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A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality

Sun 9 Jul 2006 In: Books View at NDHA

Review: A Church At War - Anglicans and Homosexuality, by Stephen Bates. IB Tauris, London, 2005. Why is the Anglican Communion so bent on tearing itself apart over the issue of lesbian and gay ordination? Stephen Bates has usefully analysed the situation in the United Kingdom, North America and Africa in a recent book. Since Henry VIII of England and Elizabeth I laid the groundwork for the Anglican Church in the sixteenth century, it has faced three contending influences. One is an Anglo-Catholic 'high church' tradition which emphasises ritual and high clerical fashion, and is popular amongst some gay men for that reason. There are liberal rationalist elements who want to reconcile the Christian faith with modern science and culture. And there are the fundamentalists, who want to take over Anglicanism and sacrifice its former decentralised and diverse nature to a blinkered dogmatic model. Across the world, there are seventy seven million Anglicans. In the United Kingdom, the Church of England faces nominal attendance, empty pews, retired clerics who consume pension funds, and other problems. In New Zealand, Anglicanism is still the largest Christian denomination, although 'no religious observance' overtook it as a census faith category in the early nineties. While New Zealand Anglicanism doesn't ordain out lesbian and gay candidates for ordination, nor does it dismiss lesbian and gay ministers who come out after they are ordained, and some are even willing to provide religious support for same-sex civil unions as individuals, although not Anglican clerics per se. Like the US Episcopalian Church, New Zealand Anglicans have ordained women for almost thirty years, and allowed female bishops, and retired Episcopalian Bishop John Spong of Newark has been a frequent visitor to the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral. Not only are some Episcopalians willing to provide church backing for same-sex marriage, they recently installed Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Bates cautions us that we should not automatically assume that all evangelical Anglicans are rabid fundamentalists, and this seems a valid assessment. Even if prominent evangelical UK Anglicans like John Stott and the fundamentalist "Reform" network label lesbians and gay men 'broken and fallen,' they do not represent allBritish evangelical Anglicans. Bates interviewed a former evangelical Anglican laywoman who criticised Reform for its bully pulpit tactics and attempted takeover of British Anglican theological seminaries and other institutions. In fact, there is now a dissident Anglican evangelical organisation, Fulcrum, whose members are opposed to hardline Reform Anglican fundamentalists and their wholesale rejection of lesbians and gay men. Even Grove, a British evangelical publisher, printed gay Anglican evangelical Michael Vasey's work which asserted a common Christian monogamous ethic for lesbian. gay and straight Christians alike. Like New Zealand too, Britain has its own longstanding LGBT Christian networks. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has existed for nearly thirty years, and Bates interviews one rural gay Welsh vicar who's been happily partnered for the same period of time. The couple are even fostering a behaviourally disturbed special needs child. Why did Reform and its ilk become so strong? Unlike New Zealand, which has ordained female Anglican ministers for the last thirty years, British Anglicanism has only done so for the last fifteen year period, after the last barrier fell in 1993. Fundamentalists and conservative Anglo-Catholics sided with one another against liberal rationalist and feminist Anglicans, and Anglo-Catholic gay ministers were to rue that foolhardy alliance of convenience. Surprisingly, British evangelicals were split over women's ordination, with John Stott supportive of the cause. In the case of HIV/AIDS, fundamentalist Anglican Tony Higton tried to exploit it to initiate a jihad against gay ministers, but the church hierarchy prevented this piece of Thatcherite collaboration. Unfortunately, Reform has infected the rest of the Anglican Communion as well. Through their Langham Trust, they have subverted Central African Anglicanism, with the result that Nigerian, Kenyan, Ugandanand Rwandan Anglican Bishops are all raving hardline fundamentalists. As with British evangelicals, one should not assume that all African Anglicans are ignorant homophobes. Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu won widespread respect in his native South African for his courageous anti-apartheid stand, and has strongly criticised African Anglican fundamentalists for their homophobia, and his successors have followed suit. Disgracefully, Anglican Bishop Emmanuel Chukwama of Nigeria responded that Desmond Tutu was 'spiritually dead' when informed that he supported lesbian and gay rights within church and society. A former Anglican Archbishop of Central Africa has also criticised fundamentalist elements. Meanwhile, the Anglican Church of Canada and Episcopalian Churches ordained Gene Robinson as New Hampshire bishop, leading to temper tantrums within breakaway fundamentalist "Anglican" traditionalist sects in North America, and within Reform, as well as the benighted Anglican Diocese of Sydney, one of the most backward and fundamentalist in the Southern Hemisphere. Last week, Californian Episcopalians debated whether or not to install a lesbian or two gay men as Episcopalian Bishop of California. Predictably, the inbred rabid fundamentalist Kansan Phelps clan were there to gibber and screech at both events. Will the Anglican Communion survive intact? Or will there be schism between North American Episcopalians and Anglicans, their liberal rationalist allies in other Anglican Churches, and the likes of Reform and the fundamentalist Anglican Central African bishops? And if so, what will New Zealand Anglicanism do? Also Recommended: Sean Gill: The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement: London: Cassell: 1998. Michael Vesey: Strangers and Friends: London: Hodder and Stoughton: 1995. Not Recommended: Tony Higton (ed) Sexuality and the Church: A Way Forward? Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation: 1987. John Stott: Same Sex Partnerships: A Christian Perspective: Revell: 1998. Craig Young - 9th July 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 9th July 2006 - 12:00pm

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