I’m in York courtesy of the BBC, preparing to participate in The Big Questions on BBC1 at 10am this morning. The big question this week is the future of the Anglican Communion.
In the conversation last week I asked Bishop David Anderson where he thought ACNA and TEC would be in relation to each other in 10, 20 or 30 years time. With litigation being pursued in so many directions at the moment and deeply hostile positions being held across the divide, it’s not the time to think about reconciliation or resolution. But I found myself thinking a lot about the need to attempt to reconcile differences one day and achieve a reintegration of the many diverse strands in our Communion.
Everyone taking part in today’s programme apparently thinks that maintaining the unity of the Communion is a good thing, from what the researcher told me. If we each think the other, those against gays and women bishops and progressive Christian theology as well as those in favour, has to be won over to our cause, then there is no hope of achieving reconciliation.
At the moment, minds are focussed on the Covenant, on the implications of signing and whether it can or will be used as an instrument to punish and exclude.
I feel far more optimistic about the future at the end of a week at General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury apologised and made strongly positive statements about LGBT people in his Presidential Address. Synod voted for equality in pension provision. The Church of Uganda announced that it was not supporting the Anti-homosexuality Bill. There was significant movement in a positive, pro-gay direction.
The conflicts in the Communion are not going to be resolved in a way which fails to recognize the place of women and LGBT people in every order of ministry. Space has to be created and will be created. In Africa, LGBT people will begin to create space for themselves in society and in church. There is a huge, hidden presence of LGBT people across Africa. Even if few of them are networked with each other in local communities, they are increasingly part of a global network through the internet and they are far more secure in their sexual identity and have access to far more resources online than I did at their age.
Why did General Synod vote so decisively for pension equality? The Church of England seems to have been quietly coming to terms with the real presence of LGBT in the two years since the ‘gay-Tuesday’ debates at Synod, let alone the 19 years since ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ was published. Several gay people spoke in the debate, not all of them out to Synod in the way they are out in other circles. General Synod still doesn’t know who it has in its midst.
According to Christian Today one Synod member, who asked to remain anonymous, said conservative Synod members had deliberately withheld from taking to the floor to speak against the motion for fear of reprisals. “They didn’t dare to. There would have been screams of homophobia if anyone had dared oppose it,” he said. This would not have happened 10 or even 5 years ago. Then the conservatives were confident about their position of opposing equality for LGBT people. They are no longer confident, and it isn’t only for fear of accusations of being homophobic in General Synod. In UK society, and especially those under 40, the majority think conservative Christians are prejudiced and intolerant of sexual diversity in creation. The majority are not necessarily right, but on this issue, the Church is never going to convince them they are wrong.
In addition conservatives repeatedly distort facts to support their own version of the truth. This was shown in the way conservative sites reported Lorna Ashworth’s motion about ACNA. When your position is untenable, distort the facts. Reports about the Church of Uganda position paper on the Anti-homosexuality Bill were similarly inaccurate, as was the paper itself.
The Church of Uganda and other African Anglican churches certainly have no idea how many LGBT people worship with them Sunday by Sunday, people who either reject their church’s teaching and inwardly affirm their own identity or are deeply damaged and depressed by what they hear.
In England, the stance of churches towards equality for LGBT people in ordained ministry as well as in lay ministry and other posts will eventually be conceded, sooner rather than later if the church’s credibility and mission is to be maintained in this country.
I know I’m an eternal optimist and there are some mighty big obstacles to be overcome in the next two or three decades. But those forces which have attempted to split the Communion have failed to do so thus far, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t do everything in our power to maintain the unity of the Communion at the same time working towards full recognition for LGBT people in every Province.
Where others in the Communion have a narrow view of a God who is primarily exclusive and judgmental, we have to live into our experience of God who has created us gay and loves us gay and is calling us to transform the Church and bring another dimension of the Kingdom into being.
Truth will out – the truth about LGBT people in our Communion and the truth about the way in which people are selectively using the Bible to oppose homosexuality when they hold divisive views about women in the church, marriage and divorce.
I will be engaging with people this morning who also believe the unity of the Anglican Communion to be a ‘good thing’ but from a rather narrower ecclesiological and theological framework.