Lambeth Ruling Angers Liberals

In the aftermath of the anti-lesbigay vote of Anglican bishops, there is anger, rejection, defiance, networking, mourning, organizing, and that “gutted and lynched feeling.”

The lasting image of the now-concluding global Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops will likely prove to be the confrontation between Nigerian Bishop of Enugu Emmanuel Chukwuma and Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement leader Reverend Richard Kirker, the larger black African shaking his finger in the face of the small white Briton, admonishing him to repent and return to a more traditional Christianity — like the one the British imposed on their empire in another era. That the growing Third World Anglican movements, especially in Africa, numerically and otherwise dominated the diminishing Anglican establishments of white Western countries was a key first for this conference; that new Third World majority declared from the depths of their experience that anything less than a condemnation of homosexuality would be “evangelical suicide” for them.

A number of liberal bishops who were largely silent in debate as the conference overwhelmingly rejected homosexual acts in any context as “incompatible with Scripture,” are speaking out strongly in the aftermath, some in anger, others with simple assurances that nothing will change when they return home. Gay and lesbian Anglicans, disappointed in their hopes for recognition of their committed relationships and for ordination without celibacy, have developed a new global network of their own.

In the hours before the August 5 vote, it was Chukwuma who confronted Kirker, screaming at him for his sin. At one point he forced his hands on to Kirker’s head and attempted “cast out the demons of homosexuality” from him, in an act Kirker later described as “spiritual bullying,” but answered gently at the time saying, “May God bless you and deliver you from your prejudice against human creation.” As Chukwuma thundered at Kirker, there was a moment poignant with the possibility of connection when Kirker revealed that he had been born in Nigeria and lived there for his first 18 years. Chukwuma for the first time seemed ready to listen — but that ended abruptly when Kirker added, “The first person I ever had sex with was another Nigerian boy when I was 16.” “You brought it in!” cried the bishop, apparently based on the discredited belief that the “white man’s disease” of homosexuality was unknown in African culture before European colonization.

But the angriest liberal, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, blames the anti-gay elements of the conference statement about homosexuality not on the Africans, but on U.S. conservatives. He said, “There was a lot of American money from a very traditionalist diocese; and a lot of entertaining of bishops from [the developing countries]. What they have done is, having failed in their own Church at home, they have hired the opposition from abroad. That is a substantial and worrying trend that ought to be noted.” Others also remarked on the ways in which the conference resembled more a political than a religious gathering, as conservatives organized strategically in a way which liberals were not prepared to answer. Holloway described the African bishops’ Christianity as “Islamified,” saying that living in Islamic countries, their religion had become “more severe, Protestant and legalistic.”

“I can now understand how it feels for gay and lesbian people to be on the edge of this kind of virulent homophobia,” Holloway said, variously describing his experience of the sexuality debate as feeling “gutted” and “lynched.” He called Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey’s leadership “pathetic.” Holloway promised that the Episcopal Church of Scotland would remain “hospitable” for gays and lesbians.

By the day after the vote on the statement, nearly 100 bishops at the conference had signed “A Pastoral Statement to Lesbian and Gay Anglicans,” apologizing for the rejection gays and lesbians might feel from not having been heard at Lambeth, and pledging commitment to continued work for their full inclusion in the church. The signatories included the Primates of Brazil, Canada, Scotland, and Wales; the largest number were from the US, but Australia, England, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa were also represented. Some of those signatories and some other clergy have issued their own individual statements of apology and conciliation, and others have told reporters that the conference statement will not change their home areas’ current practices of ordination or blessing of unions.

On August 6, the Alliance of Lesbian and Gay Anglicans announced its formation, as a coalition initially included Action for Gay & Lesbian Ordination (UK), Changing Attitude (UK), Integrity in Canada, Integrity (US), Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (UK), Lesbian & Gay Clergy Consultation (UK), Oasis/California (US), The Oasis, New Jersey (US), and Southwark Diocese Lesbian & Gay Support Network (UK). The alliance of lesbian and gay organizations and ministries in the Anglican Communion stated its purpose as “working for the unconditional inclusion and full participation of lesbian and gay people in every facet of the Church’s life throughout the Anglican Communion.” Its key values include the moral neutrality of sexual orientation, that gay and lesbian partnerships which are “faithful, monogamous, committed, life-giving and holy, are to be honored,” and that “all orders of ministry of the Church are open to all baptized Christians.”

UFMCC’s Justice Minister Rev. Mel White — former speechwriter for Pat Robertson — called the Lambeth statement “evil,” in that “It lends credibility to the untruth that leads to suffering and death for God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children.”