Tuesday 30 November 2010

Should LGBT Anglicans be more suspicious of the Covenant?

Erika Baker in a comment on the last blog and Adrian Worsfold and Church Ferret (naughty little creature) on Facebook, have raised questions about the blog which they think was too tolerant in stance and tone, I suspect.

I decided that +Rowan’s Presidential address should be take absolutely at face value. There are other leaders in the Communion whose words I would not take at face value.

I also think you have to look at what has happened in the 13 years since the Kuala Lumpur statement was published (which initiated the conservative campaign against LGBT people) and make a balanced assessment. They have repeatedly issued threats and challenges, to evict other Provinces, that the Communion is already split, the net torn, they have absented themselves from Lambeth and Primates meetings and refused to share Communion, and where has it got them?

Bishop Graham Kings made a case on the Radio4 Sunday programme for the GAFCON group being marginal to other conservative evangelicals in the Communion who have not rejected the Covenant. I think Bishop Graham is being fanciful. The Primates he named have announced that they are not attending the Primates meeting, so they are absenting themselves and abusing one of the Instruments of Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. They will not be present to contribute to any decision making process. Canada and TEC will.

The Covenant will not come into force for at least 3 years, 3 years in which the conservatives will almost certainly absent themselves from the next ACC meeting and the following Primates’ meeting. Do you imagine that they will suddenly march back in once other Provinces have signed the Covenant and demand to be allowed to sign and take over the Communion? I know they might, their tactics are that crazy, but I think it’s highly unlikely, and who’d want to be a part of such a Communion?

Bishop Graham also pointed out that the GAFCON Primates can’t make a unilateral decision about not signing the Covenant and that the decision will have to be put to each Province. These are Primates who are making unilateral, authoritarian decisions without any democracy or reference to their Province or House of Bishops and I think it highly likely that the decision they announced last week will stand.

These Primates do not represent the opinions of their bishops. I have now had many reports about the unhappiness of individual bishops in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya who disagree with their Primate. Other tensions are building in these Provinces, and Primates eventually reach retirement dates. This generation with its extreme version of Anglicanism will not live forever.

Erika commented that Rowan clearly said that actions in one place have consequences for the Communion, whether we like it or not. Yes, but not necessarily only in one direction. The Global South/GAFCON/FCA axis has been allowed huge latitude and their actions tolerated in a way which for me and many others feels intolerable. But after 10 years of posturing and threats, they haven’t got what they demanded.

Removing TEC from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue certainly isn’t what the conservatives had in mind when they demanded punishment. Better they hadn’t been excluded at all, but it isn’t exactly onerous, is it?

The Covenant may need nothing more than a group of only 15 people stating loudly that they feel offended before the offender has relational consequences imposed on them by the offended and Father Jake may be right in identifying just what those relational consequences are, and it might come to pass that punitive action is taken against a Province and they are removed from the ACC Schedule of Membership.

I’m not pointing out to Rowan that we LGBT people really have been playing ball all this time. I’m living the faith in prayer and love and I’m not walking away and I’m not going to stop reminding the Communion of the presence of LGBT people in every Province and the scandal of homophobia and prejudice and support for punitive legislation.

I am not becoming co-dependent and I am not colluding with my own abuse. The point at which Changing Attitude did either of those things would be seen very clearly, I think, and rightly challenged by all who care about the full inclusion of the tens of thousands of LGBT people in the Communion.

I think a lot has changed in the last 10 years, and the Church of England has become more isolated in our society and is continuing to isolate itself. There is a lack of courage and integrity in individual members of the House of Bishops and in the corporate institutions of the Church at times, and there are also shining examples of truth-telling, courage and integrity, and I would name Jeffrey John, Christina Rees, Colin Slee and Nick Holtham among others.

The Church of England might collude in applying the Covenant unwisely, punitively and against LGBT people 5 or 10 years down the road if it continues to allow what I consider to be unchristian forces to determine the culture of our Church.

This is all ‘my opinion’ and others will vehemently disagree with me. To some, it does indeed look as if nothing that happened in the Anglican Communion in the last 10 years has been wise, measured and politically middle of the road. People, good people have left and others are considering leaving, in despair at the unbelievable dishonesty practiced by some bishops. I think it’s a scandal but it doesn’t get reported because those of us who know these things don’t want to make life difficult for those in the circles around us. We all, CA, IC, the Coalition, WATCH, make calculated political decisions.

The Global South conservatives think God is on their side and not on the side of LGBT people. That is their fatal mistake. God is on everyone’s side, and God knows that the theologies we all construct are sometimes fatally flawed.

I may not have Permission to Officiate at the moment (and that’s another, confidential story) but I know I am loved, blessed, welcomed, enriched by God, journeying into the Kingdom of God, whatever foul things the conservatives say about me as a gay man, because I have a deep, prayerful relationship with God, a relationship to which they seem blinded – and there’s many a quote I could make from Scripture to support my claim. But I’ll leave it there.

Colin Coward

To enable us to continue to campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude or donate to our work.


  1. It's easy to understand why LGBT Christians are weary of the Covenant given the perception that it was created as a stick to beat TEC with, but Conservative theology isn't hard-wired into the text. The Covenant could equally be used as a means to express our concerns about the homophobia that exists in some parts of the Anglican Communion.

    I have to admit that until now, I've been thinking, "Why on Earth are you supporting this, Archbishop Rowan?" But maybe the man's not so crazy after all! It could just turn out that far from being a stick to beat liberals with, the Covenant could end up having the effect of sifting out the implacable and entrenched from those who are genuinely as willing to listen as well as talk.

    Maybe in this season of hopeful waiting, we should dare to believe in a better tomorrow in a Church that is truly guided by the Spirit.

    Oh and Colin, remember it's not just God who loves you! You are always remembered in my prayers and, I am sure, the prayers of many other Christians too.

  2. Thank you, Colin. Yes, we lgbt folk are not going to walk away. They may THROW us out, but we will not Walk away. I will continue to live the life to which I have been called. I spent 8 years unable to officiate but now in retirement they want me in a different diocese. Keep the faith, dear kindred soul. "It does get better"

  3. "I am not becoming co-dependent and I am not colluding with my own abuse" -- and evidently not at all defensive about it either.

    Sadly, this post only serves to change my attitude about Changing Attitude as a voice for LGBT Anglicans.

    Makes the heart sad.

  4. Colin, are you sre that Archbishops Chew, Anis and Ernest will be absenting themselves from the next Primates' meeting? Their names do not seem to be on the Oxford Statement. There has long been a difference in tactics between those like Drexel Gomez, who are prepared to be patient in working against inclusion, and those who are more openly extreme.

  5. Colin, thank you for your reply.
    I suppose the real difference between you and me is that you evaluate the Covenant against Rowan Williams spoken intentions, whereas I'm looking at it more from the point of view of what it is likely to be used for once it gains a life of its own.

    The architects of Windsor are probably horrified at the life their report developed and who used it to what effect.

    Rowan has not shown himself to be in control of the processes within the Anglican Communion, he has often reacted more than guided.

    I'm sure his hopes for the Covenant are admirable and honourable.
    I have no such illusions about those who will eventually use it as a stick.

    It reminds me of the complaints by Forward in Faith who have believed verbal assurances that they would never have to tolerate women priests and who now feel betrayed because the actual Act of Synod makes no such stipulations.

    In the end the wording of the Covenant will count and nothing else.

  6. Don't give up and don't walk away, Colin. We all need you to hang in there and keep making your presence felt.

  7. This is a response primarily to Erika's comment, and Erika, thanks for engaging with my thoughts.

    I agree that Rowan has not shown himself in control of the proceses in the Anglican Communion. Could anyone be in control when the Communion is peopled with individuals and organisations and leaders that I would variously describe as manipulative, dysfunctional, ego-obsessed, liars, prejudiced, homophobic, determined to undermine others and get their own way at all costs, and at the extreme - evil. There is an insanity in the Communion which no-one could ever contain or manage. The insanity is writ large in the Communuion and smaller at diocesan and parish level.

    I have no illusions either. Of course, the Covenant could be used to inhibit many varieties of progress in the Communion and it depends on which side of the divide we stand.

    The example you cite, the complaints by Forward in Faith, arise because the Church is moving in a direction which I totally support - equality for women at every level of ministry in the Church.

    I don't think it will be the wording of the Covenant that counts. I think it will depend on who is in charge in 8 or 10 years time (when all the present big-mouths will have retired), on what changes society and culture has effected in the Church, on what actions God and the Holy Spirit have taken (or don't we believe in them any more?), and on those of us who are the Church as much as +Rowan or any other Primate is the Church.

    There's too much capitulation to the power of the Primates and the 15 who will apparently have all the power to exclude. If the against-the-covenant movement is serious and organised, then of course it will be preparing a strategy diocese by diocese to campaign for a no vote, and I will not just support them but actively involve myself in the campaign.

    You and I Erika, at the local level, involve ourselves, with our dignity and integrity intact (more or less) in church life. Many people campaign in the blogosphere - I'm waiting to see the effctiveness of practical action on the ground.

    Changing Attitude is involoved in practical action in many dimensions, diocesan, national and international. I'm advised by the trustees, rightly, not to write about many of these initiatives. Some may think Changing Attitude is fatally flawed and compromised. So be it.

  8. So it all comes down to where we think the Anglican Communion is heading, and I’m afraid, I’m a lot less optimistic than you are.
    It won’t take 10 years for the Covenant proposal to make its way through the whole of the Anglican Communion. If it becomes a reality the first thing that will happen is that TEC and possibly Canada will be relegated to the 2nd tier, either voluntarily or as a result of “relational consequences”. The 1st tier will have made a decisive step towards even more centralised and punitive conservatism.

    The work we do locally usually results in a gradual change of heart where we are. This from the grassroots up change eventually influences the whole church and its policies. But once the Covenant is signed the CoE will have given up its ability to evolve slowly, because the now more right-wing and homophobic 1st tier of the Communion will never allow it to liberalise its attitudes to gay priests, for example, or to allow same sex blessings. So the CoE can either comply or find itself relegated to the 2nd tier after a long draining process of relational consequences that will, no doubt, be accompanied by corrosive internal and external battles…. in fact, it will be a bit like it is now, only closer to home.

    Ignore for a moment what words people use to defend the Covenant, you just have to look at who pushes for it to know which way it will be used. I can’t really see any ground for optimism at all.

  9. Savi, I have been meaning to post this by Ed Beavan for some days:

    AT LEAST ten Primates from the Global South are now expected to boycott the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin in January.

    In a statement released on Wednesday, five African Primates, members of the GAFCON Primates’ Council, confirmed that they would not attend the two-yearly meeting. In addition, it is understood that the Primate of South-East Asia, Dr John Chew; the Primate in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis; and the Primate of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, will not go to Dublin.

    Furthermore it is expected that two new Primates, Presiding Bishop Tito Zavala, Primate of the Southern Cone, and the Most Revd Onesphore Rwage, Primate of Rwanda, will also boycott the meeting…