Tuesday, 22 December 2009

... and a time for speaking out

From a brilliant article in The Guardian, which really asks important questions over our priorities and the utterances, or lack of them, from Lambeth Palace.

The Church's continuing wrangling over the issue of gay people makes some despair. One senior London cleric, himself in a gay partnership, says: "We are asked to make sacrifices of relationships, of part of our lives, that are unimaginable to our heterosexual colleagues, which they would never be asked to make. There is a failure to stand up for honesty, against prejudice, that is quite horrible. I stay because I love God and love the church, but it is like being in an abusive relationship."

Last Tuesday, bishops in the House of Lords were still fighting for the church's right to discriminate in employment, not just among the clergy (there is already exemption for them), but its other employees too. They were opposing the government's equality bill and, since it is unlikely that they want to discriminate against black or disabled folk, one must presume it is sexual orientation that is at issue. Dr Peter Forster, bishop of Chester, argued that the proposed legislation "concentrates too ... excessively on the rights of the individual, essential as these are".

More culpable than this little reported rearguard action has been the Church of England's response to two events on opposite sides of the world: the election, in Los Angeles, of a suffragan bishop, Mary Glasspool, who is openly gay and has lived with her partner Becki Sander for the last 21 years.

This temerity on the part of Californian Episcopalians in choosing the bishop they wanted produced a shocked reaction within hours from Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, a man once thought sympathetic to the vocation of gay people. Glasspool's selection, he warned, posed very serious questions for the church. He took comfort in the possibility that her election might not be confirmed by the US house of bishops, even though no bishop has been rejected there since the 1870s.

What made his intervention worse was that at the same time he was maintaining an embarrassed silence about proposed legislation in the Ugandan parliament that would mandate the death penalty for some homosexuals, life imprisonment for others and prison sentences for friends and relatives who failed to inform the authorities of their existence.

Some Ugandan Anglicans have gleefully supported the plans: one, the Rev Michael Esakan Okwi, recently described gays as cockroaches and Bishop Joseph Abura warned against the wicked west "exporting" homosexuality to the developing world: "They want it to become a virtue ... Ugandan parliament, watchdog of our laws, please go ahead and put the anti-gay laws in place."

Through all this, there has been the muffled sound of gritted teeth from Lambeth Palace, all the more remarkable because the Church of England has long opposed capital punishment. A previous archbishop, Michael Ramsey, spoke against hanging and anti-homosexual legislation in Britain in the 1960s, and the Anglican communion calls on its clergy to minister sensitively to gay people, which would breach the Ugandan law. And yet Williams and John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, who is Ugandan and was once a judge there, kept quiet.

It was only last weekend, after even US conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren had vigorously condemned the Ugandan proposals, that Williams, finally, sotto voce in an interview in the Daily Telegraph, murmured about the proposed law's "shocking severity".

It seems the death clause may have been withdrawn, but the threat of imprisonment remains and now neighbouring Rwanda is reportedly considering similar legislation. Meanwhile, the possibility of being expelled from the Anglican communion, or downgraded within its counsels, hangs over the US Episcopal church.

It comes to this, wrote the Guardian's commentator Andrew Brown: "Under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican communion. The church that would jail them both for life and revile and persecute their defenders stays snugly in its bosom. Not even the archbishop's gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts forever."

Tom Butler, the bishop of Southwark, who retires in March, said: "Rowan is an enigma. I don't think he is a pushover. He is patient and stubborn and he frequently says with God the impossible is always possible. The Ugandan situation is extremely sensitive. Archbishop Sentamu's advice is taken extremely seriously."

Ask him whether he condemns the legislation and he spars uncomfortably before finally admitting: "It's obviously a wicked law, which I could not possibly support, but whether I would help the situation by denouncing it publicly, I don't know."

Well, I think it might ...


  1. I can hardly see why it would be any worse if he did speak out. They seem to be ready to attack all people, why not Rowan? Of course he speaks to all Anglicans for all Anglicans, so he daren't speak. Tis a puzzlement. . .

  2. Why don't you disestablish your church?