Thursday 27 May 2010

General Synod members plan to flout ruling that ACNA clergy cannot exercise ministry in the UK

Christianity Today reports that so-called ‘orthodox’ Anglicans in North America are inviting priests in the Church of England to make a show of solidarity by taking part in a clergy exchange (or swap as they charmingly describe it). The exchange is being proposed following the consecration of Bishop Mary Glasspool last Saturday.

The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) has said the clergy exchange would be an opportunity for Church of England parishes and clergy to express their solidarity and friendship with ACNA churches. Participating clergy will serve the pulpit for a period of three to four weeks in January and July or August next year. This was expressly forbidden in a motion passed by General Synod last February.

Synod debated Lorna Ashwoth’s motion expressing the wish to be in communion with ACNA. An amendment was rejected that expressed "our desire that in the interim, the orders of ACNA clergy be recognised and accepted by the Archbishops subject to their satisfaction as to such clergy being of good standing, enabling them to exercise their ordained ministry in this country, according to the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967”. The final text recognised the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family and invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

The letter of invitation to Church of England clergy has been sent jointly by Paul Perkin, Chair of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland and Secretary Chris Sugden. The letter says: “Institutionally the CofE seems to be sitting on the fence. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the consecration of Mary Glasspool in TEC is 'regrettable'; yet the CofE has not fully embraced ACNA. An important contribution at this stage will be for parishes and clergy to express solidarity and friendship with clergy and parishes in ACNA.”

Chris Sugden and Paul Perkin have been disloyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England in their quest for an orthodoxy and tradition which is not Anglican. They are both members of General Synod.

Chris Sugden and Paul Perkin’s letter to C of E clergy invites them to disobey the rule which expressly does not allow ACNA clergy to exercise ministry in parishes in this country. Anglican Mainstream and ACNA want a free-for-all in the Anglican Communion, having advocated the crossing of Provincial boundaries for some years, and now telling priests to ignore the will of General Synod.

I happily ignore the will of General Synod as expressed in Tony Higton’s 1987 motion and of the House of Bishops as expressed in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and the House of Bishops’ pastoral statement on civil partnerships, but I am not a member of General Synod.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Having it both ways

Love it or hate it (and some people really hate it: see the website Platitude of the Day Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ can send out its listeners pondering, fuming, or laughing on their way to work. One of its best-known contributors – along with Rabbi Blue, Clifford Longley, Mona Siddiqui, Anne Atkins, Indarjit Singh and John Bell – is Bishop Tom Butler, the recently retired Bishop of Southwark.

Yesterday morning Bishop Tom woke people up, as they crunched their muesli, sipped their juice or second cup of coffee, by offering a gay-friendly ‘thought’. What! a Church of England bishop saying that gays are OK, civil partnerships acceptable, and Mary Glasspool, newly consecrated bishop of the Episcopal Church, a godly woman? Well, yes, and why not? Bishop Tom has used ‘Thought for the Day’ this way before, as when he famously claimed that women and gays were not a problem for the Church, but a gift (from God).

His latest comments, which go further than anything he has previously said, seem less remarkable when one takes into account the fact that he is now retired and can speak as a private individual rather than as a member of the House of Bishops, to belong to which one must subscribe to the teaching on (homo)sexuality contained in the document Issues in Human Sexuality. Why this discussion paper should have been accorded so much authority has never been satisfactorily explained, but the Church of England is saddled with it until more people, including those in authority, and with the power to challenge it, begin to publicly question it.

Which brings us back to Bishop Tom, who, yesterday, informed the nation that, like the Home Secretary, he has changed his mind on homosexuality, just as, a few years ago, he, and a majority like him, changed their mind about the remarriage of divorcees in church. Now, in fact, this is very different from the line Bishop Tom has taken hitherto. Previously, when questioned about his, apparently affirming, views on gay people, he has said that it is not so much him that has changed but the Church which has become more conservative and intolerant on these issues. Yesterday, however, he admitted that he has, in fact, amended his views in the light of experiencing the lives of faithful and loving gay couples.

Although this sounds contradictory both things might be true. Historically, it is the case, that the Church of England, like the Anglican Communion, has been altered in recent years by an intolerant neo-conservatism. It is reflected in the websites that are currently demonising Bishop Tom, based on his latest ‘Thought for the Day,’ for conforming to the misguided ways of the modern world and deserting the unchanging certainties of the Faith, whereas, in fact, it is their judgemental attitudes that are the novelty compared to the patient listening of the long Anglican pastoral tradition.

So, yes, it is possible for Bishop Tom to ‘have it both ways’ – to declare that the Church has become more conservative (thereby making him appear somewhat ‘liberal’) on sexual ethics, and also that, in recent years, life has taught him that gay couples can be loving and faithful. Am I alone, though, in feeling disappointed that Bishop Tom’s change of heart did not make him more critical of Issues in Human Sexuality while he was in office as a diocesan? Or maybe it came along too late for him to challenge the crucial role of that document in preventing the full acceptance of LGBT people in the life of the Church.

Friday 21 May 2010

IDAHO day event and a lesbian blessing in Kenya contrast the 14 year sentence given in Malawi

Revd Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude’s contact in Kenya, took part in a gathering of sexual minorities at the National Museum, Nairobi where they assembled to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. He was given the opportunity to talk about what Other Sheep Ministries and the Metropolitan Community Church are doing to check religious-based homophobia and transphobia. On his left in the photo above is activist musician Kate Kamunde from Afra Kenya and Audrie Mbugua (right) from Transgender Kenya.

Michael based his talk on the contrast between John.3:16 and 17, love and not condemnation. He said that we advocate for acceptance and the full inclusion of LGBTI people of faith, and of their parents and friends in their respective faiths. He invited those present to MCC which is an inclusive church. At one point someone contributed in the manner of an African American Pentecostal enthusiast saying: preach, preacher, preach!

Scores of Kenya homosexuals celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia on Monday and demanded more recognition. They sung and danced and for the first time allowed media coverage of their function to fight stigma and victimisation.

“Ten years ago there was no public place that could have hosted such a function,” said Kenya Human Rights Commission director Muthoni Wanyeki, whose lobby organised the event. “Although the Committee of Experts did not allow same sex marriage in Kenya the Proposed Constitution would enable all Kenyans access health and are free from discrimination and violence. The basic rights are for all Kenyans including people from the gay community.” Ms Wanyeki, however, said despite the government allowing the gay community to meet, the battle against harassment of and violence against sexual minorities is still on.

Kate Kamunde said: ”Spaces are opening up to accommodate us which was not possible two years ago.” She regretted that government officials gave the function a wide birth despite being invited.

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) commissioner Lawrence Mute condemned prejudice on grounds of their sexual orientation. “Let us ensure nobody is discriminated either in school, at work or even in the society especially because of who they are,” he told participants.

Dr Ben Sihanya, the dean of the School of Law at the University of Nairobi emphasised the need to focus on issues of sexual minorities in the country. “We are quick at criminalising issues that we do not understand,” he challenged homophobes, who harbour negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality.

Galck official David Kuria termed both religious homophobia and transphobia as ‘senseless violence,’ and called for a society that was more tolerant to the welfare and needs of LGBIT persons in the country.

I’ve just connected online with Dennis Nzioka, the religious relationship assistant at Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (Galck). He urged religious leaders to tolerate gay people. “We are born this way. We are created this way. We want to feel comfortable when we come to church. They should stop preaching discrimination against gay people. Just as I am proud to be African I am proud of being gay. There’s nothing wrong with what we are doing,” he said.

Mr Nzioka was happy that homosexuals could now be allowed to meet in the open and that his family also understands him. “If we had a family meeting, I usually went with my boyfriend but I am currently not dating,” he said, adding that there were already many gay marriages in Kenya “although we don’t expect licensing in near future".

Lesbians ask to be blessed

After Michael’s speech a member of the audience approached him and asked if he could bless her union with her partner there and then. He asked her to call the partner and they moved to a corner where Michael gave them some pre-marital counselling. They agreed to do bless the relationship the following evening at their house giving them time to compose themselves, buy rings and invite some friends.

Michael conducted the service on the 18th May at 8:30pm. It was attended by nine other women friends and one gay man. The couple are 20 and 25 years old. This was the first blessing he had conducted for lesbians and the second for a same sex couple having done one for two gay men last year.

Michael received a phone call while he was sending this e-mail. A woman called asking the location of his church so that she could come on Sunday. Michael comments that knowing how to respond to such calls is always tricky because you never the caller is genuine. He asks for prayers, hoping that God is in control.

Michael shows that it is possible to create safe spaces in African culture for a message of full inclusion to be preached and for lesbian and gay couples to affirm and bless their relationships. Reading Michael’s account, the scenario didn’t feel that different from the UK, where the blessing of relationships in church still has a certain clandestine quality and preaching and teaching about inclusivity in churches is still a minority activity.

The difference between Michael’s account of his activity in Kenya and the sentence of 14 years with hard labour given to Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi is outrageous and shocking. I’ve been pondering all week what Changing Attitude might be able to contribute to the campaign to free them which Peter Tatchell is pursuing. We have only one recently made gay contact in Malawi.

One avenue which we can explore is the friendship I have with Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi who was elected last year in Jamaica as chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, and I will be drafting a letter to him.

Colin Coward

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Bishop of Gloucester tells the truth about the Episcopal Church

The bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham, addressed his clergy just prior to the ordination of Mary Glasspool. In it he made an unusually strong, affirmative statement about the Episcopal Church which is worth a headline. He said:
The Episcopal Church is so thoroughly Anglican that to describe it as something less than Anglican seems to be sheer foolishness and immensely hurtful. The Episcopal Church talks about its Anglican roots, its Anglican ethos, its Anglican distinctiveness a good deal more than many members of the Church of England who hardly have the rest of the Communion on their radar. The American Church has a vibrant sacramental theology, a deep liturgical tradition, real attention to the Bible, a concern for church polity and order, and an approach to decision making that honours scripture, tradition and reason. We must do everything to stay with them and they with us. These are our spiritual sisters and brothers as much as any in the world. It would be heart-breaking if our communion with them were impaired.

Bishop Michael’s comments about describing the Episcopal Church as something less than Anglican being sheer foolishness and immensely hurtful is an astonishing criticism of other member of the House of Bishops. Too many have bought the wicked lies spread about the Episcopal Church by those now gathered in ACNA and supported in England by Anglican Mainstream and in the USA by Stand Firm and VirtueOnline, where destructive poison drips from people’s comments.

Several English bishops have repeatedly attacked the Episcopal Church, denigrated its mission and ministry and demanded that it repent of its action in ordaining Bishop Gene Robinson and be excluded from the Instruments of Communion. Bishop Michael’s truth-telling needs to extend to direct criticism of other bishops at a meeting of the House in an ideal world.

Tobias Haller is an Episcopal priest who can be relied on to tell the truth accurately and comment perceptively. He notes that the usual suspects from the Anglican Right are atwitter with comments about further rifts or tears in the Anglican Communion, accusations that the Episcopal Church has now walked apart in some formal way from that Communion, and that it certainly can't in good conscience sign on to the Anglican Covenant.

Tobias says it is important to remember that any "rift" or "tear" is not a rift between the Anglican Communion and some entity not a part (or no longer a part, as Anglican Mainstream and others would have it) of the Communion. No one has "walked apart" from the rest of the Anglican Communion, except perhaps those portions of it, such as Nigeria and parts of GAFCON / FoCA, who have chosen actually to reject the See of Canterbury as a focal point for gathering the Anglican episcopate for consultation, or who have established separatist outposts within the confines of other Anglican jurisdictions, declaring they are out of communion with the larger body.

The Windsor Report contains recommendations that the provinces have yet to endorse or act upon in a definitive way — and that includes TEC as well as ACNA, both of whom have taken actions contrary to the wishes expressed in Windsor.

Colin Coward

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga found guilty

Associated Press reports that Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency. Nyakwawa Usiwa, Blantyre’s Chief Resident Magistrate issued the verdict today. They could face up to 14 years in jail under Malawi's laws. They are expected to be sentenced later today.

They have been in custody since their arrest on December 27th and both denied the charges against them. Their lawyers attempted to have the case thrown out by arguing the trial violated constitutional laws but were unsuccessful.

Peter Tatchell, who has been championing their case, argued that the prosecution had not proved they broke the law. He told PinkNews: "This is an appalling verdict. There is no evidence to justify it. Steven and Tiwonge freely confirmed their love for each other but the prosecution presented no credible evidence that they had committed any sexual acts. The law under which they were convicted is a law that only applies to same-sex relationships. It violates article 20 of the Malawi constitution, which guarantees equality and non-discrimination."

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his partner Steven Monjezas to be sentenced today in Malawi

The movement to overcome prejudice towards LGBT people is now being played out on a global scale. The internet has enabled LBT people in every continent to access information which helps them identify their sexuality and provides information which enables them to affirm their identity.

Many are now networking through Facebook and other social networking sites and gay dating sites and making friends with and learning from people in countries where equality for LGBT people is already being achieved.

Today, the verdict in the trial of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his partner Steven Monjeza is to be given in Malawi. They face three charges of unnatural practices between males and gross indecency. They have been held in the maximum security Chichiri prison in Blantyre since they committed to marriage at a symbolic ceremony last December. They face a possible 14 years in prison with hard labour.

Tiwonge has vowed to become a martyr rather than deny his love for Steven and give in to the rampant homophobia of Malawian society. Peter Tatchell of Outrage! has maintained contact with the couple and received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: "I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless." His partner Monjeza said: "We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge."

They were denied bail, supposedly for their own safety, and have been forced to endure the appalling conditions in Blantyre prison.

Residents and relatives from their township of Machinjiri on the outskirts of Blantyre have reacted in accordance with the widespread African prejudice against homosexuality. They say they will not allow them to return home if they are set free. Maikolo Phiri, a local vendor said: "They have given this township a bad name." Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Monjeza, said: "We as a family have been terribly embarrassed to be associated with this gay thing. It's a curse and a big shame. We will chase them away if they are freed." Nchiteni Monjeza, Monjeza's uncle, said: "I won't drop a tear if they are jailed – they deserve it."

But for others, the couple are social revolutionaries. George Thindwa, head of the Association for Secular Humanism, has spoken out against the overwhelmingly homophobic attitude of his country. He said: "The gay movement is gaining ground. The country should simply accept gays. We are giving them moral support by bringing them food, money and clothes to prison."

Thindwa's group has joined the Centre for the Development of the People, which is financing the couple's defence. Their case is a critical test in the struggle between gay rights movements and resistant conservative sentiment across the continent.

The conflict about attitudes towards homosexuality is intensifying and spreading across Africa. There is a struggle between the nascent gay rights movements and the deeply conservative culture of African society and faith communities, Christian and Muslim. The intense conflict to the north of Malawi in Uganda over the Anti-homosexuality Bill is the most prominent manifestation of battle lines which are being drawn across Africa. Homosexuality is still illegal in 37 African nations but gay, lesbian and transgender people are becoming more visible. Many identify as bisexual rather than admit that they are really gay or lesbian.

Pro-gay movements are making a stand (encouraged by the legal advances in South Africa) in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries. Most of these movements didn’t exist a decade ago and very few people had the courage to make a stand in the way LGBT groups and individuals have in Uganda over the Bill, let alone get married as Tiwonge and Steven have done.

Uganda has become a central battlefield after legislation was proposed last year advocating punishments for gay sex that range from life imprisonment to the death penalty. The country has come under intense pressure from activists both inside Uganda and overseas.

Last week’s report that a special committee organised by president Yoweri Museveni has recommended that the Anti-homosexuality bill be withdrawn in Uganda could herald an important victory for organisations such as Freedom and Roam Uganda (Farug) and Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), a victory no-one would have predicted when the Bill was first published.

Val Kalende of Farug, which was set up in 2003, said: "I believe that now is the season and time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the continent. The LGBT rights movement has grown and it has come to a point where people can no longer be silent about injustices."

Asked if the gay rights lobby is resulting in a surge of homophobia, Kalende added: "Yes. Long before we built a movement here, no one bothered about us. We got away with so many things. When we decided to come out and claim our space, society came harshly against us. This implies that we are stepping on people's toes. People hate to see us free and that's why oppression of LGBT people is on the rise. One of the indicators of a progressive social movement is when its enemies start organising against it."

This growing confidence and assertiveness is provoking a fierce defensive reaction from religious fundamentalists and politicians. Anglicans, having witnessed and been affected by the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson have been made aware of the advances LGBT people have achieved in western liberal democracies. They are now having to fight against LGBT equality movements on the home front as well. Some still claim that homosexuality is a western corruption that is not known in Africa. This position is becoming more difficult to maintain as the number of confidently identified African LGBT people rises and their visibility increases.

For the past two decades the sexuality war has been fought by proxy between well-funded US conservative Christian evangelical groups typified by the Global South/ACNA coalition and a looser network of groups and individuals working for the full inclusion of LGBT people of which Changing Attitude is a part.

This decade is going to witness radical new developments in the way homosexuality is perceived across the globe and in the power balance between pro- and anti-gay groups. Our resources may be small but truth, justice and God are on our side. That may seem a provocative thing to say, but God is for love, fidelity, truth and justice. Despite the seven biblical texts and 2000 years of negative Christian teaching, change is happening now and a change in attitudes leading to legal changes and eventually to full inclusion will become a reality in country after country.

Colin Coward

Monday 17 May 2010

Lesbian bishop proves that liberals have won the battle over gay clergy

This is the headline to an article by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph. Jonathan says the most telling thing about Mary Glasspool’s consecration is the lack of reaction to it. This is in stark contrast to the headlines greeting Gene Robinson’s consecration and the furious, angry reaction from Anglican conservatives. Back then:
“African bishops condemned his consecration as “demonic” and evangelicals in the Church of England warned that it would cause an irreparable split.”
Mary’s consecration will barely register on the news agendas of most countries, demonstrating more clearly that the liberals have won the battle over the place of gay clergy in the Church, says Jonathan. Life has gone on and the repeated threats that there are now two separate Anglican Communions, the Episcopal Church is no longer Christian, and that we are irreparably split. The threats have come to nothing.

Peter Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, says: “With the election of the Reverend Mary Glasspool … the Anglican Communion reaches another decisive moment.” Yet another decisive moment – and, says Jonathan, another yellow card but never a red.

In his manifesto, Bishop Jack Spong wrote: “The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church.” Jonathan says he’s right.

It isn’t simply that the storm that erupted at the time of Gene Robinson’s election is blowing itself out. In the 7 years since Bishop Gene’s election and consecration, global dynamics in relation to human sexuality have changed dramatically while the Anglican Communion has continued to obsess itself with the rights and wrongs of being gay.

In an article in today’s Times, Ruth Gledhill says the infighting over homosexuality means that for the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, more important than the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Birth and the Trinity is what one person does in bed with another. The lines of Christian belief, in the Anglican world at least, have been redrawn around a battle over gay rights that, in the secular world, ended years ago.

What Ruth says is true in the UK and other liberal western democracies but not in Africa and many other parts of the world. But in other countries, change is happening and it is change in a liberal direction – the failure of the Ugandan Bill is symbolic of the old order trying to destroy nascent LGBT movements and voices and failing. The failure will be repeated across Africa and groups expand and become more visible, the anti-homosexual culture will be changed.

Ruth says that many of the thousands of young people who never go to church in the UK but who are nominally baptised Anglicans cannot remember a time when sodomy was a criminal offence. If the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives can form some sort of coalition in Britain, surely the liberals and conservatives in the Christian world can bring new leadership to the Anglican morass. They must put their differences behind them, for the sake of God, themselves and the common good.

Jonathan and Ruth both recognise a reality which at present eludes many conservative Anglicans, obsessed with fighting, in Africa, what they believe is a demonic anti-Christian manifestation. In the UK, conservatives have been holding the church to ransom over LGBT people and women bishops.

The outcome will be a great challenge to the beliefs of many who have understood themselves to be faithful, orthodox, committed Christians and Anglicans. Whilst trying to be open and generous to them, I also have no doubt that a church with women bishops and open, partnered, LGBT priests and bishops, is where God has been leading us for many years.

Colin Coward

Sunday 16 May 2010

Mary Glasspool’s consecration is a moment to celebrate God’s inclusive, transforming, radical love

Together with Diane Bruce, Mary Glasspool was consecrated bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles yesterday. The Anglican Communion now has an open, partnered lesbian as a bishop as well as an open, partnered gay man.

The service at the Long Beach Arena was themed 'Rejoice!', lasted three-hour hours and was attended by 3,000 clergy and laity, family and friends, civic, ecumenical and other guests. Los Angeles' rich diversity was represented in song and dance by a mosaic of varying races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations.

In a sermon interrupted by applause and laughter, Bishop Jon Bruno Bruno paid tribute to the historical occasion, recalling how he had once protested women's ordination, and now would be serving with two women bishops. He said: "The world's transformed only if we turn to each and every one of our brothers and sisters and see the face of Christ superimposed on them. The ones we disagree with the most are the ones we're obligated to share our lives and teach the most."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori served as chief consecrator and about 30 bishops, including the Rt. Rev. Martin DeJesus Barahona of El Salvador, retired Ugandan bishop Christopher Senyonjo and bishop Gene Robinson attended the service.

The consecration service was disrupted briefly by a man and a young boy who held up a sign and a bible and shouted anti-gay comments. Applause erupted when someone in the congregation yelled back: "We're praying for you."

Members of Westboro’ Baptist Church protested outside holding placards. Referring to them and to the disruption inside, bishop Bruno said, "They don't understand the inclusive nature of the Episcopal Church."

Conservative groups in Ireland including Reform issued a statement saying many Christians will share their sorrow and see Mary Glasspool’s consecration as a defiant rejection of pleas for restraint and as a rejection of the pattern of holiness of life called for in Scripture and endorsed by believers over the centuries, elevating to senior church leadership a person whose lifestyle is contrary to the will of God revealed in Scripture.

The claim the ordination shows a deliberate disregard for other members of the Anglican family and suggests that TEC does not greatly value unity within Anglicanism. They express support for the many people within The Episcopal Church who feel alienated and hurt.

Dr Philip Giddings and Canon Dr Chris Sugden issued a statement on behalf of Anglican Mainstream. They repeat their oft-made statement that the consecration shows that TEC has now explicitly decided to walk apart from most of the rest of the Communion.

They think it should result in three consequences:
• TEC withdrawing, or being excluded from the Anglican Communion's representative bodies.
• A way must be found to enable those orthodox Anglicans who remain within TEC to continue in fellowship with the Churches of the worldwide Communion.
• The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) should now be recognized an authentic Anglican Church within the Communion.

The BBC reported that the ordination is likely to increase the turmoil in the Anglican Communion, coming despite warnings from the Archbishop of Canterbury that it would deepen an already bitter dispute on sexuality. He had urged the American Church not to proceed with the ordination, warning that it would further alienate traditionalists who believe active homosexuality to be a sin. The latest ordination is likely to accelerate the gradual marginalisation of the Episcopal Church within a two-tier Communion and increase tensions between Anglicans elsewhere.

All the negative comments about Mary Glasspool’s consecration made above can be looked at the other way round, from the perspective of those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered and all who experience God’s love as inclusive and unbounded and follow a path of grace and not law.

It always astonishes me (not true, it no longer does) that conservative evangelicals who claim to be the true holders of authentic biblical Christian faith are obsessed with law and quite unable to follow the teaching of Paul, let alone the teaching of Jesus.

Bishop Jon Bruno said the protestors don’t understand the inclusive nature of the Episcopal Church. The Anglican leaders campaigning against the full inclusion, ever, of LGBT people in the church have a different theology from me. The true division in the church is between people and cultures which are re-learning from many sources the essence of Jesus’ teaching about God’s utterly gratuitous gift of love in creation and those who have adopted a legal understanding of God’s relationship with creation (simplifying drastically).

The majority in the Communion have agreed on a course of action in the Windsor Report which puts the Episcopal Church in the dock. I think the majority are wrong, not primarily because they are mistaken about God’s attitude to human sexuality but because they are wrong about Jesus and God’s relationship with us that Jesus reveals.

Far from Mary Glasspool’s consecration being a rejection of the pattern of holiness of life called for in Scripture as the Irish claim, I think that what the Episcopal Church is doing is actively living and modeling a scriptural pattern of holiness. TEC not only values the unity of the Anglican Communion but more importantly, values true discipleship in following the gospel of Jesus the Christ.

TEC is not walking apart from the rest of the Communion as Anglican Mainstream claim, the Anglican Communion is walking away from the Gospel of infinite and intimate love, tender and transforming love, sacrificial and life-giving. The consequences which Mainstream identify are irrelevant to those of us following a Christian path which I readily admit is dramatically different from the majority of Christian denominations.

Personal experience has taught me that the majority path is inherently abusive and corrupt and the continuing scandal of the abuse of children and young people in the Catholic Church is showing all who have eyes to see and ears to hear what happens when institutions follow false gospels – they become institutionally abusive and blind to love and truth.

Colin Coward

Saturday 15 May 2010

Lesbian couple in Salisbury Diocese meet prejudice in a Dorset congregation

The Daily Mail reported that a lesbian couple have been forced to leave their church for holding hands during a service.

Kersten Pegden who is 38 had been a member of the church for many years. She separated from her husband last September and is now going through a divorce. Her daughter Emily aged 12 has left the church choir and her son Elliot, 14, is no longer a server. In a letter to the vicar telling her why she was leaving the church which she has attended for four years she said that she has spent years hiding and does not wish to continue hiding now.

Her partner Nina Lawrence who is 31 said: 'I have been out for 13 years and I've never had this reaction.' The couple began their relationship in November last year.

Their church is (or rather was) St Nicholas in Corfe Mullen, Dorset, in my own diocese of Salisbury where the vicar is the Rev Pamela Walker. She apparently wanted to know the details of Kersten’s divorce, asked how long it was going to take, and why it had dragged on for so long.

How the congregation reacted to them and what kind of conversations took place can only be deduced from the comments made by Kersten Pegden. She said that their relationship had split the congregation of mainly elderly people. Some members of the congregation thought their behaviour was 'overtly sexual' and during hymns they were dishonouring God because they were singing the hymns to each other and were overtly sexual with each other. They were told that even the way they looked at each other was not acceptable.

Because other couples within the congregation held hands she felt it was their sexuality that had influenced the complaints. All they do is hold hands and she pointed out that an elderly couple hold hand during the service. Holding hands is no more sexual when the couple are gay rather than straight.

A spokesman for the church said: 'St Nicholas welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds and gives private pastoral care to those in need. Issues have arisen with members of the congregation which are being addressed compassionately.’

The church says that it accepts gay people as long as they are not practicing. The couple were told they must not associate with each other while they were at church. They were presented with an impossible choice, refused to accept the condition and now attend another church.

Kersten and Nina have the courage to be open and honest about themselves and their love for each other and as a result, have been confronted by a congregation which has a narrow view of what is permissible for Christians. The church adopts the line that we gay people are fine as long as we are not practicing. Practicing in this case seems to include holding hands and looking appreciatively at each other. Would the congregation have been happier if the couple sat apart from each other in church, even though they were sharing intimately at home? Their stance is hypocritical.

Kersten and Nina have dealt with the prejudice they encountered at the church where, until they became involved as a lesbian couple, had been perfectly happy to welcome them, by moving to another church (which is presumably more open and accepting). This is not ultimately an acceptable solution for the Church of England. Stories like this will continue to appear from parishes which take a conservative line on homosexuality. They give the Church of England a bad name, showing that sections of our church are prejudiced and dishonest – hide your sexuality and play the game and we’ll welcome you.

Colin Coward

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The Church of England endemic culture of secrecy and abuse echoes the Home Office policy of returning LGBT asylum seekers to secrecy and silence

Today is the second day of an appeal hearing in the supreme court brought by two gay men, one from Cameroon, the other from Iran, against previous court decisions that they should not be granted asylum in the UK.

The Cameroonian is appealing against a tribunal decision that he could return to his native Cameroon, despite the fact that he was attacked by a mob after he was seen kissing a male partner. The Iranian was told by the tribunal that he could be expected to tolerate persecution arising from his homosexual relationship, and should behave discreetly to avoid reprisals.

The Home Office policy relies on the ability of gay and lesbian asylum seekers to hide their sexuality on being returned to their own country in order to avoid persecution and to relocate to a part of the country where they won’t be recognized and will there, according to our courts and appeal tribunals, be ‘safe’. I have attended two asylum hearings for gay Nigerians and these arguments were advanced in both cases.

Punishment for homosexual acts ranges from public flogging to execution in Iran, and, Amnesty has said that homophobia is "endemic" in Cameroon.

The difference between endemic violent persecution and living in a prejudiced but notionally tolerant culture is huge, although LGBT people are still subject to abuse, violence and murder in the UK. In the Church of England LGBT people are not physically abused, but emotional and systemic abuse is routine.

In practice, as I learnt yet again at a meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation yesterday, the limited legal exemptions granted to faith communities in employment legislation allows the Church of England to discriminate, legally, against us.

Discrimination in the church works very effectively thanks to the presence of conservative lobby groups hostile to the presence of gay (let alone partnered gay) people in ministry, by intimidating LGBT clergy into silence and invisibility. We live in a culture of uncertainty and insecurity as to whether it is safe or not to reveal who we are and who we share our life with.

Just as coming out is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, the same is true at every stage in lay and ordained ministry, from the selection process through theological college, job applications, meeting new bishops, diocesan staff and colleagues to clergy fraternals and deanery chapters. In the mind of LGBT ministers there is always the question – who knows what and who is it safe to reveal information about my sexuality and private life to – and what is appropriate and legal?

The result is a high level of depression and illness among LGBT clergy as was revealed in “Clergy Under Stress: A Study of Homosexual and Heterosexual Clergy in the Church of England” by Professor Ben Fletcher published by Geoffrey Chapman in 1990. Ben was shocked by the much higher levels of stress found among gay compared with heterosexual clergy.

At yesterday’s meeting, one priest who had experienced a breakdown reported that he was referred to a psychotherapist by the diocese. The therapy was helpful until the moment when the priest began to explore his sexuality and asked whether he should tell the bishop about experiences related to his sexuality. The therapist told him dogmatically that on no account should he tell the bishop. The priest terminated therapy at that moment and reported what had happened to the bishop who agreed that no priest should ever be referred to that therapist again - full marks, on this occasion, to the bishop and priest for acting so robustly.

The Church of England habitually operates in a culture of secrecy and collusion. It is a scandal that a professional psychotherapist has so internalised the abusive, discriminatory culture of the Church of England that he could make such a disgracefully inappropriate and dogmatic statement to the client.

I have participated in moans about this state of affairs for over 30 years, exchanging personal and anecdotal evidence with LGBT clergy and colleagues. We have experienced ourselves as victims, trapped by the authority of bishops who have the power to block appointments and terminate vocations. Changing Attitude has ample evidence of bishops blocking the appointment of priests in Civil Partnerships as well as the total opposite – bishops approving such appointments. It’s no surprise, therefore, that partnered gay clergy have no secure idea about their status in the church.

This is intolerable and we must find new ways of challenging and changing the secretive, collusive and abusive culture of the church. The exemptions from employment legislation need to be overturned in as short a time scale as possible. Diocese by diocese, deanery by deanery, parish by parish, we need to educate people until the majority are aware of the stress and prejudice which result from the secretive and sometimes abusive culture in which LGBT lay and ordained people minister.

Colin Coward

Sunday 9 May 2010

Ugandan special committee recommends withdrawal of Anti-homosexuality Bill

The New York Times published a report yesterday written by Josh Kron about the Ugandan Anti-homosexuality Bill. A special committee organized by the president of Uganda has recommended that the Bill should be withdrawn from Parliament.

Adolf Mwesige, a lawmaker and chairman of the special committee, said that virtually all clauses in the legislation were either unconstitutional or redundant, and that any other clauses should be placed in another bill dealing generally with sexual offenses.

“Ninety-nine percent of all the proposals in the Bahati bill have been done before,” Mr. Mwesige said. “If we proceeded, it would definitely provoke criticism, and rightly so.” Mr. Mwesige said he expected the full Parliament to vote down the bill within weeks. “The influence of the cabinet is very important. If it takes a decision, it must be taken seriously.”

Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, has publicly shown concern about the legislation and formed the review committee in February in response to international scrutiny. Though the panel’s ruling is not the final word, analysts saw it as a strong sign that the bill would eventually be dropped.

Gay rights activists in Uganda were hopeful on Saturday that that would be the case. “So far the recommendations are welcomed by the community,” said Kasha Jacqueline, director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.

Spectrum Uganda Initiative, a Facebook group, continues to publish information about the progress of the Bill.

Colin Coward

Sunday 2 May 2010

No Time For Turning

Later this month the novelist Michael Arditti is going to address the Spring meeting of the (LGBT) Clergy Consultation, an organisation that also welcomes lay ministers and their partners.

Author of The Celibate (1993), about a gay ordinand, and Easter (2000), the chronicle of Holy Week in a north London parish when a gay curate is arrested and a lesbian couple’s daughter baptised at the Easter Vigil, Arditti has done more than most to explore what it means to be lesbian and gay in the Church today, and both novels introduce, or allude to, trans people within the orbit of the main characters - thank you, Michael.

Using humour and unexpected historical parallels or coincidences Arditti is a brilliant analyst of the key theological issue of theodicy - how suffering can be reconciled with belief in a God of unconditional love – and also of the effect of the erosion of faith or the loss personal religious convictions, subjects that he returns to in his latest novel, The Enemy of the Good (2009). The possibility of theology after the Holocaust is a constant theme of his fiction (one of his novels, Unity, concerns the Mitford sister who admired Hitler) which, despite Christian settings, contain key Jewish characters and themes (the narrator/ordinand of The Celibate is a convert from Judaism).

I have recently re-read Easter and am now two-thirds of the way through re-reading The Celibate which is set in 1980s Britain. With the media currently full of the General Election of 2010 it was sobering to read the following passage in which the narrator, inspired by the community and solidarity of taking part in a Gay Pride March through central London, reflects on the contrast with Thatcherite rhetoric of that period:

'We condemn ourselves from our own mouths as we’re left to use words that have become as discredited as the era they’ve been made to represent. So society is nothing more than a chimera, socialism anathema, the welfare state the dependency culture and idealism immaturity. While for their own part, political expediency has been elevated to the national interest, historical accident to the natural order, the party in government to the party of government, and their opponents branded the enemy within. The expropriation of language has gone hand in hand with that of faith. So though millions live in abject poverty, they still insist that we’ve been witnessing an economic miracle: as if the Feeding of the Five Thousand were simply to make the best use of resources rather than to share all that we have'.

I must be careful what I say here as Changing Attitude England is a non-political organisation, and also because, in the party leaders’ debate, Mr Cameron, more than once, accused Mr Brown of frightening voters, but I must admit I am frightened by the proposal that vast swathes of legislation will be repealed if Labour loses this election. Of course, the laws in question may have nothing to do those which, in recent years, have brought about greater equality for LGBT people, but I also recall Peter Tatchell’s comment, after describing the impressive number of these hard-won gains: ‘what has been given can also be taken away’.

As Arditti’s ordinand, accompanied by his lover and a friend, walk past the Palace of Westminster, they find themselves near ‘a banner opportunely demanding that we “Repeal the Section”’ a reference to Section 28, draconian legislation that put restrictions on artistic freedom just as it prevented LGBT schoolchildren at that time – like Mark, now in his late thirties who I was talking to only last week - from articulating their desires and learning, from teachers, how to manage them in humane and loving ways.

Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s election, we cannot allow any government to try to turn back that particular clock.