I seem to be in an angry mood today. The images from Haiti are profoundly distressing and attention is rightly focused on the devastation to human life which is unbearably painful to witness. My engagement with LGBT people in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Guyana and elsewhere also fuels my anger and leaves me feeling useless and powerless.
The stance of the Anglican Communion towards the Anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda has become for me a litmus test, a defining moment in the Communion’s lack of commitment to its own policies for LGBT people.
Last Friday, I very selectively wrote about the positive elements of Lambeth 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine towards the church’s LGBT members. These commitments fall a long way short of Changing Attitude’s goals, of course, but they lay an important foundation for Christian attitudes opposed to homophobia and positively committed to welcome LGBT people as children of God.
Tragically, the Ugandan Bill shows yet again what has been perfectly clear from Kuala Lumpur Statement of February 1997 and the Lambeth Conference 1998. The majority in the Communion are deeply homophobic and prejudiced towards LGBT people and have absolutely no intention of welcoming us as children of God. Instead, they support the demonization and further criminalization of LGBT people.
(This may not be entirely true, of course. I also receive reports about bishops in Africa who privately dissent from the stance taken by their Primate. The problem is, the bullies and bigots are widely reported, but those with more nuanced and compassionate views are intimidated by them into silence).
Elsewhere in the Communion, public comment on the Bill came too late and was equivocal for reasons of non-interference in another Province and fear of accusations of colonialism. Some bishops have, nevertheless, condemned the Bill outright.
Archbishop of Canterbutry – Ugandan legislation is of “shocking severity”
The Rt Revd Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, comments on the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill
The Archbishop of Wales’ statement about the Uganda Bill
Total opposition to the Bill is the inescapable position to be adopted in accordance with a church committed to Lambeth 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine in their entirety.
The problem, always, is that these documents also allow the self-proclaimed majority in the Communion to condemn the Episcopal Church in the US and the Church of Canada for putting into practice the implications of being a church which welcomes LGBT people as children of God. This is the battleground, still to be fought over, the incompatibility between claiming to welcome LGBT people but excluding us from equality in relationship and ministry.
The Communion is shown to be deeply compromised and often impotent in its progress towards enacting the positive elements of teaching embodied in the church’s own documents.
This has to be a defining moment for those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Anglicans and for those who affirm us in the Communion. The church is committed to defend and protect the vulnerable. Every day I witness stories of the devastation wrought on LGBT lives because of human and Christian prejudice. There are LGBT people who are starving, homeless, sick and dying as a result of prejudice against homosexuality.
According to the Ugandan Bill, gay people are neither vulnerable nor sinned-against. No, we are the sinners, sick, evil, transgressors of God’s law, deserving of the punishment threatened in the Bill – death, life imprisonment, exclusion from society.
We have to carve out, physically and forcefully, a place for ourselves in the church, easier in the west than the global south. If the Communion won’t act on the commitments in its own reports and documents, then we have, physically, to mine our way out of the prison and into the Communion, wherever we live, digging tunnels into the infrastructure, laying mines where appropriate to explode Christian myths, excavating and quarrying out spaces that can become spacious and holy, as exemplified by the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada.
LGBT people whose lives are manifestly holy and infused with God’s grace have to carve out space for ourselves in every part of our Communion, with courage and sometimes grim determination.
So often, CofE Inc. and Anglican Communion Corp. cannot find the courage or the words to affirm publicly what it knows and practices in private. Oh, I know many bishops whose relationship with me embodies the positive in 1.10, Windsor and Dromantine. Some of them edge into the public realm with pro-gay statements. But in the Councils of the Church, in General Synod and the House of Bishops in particular, I see a terrible failure of nerve, which can only be the result of intimidation by bullies in the Communion.