ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu’s declared view of an exclusive and homophobic Anglican Communion, which is obsessed with sexuality, will be challenged by conservative Christian voices in a BBC Radio 4 programme, From Calvary to Lambeth, to be broadcast on Tuesday.
Michael Buerk interviewed Dr Tutu in Cape Town, and invited responses to key extracts from the interview from a range of conservative figures, including Lord Carey; the Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan; Stephen Green, the director of Christian Voice; Ann Widdecombe MP; and Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream.
Mr Buerk, who was the BBC’s South Africa correspondent for many years, and witnessed Dr Tutu’s campaign against apartheid, says at the start of the programme: “I saw him denounce institutionalised injustice from scores of pulpits and platforms with soaring eloquence and — even in the darkest moments — impish humour. . . Every day, he stood up to a ruthless and desperate regime.
“His moral authority — inside and outside the Church — is unique. When he says his Church has lost its way, is obsessed with people’s private lives rather than the great public issues of war and disease and oppression; that it is obeying fallible scripture rather than the divine priorities of Christ — the world listens.”
In the programme, Dr Tutu declares himself ashamed that, on the “long journey from Calvary to Lambeth”, the Church has become homophobic. He pleads for an inclusive Church and for an understanding of homosexuality as an orientation, not a lifestyle choice. If God was homophobic, Dr Tutu declares that he could not worship him.
Dr Tutu told Lord Carey that he was ashamed of Anglicanism as long ago as the Lambeth Conference of 1998, over which Lord Carey presided as Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Carey is heard drawing a distinction between tolerance and approval of homosexuality — in a manner that the programme’s producer, David Coomes, described on Tuesday as “nuanced”. “There was a report in The Sunday Telegraph saying Lord Carey and Tutu were at odds. There’s an element of truth in that, but not the total truth,” he said.
Whereas Dr Tutu sees the Bible as “a useful guide rather than a repository of unqualified truth”, says Michael Buerk, conservatives such as Stephen Green regard it as “divinely inspired to such an extent that he would like to see its strictures incorporated into British law”.
Ann Widdecombe, he explains, “thinks Tutu is blurring all the edges . . . between the sinner and the sin, between orientation and action — above all, between right and wrong”; and that “Tutu’s idea of what Christ is about is too simple by half.” Bishop Duncan “appears to think Tutu, now 76, has lost it — if he ever had it”, says Mr Buerk.
Dr Tutu is a patron of Changing Attitude (CA), which campaigns for the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the Church. Press reports that pro-gay bishops who could not abide by the principles of the Windsor report would find that their invitations to the Lambeth Conference had been withdrawn prompted a statement this week from the director of CA England, the Revd Colin Coward.
“There are a significant number of English bishops who quietly support LGBT people, contrary to the principles outlined in the Windsor report,” he said on Monday.
“Changing Attitude hopes that every bishop in the Anglican Communion will be invited to Lambeth, and will accept their invitation.”
From Calvary to Lambeth is broadcast on Radio 4 on Tuesday 27 November at 8 p.m., and repeated on Sunday 2 December at 5 p.m.