Sunday 10 October 2010

Moderating and deleting inappropriate behaviour by Primates and bishops in the Anglican Communion

‘Anonymous’ continues to post comments to this blog. I have to read them to decide whether to post or bin them. It’s tedious. Sometimes I contemplate posting the less offensive in a spirit of openness and generosity, but think again. Tolerance and generosity are admirable qualities. But why would readers of a blog dedicated to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion want to read counter arguments about statistics proving that gay relationships don’t last and gay men die 10 years earlier than heterosexuals or that discriminating against homosexuality is more humane than affirming something that is mutually self-destructive? You see, I knew you didn’t want to read this!

The campaign against the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Communion was launched in Kuala Lumpur in 1997. I arrived at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 feeling positive and optimistic, have been invited by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town to make a presentation (with others) to the section dealing with human sexuality. We were denied, and spent the next three weeks trying to get a hearing from whoever would listen to us. Kuala Lumpur had already achieved its goal – demonize homosexuals – from which the attempted exorcism of Richard Kirker was a natural outcome. The plenary debate was a coup for the rabid, anti-gay conservative mob (for that is what they felt like) presided over by George Carey, then Archbishop, as if they represented normal Christian behaviour and attitudes.

We were thrown onto the defensive. Meanwhile, civil society in the UK began to work it’s way swiftly towards accepting LGBT people as full members of society, educated by a government which placed equality high on the agenda. We LGBT Christians lived in a state of confusion between a progressive state and a regressive Church. Let’s put it bluntly – the Church became an insecure, hostile, negative, homophobic, abusive place for LGBT people, driving gay Christians back into the closet. Conservatives set out to deliberately to attack us, eroding our faith and spirituality in the process.

Some of their tactics, as I commented in yesterday’s blog, have been abusive and infantile. We were having to defend ourselves against this background of anti-gay rhetoric to which was added a campaign to marginalize not just us, but any church, Province, Primate or bishop who supported us.

An extraordinary, dangerous change took place. Ideas about human sexuality and models of behaviour which find legitimacy in the Bible became accepted as appropriate in the Anglican Communion when they were being recognised in the secular world as prejudiced, homophobic and wrong.

Laws were introduced in the UK to protect the rights and dignity of LGBT people. In the church our rights and dignity have been and are under constant attack. In the USA, where equality for LGBT people is still being campaigned for, supporters of LGBT equality in the Episcopal Church have argued their case in the Communion and American society with force and clarity, and been repeatedly attacked for doing so.

In the ‘tolerant’ ‘broad’ Church of England we have been far more passive. I think we failed to recognise abusive, intolerant, infantile behaviour for what it is when conservatives have repeatedly behaved in this way.

The Archbishop of Canterbury found himself enmeshed in this dynamic following Gene Robinson’s election and the vitriolic campaign against Jeffrey John led by members of General Synod. The Archbishop has been treated by other Primates and bishops in the most abusive, unchristian, infantile way sometimes. +Rowan is a Christian leader of immense dignity, emotional and intellectual maturity, wisdom, grace, tenderness and love and has endured unbearable pain and anguish for most of the eight years he has been Archbishop. We, LGBT people, have added to the tension, by simply being who we are, wanting to be recognised appropriately and arguing accordingly.

We LGBT Christian advocates allowed the conservatives to distract our attention, pushing us onto the defensive, having to develop counter-arguments to their anti-gay rhetoric. I’m trying to look at the picture in a different way now. Conservatives have focused Church attention on disagreements about human sexuality, basing their arguments on particular interpretations of scripture, tradition and reason. There are other interpretations, as many theologians have articulated, the Archbishop of Canterbury among them.

Enmeshed in these arguments, played out in mini-dramas in ACC Nottingham and Jamaica, Primates in Dromantine, Dar Es Salaam and Alexandria, Lambeth ’98, the offices of Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion, GAFCON, FoCA, CANA, ACNA etc., we have been unable to focus proper attention on the abusive, immature, manipulative behaviour of many of the participants in these dramas.

It has happened many, many times, but Bishop David Anderson’s advice to conservative Anglican Primates treat the next Primates’ meeting as a battleground at which they can scheme to outflank the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury is a prime example and Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini’s reference to homosexuality as being ‘moral genocide’ another.

We will never, never come to a mature understanding of human sexuality and the place of LGBT people in society and church while bishops and Primates behave like this. They are setting an appalling, unchristian example before our Church, our Provinces and our congregations. Theirs is a disgraceful example of leadership, authority, power and spirituality.

I see this behaviour being acted out at General Synod debates on women in the episcopate, in the schismatic church bodies in North America and in the attitude towards LGBT people expressed by the majority of African Primates.

The Anglican Communion is faced with a huge challenge. How can the key decision making bodies, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates meeting and the Lambeth Conference (were the conservatives to attend) make considered, theologically competent, emotionally mature, adult decisions, when some of the participants are not able to act in a mature, adult way?

The comments posted by ‘anonymous’ may be given credence in the worlds of North American schismatics, English misogynists and African Provinces where concepts of sexual difference are novel, but at least I can moderate them and delete them when they are inappropriate. It’s not so easy to moderate and delete inappropriate behaviour from the Anglican Communion.

Colin Coward

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  1. I'm in two minds about Anonymouses and infantile behaviour, and I would almost want to flip your statement "We will never, never come to a mature understanding of human sexuality and the place of LGBT people in society and church while bishops and Primates behave like this." round to say that we will come to a mature understanding PRECISELY BECAUSE the opposition is so abusive and infantile.
    That's all that is left for them, because the truth is out there for everyone to see.

    I have known people who have been converted to accepting homosexuality not because of our good arguments but because of the weakness of the arguments on the other side and because they were able to evaluate the difference between the actual behavious of the two sides.

    Let them condemn themselves, by doing so they are working in our favour.

  2. Erika, I'd normally agree, but (at least in the states) the big mouths are getting all the attention, while logic, reasonableness and tolerance being thrown out. Anonymous and Anderson are just taking a cue card from the bigots in the USA; yell loud enough and you'll win.