A war of prejudices is being played out at the Lambeth Conference, or more precisely through the absence of key bishops, ostensibly on the grounds of homophobia. That they dress it up as justified under a ‘post-colonial settlement’ doesn’t make it any less bigoted or unjustified, and the thing is most of them are African. Ian Baxter, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, after his visit to the breakaway Gafcon in June wrote:
“One of the things in “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” one of the key points that you’ve written is to “prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centred” But the gospel is already compromised by bishops who support the jailing of lesbian and gay people throughout Africa, which then leads to rape, which leads to torture of people and yet they are not prepared to speak out against this and change the laws in their countries.”
Archbishop Akinola chose to respond, informing the world that he did not know of any such cases.
I asked again, was he really not aware of any who were in jail for being lesbian or gay?
He said he was not, and challenged me to give him an example.
This, I am sure, is where God intervened with one of his divine “coincidences”. My church in Manchester, the Metropolitan Community Church, has begun a campaign on behalf of Prossy Kakooza, a 26-year-old woman seeking asylum in the UK. She fled Uganda after suffering vicious sexual, physical and verbal attacks due to her sexual orientation. I had brought copies of the information about the case, with the hope of being able to distribute them to members of the media covering the conference. While answering Peter Akinola’s challenge to give him an example, I was able to reach down and pull the information out of the laptop bag at my feet and give the example requested.
The Archbishop then spoke at length about African culture and beliefs, and this was echoed by Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda. Neither of them chose to condemn the violence or comment on the particular case of Ms Kakooza.
Further questions followed but, just before the end, Riazat Butt of the Guardian asked a follow-up to my original question. Would the Archbishops condemn the torture and rape of Lesbian and Gay people? Again they would not.
Really telling, isn’t it? These are supposed to be spiritual men, who love their neighbour as themselves. And yet the conditionality that’s there undermines their entire calling. This isn’t a surprise when people like the Ugandan President ‘reject’ homosexuality:
The Ugandan President has spoken of his country’s “rejection” of homosexuality during a speech he gave at the wedding of a former MP’s daughter.
Yoweri Museveni said the purpose of life was to create children and that homosexuality was a “negative foreign culture.”
Right, so it’s because of those nasty old colonialists or it’s even our own imagination – it isn’t freely occurring in Africa. I remember the other night listening to Bishop Gene Robinson, who couldn’t understand how people could refuse to use their intellects to make reasonable interpretations of the Bible. The answer of course with people like Museveni is that there’s money and power in it – there always has been when people have played to people’s ignorance and fear throughout history. The film also showed just how 20th century a phenomenon it was to have individuals who were prepared to make all-time judgments and definitions of the Bible, life and existence, when it had previously been and is increasingly now seen as a text which should be interpreted in an evolutionary way as society develops – we don’t exactly go around stoning adulterers to death do we?
The Right Rev John Chane of Washington has spoken out against this too:
“I think it’s really very dangerous when someone stands up and says: ‘I have the way and I have the truth and I know how to interpret holy scripture and you are following what is the right way,'” he said “It’s really very, very dangerous and I think it’s demonic.
He’s right. The people doing this are a blight on their religion, as Iris Robinson is to whatever sect she adheres to. The remainder of the article is telling, because it suggests that, as with Iris Robinson’s and Lillian Ladele’s cases, the mainstream of all societies and their Church leaders, don’t necessarily go along with this naked bigotry. I don’t think Gene Robinson is right in wanting bigots like Peter Akinola at the same table as him – sometimes bigotry is chosen rather than through ignorance – but I’m not as giving and charitable a man as he. And the irony that neither of them is at the Lambeth Conference isn’t lost on me either. Simon Jenkins has a great point:
It might be simplest to conclude that these are the last twitches of the British empire. The mind and the body may be long dead, but the soul has taken some time to catch up. It must be absurd to expect 70 million worshippers worldwide to accept the “discipline and leadership” of an archbishop selected by just 1 million in distant England – especially when each of 38 archbishoprics are referred to as “self-governing”.
Equally absurd is to expect the cultures and belief systems of Polynesians, Chinese, Africans and Americans to harmonise with the fast changing social mores of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant diaspora. How can African bishops commune with gay American ones, whom they regard as in mortal sin?
How can they indeed? Perhaps the Church, particularly in the days where the market determines everything, really does need to fracture and concentrate on what it’s good at, within competing markets for spirituality. Except if it did, Gene Robinson’s ambition for the Church to be a means of changing hearts and minds – to become a tool for human rights, would then be lost. Someone needs to exert some leadership, and find a compromise which can get the Gene Robinsons and Peter Akinolas at least to the same table, to avoid an unprecedented lost opportunity:
The Church of England is confounded by an absurd argument over gender and sexual discrimination, albeit often as code for a growing challenge to the authority of what is seen abroad as a still imperial church. A looser confederation of churches, a commonwealth of faith, ought to be good news.