Changing Attitude has received a response to Rev. Colin Coward’s article on homophobia which we think is significant enough to publish in full. The author – Peter Chater – has told us, ‘Whatever our disagreements about scripture, it is our response to it and the way we treat others that marks us out as homophobic or not. I have no wish to hurt anybody and, like others, I have tried over the years to raise these issues privately. All the material I discuss below is a matter of public record – nothing is disclosed that is not already ‘out there’. I have simply drawn together the material in one place and have pointed to some possible conclusions. I’m not expecting a response or insisting on replies to the questions I ask – I’m simply wondering why others don’t ask these questions – why the proponents are apparently free to act unchecked, either by their employers or by the people they claim to represent. I’m grateful to Changing Attitude for agreeing to give me a voice but I want to be clear: it is not for them to ask these questions either – the bigger question is why these questions are never publicly asked when so many people are aware of what is going on. The problem of homophobia in the church is that we all allow homophobia to take place.’
The following article is in two parts. The first part gives background and contains links to relevant material. The second half is a more personal response by the author to Rev. Colin Coward’s article on Homophobia.
For over a decade my partner and I attended St Mark’s Church Battersea Rise, in South London. As the only openly gay members of the congregation, our experience of the church was largely positive – we felt warmly welcomed and valued. However, the more we learned about the activities of the leadership, who were taking an increasingly publicly anti-gay stance in the world of international church politics, the more uncomfortable we felt – and eventually we left. A year on, we find ourselves asking the following question:
How, without any debate or consent from the congregation, has a friendly neighbourhood church in Battersea become a hub for the UK arm of an international breakaway Anglican movement founded primarily on an opposition to the ‘liberalisation of homosexuality’, a movement some of whose leaders vocally support laws which call for the imprisonment of LGBTI people?
When we left the church last year, most people we knew at St Mark’s had barely heard of GAFCON and the FCA, nor had they any idea – or indeed any particular interest in – what these organisations stood for. The rise of St Mark’s as a hub of the UK arm of the GAFCON movement – and the role of its vicar Paul Perkin as the ‘UK coordinator‘ – has taken place without the involvement of the congregation and membership. Publicly, when Paul Perkin stands before GAFCON and FCA audiences, he does so as Vicar of St Mark’s Church, and the impression is given that St Mark’s stands proudly behind him. But this is an illusion: his church is largely unaware of his precise role in the global arena of Anglican politics and his long public opposition to LGBTI rights (such as his failed attempt to get General Synod to condemn Civil Partnerships in 2007). These issues are simply not discussed publicly. No mention of any affiliation with GAFCON or the FCA is made on their website. Our impression of St Mark’s was that there was little interest in church politics and when we brought Paul Perkin’s role in GAFCON to people’s attention they found it uncomfortable, and out of step with the more positive activities of a popular local church. At heart, it is a good church filled with good people. People do talk about issues around homosexuality, and, like many other churches, they discuss excitedly Justin Welby’s occasionally clumsy but well meaning attempts at a more positive and open dialogue. Like any church, there is a great diversity of views, but the people of St Mark’s are at heart no different to the people of HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton, the home of the ‘Alpha Course’), the church that ‘planted’ St Mark’s in 1994. Any suggestion that St Mark’s might be affiliated with organisations who take a extreme anti-gay position – who are SO anti-gay they are prepared publicly to welcome and support the imprisonment of LGBTI people – would be met with considerable alarm.
In April 2012, hundreds of bishops from other parts of the world descended on St Mark’s to attend a ‘leadership conference’. This event has been one of the only visible intersections between the activities of GAFCON and the St Mark’s congregation who were told of the ‘great privilege’ of hosting this event and encouraged to offer help, house and hospitality to the visiting bishops and their wives. They were told that the visiting bishops would be discussing important global leadership challenges such as the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world. Within FCA and GAFCON circles this conference was referred to as the ‘FCA Leaders Conference‘. It was not spelt out to the St Mark’s congregation that the visiting bishops they welcomed into their homes were primarily united in their opposition to the liberalisation of homosexuality, as outlined in the ‘Jerusalem Declaration‘, the document of beliefs to which all GAFCON members have signed up.
The following year, in March 2013 St Mark’s again welcomed (in Paul Perkin’s words) ‘no less than six archbishops from around the world’, on the occasion of the installation of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda stayed with Paul and Christine Perkin and was invited to preach in the Sunday morning service at St Mark’s – you can hear them both on this recording on St Mark’s website. No mention is made of GAFCON and the FCA, and certainly not of any friction between the leaders of the Global South and the Church of England. On the contrary, Archbishop Ntagali says, “Our coming was to show our solidarity our willingness to work with Archbishop Justin”. Though this statement may have been true, at a time of potential new beginnings for the Church of England under a new Archbishop, the congregation of St Mark’s were probably not aware of Ntagali’s extreme opposition to LGBTI rights – this is a man who even at that time was an outspoken supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, encouraging the imprisoning of LGBTI people, though opposing the death penalty: “I think the death penalty is not acceptable. I think taking someone to jail for a period of time would be sufficient”. These are the sort of views that, in a Muslim context, would prompt the Daily Mail and others to make accusations about ‘extremist clerics’, but such views are evidently no barrier to preaching in an Anglican church in Battersea, a predominantly middle-class Conservative borough of London.
My partner and I increasingly felt ourselves belonging to a church with an identity crisis: St Mark’s was a church committed to its local community and welcoming to us, whilst at the same time, on the world stage of church politics, was happy to be publicly associated with Anglican leaders whose welcome to ‘homosexuals’ would be to have them rounded up and put into jail.
Paul Perkin evidently now has a dual ministry: to his local St Mark’s community (many of whom may have gay family members or work colleagues and don’t feel strongly about the issue), and, separately, to the upper echelons of a new Anglican hierarchy who have fallen out of love with their colleagues over what they perceive to be failures of discipline on the church’s response (or lack of response) to the problem of homosexuality – those who, in the words of the Jerusalem Declaration, have ‘denied the orthodox faith in word or deed’, or, in the words of the Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution on Human Sexuality, have not sufficiently rejected ‘homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture’. In the 2012 ‘FCA Leaders Conference’ at St Mark’s, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali outlined his vision of a new, breakaway, hierarchy – one independent of Lambeth; one, he suggests, which might even include people like Paul Perkin, who of course is not a bishop: “Bishops should certainly be included, but I think we’ve got to move beyond that to a gathering of people beside the bishop, in addition to the bishops, who also exercise one kind of oversight or another. That may be in the formation of people for Christian ministry; it may be people who are rectors of churches that are crucial to the future of our Communion. I mean, rectors of churches like this one [St Mark’s] exercise enormous oversight and have very large staff which can be quite well compared to what happens in a diocese. Why should they be excluded from such a gathering?”
Many members of St Mark’s have friends and family who go to closely affiliated churches – for instance many of their teenage children go to HTB. They would probably be greatly shocked to think that they are now discussed as being part of a breakaway movement in the Anglican Communion whose leaders are currently openly threatening a split with the Church of England (see for instance, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali: “The issue here is respect for our views on homosexuality, same sex marriage as a country and church. If they are not willing to listen to us. We shall consider being on our own.”). Where would St Mark’s end up if such a split becomes a reality? Paul Perkin long ago started to divert his energies from his local pastoral duties (at which, it must be said, he excels and for which he is much loved) towards a more global focus. St Mark’s has a structure, a staff, and a vicarage – all of which he can use (while he fights the people who pay his wages). Until relatively recently he was listed on the St Mark’s staff page as ‘Vicar’. Now he and his wife Christine are ‘Senior Pastor’ and ‘Associate Pastor’ respectively. Why the change of job title? Could it be that the word ‘vicar’, familiar and relevant to a Battersea congregation, is less familiar and relevant to his new audience – leaders of churches of African and other ‘Global South’ nations where ‘pastor’ is the norm?
For over a decade, since the consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, Paul Perkin and his colleagues at Anglican Mainstream (to whom the St Mark’s congregation were contributing financially – the contributions are listed in the annual accounts) have been building relationships with ‘orthodox’ church leaders at home and abroad. Having failed to drum up much support for their ‘Covenant for the Church of England’ which they grandly and publicly presented to the then Archbishop of Canterbury in 2006, Paul Perkin and Canon Chris Sugden renewed their attention on the ‘Global South’, and – as the Anglican Mainstream site proudly and accurately claims on its ‘About’ page – were ‘instrumental in the formation of’ the GAFCON movement. Paul Perkin and various colleagues have founded a succession of organisations – the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans UK & Ireland (FCA), The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), the Southwark Good Steward’s Trust (‘an alternative mechanism to funding churches within the Diocese’) – to create structures (e.g. organisations with practical attributes such as bank accounts) to assist in one of the declared aims of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’: ‘We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.’
No forum exists through which members of St Mark’s may formally discuss or challenge their involvement in this movement. Without any public discussion or approval, St Mark’s has become a ‘GAFCON’ church. Paul and Christine Perkin speak with different voices to different audiences, giving the impression to the congregation and membership of St Marks that they are not significantly linked to the GAFCON movement, and to GAFCON audiences that they are. The FCA UK & Ireland launch in July 2009 was live-streamed from the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster, London, with the happy St Mark’s couple presenting from cosy sofas and chairs, like Richard and Judy. It closed with a highly staged act of Holy Communion as a show of solidarity, at which point many walked out, presumably affronted to see the sacrament of Communion used in such a highly political and divisive fashion – the implied message being ‘if you stand with us then show it now by taking Communion with us’.
Below, I list a handful of links which demonstrate how St Mark’s Battersea Rise has been used in the emergence of the GAFCON movement, and other related pages. I wanted to include these – where possible from ‘approved’ GAFCON or FCA sources – so that I will not be accused of exaggeration or some elaborate conspiracy theory. In my view these pages illustrate that, at least in part, a handful of Anglican conservatives in the UK and Australia, motivated by a deep opposition to what they refer to as the ‘normalisation’ of LGBTI rights (and whatever other personal motives they may have), have long been influencing, and helping to coordinate, a separatist movement within the Anglican church, deliberately stoking up division and schism and tapping into a deep and irrational fear of homosexuality in other parts of the world. I believe that a local London church has unwittingly been used to support these ambitions, without any attempt to seek its consent. If this sort of behaviour were to happen in public office, it would be rooted out and condemned. Luckily for Paul Perkin, he works for the Church of England.
But all of this above is simply to give context to what I want to say. Part 2 contains my response to Colin Coward’s article.
If you wish to contact the author of this article, please use this form.
Links & Background
The following selection of links give some background to the rise of GAFCON and the FCA and their relationships with key players and organisations like St Mark’s and Anglican Mainstream.
– ‘The [GAFCON] movement begins its mission’ – http://gafcon.org/news/media-release-and-conference-commitment/ – ‘…The leaders met at St Mark’s Battersea Rise…’.
– ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Leaders Conference – Statement and Commitment’ (http://gafcon.org/images/uploads/Statement_and_Comittment.pdf). This document makes the claim that one of the FCA goals is ‘supporting and authenticating faithful Anglicans’. Rather than any specific signatories, the document is signed simply ‘St Mark’s Church, Battersea Rise’.
– http://s3.stmarks-battersea.org.uk/Audio/Sermon/2013-03-24_11.15am.mp3 – Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda, outspoken supporter of Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality Law, speaking at St Mark’s in 2013 at a Sunday service.
– Steven Sizer blog – http://stephensizer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/preparing-for-gafcon-2-at-st-marks.html – This blog post contains photographs of key players in Anglican Mainstream and the FCA, meeting at St Mark’s in 2013 before ‘GAFCON II’ in Nairobi. Pictured are, amongst others, Paul and Christine Perkin, Canon Chris Sugden, Lisa Nolland of Anglican Mainstream and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali. The book held aloft by one speaker is ‘Being Faithful – The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today – A Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration’ (http://amzn.to/1wprdfQ – available as a download from the FCA site: http://bit.ly/1kN1qce) it paints a gloomy and spiritually corrupt picture of the Western world: ‘We rejoice in the way God has opened doors for gospel mission among many peoples, but we grieve for the spiritual decline in the most economically developed nations, where the forces of militant secularism and pluralism are eating away the fabric of society and churches are compromised and enfeebled in their witness. The vacuum left by them is readily filled by other faiths and deceptive cults. To meet these challenges will require Christians to work together to understand and oppose these forces and to liberate those under their sway.’ The book makes the case that an irreparable split has ALREADY occurred, urging churches to ‘realign’ with the GAFCON movement away from the ‘colonial structure’ headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘this crisis has torn the fabric of the Communion in such a way that it cannot simply be patched back together’. ‘While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.’
– Andrew Brown, ‘Money becomes new church battleground’, The Guardian, May 2012 – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/23/church-of-england-money – an article about ‘financial and political links with conservative churches outside England’. For some background on this issue, see the ‘FAQ’ about the Southwark Good Steward’s Trust which was published BEFORE the above article on ‘evangelicals.org’ – http://www.evangelicals.org/news.asp?id=1471. The announcement was made on the Anglican Mainstream site on May 2, 2012 and the Andrew Brown article published on May 23rd. In this FAQ, the Southwark Good Steward’s Trust is described as ‘simply an alternative mechanism to funding churches within the Diocese’, encouraging members to be ‘be ‘Good Stewards’ of the monies the Lord has given them’. Paul Perkin founded the Southwark Good Stewards Company – you can see his directorships of various organisations including Anglican Mainstream, the FCA and the Southwark Good Steward’s Company here: http://bit.ly/1m6A27f. The Southwark Good Stewards Company was registered as a company on April 24, 2012 – only one week before the announcement on Anglican Mainstream and the publication of the FAQ on ‘evangelicals.org’ and a few days before a ‘FCA Leaders Conference’ at St Mark’s. Watch this video made a few days later which discusses Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s vision for ‘alternative structures’ http://bit.ly/1iegPxP. The video highlights the following quote, captioned as ‘FCA Leaders Conference Statement and Commitment’: ‘Bishop Nazir-Ali concluded that the Anglican “Instruments of Unity” have failed dramatically and that the FCA is called to model a biblical way for the churches of the Anglican Communion to gather and relate to one another so as to carry out the Great Commission in the coming decades.’ Andrew Brown’s piece appears to be accurate – and the Southwark Good Steward’s Company was one such structure through which ‘moneys the Lord has given them’ could be filtered. No accounts have yet been publicly filed.
– AMiE’s ‘About us’ page, showing the relationship between AMiE and GAFCON: http://anglicanmissioninengland.org/about-us – “AMiE is a product of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans”. AMiE “Seeks to serve … 1. Anglicans within the structures of the Church of England whose mission is constrained by their bishop or diocese. 2. Anglicans within the structures of the Church of England but who are in impaired communion with their bishop or diocese. 3. Anglicans outside the structures of the Church of England. 4. Anglicans within the structures of the Church of England who are currently experiencing few constraints but who wish to express solidarity with those under 1-3 above”. Paul Perkin is listed on this page as being on the Executive Committee of AMiE.
– The following is a link to a transcript – reproduced on GAFCON’s website – of the speech Paul Perkin gave at GAFCON II in Nairobi in October 2013, on ‘The UK situation’: http://gafcon.org/news/global-challenge-the-uk-situation. In this speech, he laments that the UK church (not St Mark’s, of course) has become ‘a worldly church – a church that is of the world, that is infected by the world, that is unbelieving like the world, that is as immoral as the world, that is not very present in the world, and is running away from the world’. Note the startling similarity in the language to the words of Archbishop Peter Jensen quoted in the Andrew Brown article, above. ‘There is’, he says, ‘a battle for Britain in our own day, a battle for the heart and the soul of Britain. The Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland are uniquely placed to support both those who stay in the structures, and those God is raising up beyond them.’ – the last phrase indicates a collective belief (or delusion, depending on which angle you come from) that this is a divinely-inspired mission. Finally, he asks for support: ‘And we need your supportive help and your recognition that we are your Anglican brothers and sisters. We need it more than we can even begin adequately to thank you for.’ Paul Perkin’s vision of the current state of the Church of England will surely be considered laughable and offensive to many in churches up and down the land. Personally I believe this denigration of the Church of England was designed to flatter, to misinform and to encourage schism between the Global South churches and the Anglican church in the UK, with St Mark’s at the centre of the rift.
– According to ‘sydneyanglicans.net’ (http://sydneyanglicans.net/m/article/fca-leaders-turn-movement-into-mission) “The FCA movement sprang from the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, where the final statement declared GAFCON was ‘not just a moment in time but a movement of the spirit’.” however this is somewhat at odds with one crucial fact – the FCA.NET domain name was registered in 2000, eight years previously, by ‘Anglican Media Sydney’ a division of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. What this demonstrates is that the FCA was originally conceived LONG BEFORE 2008 though the website did not display any content until January 2009 (http://bit.ly/1jghNJi). The fca.net domain was registered on 6 Nov 2000 by Robert Moller, ‘a senior web developer working for Kreativ Design & Development, working with Anglican Media Sydney to built websites’ (http://sydneyanglicans.net/author/891). ‘Anglican Media Sydney is the ‘media arm of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’ (http://anglicanmedia.com.au/), so it is not unreasonable to assume that the FCA was originally the brainchild of somebody at the Sydney Diocese where Peter Jensen, a senior figure in the GAFCON movement, became archbishop the following year. Jensen, who has preached at St Mark’s, introduced Paul Perkin at GAFCON II in Nairobi last summer, and wrote the foreword to ‘Being Faithful’ the ‘Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration’ mentioned above and has been a key player in the formation of GAFCON. In this context, claims that GAFCON is a ‘movement of the spirit’ from largely ‘Global South’ (i.e. non-Western) churches and that ‘The GAFCON journey began in 2008’ (http://fca.net/about) are therefore spurious and contradicted by the facts. The origins of GAFCON go back much further. Perhaps there IS a ‘movement of the spirit’ but it has certainly been helped along, if not wholeheartedly shoved, by a small group of individuals from Western churches and organisations. Considering GAFCON is partly billed to be a reaction against the Anglican colonialist structures (in the words of ‘Being Faithful – A Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration’, ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’) in order that the voice of the ‘majority’ Anglicans from the Global South may reasonably and loudly be heard (see Welby’s comments here: http://bit.ly/1ofulIJ), this seems a curious situation indeed: Western missionaries targeting Africa and other Global South nations and dressing it up as anti-colonialism (see an account of very early links between Chris Sugden then of the ‘Oxford Centre for Mission Studies’ and the post Kuala Lumpur 1998 Lambeth Conference, here: http://bit.ly/Sh3s9G, including this revealing paragraph: “The latter [Chris Sudgen, Vinay Samuel], with their extensive knowledge of African and Asian bishops, were particularly active in circulating members of the Conference on the issue of homosexuality and in organising a well attended protest meeting.”. The Oxford Centre for Mission Studies was founded by Chris Sugden in 1983 as ‘an institution to advance the holistic gospel through research and publications’ with a specific target of ‘leadership in the Global South Churches’. See http://bit.ly/SVnirv p.33).
This article is Part 1 of 2. Part 2 continues here.