Monday 31 January 2011

Primates’ statement on David Kato's murder brings them closer to the moment of truth

The Primates issued a statement following their meeting in Dublin, supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response. They described the murder as horrific and joined him in saying that no one should have to live in fear because of the bigotry of others.

They quoted from three Anglican documents in support of their judgment:

“We reiterate that ‘the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us’” (Primates Meeting 2005).

“We reaffirm that ‘any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care’” (The Windsor Report).

“We call on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and condemn irrational fear of gay people.” (1998 Lambeth Conference).

I’ve been highlighting the positive elements of Lambeth 1.10, The Windsor Report and other Anglican statements for many years. It seems to me that this is a huge development, the Primates themselves highlighting sentences that affirm the place of LGBT people in the Church and condemn anything that demonises us or provokes ill-treatment.

The next step is a difficult one to make for conservative Christians for whom the Bible is their prime source of authority, let alone for Global South Primates and bishops who believe the Bible judges and condemns lesbian and gay people and legitimizes our persecution. They wouldn’t have agreed the statement, of course, and I wonder what will happen if and when they return to the table.

But let’s stay with the conservatives, many of whom I meet often and count as friends. I think the Primates have drawn closer to the point where the conflict between so-called traditional Christian teaching and the Gospel demands of love and justice, including God’s love for ‘homosexual persons’ who are ‘full members of the Body of Christ’ becomes impossible to resolve.

The Anglican Communion will NEVER overcome its homophobia, NEVER be able to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are free from persecution and demonisation, NEVER be committed to our welcome and full inclusion, until it changes its mind and rejects all aspects of teaching and Biblical interpretation which count us as less than others.

Changing Attitude England will never cease reminding the Church, Synods, bishops, Primates, Instruments of Unity, that there is no alternative but to commit to the full inclusion of LGBT people, admitting us to every order of ministry and blessing our relationships and lives which are marked by love every bit as profound, deep, complex and holy as heterosexual marriage.

David Kato’s murder marks the beginning of a new campaign which will not end until justice has been achieved.

Colin Coward

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Saturday 29 January 2011

David Kato RIP

David Kato, was attacked and beaten to death with a hammer at his home in Kampala on Wednesday 26 January 2011. David was known as ‘the grandfather of the kuchus”, a brave and passionately committed activist who had been campaigning for gay rights for more than a decade. He had been leading the campaign against David Bahati’s Anti-homosexuality bill, which demands that homosexuals be executed and which has intensified the climate of hatred and prejudice against LGBT people not only in Uganda but across Africa.

Changing Attitude England has been campaigning for fifteen years for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the Anglican Communion. By implication, we are campaigning against everything, every attitude, every theological position, every use of scripture, every sermon, teaching and episcopal attitude which allows or encourages prejudice and hatred against LGBT people.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, issued a statement following the murder. He said, in part: “No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others. This is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.”

Changing Attitude England welcomes the Archbishop’s forthright stance. Following David’s murder, the time has come to demand that the Anglican Communion abandons the parts of the teaching enshrined in Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 of 1998 that rejects homosexual practice as being incompatible with scripture (para. 4) and cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions (para 5).

The Anglican Communion must move to adopt as policy the commitments made in paras 3 and 5 to assure homosexual people that they are loved by God and are full members of the body of Christ, and to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation.

The Most Revd Henry Orombi, Primate of Uganda, is one of 7 Primates who have absented themselves from the Primates’ meeting in Dublin this week because The Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is present and because of TEC’s policy which breaks the moratoria on ordaining gay bishops and allowing same sex blessings.

TEC has led the way towards the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church and in the global Christian community, reflecting theologically on human sexuality and listening for over 30 years to LGBT people. TEC has committed itself to integrating us into every level of Church life. For doing this it is demonized. Conservatives, in the words of Canon Chris Sugden, bear false witness against The Episcopal Church and claim, wrongly, that Anglicans have been persecuted and driven from their homes, buildings and jobs in the USA and Canada.

In contrast, the Church of Uganda in a statement issued on 9 February 2010, whilst not fully endorsing the Bahati bill, argued that homosexual behaviour should be prohibited and penalized and the licensing of organisations which promote homosexuality should be prohibited. In conclusion it reiterated the Church of Uganda’s desire to provide love and care for all God’s people “caught up in any sin” (which is not what Lambeth 1.10 says).

A local Anglican priest, the Revd Thomas Musoke, at Friday's funeral for David Kato, grabbed the microphone in the middle of the ceremony and decried homosexuality, causing a fight to break out and leading villagers to refuse to bury the body. Reports say he screamed:

"The world has gone crazy. People are turning away from the scriptures. They should turn back, they should abandon what they are doing. You cannot start admiring a fellow man. It is ungodly.”

One woman responded:

"Who are you to judge others? We have not come to fight. You are not the judge of us. As long as he's gone to God his creator, who are we to judge Kato?"

Marking a stark contrast with the attitude of the Church of Uganda, the Kampala-based Daily Monitor carried an editorial comment which concluded:

“People like David Kato and others who might be gay are Ugandans and enjoy the same rights and protections of the law as heterosexuals. We cannot send them into exile neither, lock them away, or hang them. We need to have an honest discussion about how to ensure that their rights are upheld without violating the rights of other Ugandans. Peaceful and stable societies only emerge when we understand and try to accommodate those who are different from us, or who disagree with us – not by ostracising or killing them.”

Changing Attitude England calls on every Province of the Anglican Communion to urgently review attitudes to homosexuality.

The abusive use of Lambeth 1.10 which focuses on negative, judgmental attitudes towards LGBT people must be reversed.

Affirmation of the unconditional love of God for all people, pastoral care and support which is undiscriminating, and opposition to homophobia and all prejudice against LGBT people must become the policy of the Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that this is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.

The Primates who are meeting in Dublin have an opportunity to reflect on the effect of Christian teaching which diminishes the humanity of LGBT people and puts our lives in danger. They must initiate a review of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 in response to David’s murder, the continuing violence against LGBT people in the global community and the loss of so many faithful LGBT Anglicans who are abandoning the Church they love because of its deeply ingrained prejudice.

The Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion must engage in a similar review of Anglican policy when they next meet.

The next meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 2018 will be too late. By then, more LGBT activists and individuals will have been murdered and more teenagers committed suicide, and tens of thousands of LGBT Anglicans will continue to live in secrecy and in fear for their safety and their lives.

The need for action to combat the evil of prejudice and violence against LGBT people is urgent and changes in Anglican Communion teaching and policy must be made NOW.

Colin Coward

To enable Changing Attitude England to campaign for urgent change in Anglican Communion policy towards our LGBT members please become a supporter or make a donation.

Monday 24 January 2011

On not being present at the Primate’s meeting

I’m going to be absent from the Primate’s meeting in Dublin. Will my presence be missed? Not in the same way as the absence of about a quarter of the Primates themselves.

I was present in Dar Es Salaam with Davis Ma-Iyalla, Caro Hall and Scott Gunn, a number of international journalists and lobbyists and a significant number of local journalists. I was present in Alexandria with a diminished number of journalists and lobbyists and no one from the local media.

Who is going to be there in Dublin to monitor events, patrol the outer limits of the meeting and influence Primates (as happened at Dromantine), or even attend the final press conference? The Global South Primates will be absent, removing the incentive to be there of those most addictive of lobbyists David Virtue and Chris Sugden.

The absent Primates will not be there to engage with their brothers and sister in plenary and group discussions, dinner table and after dinner conversations, nor in the making of decisions, prayingrotyh together or the breaking of bread. That’s one of the reasons they will not be present, of course. They refused to share communion at Dromantine, and at Alexandria, communion was abandoned.

But it is still not clear whether their absence is another stage of deconstruction of the Anglican Communion and another building block in their movement to form a separate Communion. They might portray such a Communion as a rebirth of the historical, ‘orthodox’ Anglican Communion which TEC has abandoned, or as a new international church network independent of the authority of Canterbury.

An article about the French essayist Montaigne and
research involving macaque monkeys in the Guardian review on Saturday by Saul Frampton suggested that there is indeed something of much greater significance in the absence of a number of Primates and even in my own absence from the Primates’ meeting.

Montaigne was concerned with the power of personal presence in moral life and a fascination with how people act on, influence and affect each other through their physical being. I connect this with Christian ideas of incarnation and real presence. We are more fully ourselves and more truly living the divine nature when we are more fully embodied and really present.

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma discovered something surprising about the behaviour of certain neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys. The neurons fired not only when the monkeys grasped food but when they saw the experimenter grasp it. These neurons have come to be known as “mirror neurons” or “empathy neurons”. Similar neurons have been found in humans.

Saul Frampton connects this discovery with the intuition of Montaigne and of David Hume who argued that “No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathise with others”. The research has shown that humans do indeed have an inbuilt imitative, sympathetic capacity.

Frampton asks why, if mirror neurons are such an important factor in our makeup, human history is not a series of pacts, congresses, get-togethers (and successful Lambeth Conferences and Primates’ Meetings) to which all are drawn, rather than a chain of wars and massacres? Hi answer, drawn from Montaigne’s essays, which constitute not only an argument for people’s capacity for sympathy, but also an extended disquisition on how and why it breaks down, is that our ability to feel sympathy with others is directly proportional to our proximity to them.

Montaigne’s language of emotion is couched in a language of spatial intimacy: we feel “close to”, attached to” and “touched” by others. For Montaigne, human proximity is at the heart of morality. Piety is easily faked, says Frampton: “Its essence is abstract and hidden; its forms easy and ceremonial.” But “to hold pleasant and reasonable conversation with oneself and one’s family ... this is rarer and more difficult to achieve”.

This link between moral urgency and proximity is something that seems to be hard-wired within us. The scientific research suggests that mirror neurons can fire in ways that are dependent on spatial proximity. Our moral responses to others seem to be more vivid and more relevant to ourselves the nearer the other person is. Following from this, Montaigne says, is a fragile but significant fact: that the preservation of our moral awareness relies on the nearness between us.

Frampton concludes his article with a story about Montaigne meeting the Pope, showing that even the Pope was not immune from the affective influence of the nearness of others. Nor are Anglican Primates, and the decision of some to boycott the meeting has the effect of keeping themselves at a safe distance from the energies, emotions and ideas of their brother and sister Primates.

I don’t need Montaigne’s essays or macaque monkey research to tell me something I believe and know in the core of my being; that God calls us to relationship and intimacy; that getting close to other people, especially those we find difficult and who hold different views, can be uncomfortable, risky and challenging. This is the essence of the Christian faith, of the parable of the good Samaritan, the sheep and the goats, the story of the woman at the well and the power of the crucifixion itself, of Jesus standing in the same place as Pilate, and nailed between two thieves.

I expect priests, bishops and Primates (above all) to be up to the task of being open to one another, capable of trust, not blame. Archbishop Rowan sets a courageous example, opening himself to the presence of others and making himself vulnerable in the process. So has Nigerian Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

This isn’t an argument conservatives can ever win. One day they will have to deal with the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their Global South Provinces – better sooner than later.

The ability or inability of people be in the same room, get close, and relate to each other, is a far bigger issue than the claim that in ordaining gay priests and bishops, the Church has abandoned the historic teaching of the Church and torn the fabric of our life together at its deepest level. What tears human beings apart at the deepest level is the refusal to acknowledge another person’s humanity and enter their presence with respect and love.

Colin Coward

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Sunday 23 January 2011

Changing Attitude Ireland statement on the Anglican Primates’ Meeting in Dublin

Our sister group, Changing Attitude Ireland, has issued a statement today, 22nd January 2011, in advance of the Primates' meeting which begins on Tuesday 25th:

As the senior bishops from Anglican Churches worldwide prepare to meet in Dublin for their Primates’ Meeting (25th-31st January) there has been a call on the Irish Government by an Irish Anglican group to request the visiting Archbishops to address the problem of Christian-backed persecution of gay persons.

The call comes from Changing Attitude Ireland and its Secretary the Church of Ireland clergyman Canon Charles Kenny requests Ireland’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen, who is also the Prime Minister, “to maintain the interest shown by the Department of Foreign affairs under his predecessor Micheal Martin in the persecution of gay persons in Uganda and Malawi”.

Dr Richard O’Leary of Changing Attitude Ireland called in addition on Mr Cowen “to match the concern of his former British counterpart, Prime Minister Gordon Brown when Mr Brown used the November 2009 meeting of the Commonwealth to speak out about the threat to gay persons from the Ugandan government”.

Dr O’Leary said “In the month that Ireland recognised Civil Partnership for same-sex couples, let us not forget the recent violence against and imprisonment of a gay couple in Malawi”. He continued “Archbishop Rowan Williams and the leaders of the Anglican Communion who are meeting in Dublin this week need to assume their responsibilities in tackling homophobia and the Churches collusion in it”. Canon Charles Kenny added “The Meeting of the Anglican Primates takes place over a whole week so I think they should be capable of finding some time to discuss the scandal of homophobia that exists in the Church, especially in Uganda, Malawi and Nigeria.” The Primates from all the Provinces of the Anglican Communion have been invited to the Meeting in Dublin by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and are hosted by the Primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper.

Last year the Ugandan parliament was presented with a draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill which would introduce the death penalty for some behaviour by gay persons. The Irish government is a major development aid donor to Uganda and Malawi and last June the Director of the Human Rights Unit in the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs was briefed in Dublin by the retired Anglican Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo on the problem of the Christian-backed anti-gay crusade in Uganda. Bishop Senyonjo in his address at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin called for education to counteract homophobia because, "I have found that a lot of the prejudice against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people comes from ignorance." Bishop Senyonjo, a rare courageous voice in the conservative Anglican Church in Uganda, and who speaks in support of gay persons, visited Ireland on the invitation of Changing Attitude Ireland, and urged people in Britain and Ireland to oppose the Bill.

Canon Charles Kenny

Secretary, Changing Attitude Ireland
1st Floor War Memorial Building,
9-13 Waring St,
UK +44(0)28 90669632

Thursday 20 January 2011

Towards an understanding of human sexuality at Windsor

I’ve been invited to take part in what is described as a major Consultation at St George’s House, Windsor with the title ‘Nurturing the Nature? Towards an Understanding of Human Sexuality’. It begins today at 4pm and ends tomorrow at 3pm which doesn’t allow much time for genuine engagement and discussion.

The invitation says:

…the intention is to work towards a greater understanding of issues pertinent to human sexuality. In order to reach such understanding, and therefore for society to make appropriate judgements on sexual morality, important questions about religious and cultural principles, biology and lifestyle need to be tackled.

It is the aim of the Consultation to explore some of the different perspectives in current thinking about human sexuality. Among the questions the Consultation will seek to address are:

How appropriate are traditional religious and physiological attitudes towards sexual practice and sexuality in the contemporary world?
Is there any evidence to suggest that sexual identity is conditioned by genetics rather than by conscience? How do we respond to this evidence?
Is freedom of lifestyle choice a helpful way to approach sexual ethics? How serious are the risks to sexual health?
To what extent are individuals and institutions still governed by prejudice or social conditioning in their views of sexual ethics?

At the last minute, the person invited to deliver the second of two papers was unable to attend. I have been invited to present a paper on the theme ‘Sexuality and Equality – Attitudes to Sexuality in Contemporary Society’. I’ve done my best to prepare a paper, consulting the Changing Attitude trustees and my Facebook friends. Robert Key, member of Salisbury Diocesan Synod was among those who responded.

The protocol of St George’s House says that the identity of speakers or participants may not be divulged but information received while at a Consultation can be used freely. I may publish my paper here following the Consultation but I can’t reveal who the other contributors are. Reports of Consultations are published only if that is the collective decision of the participants. Participants are encouraged to speak openly, listen carefully and be open to the possibility of changing your mind.

It is an environment receptive to new ideas, to taking risks, to living at the intellectual edge, a focus that encourages creative thinking, informed debate and imaginative engagement. Not much like the environment of the Church of England, then. I’ve participated in previous Consultations at St George’s, the previous one in 2006.

I am less patient with church attitudes to LGBT people now than I was in 2006. If St George’s is genuine about taking risks and encouraging creative thinking, then the Consultation has the potential to excite me. But if I’m expected to talk about being gay as a lifestyle choice and even worse, spend time debating whether my orientation is the result of nature or nurture or a gay gene, then I’m not going to be engaged. Changing Attitude has moved beyond the expectation of the Church that LGBT people have to change and conform to norms, teachings and laws which have no relevance to us and are used to inflict terrible damage and pain.

Colin Coward

To enable Changing Attitude to participate in gatherings such as this, please join Changing Attitude or send a donation to help our work in transforming church attitudes.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Judge defines a change in attitudes – wakey-wakey time for the Church

At Bristol County Court, Judge Rutherford has ruled that the Christian owners of a hotel who refused to allow a gay couple a double room acted unlawfully. He said that, in the past 50 years, social attitudes in Britain had changed and it was inevitable that laws would "cut across" some people's beliefs. He awarded each of them £1,800 each in damages. He said:

"It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed over the years for it is not so very long ago that these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around."

The Bull’s, owners of he hotel, discriminated not only against lesbian and gay couples but against heterosexual couples who chose not to marry but live as a couple. If they had refused a heterosexual couple a double room, would the couple also have won a case of discrimination? How many hotels and B&B’s are there in the UK which would refuse to let unmarried straight couples occupy a double room?

The last 10 years have seen a transformation in social attitudes to LGBT people as the judge said. Views that were normal a decade or two ago are now seen as unacceptable and illegal. One of the places where such prejudice is still acceptable is in certain areas of some Christian denominations.

The Christian Institute and Anglican Mainstream will claim that such views are not prejudiced, are held with integrity, and are what all Christians believe. They are wrong. Most Christians in the UK have overcome their prejudice about same-sex relationships. It is a minority who are holding the Church of England (in particular) to ransom. General Synod and the House of Bishops are constrained by the undue influence of conservative lobby groups and the strongly held views of a small number of leaders elsewhere in the Communion. They are doing untold to damage to Christian witness and ministry in this country.

UK social attitudes towards LGBT people have changed dramatically in my lifetime, and the attitudes of the majority of Christians have changed as well. Their faith is not determined by a fundamentalist or literal reading of the Bible but by a relationship with God which is nurtured by an experience of love, truth and justice.

Will the Church learn anything from this judgement? I hope to God the answer is yes, but sadly, I think business will continue as usual. The Christian Institute will maintain that Christians are being subjected to discrimination. So am I, a gay Christian man, along with many of my friends.

The institutional Church will continue to allow itself to be intimidated by those holding what they claim are traditional Christian views which enable them to maintain a culture of prejudice, dishonesty, abuse and corruption in the Church. It’s time for change, bishops and Archbishops and members of General Synod. You are out of touch with the majority of people in this country, with the majority of Christians and with people’s awareness of God. People know the church is peddling a lie about God. That’s why they’ve deserted the Church in droves. God is about the outrageous, creative, infinite possibilities of holy love, not about policing adult sleeping arrangements in a Cornish hotel.

Colin Coward

Please support our work to overcome prejudice and discrimination in the Church by becoming a supporter of Changing Attitude or sending a donation.

Sunday 9 January 2011

We'll keep the Trans flag flying here

Changing Attitude’s work for LBGT people is, as Colin has said many times, well-respected for its integrity – and that includes its work with Trans people. Through our links with Trans Christian group, the Sibyls, and other Trans organisations we have gained a reputation for being able to offer advice and support to Trans people, especially if they are having difficulty with their church during their transition, or when they wish to marry in church, and I will be posting some simple guidance on these and other matters on our new website.

Our blog posts too have sometimes been important in promoting networking. My recent obituary of the late Sonia Burgess, for example, did this in two ways.

It immediately prompted Trans Media Watch to ask us to join their campaign to improve the portrayal of Trans people’s lives in the media and the organisation has been added as a link on the Changing Attitude website.

A few weeks later I was approached for an interview by Observer journalist, Elizabeth Day, and her lyrical and comprehensive feature about Sonia/David was published in that paper today and is also available here:

In a beautiful, but tragically broken, and often polarised world what we do seems little enough, but we know, from the feedback we receive, that it is important for us - as an organisation, and as individuals - to continue to demonstrate the same combination of strength and gentleness, courage and compassion which was, it transpires, incredibly highly developed in Sonia’s life and work.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Trans people in India

Face Book, as Colin has noted, has been a great resource for LGBT people in Africa – and just recently the Trustees of Changing Attitude have begun to realise its potential.

I’m grateful to Face Book for this link relating to Trans people, posted by my friend Cameron Partridge, of TransEpsicopal, about the work of the Church Missionary Society with the transgender community in the Pune area of India.

During the podcast you will hear Stephen Edison refer to India’s trans people as the lowest social group of all – partly, it seems, because many of them have to rely on the sex trade to make a living - and yet, paradoxically, who are in demand still for their spirituality, especially blessings at weddings and at funerals.

Interestingly he doesn’t use the Hindu term ‘Hijra’ and seems to imply, incorrectly I would guess, that many Indian males seek castration because of same-sex attraction (though it is believed that this does happen in some societies, Iran for example, where homosexuality is unacceptable).

Scholars and activists debate whether Hijras and other cross-gender phenomena in traditional societies are the equivalent of trans people in the West. I’m sure that they are, and that one reason why this is questioned is a lack of historical awareness of cross-gender variance in Western culture, with the consequence that ‘transsexualism’ can be dismissed by some as a 20th Century invention. Treatment options for trans people have certainly expanded in the last eighty years but ‘transitioning’ from one gender to another seems to have existed throughout human history.

Towards the end of the podcast Stephen refers specifically to ‘transsexual people’ as distinct from the broader term ‘transgender’ with which the item begins, which seems to continue the westernization of the client group.

As well as providing training so that clients can aspire to mainstream jobs he and his co-mission partner Lalita Edwards are trying to ‘change attitudes’ – YES, the phrase is actually used – so that employers will be willing to take them on. God bless the CMS!