The defeat of the Anglican Covenant in England by the voting in Diocesan Synods creates not a problem for the Anglican Communion but a huge opportunity. The Covenant was designed to deal with the reality of a partnered gay bishop in the USA and the introduction of same-sex blessings in Canada. The intention of its conservative backers was to inhibit progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people across the Communion.
National Churches were warned of the “relational consequences” of their actions if they affected other Churches in the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury warned that further disintegration might follow failure to adopt the Covenant.
Various commentators have issued warnings and prognostications. Dr Andrew Goddard, writing for Fulcrum, warned that the failure of the Covenant will make it harder for the Anglican Communion to survive with all its aspects intact.
Retired bishop Michael Nazir-Ali thinks that the [Gafcon] Jerusalem Statement (2008) is now ‘the only game in town’. In case you’ve forgotten, the Statement says:
“The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel. It promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship.”
Andrew Carey writing in the CEN View from the pew thinks the English problem lies with the divided nature of the House of Bishops. “The next Archbishop of Canterbury needs to develop greater unity in the House of Bishops and to lead them effectively. His first priority should be the adoption of the Covenant during the next Synod. This can only be achieved by the renewal of effective, collegial episcopal leadership.”
Martin Beckford , also writing in the CEN View from Fleet Street thinks the pressure on the next Archbishop of Canterbury will only increase, “as the liberal wing and society call for faster changes that will lead to the consecration of women bishops and openly gay ones.”
Ah, well there’s a commentator who has some insight into the problem – it’s partly about openness and honesty. When the LGB&T Anglican Coalition witnessed outside General Synod in February, we wanted to highlight the invisibility of the majority of LGB&T clergy in the Church of England, estimated to be at least 1,500. Included in this number are the 13 bishops known to be gay. I can understand their reticence to be open, because ‘coming out’ is a big moment in the life of any gay person. But UK society now values the contribution made, visibly, by LGB&T people, and the closet maintained by Church looks decidedly unhealthy.
The Covenant process has bought time, time for the English synods to find the confidence to vote No and time for people across the Communion to begin to engage with the lives and experience of LGB&T people.
In Kisumu, Kenya, earlier this month, I met a bishop, priests, lay people and youth leaders, together with LGBTI Anglicans, who are beginning to engage with each other, knowing they have much to learn. They are beginning to map a future diocesan strategy for engaging with and listening to LGBTI people. I met Moslems and Christians, lay and ordained, who are committed to changed attitudes towards the created varieties of human sexuality.
The future can only be one of progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Gafcon and the Jerusalem Statement are not the only game in town, whatever Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali might think. There are differences of opinion in the Church of Kenya, and there are LGBTI people in every Province of the Anglican Communion, hoping and praying that the present era of intolerance, prejudice and ignorance is entering a terminal phase.
The result of the present teaching about human sexuality is misery, depression, suicide and rejection for millions of faithful LGB&T Anglicans around the world. Thanks be to God that the English Synods have defeated the Covenant. I hope the next Archbishop is wise enough to accept its defeat and confident enough to affirm the full inclusion of everyone in the Church, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation, so that we may all flourish as saints in the new creation.
The only game in town is the game that has been there from the beginning – progress towards embodying the infinite, intimate, tender, self-giving love of God in human lives, relationships and societies. Freed from the potentially dangerous inhibitions of the Covenant the Communion can now open itself to celebrate the variety of human identities and sexualities created by God.