Monday 27 September 2010

Yearning for change in the Anglican Communion - discrimination wrong, affirmation right

I want to add my thoughts to those posted by Christina yesterday on the Times interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ruth Gledhill’s blog and The Times leader. I haven’t read any of The Times material directly, only what is available outside the firewall, so I may be commenting on inaccurate reports and I’m going to be cautious.

The Archbishop, according to Ruth, seems to have said both that he has issues about a "particular choice of life", which makes the question of gay ordination more problematic than the ordination of women because for women, that’s simply about who and what they are.

I think (though I can’t be sure) that the Archbishop is not saying that being gay is a particular choice of life (because he then goes on to say that gay celibate Christians can serve as bishops in the Church of England) but that a choice to live a non-celibate life as a gay priest or bishop is problematic.

Canon Dr Vinay Samuel has commented on the Archbishop’s interview on Anglican Mainstream. He questions the Archbishop’s assumption that being gay is who some people are, that we are not simply different in the way that some people are male, some female, some white, some black. He claims that there is still “no incontrovertible evidence to suggest that orientation is not a choice but an inherited characteristic … although many liberal proponents used orientation to mean an inherited trait.”

Orthodox Anglicans insist, he says, that gay sexual orientation is “a feeling, a choice or even possibly an outcome of certain psycho-social pressures and upbringing” and “[m]ore than two decades of research in many fields has failed to confirm that gays are born that way.” This is Anglican Mainstream’s belief and Vinay Samuel disagrees with it. He says that “if someone believes strongly that they are gay, the church is not rejecting that self understanding out of hand. It may challenge it but it is willing to accept as the way that individual understands his/her sexuality.”

I believe in the core of my being, my identity in creation and in Christ, that I am gay. To suggest, as Mainstream does, that I am mistaken about my core identity, is wounding and destructive of my whole being. Whatever the Archbishop of Canterbury says about what I am and am not allowed to do as a gay Christian priest, I need to know incontrovertibly, to use Vinay Samuel’s word, that who I understand myself to be is who I really am, and that the Church of England acknowledges my self-identity and the Anglican Communion acknowledges the identity of those across the Communion who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

If there are minority campaign groups such as Anglican Mainstream who wish to argue that I am mistaken in my self-identity, they have to freedom to do so, of course. If the Anglican Communion, in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the other Instruments of Communion, fails to recognise me for who I believe I am, along with tens of thousands of other Anglicans, then our differences are profoundly serious.

The Archbishop says that from his appointment to Canterbury eight years ago he was “conscious” of the issue of homosexuality as “a wound in the whole ministry”. I hope this means that there is a wound in the whole ministry of the world-wide Communion because gay people are present as priests and bishops and parts of the Communion experience our very presence as problematic, a wound – not that being gay itself is the wound.

He said that being gay is no bar to being ordained as a priest or bishop. “To put it very simply, there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop.” I take that to mean that the concerns I express above are answered by the Archbishop. I am gay and I am a priest. But Ruth queries the Archbishop. Is there really NO PROBLEM with being gay and ordained?

There are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe, such as fidelity in marriage. Lesbian and gay Christians are not challenging the church’s traditional, historic standard of the expectation of fidelity in relationship. We are questioning why lesbian and gay adults who form permanent, faithful, stable relationships should not make vows to each other in the presence of God and our congregation and have our covenant relationships blessed by the church, at least equivalent to marriage.

Ruth asked the Archbishop what is wrong with a gay bishop having a partner. “I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it. The Church at the moment doesn’t quite know what to make of it...” When asked if the Archbishop personally wished it could be overcome in some way there was silence and then: “Pass.”

It’s true that the Church corporately doesn’t know what to make of it. I would disagree that the scriptural and traditional approach doesn’t give much ground for being positive and here is one of the places that much more work needs to be done.

Is it really so difficult for the Archbishop to say what’s wrong with having partnered gay bishops, asks Ruth. He continued: “We’re in the middle of vastly difficult conversations about it, and I don’t want to put thumbs on scales.” I don’t think I understand what he means by thumbs on scales, but I most certainly understand that the conversations are vastly difficult, and not only in Africa, South America or Asia.

The conversations in my home church in Devizes about our Civil Partnership and the intention to follow it with a Communion service celebrating friendship have been intense. Some people who have been friends for 6 years have shuned me, others have left the congregation. The added pressure on our incumbent became intolerable with the result that he has taken time off. At the micro and the macro level, conversation is difficult and relationships become severed.

I am committed to developing relationships across difference following the example modeled by the Archbishop. It means going out of your way to take risks, cross the street towards people, not the other way in order to avoid them, and turning up in places where you are unlikely to receive an enthusiastic welcome from other Anglicans. The Anglican Communion, local, national and international, is not very good at doing this.

The Times leader says that in seeking a settlement within Anglicanism: “Dr Williams risks diminishing its prophetic voice. If he were to worry less about politics, he might find the resources to strengthen Anglicanism and find spiritual fulfillment of his own. For with his profound theological insight, Dr Williams is better placed than anyone to, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, discern the signs of the times.”

Rowan’s spirituality and profound theological insight has been a core part of my inspiration since I learnt from him in lectures at Westcott House and more crucially, from joining him every morning in the chapel for 30 minutes of contemplation.

Meditating with other people every day in this way leads into an experience of prayer and encounter with God that has deepened with the passing years and infuses my work for Changing Attitude as much as it infuses the Archbishop’s ministry and role in the Communion. I can’t help but wish, with The Times, that he use his historic role of interpretation in the tradition of Christendom to affirm as a Christian leader and a theologian that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. I wish for more, of course – that he positively affirm that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are loved by God and welcomed unreservedly by the Church, with our partners, into the threefold ministry.

Colin Coward

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  1. Whatever anyone may wish, Rowan Williams has been instrumental in creating the Gordian knot this issue has become. He is the very last person who will ever be in a position of cutting it.

  2. I find it especially twisted for aledged/terrorstricken ¨heterosexuals¨ to be pontificating about LGBT Anglican Christians as if we are somehow ¨chosing¨ to be something akin to liars, theives and all-around deceivers and tormentors of other Anglicans...truly I think a emotional/spiritual disease (or common greed) is running rampant in the lives of many at The Global South/Gafcon and beyond at ACNA...these ¨accusers¨ have no business taking their eyes off their OWN PERSONAL CHARACTER/EVERYDAY BEHAVIOR as they allow us to see the fear and hate that picks-up-the-void of TRUST and LOVE for ¨God and neighbors¨ in their lives...these unfortunate desperados are on a sprint off a cliff of their own lack of faith-and-good-judgment eager self-righteous-riot making! Frantic and feardriven comes to mind as they abuse others around them at if it is they who were giving expert/first-person Christian witness and reaching for honor at The Body of Christ...they are no more than gossips smearing others. Perhaps the demonizers of LGBTI´s ought consult a wiser religious person, Archbishop Tutu is available for common-sense spiritual conversations for serious Christian seekers of TRUTH: HERE Enough with the wives tale inspired slander from abusers on the hoof!

  3. Evangelical Christianity is predicated upon the *validity of self-understanding* (How else will one come to know one's self as a SINNER, in need of redemption?)

    It is simply hypocritical of them to assert that *only* LGBTs, lack this sort of self-understanding!

  4. I know someone who has recently been denied even a meeting to discuss ordination because he is in a gay monogamous relationship. Are some parish priests putting forward gay men for ordination?