The wording of the headline is awkward:
‘Archbishops recall commitment to pastoral care and friendship for all, regardless of sexual orientation.’
My first impression was that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were ‘recalling’, i.e. withdrawing, Monday evening’s Statement by the Church of England College of Bishops, following its reflections on the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality. Had they had a change of heart? Were they about to announce the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church of England? No, not that; but what the Archbishops have written to all the Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, reminding them of the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, is still very welcome, though somewhat overdue.
Like many others in the Church of England, I have endured an agony of waiting during the past few weeks. When would the Archbishops speak out against the criminalisation of homosexuality in Nigeria – and its threatened introduction in Uganda – especially as it seems to be supported by the Anglican Primate there, in direct contravention of the teaching of the Anglican Communion?
The longer it has taken the two Archbishops to speak out, the more ashamed I have felt to be a member of the Church of England. Statements from the Anglican Communion about its abhorrence of homophobia would not be worth the paper they were written on had the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his unique role in the Communion, remained silent while the Church in Nigeria was so horrifyingly complicit in the introduction of legislation that has unleashed a wave of violence and intimidation against LGBTI people.
It has been said that Lambeth Palace will have been using diplomatic methods to express concern and displeasure at this turn of events, but the absence of a public statement was deeply troubling. In contrast to the fuss and outrage in the Communion over the consecration of gay and lesbian clergy as bishops, or the celebration of same sex blessings – matters related to people loving one another – the prospect of the imprisonment of LGBTI people, their loss of freedom of assembly, and reports of random attacks and harassment, had been met with a deafening silence from the English Primates … until today.
Back then to that headline to the Archbishops’ letter to the Primates, and the two Presidents, which highlights, ‘pastoral care and friendship for all, regardless of sexual orientation.’ Now this is extraordinary. People can be imprisoned in Nigeria for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, but they must not worry, there will still be ‘pastoral care and friendship’ on offer from the Anglican Communion!
That phrase is certainly in the Communiqué issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion at a meeting held at Dromantine, Northern Ireland in 2005, but so is this far more robust sentence, which is also included in the Archbishops’ letter: ‘The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex, is anathema to us.’ That, I think, is the key sentence in the present context, and ought to have been the headline. It is direct and uncompromising, and that is what is needed just now.
The Archbishops quote the Dromantine Communiqué’s assurance to ‘homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship’, and then express the hope ‘that the pastoral care and friendship that the Communiqué described is accepted and acted upon in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We call upon the leaders of churches in such places to demonstrate the love of Christ and the affirmation of which the Dromantine communiqué speaks.’ The tone is relatively mild.
The Statement issued earlier this week, on Monday 27th January 2014, by the Church of England College of Bishops, following its discussion of the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality, says,
‘We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.’
The Archbishops’ letter seems to have been issued in response to questions about the Church of England’s attitude to the Nigerian and Ugandan legislation. Perhaps they have ‘rebuked’ behind the scenes, or have they failed to do this yet again? At least, and at last, they are now seen to be taking a stand against homophobia.
These reflections were written at the request of Integrity USA.