Thursday 29 July 2010

Marriage equality for LGBT people is now firmly on the agenda, including marriage in church

Reports of the meeting held on Tuesday afternoon in a House of Commons Committee room with Lynne Featherstone MP, Equalities Minister, and five civil servants have been issued by Peter Tatchell and Pink News. Also present were Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the Rev Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Paul Martin of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation Manchester, and myself.

The meeting was the first of a series of private meetings being held this week by the government's equalities office with interested parties to to look at possible next steps for civil partnerships including the possibility of holding civil partnerships for gay couples in church and the option of extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. I don’t know whether the government’s consultation extends to meeting with Christian leaders opposed to marriage equality in church for LGBT people though Lynne Featherstone is reported as acknowledging that any consultation would take into account the views of those who are vehemently opposed to equal marriage.

Four of the five LGBT leaders present argued strongly for full marriage equality. Stonewall is not opposed to marriage equality but does not see it as a priority.

My focus was on the Church of England, which as the established church with bishops in the House of Lords and strong conservative lobby groups, has undue influence on the progress of legal reforms that affect the lives of LGBT people in general and Christians in particular.

The meeting attempted to identify the difference between civil partnerships and marriage and why we were so adamant that we wanted equality. The legal provisions are effectively exactly the same. There are two practical differences: in marriage, vows are exchanged whereas the registration of a civil partnership requires a register to be signed; and civil partnerships cannot be contracted in religious buildings. LGBT people want the freedom to commit ourselves to one another in the same way by the exchange of vows and rings – in church.

The real difference lies in people’s perception. They habitually call civil partnerships ‘marriage’ and this is what they perceive them to be in all but name. Families, friends, colleagues and members of their congregation see gay couples getting married, with all the significance of meaning that attaches to marriage.

The nature of marriage has already been significantly reconstructed by cultural, social and religious changes in the past 50 years and has always been an institution subject to revision and change. The Church of England has changed the nature of marriage radically by accepting that couples have the freedom to use contraception and to remarry in church following divorce.

Feminists and some LGBT people do not want to adopt the values of marriage, seeing it as indelibly patriarchal or embodying commitments they do not want to make. LGBT people will inevitably further deconstruct and reconstruct the nature of marriage. I would argue that Christian LGBT people want marriage to be a covenant relationship focused on the loving relationship between a couple who intend life-long fidelity mirroring God’s covenantal relationship with us and all creation.

Peter and Sharon have both said they felt the meeting had ignored their main concern of winning the right to full marriage equality. Sharon said: "It just wasn't taken on board how strongly we feel that civil partnerships are discriminatory. They are not equal to marriage." She thought that the equalities office just wanted us to say we were happy with religious civil partnerships and then to silence us so they could go to the faith groups and tell them they didn't have to worry about gay marriage. Peter said: "The meeting mostly focused on civil partnerships in church. I got the impression that the coalition government doesn't feel confident enough to push ahead with same-sex civil marriage."

Peter, arguing for full equality, said that marriage is the gold standard and civil partnerships are second best. They are not equality. A separate law is not an equal law. Civil partnerships create a two-tier system of partnership recognition: one law for heterosexuals, civil marriage, and another law for same-sex couples, civil partnerships. In reverse, he argues that the homophobia of the ban on same-sex civil marriage is now compounded by the heterophobia of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Just as a gay couple cannot have a civil marriage, a straight couple cannot have a civil partnership.

Peter urged the coalition government to undertake a public consultation to determine whether the ban on gay marriage ought to be lifted. He said it should invite representations from individuals and organisations and, on the basis of the submissions received, decide if the ban should stay or go.

Changing Attitude needs to focus on the reaction of the Church of England to the proposal to extend the registration of civil partnerships to religious premises and to the desire for full marriage equality. We have to think carefully about educating the church and to building a coalition of groups, parishes and church leaders who will be committed to work with us to achieve our goal.

Colin Coward

Monday 26 July 2010

Marriage equality for LGBT people

Tony Baldry MP, the Second Church Estates Commission spoke on Saturday morning in the General Synod debate about women in the episcopacy. It will be his task to steer the legislation through the House of Commons. He said the equality agenda now played strongly across all parties, and the difficult task of steering through the legislation would be impossible “if there is a scintilla of a suggestion that women bishops are in some way second-class bishops”.

On Saturday afternoon Robert Key, the former MP for Salisbury, spoke following the vote against the Archbishops’ amendment, when a number of speakers asked for the debate to be suspended until Monday or for a 10 minute break, to enable people to recover emotionally from the trauma of the loss. Robert effectively told Synod to grow up, behave like adults and get on with it (which Synod did, though some found behaving more like adults rather difficult).

Both Tony Baldry and Robert Key were criticised following their speeches. They were told in a very forthright manner that parliament wasn’t going to be allowed to dictate to the church as to what it should believe or who it should ordain. Church knew better than Parliament the will and mind of God.

What I found most disturbing was the passion and length of applause from Synod following the criticism. I was frightened by the arrogant, self-satisfied tone of righteousness and absolute rightness that was present. It felt as if the majority of Synod were applauding, though I didn’t think to look and check how many were actually clapping.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m attending the discussion about the next stage for civil partnerships at the Home Office at the invitation of Lynne Featherstone MP, the Minister for Equalities. Clearly, many members of General Synod would be critical of this initiative for a variety reasons, not least of which would be that they think God speaks and acts through General Synod and not through government initiatives, especially in relationship to gay marriage.

Last week, I said that I expect to meet people with far more understanding of the place of LGBT people in the Kingdom of God than many of those Christians who hold such strong views about homosexuality. I think that tomorrow, God is much more likely to be breaking into our lives and breaking out of the traps the church sets for God. It’s the dynamic which James Alison describes in Broken Hearts and New Creations and Raising Abel (both books which I wholeheartedly recommend!).

The government is grasping what the church cannot and what LGBT people often are afraid to grasp – the nettle of absolutely equality in marriage. Marriage is not a heterosexual institution and lesbian and gay people are not in a different category from straight people, nor are we unworthy of marriage.

The government is helping many of us, lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, evangelical, catholic, Christian, agnostic, atheist, see something about the nature of marriage which we have found difficult to recognise.

James Alison asks whether:
“Our sexual desire is something in need of a process of humanisation so that it can be part of a relationship of bodily presence to another, tending to build the partner up, enrich and delight them as well as care for them, tend to them and be stretched into age and death alongside them ... a process of bodily involvement with another that we have found ourselves being sucked into being given a self we did not know, but rejoice to see as something we are becoming, something holy.”

God is present in potential everywhere, contrary to the idea about God held by a significant number of General Synod members. God works unseen and unacknowledged in the lives of every human being, and can mysteriously draw us together through love into relationships and encounters which can themselves become processes of transformation, growth and change.

Thanks to those of you who responded to last week’s blog and made the point so forcibly to me. I will be arguing for full equality at tomorrow’s meeting. I have no doubt that full equality is what God knows is right and proper for all people, and that includes lesbian and gay Christians.

Colin Coward

Friday 23 July 2010

Issues in Human Sexuality – where do you think the C of E should go next?

Changing Attitude has known for some months that two groups of bishops have been meeting to discuss how the House of Bishops might take forward Issues in Human Sexuality. There are four bishops in each group and one is broadly conservative/traditional and the other more liberal/progressive. The groups were initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury who invited the 8 bishops. The Bishop of Lincoln convenes the liberal group and the Bishop of Birmingham the more conservative group.

The two groups are being brought together in October for a meeting with Archbishop Rowan. The liberal group has already agreed a statement setting out their position.

Changing Attitude has been asked by the Bishop of Lincoln to speak for ourselves and add our own ideas about how we would like to see the issue addressed. As John Saxbee says, we all know we are in a very different place from where we were when Issues in Human Sexuality was issued.

The trustees of Changing Attitude meet tomorrow, Saturday 24th, in London and the invitation to respond will be on the agenda. I would like to invite all those reading this to respond to me with your thoughts and ideas – some headings for discussion is how Bishop John puts it.

Heading this blog ‘...where do you think the C of E should go next?’ invites an all too obvious response because many of us think that Issues was a deeply flawed document in the first place and should now be binned. It might have had value as a discussion document back then, it has no value for us as a policy document now.

So, what would you like Changing Attitude to set before the bishops who will meet in October? Please email your ideas to and I will collate and forward them to John Saxbee.

Colin Coward

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Changing Attitude in conversation with government ministers about the next stage for civil partnerships

Changing Attitude, LGCM, Stonewall, LGB Consortium, Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Outrage have been invited by Lynne Featherstone MP, the Minister for Equalities, to a discussion at the Home Office on Tuesday 27th July. With Jeremy Timm, the chair of trustees, I will be representing CA.

This is part of the coalition government’s commitment to talk to those with a key interest in what the next stage should be for civil partnerships. This now includes, in the government’s careful phrasing, that “…some religious organisations can allow same-sex couples the opportunity to register their relationship in a religious setting if they wish to do so.”

The conversation next week results from the amendment made to the Equality Act 2010 which makes it possible to remove the express prohibition on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said on Monday in a video interview that the government will give gay couples the right to civil marriage. He predicted that the change would be made before the next general election.

He said: "It would be appropriate in Britain in 2010, 2011, for there to be the ability for civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally. That's different of course from faith ceremonies which are matters for the faith communities… they have to decide what recognition to give. The state ought to give equality. We’re halfway there. I think we ought to be able to get there in this parliament.”

The coalition government is coming under increasing pressure to provide full marriage equality. Changing Attitude supports the move to grant full equality to lesbian and gay couples and more significantly for those of us who are Christian and Anglican, to allow civil partnerships to be registered and celebrated in church buildings by priests acting as the registrar.

The government is moving much faster than the Church of England, which will find itself even more out of synch with the local communities which we are in theory called to serve in this country. The church’s attitude to LGBT people affects not only gay individuals directly but families, friends, colleagues and congregations.

This isn’t a question for us simply of equality or not being out-of-step with secular society. I believe that society is reaching a place of truth in God that recognises the full and equal humanity in creation of LGBT people. There are other, rich biblical truths, metaphors, narratives and theologies about relationship, sexuality, intimacy and marriage to be set against Leviticus 18.22 and Romans 1.18-32.

Next Tuesday I expect to meet people with far more understanding of the place of LGBT people in the Kingdom of God than many of those Christians who hold such strong views about me and my kind.

Colin Coward

Friday 16 July 2010

LGBT Christians can only be relaxed and happy when they can be open about their sexuality

John Browne, former chief executive of BP, has written in today’s Guardian about his resignation in 2007. He had broken up with a boyfriend and made an untrue statement in an attempt to prevent his sexuality from becoming public. He says David Laws’ recent resignation from the Government suggests that public figures continue to feel they have no choice but to cover up their sexuality.

When he was “outed” John Browne was overwhelmed by the support and friendship of many people. It turned out to be a blessing. His life is much happier now, he feels much more relaxed about being open with people and wishes it could have been this way from the start, but the spectre of earlier intolerance cast a long shadow over his life.

The biggest problem with concealing your sexuality is walling yourself off from the people closest to you, he says. Being open about your sexuality is about being honest with the people who know you the best and love you the most. Keeping it secret denies friends and family the chance to know who you really are. I would add that in the church context, this is also true for congregations and their priests and bishops. Hiding a core part of your identity is unhealthy and conceals the truth from the other.

Coming out is much easier in the UK now but John Browne writes that the business world remains more intolerant of homosexuality than other walks of life. As we know all too well, the Anglican Communion is an institution more like the UK business world in this respect.

The Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh addressed a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday. He referred to the need to protect Christian interests by speaking out against the invading army of homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexual lifestyle. He said same sex marriage, paedophilia and all sexual pervasions should be roundly condemned by all who accept the authority of Scripture over human life. He repeated the lie that the church in the West has vowed to use money to spread the homosexual lifestyle in African societies and churches and the myth that the sin of homosexuality destroyed the communities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Millions of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion live within societies where attitudes are intolerant and aggressively hostile at best and at worst, advocate hatred, abuse and imprisonment.

Our campaign in the Communion has to work for the eradication of church teaching and attitudes about LGBT people that are dehumanizing and dangerous for the health of the whole church as well as for individual LGBT people, our families and congregations.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh is representative of all Anglican Primates, bishops, theologians, leaders and teachers who continue to live with unexamined prejudice. It is a scandal that many UK and North American leaders fuel the prejudice of Africans and fuel their prejudice with financial support. Support comes mainly from conservative evangelical groups.

‘Evangelical’ is a word which covers a huge range of Christian belief and practice, from those who advocate extreme intolerance towards LGBT at one extreme to pro-gay attitudes at the opposite end of the spectrum. To the left of the pro-gay groups are people with genuinely held theological reasons for supporting Anglican policy as exemplified in Lambeth 1.10 and Issues in Human Sexuality.

I have no doubt that John Browne would say the church must remove all intolerant, prejudiced teaching about homosexuality and create an environment in which gay people have the freedom and confidence to live openly and honestly, true to the self God has created.

Some would immediately dispute that as Christian teaching because the Bible says otherwise. They are simply wrong.

Colin Coward

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Sunday 11 July 2010

General Synod and women bishops - is the Holy Spirit calling the church to adulthood?

My laptop expired yesterday before I was able to blog. Initially I felt depressed and began to panic - how could I get online, and what was I going to do here at Synod if I couldn't report on events as they unfolded? Then I told myself to calm down and that it wasn't the end of the world. Maybe it was God's way of telling me that I wasn't here to blog but simply to be present, alongside my friends on General Synod for whom the next 2 days were going to be stressful and momentous.

Thanks to my partner's laptop, I am at last able to come online and read reactions to yesterday's debate, having attended the Eucharist in the Minster this morning and a WATCH meeting at lunchtime. The effect on me of my laptop crashing is not to be compared in scale with the effect of yesterday's vote on those who either oppose outright the opening of the episcopate to women or can live with it only if a woman-bishop-free space is created for them on their terms.

I think there is a similarity in my emotional reaction, however, with those who were distressed by yesterday's vote. Thirty minutes after my laptop crashed, I was able to pause, engage my adult self, and say, okay, this is where I am, deal with this present reality. I calmed down and resumed life without laptop.

Yesterday afternoon, some Synod members began to have Anglican tantrums, wanting to terminate the debate until they felt better, walking out when this was refused, discussing how they might overturn the decision when the debate resumes on Monday and issuing threats, yet again, about schism, money and splits. Anglican Mainstream reports that senior Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical leaders met yesterday evening to request an urgent meeting with both Archbishops to discuss the matter before Synod resumes on Monday morning. How to overturn the decision was the substance of their meeting.

Anglican Mainstream also claims the amendment was lost on a "procedural device" (their phrase and inverted commas) of requiring a two-thirds vote in all three houses, the clergy voting 50-50 and thus defeating the amendment. Firstly, it wasn't split 50-50, the clergy vote was 85 for, 90 against with 5 abstentions. The vote could have been taken by Synod in its entirety, in which case the amendment would have passed, but it had voted for a vote by Houses. An earlier crucial vote two years ago on women in the episcopate legislation was taken by synod, not by houses, and on that occasion ensured that progress was made. The Holy Spirit seems to be telling Synod in subtle ways to get on with it.

The Archbishops are understandably distressed that their amendment was lost. It was their baby. But they were trying in some way to reinstate provisions for those opposed which have been most thoroughly explored over the past two years and rejected.

My take on yesterday's vote is this. The Holy Spirit is guiding the Church of England into adulthood, to maturity as the Body of Christ. Yesterday she said, once again, Grow Up! It is time to welcome women into the episcopate. I call you friends, adult friends.

All sides in the debate now have painful emotions to work through. Those in favour of women in the episcopate feel somewhat guilty at the pain they have induced in others. But that doesn't mean you need to capitulate to emotional immaturity or blackmail on either side. Be generous, grow up, hold your nerve and vote for what in your heart you believe to be right.

I, of course, have a personal interest in this. I am in favour of the inclusion of women at every level of church ministry. One day General Synod will be asked to vote on the place of LGBT people in the Church of England in respect of Civil Partnerships and the ordination of those with partners. It will need a very mature, emotionally confident group of people on Synod to achieve a positive, pro-gay vote.

Yesterday's vote has laid another foundation stone. I believe members of Synod, Archbishops, bishops, priests and laity, will digest what has happened. Some will continue to feel hurt and in their inner world, feel marginalized or rejected. Others will reflect and adjust to the apparently new environment in which they find themselves. If we are not able to grow and change we will remain a church addicted to immature emotional attachments, to the idealised past and to the tyranny of the child which lurks in each of us.

Colin Coward

Friday 9 July 2010

Southwark failure damages Church of England

LGBT Anglican Coalition Press Release 8 May 2010

Both recent meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission to choose a new
bishop for the Diocese of Southwark have been the subject of serious leaks
to a newspaper. This has resulted in huge personal pain and distress for
one candidate, Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, for the second time in
seven years. It is particularly outrageous that some senior church
officials have suggested the leaks were engineered by supporters of Dr
John, rather than by those opposed to his nomination.

It has brought the Church of England into even further disrepute with the
general public, who will regard it rightly or wrongly, as another
example of the blatant homophobia that exists in the Church.

Once again the Church has failed to act with courage. The whole Commission
must be held responsible for this, regardless of whether the source of the
leak was an elected member, an ex-officio member, or one of the staff in
attendance at what is supposed to be a totally confidential meeting.

It is essential that a thorough independent enquiry be held immediately to
determine who was responsible. There should also be an urgent review of
the process of appointing bishops, as the present arrangements are not fit
for purpose, and an open and transparent procedure is clearly necessary.

Notes for Editors

1. The Anglican Coalition is here to provide UK-based Christian LGBT
organisations with opportunities to create resources for the Anglican
community and to develop a shared voice for the full acceptance of LGBT
people in the Anglican Communion.

2. The Coalition members are:

Accepting Evangelicals
Changing Attitude
The Clergy Consultation
The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians
Inclusive Church
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
The Sibyls

3. For more information contact:
Revd Canon Giles Goddard 07762 373 674 or Simon Sarmiento 07906 445695
or the LGBT Anglican Coalition Website

Driving to General Synod immersed in the infinite love of God

I should be packing my bags and the Changing Attitude materials for our stand at General Synod in preparation for the drive north at 11am, but blogging is addictive. The blog received 2,500 hits yesterday and nearly 3,000 on Tuesday when the gay Ugandan story was posted.

I was sitting outside my house at 6.50 this morning drinking my second mug of Darjeeling when the Guardian arrived with the headline ‘'Williams under siege over gay bishop veto'. I read the articles by Stephen Bates, Riazat Butt and Andrew Brown and then said the morning office and settled to meditate. For 35 minutes I was more fully present than any morning this week, resting in awareness of the rich diversity and beauty around me and the infinite goodness and love of God flowing through creation, ever present in the reality which is God. I’d previously read this morning’s lectionary passage from 2 Corinthians 4:

It is not ourselves we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. For the God who said, ‘Out of darkness light shall shine,’ has caused his light to shine in our hearts, the light which is knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is a deep reality for me as I pray and meditate each morning. It is a deep reality for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who know in the depths of their hearts and souls the light that shines and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are here and now living into the deepest faith and a profound experience of the presence of God. We are not leaving God and we know that God will never abandon us nor any other beings in creation. Talks of splits in the church is, at this level of deep contemplation and prayer, irrelevant, because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

It is in awareness of these deepest realities that I will drive to York and a meeting of General Synod which takes place when the Church of England faces intense media scrutiny yet again over its attitude to women and gays. My prayers are for a decision in Synod which grants the potential in legislation for full equality in the episcopate for women.

My heart was unsettled as I went to sleep last night. My friend Andrew Goddard had emailed, taken aback by my Wednesday blog blaming evangelicals for leaking information from the Crown Nominations Commission. We had sat in the sun in Andrew’s garden in Bristol last Friday, talking mostly about scapegoating. I’ve just read Raising Abel by James Alison.

Andrew commented that I might be fuelling suspicions and speculating in unhelpful ways about who in the Church of England could be to blame, leading to scapegoating kicking in again in powerful ways whether against Rowan or Jeffrey John or Colin Slee or Chris Sugden or whoever.

I take Andrew’s reflection very seriously. I am committed to a path in which I believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the capacity for us to cease scapegoating each other and stop projecting our fear and blame onto other groups. Only, absolutely only, when we cease to do this, do we have the potential to stop the rot and live with others into the Kingdom of God.

Time to pack! I can do no better than sign off with the final sentence from the email Andrew Goddard sent me as I was writing:

Trust that in midst of a pretty traumatic Synod you and all there - especially Rowan! - will continue to know God's loving presence and peace.

Colin Coward - on the road to York

Thursday 8 July 2010

Lord Hope says right-wing evangelical churches indulge in rampant homophobic teaching

Yesterday the panel of five Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously to allow the appeals from two gay men, from Cameroon and Iran, who had been refused asylum on the grounds they could hide their sexuality by behaving discreetly.

Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: "To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight."

What interests me are the comments he added later. He said that for many years some countries had simply insisted homosexuality did not exist, which avoided the evil of persecution. However, anti-gay sentiment had dramatically worsened in some places, fanned by "the rampant homophobic teaching that right-wing evangelical Christian churches indulge in throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa" and "the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law that prevails in Iran".

If I used the phrase “rampant homophobic teaching that right-wing evangelical Christian churches indulge in” I might have been hauled over the coals by the Changing Attitude trustees for using intemperate and provocative language. I would expect to have been attacked by conservative evangelical groups in the UK and USA who work in alliance with African Provinces, bishops and Primates to whose public comments about homosexuality Lord Hope’s criticism applies.

The teaching of right-wing evangelical Christian churches is indeed often rampantly homophobic. Their western allies who deny that their own teaching is homophobic are responsible for endorsing the prejudice and hate of others and of campaigning and arguing for their right not just to hold such views in the Anglican Communion but for those views to influence Anglican teaching and policy.

The furore over the appointment of the next bishop of Southwark has a direct connection with the homophobia identified by Lord Hope. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Crown Nominations Commission and the potential for Canon Jeffrey John to be appointed bishop have been infected by the anti-homosexual views of conservative evangelicals.

Belief in the false report of the beheading of a gay member of Integrity Uganda gained traction because such a horrendous act is now all too possible in Uganda, Nigeria and other African countries where people like Bahati whip up hatred by propounding the most extreme and abusive accounts of gay behaviour.

Groups such as Anglican Mainstream in this country are engaged in similar activity by repeatedly posting news about paedophilia, bestiality, polyamoury, AIDS, converasion therapy and ‘cures’ for homosexuality. Why do they do it? To prove that homosexual people are intrinsically drawn to extreme forms of sexual behaviour. The tactic is wicked.

The applicant to the Supreme Court from Cameroon, identified as HT, had been told he should relocate elsewhere in his country and be "more discreet" in future. He had been attacked by an angry mob at home after being seen kissing his partner. He has been fighting removal from the UK for the past four years. He told the BBC. "I cannot go back and hide who I am or lie about my sexuality." In Cameroon jail sentences for homosexuality range from six months to five years.

The other application was from a 31-year-old Iranian gay man, who was attacked and expelled from school when his homosexuality was discovered. Like HT, he had been told he could be "reasonably expected to tolerate" conditions back home that would require him to be discreet and avoid persecution. Punishment for homosexual acts ranges from public flogging to execution in Iran.

Two members of Changing Attitude Nigeria have already been granted asylum in the UK and one of them, Davis Mac-Iyalla the founder, continues to work to achieve justice and safety for other vulnerable gay Africans.

Christians should be campaigning for justice and protection for LGBT people in Africa. Those who misuse the Bible to teach that homosexuality is sinful and gay people should be condemned must be challenged. Prejudice must be overcome so that homosexuals no longer need to hide their identity in their home country nor need to seek asylum here.

A massive re-education of christian attitudes towards homosexuality is still urgently needed. Lambeth Resolution 1.10 was and is a disaster for the Anglican Communion, let alone for those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This is most especially true for those trying to live in cultures where prejudice is endemic, reinforced by Christian taboos.

Colin Coward

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Jeffrey John will not be the next Bishop of Southwark

Jonathan Wynne-Jones has ‘revealed’ in the Telegraph that Jeffrey John is not to be nominated as the next Bishop of Southwark. Neither, so I am told, will Nick Holtham, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, be nominated.

This is painfully disappointing news for Jeffrey, who has lived through a week in which his identity and reputation have been pored over, analysed and attacked once again by conservative forces in the church in a way which I can only describe as poisonous. Those who claim the moral and ethical high ground in the church behave in ways which are scandalous and unchristian.

Anglican Mainstream deliberately left a link to the lecture that Dr Jeffrey John gave to the Post Lambeth 1998 Affirming Catholicism Conference entitled “The Church and Homosexuality : Post-Lambeth Reflections” at the top of their home page until this evening, when it suddenly disappeared, its work done.

How was Jonathan able to leak the news? Because someone on the Crown Nomination Commission for the Southwark appointment ignored the absolute confidentiality of the group and deliberately leaked information about yesterday’s meeting to a conservative hostile to Jeffrey and LGBT people in the church. That person, for a second time, passed the information to Jonathan Wynne-Jones - one of the non-voting members, perhaps?

Conservative Evangelicals are ruthless in their determination to win total control of the church, even if in the process, they destroy the Church of England’s ability to communicate the gospel to the nation, and destroy the unity of the Anglican Communion, by whatever unprincipled, destructive means possible.

Archbishop Rowan was apparently so furious about the first leak that he unilaterally vetoed Jeffrey’s name, betraying his friend for a second time and handing an apparent victory to the conservatives who seem to be successfully controlling him. Archbishop Rowan would have directed his anger in a more healthy direction if he had targetted the people inside and outside the Commission who have deliberately sabotaged its work.

Jonathan lists a number of reasons why this is bad news. I think he omits far more important reasons why it is bad news. It is a capitulation to forces within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion which represent a reactionary attitude to scripture and a negative attitude towards the glory, goodness and infinite variety and beauty of God’s creation.

It communicates an image of the church and Christianity to our nation in which we are perceived to be bigoted, prejudiced, narrow-minded and lacking in the primary Christian virtue of love.

It may be the final opportunity to nominate Jeffrey to a diocese and it may be the last opportunity the Archbishop of Canterbury has to appoint an openly gay person as a bishop, but that isn’t what matters tonight, because the Church of England still has closeted gay bishops and an increasing number of open and partnered LGBT priests.

Reform, Anglican Mainstream, Stand Firm, VirtueOnline and the other conservative forces in the church don’t seem to understand that God simply calls LGBT into faith and ministry and we find ways of inhabiting space in the church in which, despite the painful attacks and scandalous dishonesty, remains a place in which we can live into the Kingdom of God, creating by our presence and example, a church which is in the process of welcoming all, saints and sinners, redeemed and in need of redemption, all on the way to a holy transformation.

Tonight, the church stinks. Tomorrow in the dawn light, it will become glorious again for this gay priest and for my many, many friends, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, lay, ordained, bishops and archbishops, for whom it is our glorious home. There is nothing, not even betrayal by a member of the Crown Nominations Commission, that can ever separate us from the infinite love of God in Jesus Christ.

Colin Coward

Is Archbishop Henry Orombi implicated in the false report issued by Revd Erich Kasirye?

The report about the Uganda gay man found beheaded in a farm latrine which we posted on Monday turns out to contain both truth and falsehood. A severed head was indeed found in a latrine and there is a newspaper report in the Daily Monitor and a video on You Tube showing the gruesome discovery unfolding.

The search for the missing priest, the Rev Henry Kayizzi Nsubuga, was reported at VirtueOnline and also seems to be true.

I apologise for all those who have been misled because I posted the report before further investigative work had been undertaken to check its veracity and to those who have been waiting all day for a response.

Integrity USA
Integrity USA have been told by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo that he did not make the comments attributed to him in the report.

The Rev Erich Kasirye is not the General Secretary of Integrity Uganda.

I doubt if the claim that a joint search team of Integrity Uganda and Namirembe Diocese to find the severed head of another gay man is true, nor are many other details in the report. The names are not congruent with the YouTube video.

Victor Mukasa
The original report by Erich Kasirye was emailed to the SOGI list which had been receiving reports for the past week from activists and media about the disappearance and murder of LGBTI people from Integrity Uganda.

Victor Mukasa of the Research and Policy Associate for East, Central and Horn of Africa, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Cape Town, has reported on research into the truth of the claims.

He has been in touch with Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, officials from the Uganda LGBT Security Committee and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). All are undertaking their investigations into the reports.

Bishop Christopher said he was not aware of any disappearances or murder of any Integrity Uganda members. He said that he had read and listened to news in Uganda about a missing priest, but not about any Integrity Uganda members.

The Bishop has informed Victor that he has not made the comments in the original report and is not aware of the murder of the young man named Pascali.

Integrity Uganda
John Clinton-Bradley of Integrity USA alerted me to the presence of the Revd Erich Kasiyre’s name in the report posted on Monday, indicating that the story might be false. Tracking information about Erich Kasiyre has taken me most of the day. Here’s what I have discovered so far.

Erich was indeed involved with Integrity Uganda, having been one of the founders in 2000 and serving frequently as its chief spokesperson.

When Michael Hopkins, then President of Integrity, visited Uganda in 2002 he met Fr Kasiyre who had been prohibited from exercising his ministry in the diocese along with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, the retired bishop of West Buganda.

Erich came to the UK in 2003 at LGCM’s expense to participate, in theory, in LGCM’s Half Way to Lambeth Conference. I met him several times in London but he failed to arrive at the conference in Manchester and was reported to be attending medical appointments in London.

In February 2004 Integrity USA issued a statement “concerning troubling accounts of the activities of one of the members of the leadership team of Integrity Uganda, the Rev. Erich Kasirye.”

It became clear that Fr. Kasirye had been involved in a number of scams in order to raise money for himself personally using his connection with Integrity Uganda. In January 2004 he solicited funds from a number of organizations and individuals through an online LGBT Anglican Group claiming to have been imprisoned because he had been helping at the Integrity LGBT Anglican Centre in Uganda. Erich’s ‘wife’ and another person, ‘Lt. Josephine’, provided daily information regarding his arrest, soliciting funds to help him. Leonardo Ricardo was one of those people taken in by Erich and was persuaded to send $1,000.

Later reports suggest that Archbishop Henry Orombi rehabilitated Fr Erich Kasiyre, asking¨ Erich to serve and recruit and ¨save¨ Episcopal Church parishes from ¨unholy¨ practices in the U.S.A. for Bishop Samuel Ssekkadde, Diocese of Namirembe in 2005.

Diocesan Mission Coordinator
In May 2005 Fr Kasirye resurfaced in the new position of Diocesan Mission Coordinator for Bishop Samuel Ssekkadde in the Diocese of Namirembe. This was almost certainly the cover for another scam. Erich was sending an email headed: Looking for a diocese or Province that will give you cover?
"This is to inform you that my Diocese would like to adopt a parish in the States which is orthodox and lacks ecclesiastical protection.
Kindly let us know those churches which might need some pastoral and personal support. We are very much aware of the poisonous efforts of the revisionist forces which face orthodox churches in ECUSA-and we do not want them to be vulnerable. The Diocese of Namirembe recently celebrated its 150 years. Of course the question that springs to mind is why not ask why an orthodox US bishop to do this?¨ Fr. Eric Kasirye
Provincial youth and Student's Secretary
Rev. Eric Kasirye
P.O.Box 14123, Kampala

David Virtue
David Virtue was one of the recipients, reporting in 2005 that “ I got a note this week from the Rev. Erich Kasirye, Diocesan Mission Coordinator for Bishop Samuel Ssekkadde, in the Diocese of Namirembe. This was the first Diocese in East and Central Africa which now has over 5 million membership.” (Note that David is obsessed with numbers). He couldn’t have been taken in by a scam, could he?

It’s not clear to me whether Erich Kasirye has genuinely been restored to an official post in the Church of Uganda nor how he might have benefitted financially from the letter written as Diocesan Mission Coordinator nor the present letter about the murdered gay man.

Archbishop Henry Orombi
However, in David Virtue’s 25 May 2010 report of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo’s presence at the consecration of Mary Glasspool, David (who seems to be in direct communication with Archbishop Henry Orombi and was sent the letter which Orombi sent to Archbishop Rowan Williams prior to the Lambeth Conference in 2008) reports Henry Orombi's comments at length.

When asked why Bishop Christopher was promoting the Integrity organization on his speaking tour of the USA and Ireland, Orombi said it was purely for the money: "The good news is that his assistant the Rev. Eric Kasirye has left him and returned to the church. Praise God."

Archbishop Henry Orombi seems to be directly implicated with the Revd Erich Kasiyre and therefore with the false report of the beheading of a member of Integrity Uganda.

Colin Coward

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Conservative evangelicals threaten to split church, defy bishops and withdraw financial support

Western societies have learnt a great deal in the past century about the way human beings behave and construct themselves in social systems. We have learnt about our capacity for self-delusion and how easy it is for individuals and groups of people to ally themselves with a cause which history reveals to be a gross error.

We in the west have learnt that equality for minority groups in society has to be worked and campaigned for positively. This is not simply a question of human rights but of justice for those children of God who are marginalised and abused by the majority because of perceived differences. This is prejudice. Minority groups pursuing a prejudiced agenda are now driving a wedge into the Anglican Communion.

Andrew Brown speculates that the leak about Jeffrey John came not from the liberals but from conservative evangelicals. It is the conservatives who are spoiling for a fight, he says.

‘They’ have been spoiling for fights since 1997 when they began to organise their campaign against homosexuality which resulted in the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10. ‘They’ have waged a determined, aggressive campaign against homosexuality in general and against particular individuals for the past 13 years.

‘They’ claim to represent the majority of people in the Anglican Communion. The people they claim to represent have never been formally asked about their views on homosexuality and have certainly never exercised a democratic vote.

In England a minority held the church to ransom when Jeffrey John was appointed to Reading and are attempting to do the same again now his name is in the frame for Southwark. They are doing it by issuing threats to split the church, seek alternative Episcopal oversight, withdraw financial support and deny canonical obedience to bishops they refuse to acknowledge or respect.

This is how conservative evangelicals are reacting to the news about Jeffrey John and Southwark and I don’t recognise the issuing of threats as Christian. It is abusive behaviour. I could quote Biblical passages to support my claim but their abuse includes dishonest and selective use of Scripture.

Reform warns that the church could split if Jeffrey John is made bishop of Southwark. Paul Dawson said it would cause very serious damage within the Church of England and precipitate the sort of split that has happened in America. This threat comes from small conservative groups and individuals in the Church of England, but the threat is real.

Anglican Mainstream, represented by Chris Sugden, say a number of clergy and parishes would not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and would seek alternative episcopal oversight elsewhere. What has happened in America will happen here.

Ray Skinner, rector of Morden in the diocese of Southwark, says there will be a formal divide. He claims there are two groups already within the Church of England, Inclusive Church and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

He claims that both are linking with other Anglican provinces. A Reform spokesman says that to appoint Jeffrey would send a very clear signal that the diocese of Southwark wants to walk in a different direction to the Church of England's doctrine. Both statements are lies, though I’m not sure Ray or the spokesman realise they are telling lies.

Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude have both developed strong relationships with bishops and primates in different parts of the Anglican Communion. These relationships strengthen our commitment to our unity in Christ as Christians first and Anglicans second. We are not and never will threaten to split the Communion.

Reform and Anglican Mainstream are threatening the church in various ways, one of which is to split from the Church of Anglican and form alliances with other groups who oppose truth and justice for LGBT and want to replace allegiance to Canterbury with a new, independent Anglican body.

A small group of conservative parishes in Southwark have been agitating for independence for some time now, causing bishop Tom Butler a great deal of distress. I know that some of the priests in no way represent the majority in their congregations.

The shocking thing about this whole campaign in the Anglican Communion is that a few self-appointed, media savvy men are holding the church to ransom and seeking to destroy its unity and fellowship in Christ.

Faced with such abusive and destructive behaviour, it is sometimes difficult to maintain Christian charity and not respond in kind. I was being so careful to maintain my composure during the Premier Radio interview with Chris Sugden yesterday that I was lost for words at the end and had no idea what to say. Changing Attitude continues to be committed to achieving full equality for LGBT people in the Anglican Communion and committed to the Communion as a Christian body which has always respected difference and diversity.

Thank goodness for God, who is not going to be phased as we vulnerable human beings are, by the vainglorious threats of a minority who are spoiling for a fight.

Colin Coward

Monday 5 July 2010

Uganda missing gay man found beheaded in a farm latrine while the CofE worries about Jeffrey John

I have just finished a live discussion on Premier Radio with Chris Sugden about the possibility of Jeffrey John being recommended for Southwark by the Crown Nomination Commission meeting this afternoon.

Chris said ‘so what’ in response to me when I said that his appointment would be good in that it would bring honesty and integrity to the church and a role model not only for LGBT people but for our families, friends, colleagues and congregations. It would also be a landmark in those parts of the Communion where hostility to LGBT people is dominant.

News from Uganda which surfaced today highlights why change in church teaching and practice towards homosexuality is imperative and urgent.

A search for a missing pro-gay priest, the Rev Henry Kayizzi Nsubuga, who disappeared almost two and half weeks ago after delivering a scathing speech at St. Paul's Church, Kanyanya supporting homosexuality in Uganda, led the joint search team of Integrity Uganda and Namirembe Diocese to the severed head of another person. The head was found in a pit latrine on the farm of Badru Kiggundu, the Electoral Commission Chairman, in Makindye Sabagabo, Wakiso District.

Judith Nabakooba, a police spokesperson, identified the head as that of Pasikali Kashusbe, one of the workers on Kigggundu’s farm and a member of Integrity Uganda. Pasikali and his partner Abbey are youth workers with Integrity Uganda charged with the responsibility of mobilising young LGBT people in activities which build community capacity to face up to the challenge of homophobia, especially in the area of attitude change and care through drama and sports activities.

According to the police, a mutilated torso which was earlier in the week discovered in Kabuuma Zone, about half a kilometre away from Kiggundu’s farm was probably Pasikali’s The torso was described as belonging to a young man and had no genitals.

Pasikali went missing over three and half weeks ago when the country was celebrating Uganda Martyrs Day. All efforts by his partner Abbey and other family members to find him had been fruitless.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Chairperson of Integrity Uganda lamented the murder of this young man as ‘absurd’ adding that, ‘clearly, the values of tolerance and social inclusion are sadly being sacrificed on the altar of state ignorance, ineptness and good old colonial stupidity’.

Homosexual acts are criminalized in Uganda under a sodomy law inherited from British colonial times, although punishments were substantially strengthened in 1990. Uganda government officials have regularly threatened and harassed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans. In October 2004, James Nsaba Buturo, the country’s information minister at the time, ordered police to investigate and “take appropriate action against” a gay association allegedly organized at Uganda’s Makerere University.

State-owned media have repeatedly called for stronger measures against homosexual conduct. On July 6, 2005, an article in the government-owned New Vision newspaper urged authorities to crack down on homosexuality, saying, “The police should visit the holes mentioned in the press, spy on the perverts, arrest and prosecute them”.

The climax of state inspired homophobia was in Mr. Bahati’s draft legislation called the Anti Homosexual Bill which if enacted would broaden the criminalisation of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty to people who have homosexual relations. Until then, there seems to be a new form of state fanaticism leveled against sexual minorities in Uganda -of missing LGBTI peoples who are picked by plain clothed security and found beheaded in latrines.

The Rev Erich Kasirye, General Secretary, Integrity Uganda, said:

‘Pasikali and his partner Abbey joined Integrity Uganda in June 2007 and during the last three years, Integrity Uganda has seen an increase in coordination and harmonisation of youth activities. Pasikali emphasized the promotion of the concept of care across the continuum through the formation of voluntary home care groups for young LGBTIs who continue to live in fear. He will be greatly missed by the entire LGBTI fraternity’.

Integrity Uganda has declared today, Monday 5th July as day of mourning for countless many LGBTI people who continue to go missing in the name of state homophobia and a requiem mass will be held at 2pm. Pasikali will be laid to rest at his ancestral home in Ikumba sub-county of Kabale district in Mbarara Region on Tuesday 6th July 2010 at 4pm.

Pasikali’s death is tragic, and stands as a reason why the Anglican Communion must change its teaching on homosexuality. There is no reason why the consciences of those who oppose the full inclusion of LGBT people should be allow to inhibit change in the church. The prevention of torture and murder of any individual must always be the first priority, ensuring that all citizens and Christians can live in an environment of love, security and affirmation.

The longer the argument about avoiding splits and schism in the church continues in the face of the horrendous legislation proposed in Uganda and the murder of LGBT people in the UK and the USA as well as Uganda and other African countries, the more insistent becomes the call for change in the church, NOW. We are committed to radical change in the Anglican Communion. Now is the time to become a supporter of changing attitude, working together with groups in the UK, North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand to achieve change which is holy, just and timely.

Colin Coward

The new paradigm unfolds on Radio 4 between Chris Sugden and Giles Fraser!

John Humphrys introduced this morning’s discussion on the Radio 4 Today programme by saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently wants the new bishop of Southwark to “be Jeffrey John who is openly gay.”

Neither of the Canons, Chris Sugden and Giles Fraser, contested this opening statement. Does it have the ring of truth about it, therefore – is +Rowan himself now supporting the nomination of Jeffrey to Southwark?

Since the news broke on the Telegraph website on Saturday, the story has gained significant momentum. Whatever the truth, the outcome of the nominations process is becoming an iconic moment in the progress towards the recognition of the full Christian integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as members of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It may become a moment of even greater transformation or another temporary set-back on the journey towards the inevitable outcome of radically changed attitudes.

The person specification drawn up by the diocese of Southwark says they are looking for someone willing to honour the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy. Despite this, Chris said there are several reasons why Jeffrey should not be appointed bishop of Southwark:

He is in a registered civil partnership, which the Church of England does not believe is the equivalent of marriage. (He referred, irrelevantly, to Lyn Featherstone’s written parliamentary reply of last week which makes it clear that there is a large push that Civil Partnerships should be able to be held in religious settings and recognised as the equivalent of marriage.)

Jeffrey was in an active gay relationship and is now said to be celibate and that is fine and one takes that at face value, he said. (Chris subtly implied that Jeffrey might not in truth be celibate, resting his argument on the idea that Jeffrey is unsuited because he was once in an active gay relationship. This would bar any person who had been involved in any kind of sexual relationship prior to marriage from being selected as a bishop.)

Chris then introduced the argument that if someone in high office was said to be fiddling the money, they would be thought ineligible for such office. (John Humphrys, somewhat outraged by this comparison, pointed out that Jeffrey isn’t breaking any laws. Ah, but he is breaking law of church, said Chris, the teaching of the church and the Anglican Communion that active homosexual practice is forbidden.)

The logic of Chris’s arguments is that +Rowan should not have been appointed Archbishop because he had previously written ‘The Body’s Grace’ in which he advocated ideas about human sexuality contrary to the ‘official teaching of the church’.

Giles Frazer told Chris it was outrageous to compare fiddling expenses with the way people love each other and that such love has to be honoured and respected. Chris chose not to respond to Giles, referring instead to wider issues, the three archbishops who have resigned from the standing committee of the Anglican Communion. He said the Archbishop of Canterbury would be acting against his own moratorium were he to support Jeffrey’s nomination.

Will the church split (yet again)?
John Humphries was excited by the danger of a split in the church. It’s already split internationally, said Giles, but there’s no chance the Church of England would split because it is almost of one mind on the issue.

Giles reminded us that there will be lots of threats and huffing and puffing and that there are maverick figures out there. Chris Sugden referred to one - Ray Skinner, the Rector of Morden, who with others will not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and would seek alternative Episcopal Oversight unless the new bishop keeps and teaches New Testament standards. This is part of the Anglican Mainstream fantasy - that it is legally possible in England to declare UDI from your bishop and diocese – it isn’t. The threat of blackmail is also being touted again, the withholding of parish quota with the claim that they could bankrupt the diocese. Why would any Christian wish to issue such threats against their brothers and sisters in the faith?

The appointment of Jeffrey John would be a radically transforming moment in the life of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

It would begin to heal many of the wounds which the church is inflicting on her lesbian and gay members:

It would send a message to LGBT people across the Communion that the ‘mother church’ is not abandoning them to the evils and prejudices of their own societies and of those Christian leaders who advocate violence against LGBT people.

It would reduce the isolation felt by the Episcopal Church and show for the first time that their commitment to justice and truth is shared, albeit to a lesser extent, by the Church of England.

Above all, it would help to usher in God’s new paradigm for church and creation, in which old, dualistic ideas are being overturned by (to quote James Alison) “God who is brilliantly alive, totally without violence, in no way circumscribed by death, who has revealed himself as loving humanity by giving himself to us to allow us to live outside, and beyond the culture of death.” The perception that God is love is absolutely incompatible with any perception of God as involved in violence, separation, anger or exclusion.

Colin Coward

Sunday 4 July 2010

Chichester - Bishop’s Move

Proposed survey of attitudes to LGBT people
Some time ago we at Changing Attitude Sussex (CAS) decided to conduct a survey of the attitudes of churches in our diocese towards LGBT people. We announced our plans to the local press and got a fair amount of good media coverage. As a result a number of Anglican clergy became sufficiently concerned about the idea that eventually I, as CAS Convenor, was contacted by the Rural Dean. We entered into discussions and it became clear that one of the main issues was clergy who wanted to report in the survey that their churches were welcoming to and affirming of LGBT people but were afraid of the reaction it might provoke from their diocesan hierarchy. The Rural Dean contacted the Bishop who invited us to his Palace in Chichester to talk the whole project through.

A remarkable event
This was quite a remarkable invitation and it proved to be quite a remarkable meeting. We all know the position set out in the now famous, some might say infamous, resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that ‘homosexual practice is incompatible with the teaching of scripture.’ This statement has come to take on the air of a magisterial teaching in a Church with no magisterium. Bishop John Hind firmly upholds this particular statement. His speaking and voting record in the House of Lords on LGBT issues is from our point of view, to say the least, not good. He is not a natural ally of ours. He does, however, take his pastoral role as a bishop in the established church of this country seriously. He is of course a pastor to all the people in his diocese and all the people includes us.

My LGCM colleague and I arrived at the Palace with a degree of trepidation. A rather fearsome looking agenda had been sent to us in advance of the meeting and we steeled ourselves for some frank exchanges. The agenda informed us that we would be meeting the Bishop of Chichester, the Bishop’s Chaplain, the Archdeacon, the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, the Rural Dean of Brighton and a lady theologian from the University of Chichester. This is quite a daunting line-up which conjured up mental images of heretics being interrogated by the Inquisition. In the event the Bishop’s chaplain greeted us warmly and we were shown through to the Palace gardens where a table had been prepared with bottles of red and white wine and nibbles. The bishop arrived and immediately created a positive atmosphere which is best described as friendly but business-like. We sat around the table without it being apparent that there were two ‘sides’. The meeting had been planned to last one hour but we stayed for almost two

The proposed survey
We explained what we wanted to do and actually showed the Bishop the survey sheet we intend to send to every church in Sussex over the coming months. The concept of the survey is very simple. It is a single sheet of A4 with descriptions of four different approaches to LGBT people, ranging for example from ‘leaders and congregation believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful and that it is wrong to be in a gay or lesbian relationship’ through to ‘gay and lesbian people can be fully and openly involved in every aspect of the church’s life including lay leadership roles’. In the accompanying letter, which will be sent to both the vicar of the parish and the secretary of the parochial church council, we ask that these descriptions be discussed with representatives of the congregation. They then simply tick the box which best represents how things are in their church. We also ask them to add any comments they might wish to make. On the basis of these results we will compile a ‘Which Church?’ dossier which we hope will be helpful to LGBT people in choosing a church.

Not St Paul on the road to Damascus but…..
Bishop John’s response to us took us by surprise. There was no blinding light and sudden conversion to our cause like St Paul on the road to Damascus. There was however an unexpectedly definite willingness to ‘do business’ with us. We had made it clear that the survey would go ahead whatever, but that we thought it would be in the interests both of the Church and of LGBT people if it could go ahead with some kind of supportive statement from the diocese as to its value and usefulness. This he agreed to, and the statement he gave us will be very valuable indeed in ensuring a good response to the survey. He said:

‘I consider this survey to be a helpful and appropriate contribution to the process of listening to the experience of gay people commended to all in the Anglican Communion by the 1998 Lambeth Conference.’

He went on to say that he thought the results of the survey would form a sound basis for further discussion.

This really is an extraordinarily positive position for Bishop John to adopt. Although not a formal member, he is associated with Forward in Faith and was a keynote speaker at their conference last Autumn. So this was a pastor reaching out a long way to find common cause with a particular section of his flock. Given where he is coming from I think it was a visionary act on his part and he is to be commended for it. He did this in the full knowledge that there will be people on his own side who will criticise him severely for it.

The spirit of the times?
Because the press release went out through the Diocesan Communications Office there has been considerable media interest. The Argus used the story to sell its paper and billboards all over Brighton and Hove had ‘HOW GAY FRIENDLY IS YOUR CHURCH? written on them in big black letters. The Sun picked up on it in its own inimitable style under the wonderful headline ‘Pew’s the most gay?’ So far all the media reporting has been positive. After Bishop James Jones of Liverpool recently shifting his position, arguing that we should now agree to disagree, accepting that there are different views which can legitimately be held within a single communion, and Bishop Tom Butler from Southwark taking advantage of his retirement a few weeks back to say that he had changed his mind and was now opposed to discrimination against LGBT people, perhaps Bishop John’s courageous public statement of support for our survey is part of the spirit of the times. Let us hope so.

For more information visit
Dr Keith Sharpe
Chair, Changing Attitude Sussex

Saturday 3 July 2010

Too good to be true? – Dr Jeffrey John the candidate most favoured by the CNC for Southwark

A report by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph maintains that Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, is understood to be the favoured candidate as next Bishop of Southwark.

If this is true, then it would be with the knowledge and approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury who chairs the Crown Nominations Commission meetings.

Such a move, says Jonathan, threatens to provoke a damaging split in the Church of England (what, another one?) and would trigger a civil war between liberals and conservatives and exacerbate existing divisions within the Anglican Communion.

The report says David Cameron has already been made aware that Dr John is on the shortlist and is understood to be supportive of the appointment as it would reinforce the Conservative Party's drive to shake off its "nasty party" image.

Jonathan used to work for the Church of England Newspaper, which doesn’t necessarily explain why he commits the gross error of claiming that Dr John was consecrated as Bishop of Reading before Dr Williams forced him to resign.

More accurately, Jonathan writes that Dr Williams and Dr John Sentamu (also a member of the commission), will face fierce criticism from the conservative wing of the Church if they allow Dr John to become a bishop. Apparently neither archbishop blocked his name at the commission's last meeting.

I came across the report in a link on Anglican Mainstream’s web site just after I’d completed the Radio 5 live interview with Chris Sugden. How astonishing, I thought.

Jonathan reminds us that Jeffrey is an openly-homosexual cleric and a hugely divisive figure in the church. I guess this language and hyperbole appeals to Telegraph readers.

The Telegraph sees the appointment, if it is made, as a major victory for the pro-gay lobby in the Church of England that could shatter the Archbishop's hopes of maintaining the fragile unity which currently exists in the Church.

If true, then the implications are huge. The Church of England would gain a bishop of immense intelligence and passion. LGBT Anglicans would gain renewed confidence that the Church of England retains a capacity to be (cautiously) radical, inclusive, broad and generous. It would signal a dramatic change of direction in the Communion. Further resignations by conservative members of the Primates meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Standing Committee might be expected.

The balance of power between conservative and radical groups in the Communion might change dramatically given such a huge reversal following the successful campaign by those claiming to be traditional in blocking Jeffrey John’s appointment in 2003. England might at last be able to stand with our Episcopal Church friends in being honest about the numbers of LGBT deacons, priests and lay people (and bishops) who lead exemplary Christian lives in the service of the gospel.

Colin Coward (trying to contain his excitement)

Christian marriage for lesbian and gay couples - does Anglican Mainstream now approve?

This evening I participated in a discussion on Radio 5 live about gay marriage with Canon Dr Chris Sugden from Anglican Mainstream.

Chris’s arguments were all too familiar. The Civil Partnership legislation is unfair because it gave inheritance rights to one category of people but excluded other categories, brothers and sisters living together, for example. Chris claimed that the legislation should have included them on the grounds of equality. Of course, I agree, and I will for ever more remember that equality is a value which Anglican Mainstream now advocates.

He also argued that marriage was something entirely different from gay relationships because it is between a man and a woman. But what makes gay relationships different from, he argued, is that as statistics show (and Chris loves quoting statistics to prove that he is right) gay relationships last an average of 2 years. Statistics show that gay relationships are not for life, are not long lasting and are not exclusive.

It is an insult to Chris’s intelligence to remind him that statistics also show that the same is true of heterosexual relationships, whether couples marry or cohabit. The only difference may be in the length of a relationship and the number of extra-marital affairs one of both partners may have.

I know that Chris hasn’t conceded that gay relationships are equivalent to marriage but he did just that in the arguments presented in this evening’s programme.

My response was to say that although he is a member of General Synod and therefore influential in ensuring that the last government didn’t legislate to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry, the Church of England’s position certainly didn’t represent my view nor the views of a huge number of church members.

If there is a statistical difference between the length of gay and straight relationships at the moment, this is not surprising given the very brief period of time in this country that gay people have legally been able to engage in sexual activity and the even briefer time in which our relationships have become visible and granted legal status. But Christian lesbian and gay couples bring exactly the same values and expectations of monogamy and fidelity for life that heterosexual couples bring to marriage.

Chris Sugden effectively conceded in his arguments this evening that lesbian and gay Christians should be able to contract marriages in church. It is the sacramental action witnessed by family, friends and the local Christian community that endows relationships with the blessing of God and creates the environment in which the challenge of living together can be enriched and deepened.

Colin Coward