Gay Rights & The Anglican Church – Step Back in Time

A few days ago we read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words with some excitement; did he really just say that we have to allow people to walk away when we make difficult decisions? There was a frisson of excitement as we grasped his words that family remain family, even though they might choose to walk away. Knowing that the Anglican Primates were to meet and discuss the thorniest of issues, sexuality, one could have been forgiven for expecting Justin Welby to have been batting for full inclusion of all, irrespective of their LGBTI identity status.

Thus yesterday’s communique, which revealed to a watching and waiting world that the Episcopal Church in America would be excluded on the grounds that they had openly consecrated a gay Bishop (Gene Robinson) in 2003 in a ‘fundamental departure from the faith and teaching’ of the majority of Anglicans. Two things forcibly strike me about that: first, this occurred thirteen years ago. Are we seriously saying that not only are we not forward thinking, do not lead the way in liberative theology, nor are even lagging behind, but that we will actually turn back time to sanction something happened over a decade ago.

Forgive my cynicism, but this bodes very poorly for all now debating and deciding upon such matters for the future, when those that have grasped the mettle are excluded from the table. Surely the US Episcopals should be at the forefront of our conversations and decision making as we learn from those who have already walked a thorny path, scaling the heights of hatred in order to bring a genuine inclusivity for all? No, as is our wont, they are to be silenced, that most pernicious of punishments.

Madeleine Davies reporting for the Church Times quoted the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali: 

He writes: “On the second day of the gathering, I moved a resolution that asked the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to voluntarily withdraw from the meeting and other Anglican Communion activities until they repented of their decisions that have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level.

“They would not agree to this request, nor did it appear that the Archbishop of Canterbury and his facilitators would ensure that this matter be substantively addressed in a timely manner.

“Sadly, after two long days of discussions, I was concerned that the process set up for this meeting would not permit us to address the unfinished business from the 2007 Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam.

“In accordance with the resolution of our Provincial Assembly, it was, therefore, necessary for me to withdraw from the meeting, which I did at the end of the second day. It seemed that I was being manipulated into participating in a long meeting with the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada without the necessary discipline being upheld. My conscience is at peace.”

 “I have left the meeting in Canterbury, but I want to make it clear that we are not leaving the Anglican Communion. Together with our fellow GAFCON Provinces and others in the Global South, we are the Anglican Communion; the future is bright.”

What is striking about his assertion is that he is openly stating that Gafcon Provinces  and the ‘Global South’ ‘are the Anglican Communion’ which is nothing less than a direct challenge to the Anglican Church as we know it, here in England, and certainly sounds to me, like a direct challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.

Essentially, these primates (Bishops) have held the whole communion to ransom, and have now learned that it is expedient so to do. I am slightly bemused as to why the enormous Episcopal Church in America seems to be so easily cast adrift.

Second, the Anglican Church is known and loved for her diversity. Yes, you can be an uptight control freak who needs everything in black and white to make you feels safe, and there will be a church where you can feel you know ‘the answer to everything’. And of course, at the other end of the spectrum, you can experience the divine transcendence that is so far beyond mortal words that it seems almost heretical to claim that we might have captured ‘what God thinks about everything’ within a carefully selected group of ancient scrolls.

Why should one part of our communion be sanctioned by another for simply following where she genuinely believes the Spirit is leading? Are we not big enough for that? Or are Gafcon et al. genuinely threatening to ‘steal’ the Anglican Church for themselves and throw the rest of us out, unless we tow their didactic, authoritarian and patriarchal line?

I certainly hope not. I am trying to see the decision as expedient, to look at the long game, and not to feel utterly dismayed. But it strikes me that I might be looking a little further afield for my next post, if this is the way we treat our brothers in sisters in Christ, LGBTI or not. For this form of ‘gospel’ truth will alienate many from the Source of Divine, profligate  love that welcomes, indeed, chases us down and bids us, ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’. There’s a song I sing in the kitchen when I am making my two little ones’ Sunday lunch;

Jesus never, never, never turned anyone away

No, no, no!

Jesus never, never, never turned anyone away

He welcomed the young

He welcomed the old

He never left anyone out in the cold

He welcomed the hungry

He welcomed the lame

Jesus welcomes everyone the same

© 1999 Daybreak Music/Elevation

I am only glad they are not yet old enough to hear the bad news, that the Church has done just that. In His Name.

Reverend Dr Hayley Matthews is Rector of Holy Innocents' Church in Fallowfield, an inclusive Church of England parish church (10am Sundays). As well as being a priest, Hayley is a regular broadcaster with the BBC, All FM, Gaydio and UCB, continuing to write academic papers on Equality and Diversity issues, as well as Thoughts for the Day, blogging and guest columns in a variety of publications. Hayley also represents Members of the Faith Workers Branch of UNITE the Union on their National Executive as an Equality and Diversity Rep.Hayley also finds time to do a spot of gardening, cooking, cycling, camping and trampolining with her adopted children.