by Pope Benedict’s personal preacher, “collective violence”, and Andreas Zimmer from Germany, “that kind of an onslaught” and “an escalating abuse scandal that threatens the papacy”. The language used reflects the sometimes shocking, abusive culture of sexuality in the Church.

The churches have over the centuries internalized abusive attitudes towards human sexuality. Celibate Roman Catholic priests act out this culture by abusing children and young people sexually and according to other reports, adults including lay women and nuns. Anglican churches act out their inability to integrate sexuality by projecting their fears onto LGBT people. Meanwhile, others, thank God, pursue a calm, rational, intellectual, theological exploration of human sexuality from an emotionally secure interior self.

Meanwhile, LGBT Anglicans are angered by the outrages perpetrated against us and against women, children and young people. And if this chaos is indeed instigated by God after 2,000 years, then I pray the Church will be further humiliated, shamed and traumatised until she is able to totally re-examine her attitudes to human sexuality and create a culture of deeply loving, tender, respectful, intimate relationships based on truth, freedom and fidelity.
Tender God,
you have seen my affliction
and unbound my eyes;
you have bereaved me of the burden
to which I used to cling;
you have woven my pain
into patterns of integrity;
the wounds that I cherished
you have turned into worships,
and the scars I kept hidden
into marks of truth.
You have touched me gently;
I have seen you face and I live.

Passiontide canticle from Out of the Silence…Prayer’s Daily Round by Jim Cotter

Colin Coward

Friday 2 April 2010

Leading African clergy and civil society groups call on Uganda to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (a patron of Changing Attitude), the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr. Thabo Makgoba, Bishop Jo Seoka (Bishop of Pretoria), Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, (Priest in the Church of Uganda and Reverend Bongani Blessing Finca (former Commissioner of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Provincial Electoral Officer for the Eastern Cape, South Africa) have endorsed a statement calling on the Parliament of Uganda to reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in its entirety.

The statement also calls on African governments and the African Union to call on the President and Government of Uganda to withdraw the Bill and to respect the human rights of all in Uganda, without exception. The Archbishops, bishops and priests join more than 60 civil society and human rights groups from 10 sub-Saharan African countries and prominent individuals in affirming that the right of men and women to have same sex relationships is a fundamental human right.

When gug, the gay Ugandan blogger, forwarded the statement and press release to me on Monday the list of signatories included the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Reverend Henry Orombi and the Right Reverend Zac Niringiye, Suffragan Bishop of Kampala. Gug described it as an astonishing development and said he didn’t know why the change of heart had occurred. He couldn’t quite believe it. He was right to distrust those two signatures. It would indeed have been a dramatic conversion if the Primate of Uganda had endorsed a statement which says:

We believe that the Bill, if enacted, will cut deeply into the fabric of Ugandan society by–
Violating the rights of an already vulnerable and severely stigmatised group of persons by attacking their dignity, privacy and other constitutionally protected rights;
Disrupting family and community life by compelling everyone, by the threat of criminal sanction, to report those suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual activity;
Seeking to withdraw Uganda from the family of nations by reneging on the country’s international law obligations;
Undermining public health interventions such as HIV prevention, treatment, care and support;
Promoting prejudice and hate and encouraging harmful and violent action to be taken against those engaging in same sex relations.

Changing Attitude welcomes the fact that both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Cape Town endorsed the statement.

I asked gug in subsequent emails why anyone would have added the names of the Archbishop and Bishop. Doing so risked the danger of discrediting a powerful statement which leading Anglicans have signed. Gug didn’t know the answer.

The statement and press release can be read on Changing Attitude’s web site. The organisers say the list of individuals and organizations continues to grow and will be updated regularly.

The Province of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa had already issued a statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda on 19 February 2010:
We, the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, meeting at Thokoza Conference Centre, Swaziland, from 8 to 12 February 2010, are disturbed by the debate among Ugandan law-makers of a draft bill that seek to criminalize homosexuality and to prosecute gay people. It even proposes imposing the death penalty, which we regard as a breach of God’s commandment, “You shall not murder,” given in Exodus 20:13. We also deplore the statement, attributed to our fellow Bishop, describing those who are opposed to this legislation as “lovers of evil”. Though there are a breadth of theological views among us on matters of human sexuality, we see this Bill as a gross violation of human rights and we therefore strongly condemn such attitudes and behaviour towards other human beings. We emphasize the teachings of the Scriptures that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore must be treated with respect and accorded human dignity.

We are therefore also deeply concerned about the violent language used against the gay community across Sub-Saharan Africa. We thus appeal to law-makers to defend the rights of these minorities. As Bishops we believe that it is immoral to permit or support oppression of, or discrimination against, people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and contrary to the teaching of the gospel; particularly Jesus’ command that we should love one another as he has loved us, without distinction (John 13:34-35). We commit ourselves to teach, preach and act against any laws that undermine human dignity and oppress any and all minorities, even as we call for Christians and all people to uphold the standards of holiness of life.

We call on all Christians to stand up against this Bill so that its provisions do not become law in Uganda or anywhere else in the world. We also call on our President and law-makers to engage in dialogue with their counterparts on the rights of minorities.