This article is Part 2 of 2 of a guest piece by Peter Chater. Part 1, which gives background to the following article and contains an introduction by Changing Attitude, is available here.
I too avoided the word ‘homophobia’, for many years, out of respect for others, because it can be used as an insult, and also, partly, because I wasn’t sure if what I experienced was homophobia or the result of appalling ignorance. But now that the much discussed anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria have become a terrifying reality for LGBTI people and their families, and knowing that the leadership of the church I attended for many years are amongst the staunchest allies in this country of the heads of Anglican churches in Africa who have been outspoken in their support for these laws, I am convinced that there is no other suitable word. When its use is justified and people take offence then so be it – the consequences of inaction for many LGBTI people are too severe.
The leadership of the church I left last year have spent years actively seeking out and building strong alliances with other members of the Anglican communion in the ‘Global South’ who, in Colin Coward’s words, show ‘support for bills and attitudes which have demonised LGBTI people in the public mind’. They are instrumental in the GAFCON movement. They are part of what has become known as the ‘Anglican realignment’ and have ‘realigned’ themselves firmly with a succession of church leaders like former Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola who called for Nigeria’s Anti-Homosexuality bill ‘to be passed’ when it was first brought before Parliament; like Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda who has been unabashed and vocal in his support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality law; like Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya, chairman of GAFCON, who has spoken out against ‘the normalisation of homosexuality’, accusing the Archbishops of York and Canterbury in January of ‘fuelling prejudice against African Anglicans’ when they called for an end to the ‘victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex’.
There is a dangerous fantasy common amongst some African Anglicans – as witnessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury – that homosexuality is a Western phenomena which Africa must resist, that people fear ‘being made to become gay’, that children and families are at risk from homosexuals.
These inaccurate and insulting allegations, far from being dismissed and strongly countered, are pandered to and encouraged by many, at the highest levels of the Anglican Church.
If there is prejudice against African Anglicans, it is surely because of their attitudes towards and their complicity in the persecution of LGBTI people, and nothing more. Why else would we feel any desire to criticise them? As Christians, we should speak out loudly against the persecution of minorities. All of us may feel free to do that, whatever our differences over scripture. Reading the Gospels, can anybody seriously believe that Jesus would call us to victimise and imprison LGBTI people? No, of course not. The idea is absurd and indicates how totally out of perspective the GAFCON world-view has become. As their anger increases, following a sequence of events beginning with the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, they have become blinded by a madness which now enables many of them to sanction the punishment of all LGBTI people. I call it madness and I think it is one, because they convince themselves of their righteousness while they display devastating cruelty; they constantly try to persuade themselves – and us all – of THEIR ‘persecution’ whilst encouraging, or doing nothing to prevent, the persecution of LGBTI people in their own communities. I call it madness because, if you listen to the speeches they make to each other, they clearly believe Jesus is talking about them when in Matthew 10 verse 22 he says ‘you will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’. Members of GAFCON, in this country and abroad, have convinced themselves that they must ‘stand firm in faith’, that they are carrying and protecting the mantle of True Anglicanism, that they may deflect and ignore any criticism because it is prophesied in scripture that they will be hated. Self-justified by this belief, they are complicit in an unspeakable cruelty towards LGBTI people.
Yes, this is a madness, and yes, this is homophobia – on a massive scale.
The fact that UK churches, and UK organisations like Anglican Mainstream who, in their own words, have ‘been instrumental in the formation of’ GAFCON, would be part of this, the fact that they continue to court deep and mutually back-slapping relationships with people who openly support the imprisonment of LGBTI people is something that disgusts me. Yet such people recoil at any accusation of homophobia in indignation and horror. But I think this is nothing less than a scandal which, if it took place in the secular world – in a coffee chain, for example, or a bank – would be countered with the full force of the press, not to mention Twitter and Facebook. Church people are protected by the fact that few people care: a large percentage of people outside the church simply EXPECT the church to be homophobic because, in our drive for ‘unity’, it is. Thankfully, some parts of the church in this country are at last starting to wake up to the fact that homophobia destroys their moral credibility and undermines their mission.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say it: Leaders of GAFCON churches and organisations in the UK who have courted intimate affiliations with ‘Global South’ churches primarily over issues surrounding homosexuality need to recognise the reality that there exist deep and dangerous levels of homophobia amongst some of their colleagues abroad. If they do not themselves support the escalating church and government-sanctioned persecution of LGBTI people in several countries, then they must speak loudly and publicly against it. Holding strong views about what scripture says about homosexuality, whatever your views may be, is not mutually incompatible with standing up for the human rights of LGBTI people. If they fail to speak out against the undeniable, rising and terrifying persecution of LGBTI people, whilst they loudly congratulate Global South churches for showing us what a thriving ‘Gospel-led’ and ‘bible-believing’ church should look like, then they are definitely part of this persecution.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is TO speak. Not to act is TO act”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Ignorance was NEVER an option, but NOBODY may claim ignorance anymore. When Anglican Bishops such as Archbishop Stanley Ntagali who in his official capacity as an officer of the Anglican Church had openly and actively supported Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality law since he came to office in 2012, are invited to preach in churches like St Mark’s Battersea Rise in London, what are we to think? And lest we think that this is an isolated incident, it is not. St Mark’s has been hosting GAFCON-related events regularly for many years. A year on from this particular event, now that the Anti-Homosexuality law has become a fact of life for LGBTI people and their families in Uganda, what does the vicar Paul Perkin have to say about Archbishop Ntagali’s continuing support for the legislation?
Some might argue that showing public support for church leaders in Africa who take a hard line opposing LGBTI rights and freedoms does not necessarily indicate that you would support such laws here in the UK. But if that is your argument, what exactly would you be saying, and what does that say about you? Is it acceptable to imprison African LGBTI people but not British LGBTI people? Are human rights relative? Do we see the trampling of the human rights of African LGBTI people as unfortunate but necessary collateral in the culture wars whilst thanking God it doesn’t happen here?
We are surely not going to attempt to deny that supporting anti-gay legislation that leads to prison sentences for LGBTI people is homophobic? Paul and Christine Perkin of St Mark’s Church, Battersea Rise make alliances with homophobes – I use the word deliberately and unapologetically – and give public and vocal approval to those who persecute sexual minorities. They travel to Africa to tell people that the Church of England has gone astray and ‘is as immoral as the world’, implying that those in the GAFCON movement, though ‘not suffering martyrdom through the physical persecution being experienced by much of the rest of the world’ are nonetheless martyrs for ‘true’ Anglicanism. So, are we to assume that they too wholeheartedly support the anti-gay legislation? They almost certainly don’t, but they certainly do not speak out against it – and the Bonhoeffer quote above, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil… Not to speak is to speak’, was taken from Paul Perkin’s own email signature. Do the Perkins, and their colleagues at Anglican Mainstream, feel unable to condemn those who support the anti-gay laws because they are aware that the moment they do so they will be shunned by the GAFCON movement and lose the respect they have spent years trying to build? They have already isolated themselves from mainstream opinion in the UK and by remaining silent on LGBTI rights and freedoms find themselves uncomfortably on the same side in the ‘culture wars’ as a regime which has, in the words of President Museveni of Uganda’s Facebook page, declared ‘war on homosexuality’.
The GAFCON African churches have spoken. They are no longer afraid of a split in the Anglican union – it would seem they almost welcome it. The UK supporters of GAFCON, including Anglican Mainstream who claim to be ‘a key point of contact between the vibrant, Spirit-filled and Christ centred Anglican churches of the Global South, and the Church of England’ are now perilously superfluous. If they ARE the bridge between the Global South and the Church of England, then they are the bridge that has just been burnt. They are in an unenviable position but one of their own making and they should have seen it coming. If they criticise the anti-gay laws of Nigeria and Uganda (and let’s face it, many other African countries such as Kenya have anti-gay laws – 76 countries currently criminalise homosexuality, most of them in the Commonwealth and many of them in Anglican heartlands), then they risk being cut off from the ‘Global South’. But if they support the anti-gay laws, their position in the UK will be untenable. So, what exactly IS their position?
Bonhoeffer is surely right. So let’s speak out against homophobia and condemn it soundly, recognising the obvious truth that some conservative Christians refuse to acknowledge, that if the church is seen as increasingly irrelevant in the UK it is partly because people do not understand how we can be so irrationally cruel to a minority group. Painting the Anglican churches in Africa as exemplary examples of a booming, Gospel-led, vibrant church, full to the brim, glosses over an uncomfortable reality: that there the problem of homophobia is off the scale. We cannot and we should not accept this.
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