Sunday 29 August 2010

A successful, anti-gay African Bishops Conference in Entebbe?

Arguing about the divisions in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality feels futile sometimes.

The bishops who gathered in Entebbe last week think they represent the majority, the true Christians, for whom homosexuality is the most evil abomination imaginable. I do not belong to such a group. If their interpretation of Jesus’ teaching leads them to this conclusion, then why should they not leave and form an exclusive church that is cleansed of the evil they imagine?

The Ugandan Daily Monitor reports comments from three of the Archbishops present last week.

The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, said: “Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice. Although there is a lot of pressure, we cannot turn our hands to support it. We are saying homosexuality is not compatible with the word of God. We are saying that this culture of other people is against the traditional belief of marriage held by the Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop’s views do not represent those of other Provinces, Primates, bishops and churches, nor the mind of the Anglican Communion. No Anglican Communion report describes homosexuality as evil, abnormal and unnatural. But it’s futile to note this, to question why Henry Orombi says such things and gets away with it. He refutes Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report, which call for an ongoing process of listening and discernment and urges Provinces to “reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.”

The Archbishop of the Province of Indian Ocean, Ian Ernest, said the teachings of homosexuality are irrelevant to the needs of Africans and are unrepresentative demographically.

If he had said irrelevant to the needs of some Africans, he would have been more accurate. But he didn’t. He ignored the millions of Africans who identify confidently as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. He ignored their families and friends and congregations. He ignored the effect his dishonesty has on the integrity of individual bishops, congregations, Primates (including those Primates who are gay) and on the integrity of the whole Communion.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria said homosexuality is a result of some people engaged in making their culture to be superior to the biblical teachings. “Homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in the society but the only trouble is that the issues dividing us now are very difficult to handle. They are threatening the unity of the church because they disobey the authority of the scriptures. It is two sided; while some people want to be obedient to their culture to determine the content of the church, others say no and it must be the guidance of the bible,” he said.

It’s something of a breakthrough that Nicholas Okoh accepts that homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in society. But he claims that it is we who are threatening the unity of the church, obeying culture rather than scripture. He forgets that the change in attitudes to the slave trade happened in part because people challenged assumptions about scripture from the perspective of culture.

On Wednesday the Daily Monitor reported that the Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, commended African bishops for rejecting the practice of homosexuality in the church. “I thank the church in Africa for being exemplary by not accepting homosexuality… they see that it is not acceptable in the society where they serve,” Prof. Nsibambi said. He added: “We should not persecute them but I think it is wrong and we cannot recognise them because it is wrong like ordaining a gay bishop.”

His qualification in the last sentence is significant. The Prime Minister told a recent visitor (who reported the conversation to me) that the Anti-homosexuality Bill is dead and will not be passed into law. Politicians are not following where bishops would like to drive them – towards further vilification and persecution of LGBT people.

The Daily Monitor thinks the anti-homosexuality voices from the bishops are a likely boost to proponents of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It would seem the monitor is wrong – the bishops are simply propounding their own prejudice.

It’s hard work, maintaining calm opposition to the views held by Africa Primates and bishops, and to be confident that one day, LGBT people in Africa and Asia will achieve the freedom to live with dignity in society with the justice and protection we have come to value in the UK.

I pray to God that enough people will hold to the positives in the Windsor Report, which others in the Communion are determined to deny in an attempt to exterminate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from their consciousness, their Provinces and their culture.

Colin Coward

Friday 20 August 2010

Ugandan Bishops threaten to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury about homosexuality in Entebbe next week

I’m now regretting my decision not to fly to Uganda next Monday to report from the All African Bishops Conference (AABC) meeting from August 23 to 29 in Entebbe.

A report published today by Icebreakersuganda says that the Ugandan bishops have been meeting in Mukono for the bi-annual three day provincial assembly. In the course of the meeting they reaffirmed their opposition to gay rights and gay acceptance in the Church of Uganda and vowed to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury over his stand on homosexuality and gay bishops serving in the church at the All Africa Bishops Conference next week.

Archbishop Rowan could probably do without me adding complexity to the mix, but as I’ve learnt at other meetings, there’s value in having someone present able to report from a different perspective.

The Ugandan bishops promised to let Archbishop Rowan know where they stand with him and also make it clear that they will never agree with him on the issue of homosexuals in the church.

During the Mukono meeting, Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda (pictured above with Eluid Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya) said they would not break away from Canterbury but would not cooperate with it until after Archbishop Rowan Williams changed his stance on homosexuality in the church or retired as Archbishop.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day provincial Assembly in Mukono, Archbishop Orombi noted that the Communion has lost credibility. He proposed that the Church of Uganda engages church structures at a very minimal level until godly faith and order have been restored.

“I can assure you that we have tried as a church to participate in the processes, but they are dominated by western elites, whose main interest is advancing a vision of Anglicanism that we do not know or recognise. We are a voice crying in the wilderness,” he said. “What I can tell you is that the Anglican Church is very broken. It has been torn at its deepest level, and it is a very dysfunctional family of the provincial churches. It is very sad for me to see how far down the church has gone.”

The Monitor reports that at the same meeting, the Principal Judge of the High Court of Uganda, Justice James Ogoola, called for love and tolerance to diversity. He said when love met justice in Israel, the nation blossomed and noted that there was a need to deeply reflect on the fear of God. He said: “The church and the court must ascend to the mountain top, hold high the flag and stay at the forefront of the effort to dispense love and justice to the desperate and the disenchanted and to the oppressed and the suppressed.”

I suppose it doesn’t cross the minds of the Archbishop and Judge to remember that the same sentiments were expressed when black people were fighting for freedom from slavery in the USA, and the same Biblical roots have inspired the Christian campaign to free lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from an oppressive and prejudiced church.

The Archbishop of the Church of Kenya, Eluid Wabukala, was also present at the meeting and asked church leaders to reinvent their attitude in the interest of the church’s development. “I know it is good to always question the credibility of some developments but don’t get paralysed,” Bishop Wabukala said. “Let your leadership always know seasons of growth to accord the opportunity to church to develop.”

‘Reinventing Attitudes’ now there’s another good name for an LGBT Christian campaign group.

Colin Coward

Monday 16 August 2010

Ugandan LGBT people disappearing as the All Africa Bishops Conference prepares to meet

Leonard Clark Beardsley’s recent blog reminded me to check gayuganda’s blog on Sunday. Gug hasn’t posted since 15 July when he reported that:

They've had a journalist infiltrate the Kampala gay community to try and ferret out what makes gay boys tick. It's not the first time this sort of thing has happened and the only thing that sets it apart is that this journalist has made a clumsy attempt to be balanced. That said, this journalist simply knows too much about the gay community for me to believe that he didn't get embedded deeper than he admits. And that is a great cause for discomfort.

The tactics the journalist are pretty basic and that he seems to be so successful merely attests to the humanity in all of us. But it is also a wake-up call for those Ugandan gay boys who seem unable to take the simplest precautions in this day and age when stalkers, blackmailers and malevolent people are on the prowl, with gay boys and girls as their target.

Gug confessed that he is more paranoid than lots of people. He has helped make connections and lessened LGBT isolation in more than one way, yet continues to be anonymous, gay, and closeted, and damned shy! Some have more to lose than others. It is very hard to live in self denial; and sometimes recklessness takes the place of despair.

Maybe I am just a coward, he concluded. And since then, nothing. No post and no response to emails. Alarm bells have been ringing furiously since the weekend.

On Saturday I went to Black Gay Pride held in the grounds of Regents College, Regents Park, London, on Saturday, helping Davis Mac-Iyalla, my partner and others on the Changing Attitude stall. Davis introduced me to a gay Ugandan who has been granted asylum in the UK, an Anglican living and worshipping in Southsea. He told me that many lesbian and gay Ugandans have been arrested in recent months. Why hasn’t this been reported, I asked him. Because the Ugandan media are afraid of being prosecuted under the terms of Bahati’s Anti-homosexuality Bill, even though it hasn’t been passed into law yet, he said.
I emailed gug again when I arrived home, plus other Ugandan contacts, but I still haven’t received a response.

Leonard also alerted me to the All Africa Bishops Conference which is being held at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe, from 23rd – 29th August 2010, when 400 African Anglican bishops will be hosted by the Church of Uganda. The Archbishop of Canterbury is preaching at the opening service at 9am on Tuesday 24th.

The conference web site contains information about the conference, including the programme (though the final 2 days are missing).

On Wednesday morning there is a presentation on Nurturing Harmonious and Dignified Communities which includes Managing Diversity & Mechanisms for Conflict Management, Protection of the Vulnerable: Children and Protection of the Vulnerable: Women. The second presentation on Thursday morning is Disempowering the Powerful and Empowering the Vulnerable. Homosexuality is most definitely not on the agenda, I’m told, partly to ensure that the South African bishops feel comfortable enough to attend.

My immediate response was to explore whether it is possible to fly to Uganda next Monday, report on the conference and try and make contact with some of the LGBT groups and individuals I know in Kampala. Visas can be obtained in 24 hours, hotels and flights are available, but funding isn’t, time is short, and my safety is a concern to those close to me. If I were to go, I would certainly be the only openly gay person present and almost certainly the only person reporting from a pro-gay, pro-inclusion, pro-TEC perspective.

The Church of Uganda is determined not to give ground in the Anglican Communion, even if many in the church believe that too much attention has been given to homosexuality, but the lives and security of LGBT Ugandans, people like gug and my other Ugandan friends, remain at risk for as long as the prejudice and attitudes fuelled by the Bahati Bill remain unchallenged.

Colin Coward

Monday 9 August 2010

Changing Attitude at Brighton Pride

Changing Attitude Sussex marched with other faith groups on Saturday through the centre of Brighton on Saturday. Our section was led by a Metropolitan Community Church banner, followed by Unitarians, Quakers and a Jewish group with Changing Attitude and LGCM following. We were, as in Manchester last year and Leeds and London this year, greeted enthusiastically.

We were joined by various people as the Parade progressed, people who clearly wanted to identify with us as Christians.

Several of us wore clerical shirts but the presence of dog collars seemed less of a surprise to the Brighton Pride crowd than in Manchester or Leeds - perhaps Brighton has long been used to exotic costumes, making priests unremarkable!

I’m discovering how different Pride celebrations and parades are in different parts of England. Leeds is still comparatively small but the market place and party area is open for all and a lot or personal contact and conversation is possible. The Manchester party is ticket only and more exclusive. Brighton parade is a total contrast. Something like 150,000 people enjoy a huge range of market stalls, food outlets, disco tents and fairground rides at Preston Park. The sound level makes conversation almost impossible but the atmosphere is electric.

At 4pm the church of St John the Evangelist, five minute's walk from Preston Park, the church's 'back garden', held a service to welcome, listen, affirm and value. The church had felt uncomfortable in the past with the way protestors at previous Prides had given a negative impression of Christian attitudes. The service was meditative and healing.

Colin Coward

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Broken Hearts and New Creation – James Alison’s latest book launched at CA London and Southwark meeting

Changing Attitude London and Southwark held a book launch yesterday evening at St Martin-in-the-Fields for two books by James Alison. The focus was on Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal but the recently revised and republished Raising Abel was also available. Both books can be ordered through the Changing Attitude web site which has one of the most comprehensive online lists of LGBT Christian books (Please let me know of other books that should be added).

Over 100 people came to hear James respond to questions about Broken Hearts from Clare Herbert, co-convenor of the group. Introducing the interview, Brendan Walsh, DLT’s commissioning editor, described the impact James’s books have made on professional theologians and others. He is, said Brendan, every serious theologian’s favourite theologian – after themselves. He is doing great theology that has real visceral impact.

What has changed?
James said what has changed for Catholics is that being gay has been taken out of the field of doctrine into the human sciences. An anthropological breakthrough has taken place and it is now a grave mistake to think about homosexuality as a theological problem. The basic question is now – Is there such a thing as being gay or lesbian? Is it a form or vice or a pathology? Only in the last 50 years has it been possible to say there is a regularly occurring minority variant which is not pathological, and this is now a real piece of human knowledge which is having big effects in the theological sphere. But we are talking about it in the anthropological sphere now – talking about who are these lesbian and gay humans who are undergoing grace.

Being our self
It is really difficult to step out from being reactive and from defining ourselves over against anyone else as if I can only be myself over against those who are different or who I fear are persecuting me. Becoming who I am going to be involves a huge amount of letting go.

False trails of sameness and difference
Difference, said James, is much exaggerated – there is much more sameness around than difference. Liking people who are like us can be very difficult and we are challenged not to run away from nor be disgusted or frightened when we discover how alike we are to someone else we have been judging. There can be no moral discourse without a basic sense of liking someone and recognising that we are the same as each other.

Being Church
It is difficult to ask for what we really want because we are not really sure who we are becoming and therefore, what that might be. Other people want us to become “this person”, the one who fits their idea of us, not our true self. We are failing to be the true church if we don’t make this true, utterly authentic space available to people in which the true self can be found.

Finding faith
James was asked how people can find this kind of faith against apparently impossible odds. So much Christian discourse about faith is emotional blackmail, he responded, the threat that if you don’t believe X or Y you will go to hell. To quote from the book:
“The word ‘God’ for too long has been a cold word describing a powerful object. ‘Creation’ has for too long been a serious, stable, safe background on which a heavy, human morality can be erected, and against which self-regarding approval can be granted. What Jesus did has for too long been described in emotionally blackmailing terms, pushing people into contorted forms of asceticism and fake goodness.”
But there is, he said, a habitual confidence given us by another, the Other other, in whose hands we can relax. How on earth do people find that? – by asking for it. He didn’t call it prayer but prayer it might be. Faith has to be found through discovering that God likes us and understands that we are frightened of self-appreciation. If someone likes you, you drop the mask. Relaxation is the result of someone liking you. Jesus says of God, you can trust me, I am not out to get you. God is nudging us to drop the mask.

Gay activism
Is there a place in his theology for gay activism and if there is, should we be focussing on gay pride or gay marriage? – yes, attend to both was his answer. We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for the early activists, GLF, Stonewall, Gay Pride, etc, they opened the doors for us. He was concerned that too much attention might be focussed on gay activism in the church and the amount of emotional and mental energy that goes into trying to change the church. Let’s invest our time and energy where it can make a difference and not invest in fighting a paper tiger – the church will catch up eventually.

Different Christianity
We should be investing our time and energy now in creating a new Christianity that is going to look so different in one hundred years time. So much is up for grabs and we should be trying to get people to re-imagine themselves and their faith. To quote the book again, “We have to be sitting alongside our brother frauds and working out, with their help, and with fear and trembling, what it looks like to be hoiked off into the new Creation.”

Colin Coward

Changing Attitude England needs resources not to fight the paper tiger but to achieve real change, taking the infinite love of God to Brighton Pride this Saturday as we did in Leeds last Sunday. To have a stall and march with our banners in a gay pride costs about £250. Please click to join Changing Attitude or make a donation

Monday 2 August 2010

Changing Attitude at Leeds Pride

One of the commitments Changing Attitude has made this year is to become more involved with the various Pride events taking place around the country. This weekend it was Norwich and Leeds and I preached at the Pride Eucharist at All Hallows Leeds at 10.30 on Sunday morning.

Following lunch we drove to Leeds parish church before taking leaflets to the stall in the market place and the banners to Millenium Square where crowds were congregating for the beginning of the march.

The Some Christians are Gay banner atracted instant attention and people wanted to be photographed in front of it throughout the march.

We also had the Christians Together at Pride banners which had first been used at London Pride this year.

Our stall in the market place in the heart of Leed's gay quarter was up and running from 1pm and attracting a lot of attention and a great variety of conversations.

Body and face painting was available across the road from us, and the gifted artists created some amazing transformations.

Conservative Christian web sites would have you believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are obsessed with curious sexual practices and use gay pride events to dress provocatively. The following picture shows the crowds in Leeds, thronging the gay quarter beneath the main railway line to York. I always wonder who are the sexually obsessed people when I mingle in an LGBT crowd, where orindary people have an opportunity to express their extraordinary, creative, God-created selves for a day.

Those of us who marched and staffed the stall all day from All Hallows church and other congregations in Leeds, lay and ordained had an amazing time. Many people asked us those of us wearing clerical collars whether we were really priests. such is the damage being done by conservative Christians to the image of the church. People at Pride expect Christians to be strongly prejudiced and anti-gay. When people discovered that we were straight and gay people marching in solidarity with LGBT people, there was instant delight.

Jack Parkes, aka Doorman Priest, has posted a report of his experience at Leeds Pride for the first time (encountering students past and present) and he's worth reading for a more extensive account of Pride and for the what it feels like for a straight priest to be there where assumptions about your sexuality can't easily be explained away.

Every time Changing Attitude and other pro-LGBT Christian groups and congregations are present at gay prides across the country, we reach out and communicate God's love and passion for all humankind in our infinte and glorious diverity. Praise be to God!

Colin Coward