A successful, anti-gay African Bishops Conference in Entebbe?

Arguing about the divisions in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality feels futile sometimes.

The bishops who gathered in Entebbe last week think they represent the majority, the true Christians, for whom homosexuality is the most evil abomination imaginable. I do not belong to such a group. If their interpretation of Jesus’ teaching leads them to this conclusion, then why should they not leave and form an exclusive church that is cleansed of the evil they imagine?

The Ugandan Daily Monitor reports comments from three of the Archbishops present last week.

The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, said: “Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice. Although there is a lot of pressure, we cannot turn our hands to support it. We are saying homosexuality is not compatible with the word of God. We are saying that this culture of other people is against the traditional belief of marriage held by the Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop’s views do not represent those of other Provinces, Primates, bishops and churches, nor the mind of the Anglican Communion. No Anglican Communion report describes homosexuality as evil, abnormal and unnatural. But it’s futile to note this, to question why Henry Orombi says such things and gets away with it. He refutes Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report, which call for an ongoing process of listening and discernment and urges Provinces to “reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.”

The Archbishop of the Province of Indian Ocean, Ian Ernest, said the teachings of homosexuality are irrelevant to the needs of Africans and are unrepresentative demographically.

If he had said irrelevant to the needs of some Africans, he would have been more accurate. But he didn’t. He ignored the millions of Africans who identify confidently as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. He ignored their families and friends and congregations. He ignored the effect his dishonesty has on the integrity of individual bishops, congregations, Primates (including those Primates who are gay) and on the integrity of the whole Communion.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria said homosexuality is a result of some people engaged in making their culture to be superior to the biblical teachings. “Homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in the society but the only trouble is that the issues dividing us now are very difficult to handle. They are threatening the unity of the church because they disobey the authority of the scriptures. It is two sided; while some people want to be obedient to their culture to determine the content of the church, others say no and it must be the guidance of the bible,” he said.

It’s something of a breakthrough that Nicholas Okoh accepts that homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in society. But he claims that it is we who are threatening the unity of the church, obeying culture rather than scripture. He forgets that the change in attitudes to the slave trade happened in part because people challenged assumptions about scripture from the perspective of culture.

On Wednesday the Daily Monitor reported that the Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, commended African bishops for rejecting the practice of homosexuality in the church. “I thank the church in Africa for being exemplary by not accepting homosexuality… they see that it is not acceptable in the society where they serve,” Prof. Nsibambi said. He added: “We should not persecute them but I think it is wrong and we cannot recognise them because it is wrong like ordaining a gay bishop.”

His qualification in the last sentence is significant. The Prime Minister told a recent visitor (who reported the conversation to me) that the Anti-homosexuality Bill is dead and will not be passed into law. Politicians are not following where bishops would like to drive them – towards further vilification and persecution of LGBT people.

The Daily Monitor thinks the anti-homosexuality voices from the bishops are a likely boost to proponents of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It would seem the monitor is wrong – the bishops are simply propounding their own prejudice.

It’s hard work, maintaining calm opposition to the views held by Africa Primates and bishops, and to be confident that one day, LGBT people in Africa and Asia will achieve the freedom to live with dignity in society with the justice and protection we have come to value in the UK.

I pray to God that enough people will hold to the positives in the Windsor Report, which others in the Communion are determined to deny in an attempt to exterminate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from their consciousness, their Provinces and their culture.

Colin Coward

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