Changing Attitude welcomes the work undertaken by Canon Phil Groves and other staff at the Anglican Communion Office to produce a preliminary report on what the Communion has done to honour its commitment at Lambeth 1998 to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people. We have always understood that the Communion had made a commitment to create safe space for our voices to be heard and for our dignity to be respected. This has not become a reality for many lesbian and gay Anglicans since 1998, nor have many Provinces understood what safe space and respect might mean for LGBT people.
The Reverend Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, said today (28 March):
“There are many individuals and groups in the Anglican Communion who are polarising the church into pro- and anti-gay attitudes. This is leading to threats of schism. For us, this would be a tragedy. We are committed to our brothers and sisters in every Province of the Communion. Were certain Provinces to force a split, all would lose, and especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people in Provinces where they are most vulnerable.
“Our aim is clear. We want a proper process of listening to the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in every province of the Communion. In England we want a change in church practice and teaching that will lead to the full inclusion of LGBT people. This isn’t a covert programme for changing doctrine and discipline on our part. It is our clear goal.
“At the same time, we recognise the serious difficulties of attempting to fulfil the commitment to listen to LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion. We know that the work published yesterday by Canon Phil Groves is anything but window-dressing. It is the fruit of over 12 months dedicated work which shows for the first time the huge variety of attitudes towards human sexuality to be found across the Communion. We are very grateful for his work to date, for the published material and for the preparation being made for Lambeth 2008.
Safe space for LGBT people
“The Archbishop notes there are contexts where it is difficult to find a safe place for gay and lesbian people to speak about their lives openly. This is true not only in countries where gay and lesbian people have achieved a significant degree of legal equality, as in England. There are dioceses in England where it is almost impossible for lesbian and gay people to risk the visibility necessary to speak openly and contribute to the listening process. In every diocese, any gay or lesbian priest living with a partner who speaks openly about themselves risks censure and public condemnation at worst, and at best, difficulty in being offered preferment or a move to a new parish.
“State sanctioned incarceration or execution may no longer be the norm in most western countries. However, lesbian and gay people are still murdered, abused and humiliated in the west. As the Archbishop rightly says, ‘hate crimes against homosexual people have increased in recent years and have taken horrifying and disturbing forms‘.
“For many countries gathered under the Global South umbrella, the situation is entirely different. Penal codes still sanction the imprisonment or execution of gay men. Nigeria and Tanzania impose a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment for “a male person to have carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, Uganda can impose life imprisonment and Bangladesh between 10 years and life.
“The Archbishop’s concern for situations where the Church is seen to be underwriting social or legal attitudes which threaten proper liberties may be taken as code for the situation in Nigeria. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has used high ranking Anglican officials to persuade the Government to introduce a new bill banning same-sex marriage and extending sanctions against any lesbian or gay social or political activity. The Church continues to support the proposed legislation despite international reaction against the Nigerian Government.
“Changing Attitude Nigeria and England have alerted the Communion to the active support being given by Archbishop Akinola and senior Church officials to the bill. The bill extends sanctions against lesbian and gay people to the extent that all social activity will become illegal. As we have repeatedly pointed out, this would make any bishop who met with and listened to a lesbian or gay Anglican subject to arrest and imprisonment. The Church of Nigeria is working actively to ensure that the listening process can never happen in Nigeria. We hope the Archbishop of Canterbury’s concerns for the legal attitudes which threaten proper civil liberties will be communicated directly to Archbishop Akinola.
“Changing Attitude would also expect the stance of every Province towards their own legislation concerning lesbian and gay people to be scrutinised. Listening is impossible where to come out and talk openly about yourself as a gay or lesbian person who might be involved in a same-sex relationship puts you at risk of arrest, imprisonment or execution. The Communion is still failing to take this seriously. The Archbishop’s words will do much to draw attention to this critical failing.
“We will continue to work to change attitudes in the hope that the Church can become a ‘truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected‘. Although in many Provinces the pastoral care of lesbian and gay people is affirmed, in the majority this is clearly not so. It must become a basic assumption of Anglicans that lesbian and gay people are created in the image of God. Only then will a truly safe space have been created.
Bisexual and Transgendered people
“The Archbishop addresses the church’s work in listening to lesbian and gay people. We would remind him that although the Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 didn’t specifically refer to bisexual and transgendered people, they also need the protection of the church and a space in which they can be listened to. Changing Attitude England has many bisexual and transgendered members. Other countries in the Communion may not recognise the presence of bisexual and transgendered people in their communities, but they will be present, and their voices must be honoured and heard.
Work to be done
“Changing Attitude England often hears comments expressing concern about how much longer the listening process needs to continue. Some individuals and groups in England think there has been far too much listening already, listening, that is, to people characterised by extreme conservative groups as “perverts who engage in unnatural acts”.
“Changing Attitude is encouraged by the Archbishop’s recognition that this document represents a solid start, a valuable first stage in response to the challenge of the last Lambeth Conference, but that there is a great deal still to be done. LGBT people are often discussed in our absence. Only when we have been fully and respectfully engaged in the listening process, and we have made the assessment that we have been listened to properly within the parameters identified by Canon Phil Groves, will we be able to confirm that listening has really and adequately happened.
“We know that in many Provinces, it is proving acutely difficult to set up an appropriate process. We have a great deal of sympathy and understanding for the challenge listening presents to Provinces in certain cultures with a conservative Biblical ethic.
“We recognise that the Communion maintains a ‘traditional teaching’ on homosexuality. We radically and profoundly disagree with it. We respect those who hold a theological position on the question of sexual ethics which is different from our own. We do not expect them to leave the Communion because of us, just as we are not going to leave because of our differences with them.
“We welcome the Archbishop’s recognition that the Communion in its entirety needs to demonstrate “a manifest and credible respect for the proper liberties of homosexual people“. This commitment was first made at the 1978 Lambeth Conference, repeated in 1988, and again in 1998. In 1998, however, the main text of Resolution 1.10 is deeply offensive to lesbian and gay Anglicans and has encouraged abusive attitudes towards us.
Archbishop Rowan helpfully reminds us of the call for a ‘deep and dispassionate’ study of issues in sexual ethics for which an earlier Lambeth Conference called. Changing Attitude reminds the Communion that the report prepared by the sub-section dealing with human sexuality at Lambeth 1998 was crafted out of three weeks of intense and honest process between the bishops. Tragically, the work of the group was lost in the abusive debate on Resolution 1.10. It is time for the Anglican Communion to return to an adult, theological study of issues of sexual ethics and the diversity of human sexuality.