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Telling it like it is

09 July 2008

Kenneth Stevenson on how the Communion views, and has viewed, homosexuality

Rebuilding Communion: Who pays the price? From the Lambeth Conference 1988 to the Lambeth Conference 2008 and beyond
Peter Francis, editor

Monad Press £6.99 (978-0-90745034-4)
Church Times Bookshop £6.29

IT MUST be hard to be gay and Anglican at the moment. After a largely hidden history, Anglican gays now find themselves the subject of open discussion, caused partly by a greater general readiness to talk about issues of sexuality, and partly by activists in the gay community speaking up for their rights. Sadly, the majority of them feel excluded from this discussion, and some of them even echo what some Jews used to say in Nazi Germany — “Don’t champion us, because it will only make things more difficult for us.”

A turning-point in England was the General Synod in February last year, when gay members fearlessly spoke up for themselves in a chamber that had not hitherto heard from them in that way.

This timely little book opens with an essay by Simon Sarmiento chronicling events, resolutions, and decisions about homosexuality in the Anglican Communion over the past decade. His personal views are clear, but the facts he describes are indisputable. There is a hardening of the line in many places, with some obvious exceptions.

There follow six essays from different continents, telling personal stories about what it is like to be gay and Anglican — the African perspective is particularly significant. And a third section is made up of six further short contributions, including one from Martyn Percy on Anglican history and attitudes, and one from Michael Ingham, arguing in favour of something that is still too far for many sympathisers: the same-sex blessing.

This book needs to be read far beyond the confines of the gay community. In some ways, it provides a worldwide Anglican counterpoint to those speeches at last year’s Synod. Those who are deaf, or over-ready to condemn, need at least to recognise the historic pain that this increasingly vocal minority brings to the discussion table. Whatever our views, we should all be ready to condemn homophobia, as Cardinal Hume used to remind us.

I voted for Lambeth 1.10 on that desultory Wednesday afternoon in 1998, and I have regretted it ever since. As these essays show, it has become far too blunt an instrument; moreover, the “listening process” for which it calls should have been well under way by the time Archbishop Rowan Williams arrived at Canterbury.

Here’s hoping that we can be helped to locate exactly where our disagreements lie, and to find an authentically Anglican way through them.

Dr Stevenson is the Bishop of Portsmouth.

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