Changing Anglican Communion attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is more important than the Covenant

Thanks to the 23 diocesan synods which have voted against the Anglican Covenant, it cannot now return to General Synod for adoption in this quinquennium. The Covenant was developed as a solution to the crisis that erupted in 2003 following the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

But the origins of the problems about human sexuality go back much further, to the 1978 Lambeth Conference which passed Resolution 10 on Human Relationships and Sexuality. The resolution recognised “… the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality ….” The 1988 Lambeth Conference passed Resolution 64, Human rights for those of homosexual orientation which recognised for a second time … the continuing need in the next decade for ‘deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality …’” Section 3 called on each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.

Some dioceses in some provinces, notably the USA and Canada, were already involved in such a reassessment. The General Synod of the Church of England had passed the deeply homophobic Higton motion the year before and the House of Bishops in 1988 were about to suppress the Osborne Report, preferring to publish Issues in Human Sexuality in 1991, a timid response to the 1988 Lambeth call for the study of care for, attitudes towards and human rights of ‘persons of homosexual orientation’.

In anticipation of progress on the place of LGB&T people in the Church at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the Global South organised a conference in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 which issued a Statement designed to sabotage any progress on implementing the 1978 and 1988 Lambeth Conference resolutions. The outcome was the deeply hostile 1998 Resolution 1.10.

Since the 2003 crisis and the publication of the Windsor Report in 2004, the Anglican Communion has been dealing with the need to preserve the unity of the Communion and appease those provinces which clamour for the suppression of LGB&T people as bishops, priests and ministers in the church. Work on the Listening Process and Continuing Indaba, low profile and patient, is taking place against the priority placed on adoption of the Covenant by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others.

The argument for the adoption of the Anglican Covenant in England continues. Andrew Goddard had written a carefully argued article for Fulcrum. The maintenance of tradition and the authority of the Church is more important than progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people first intimated 34 years ago.

Let the Covenant go. It was a response to a crisis which erupted 9 years ago. The Church has already moved on. Despite the threats, schism hasn’t occurred. There are power blocks claiming to represent the majority, but as I discovered in Kenya this month, the mouthpieces of the GAFCON do not represent the views of at least some of the Kenyan bishops.

The attention and energy of the Communion now needs to be addressed towards engaging with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex in our churches, and with those heterosexual people who know that in the ‘global south’ as well as in the ‘global north’ the church lives with a fantasy about the way straight people conduct their marriages and sexual lives. It’s time to be honest about human sexuality in all its variety and manifestations.

People will still argue that the Anglican Covenant is the solution to the Communion’s problems. It isn’t. Love and truth are the solution, God’s solution, to the needs of God’s children in creation.

I met the future in western Kenya, in the town of Kisumu. Here the bishop of the diocese of Maseno South, the Rt Revd Francis Mwayi Abiero, together with members of his clergy, congregations and young people, have already started to engage with LGBTI people and issues in the diocese. The staff and members of the LGBTI organisations in Kisumu, the NYAWEK LGBTI Coalition and KIPE sexual health initiative are Christians committed to their faith, to a holy, healthy life in Christ, and to the transformation of their churches.

The future lies with these initiatives in Kenya, which I have no doubt will be replicated across Africa.

In England, the two House of Bishops’ review groups are at work. Are they going to produce reports which have the courage to overcome the fear and inertia which has inhibited progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church for too long? I hope and pray they have the courage and guts to be radical, more radical than June Osborne’s 1988 group.

Thanks God the dioceses have sunk the Covenant. Now – who has the courage to campaign for swift progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people in our Church? Changing Attitude, that’s who!

Join the discussion