Anglicans and the Gay Issue

Anglican CommunionMany of us watched with fascination as the Anglican Communion seemed to be on a course towards self-destruction last week. The communiqué which was published last Friday does not really make clear what was finally agreed upon by the Anglican primates. The conservative group (the majority of the archbishops) among them certainly felt that they had won a moral victory over the Episcopal Church in the United States. The TEC, as it is commonly known, has been deprived of a place on some of the central Anglican decision-making bodies for three years. Commentators who understand the legal structures of the Anglican Church have announced that the Anglican archbishops have no authority to make such a decision. A different body altogether, the Anglican Consultative Council, is the only one to be able to make any decisions on behalf of the whole Communion. The argument will go on and on and the defeat of the so-called Covenant Proposals in 2012 has made the situation even more muddled and confused. I cannot again rehearse what was being proposed in the so-called Covenant Proposals, but when it was defeated by most of the Church of England dioceses, it was understood to be a defeat for any disciplining structures being wielded by those at the centre of the Anglican Communion. The sanctioning or rebuking of fellow-Anglicans in America should not be something that Anglican archbishops can do or should even want to do.

What we are left with, after the gathering of last week, is a stark reminder that for some Anglicans, especially those in Africa, the gay issue is almost the most important topic to be discussed and debated. It seems to take greater prominence than political corruption, poverty, global warming or economic development. The Anglican churches, particularly those in central Africa, appear to believe that a gay epidemic is being exported from the West, one which will undermine and even destroy families and the morality of their young people. It is as though an infectious virus has been released and this has to be resisted by every spiritual weapon and these include a grasping on to a fiercely conservative creed. This message of corrupt gays seeking to take over the world is what is being peddled by a group of American conservative evangelists who have access to the highest levels of church and government in countries such as Uganda. When particular celebrity preachers such as Scott Lively and Rick Warren speak about this gay conspiracy, many people in Africa listen. The preachers are treated as though they are experts in the field. This cluster of preachers are attached to an American organization called the New Apostolic Reformation. The organization is an unaccountable group with no denominational ties. It links back to the teaching of Peter Wagner, an influential figure in the neo-charismatic scene. His emphasis has always focused on the importance of a form of theocracy, God being in charge, crushing the demons and other forces arrayed against him. This also fits well with the rhetoric of the Christian Right as they battle to take ascendency in the Republican party. What these representatives of the NAR have to say is unfortunately the only Christian presentation on the topic of sex to be heard at present. There is no other message being heard. No doubt any attempt to suggest that there was another narrative which favoured understanding and support for gay and transsexual individuals, would be met by the cry that this was further proof of a gay conspiracy being peddled by the West. One of the myths being peddled in Uganda in 2008 was that young people were being bribed into homosexual behaviour by individuals from the West. A typical claim from Scott Lively was that, gay sexuality was equivalent to child molestation. It was against the background of this kind of misinformation that the anti-homosexual bill was introduced into the Ugandan parliament in April 2009. Lively had been visiting Uganda regularly since 2002, making alliances with Ugandan pastors who through him had been initiated into a rabid hostility towards the gay lifestyle. Many Ugandans responded to the thought that their own children were threatened by visiting gay men and they have become an eager audience up for all the myths being presented to them by these evangelists from the United States.

The idea that homosexuality is a western export to African nations is a convenient myth to be sold to both political and religious leaders in Africa. These leaders are thus, unwittingly, being manipulated by the American Christian and political Right. For African leaders a struggle against gay sex is made out to be a continuation of the old struggle against colonial values. So a persecution of gay individuals becomes a mark of someone who wishes to uphold African traditional culture. The question as to whether gay sex has any place in traditional African society is never addressed but those who study the problem have declared categorically that, at the very least, there has never been evidence of violence against such groups. Same-sex behavior, as in the West, is only practised by a minority in African societies, but there appears always to have been an acceptance that this is the way for some. We can claim that the current obsession with and fierce opposition to gay lifestyles among Africans can be traced back to America. It suits political and religious factions in the States to conduct their wars, their culture and religious wars, in another continent. The liberal majorities in the United States have increasingly turned their backs on the fanatical bigoted behaviour by thinkers on the Christian Right. Supporters of such ideas have had to seek to gain victories in other places, places where influence can be obtained by a combination of bribery, misinformation and outright distortion of truth.

I believe I wrote a piece about the real motivation of right-wing conservative thinkers in the States in their firm opposition to any tolerance towards gay people. I need to summarise what I said before. These ideas are not my own but I found them in a book by a left-wing political commentator, George Lakoff. His observation about the great division in the States between Republicans and Democrats is that the former had been brought up in very conventional families, with the father enforcing obedience over his wife and children. The pattern of family life in which they had been reared would have stressed control and obedience. The upbringing of the children of the family was against the background of a Calvinist belief in the inherent evil of a child outside the structure of firm control. In other words strong paternal authority in the family was necessary to eliminate the evil of self. The other pattern, exemplified by the liberal Democratic understanding of family life, stressed the importance of communication and openness. Here the father was no longer seen as the enforcer and controller but there was an assumption that love would allow proper growth and flourishing. The problem for the Christian Right is that homosexuality subverts the old authoritarian pattern in the traditional family. How can there be two fathers or two mothers in the family? Gay sex for the conservatively-reared Christian strikes at the heart of what is understood to be the norm of family life. To change that was to cast doubt on the way things had been from the beginning of life. It is no surprise that the conservative thinker has clung on to his/her opposition of gay sexuality to the point of create hatred and violence, not only in their own society but across the world.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

8 thoughts on “Anglicans and the Gay Issue

  1. How can a reasonable person fight superstition and lies? Some of the pronouncements are hysterical and silly beyond belief. We can pray, I suppose. But I must admit, I am fed up with gay sex now (boom boom).
    You have a typo, by the way, “one” instead of “won”.

    1. I agree with you English Athena that we are fed up with the gay issue. But unfortunately many Christians want to make it a defining issue. We are thus forced to engage with it, otherwise the homophobic and those who are good at hating others get away with it. The challenge of fighting abuse in the church means challenging behaviour which we would rather pretend did not exist. Trying to exclude the American Anglicans because they support gays in ministry is not a loving tolerant act. It is one thing to have a view on this subject; it is another to vilify, shun and lie about those who take a different point of view. The behaviour of some of these hate-evangelists is atrocious.

      I corrected the ‘won’ for’ one’. It comes from using speech recognition software!

      1. It did occur to me that you thought I was complaining about your focussing on this issue. I wasn’t. There’s a lot too much on the issue in general, and although you wouldn’t know this, round where I am! that’s what I’m fed up of.

  2. I agree that the divisions are lamentable in the extreme. However I think you are imposing ideas of “conspiracy” where none in my experience exist. Sure there are a significant number of extremist preachers (possibly on both sides of the debate) and too many people listen to their words or their money. I am also very unconvinced by your analysis of the right wing understanding of gay couples.

    In all of this we don’t lack law, and we don’t lack theories. We do seem to have a famine of love and understanding!

  3. Not wishing to dilute the issue that has been raised, I feel I must mention that powerful lobby groups (Gay Lobby) can often go on ‘Overdrive’?

    Exhausting an issue is harmful. The elderly, the struggling underclass are not helped when this happens?


  4. This is an issue about which I have some internal knowledge, having been on the staff of the 1968 Lambeth Conference and a member of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1996.
    The first thing to note is that the very first Lambeth Conference of 1867 was set up to deal with problems in South Africa caused by the work and insights of Bishop Colenso of Natal. The related to
    1) a critical approach to Scripture
    2 )the need for indigenous worship and
    3) the matter of Poygamy and thus by implication of sexuality. All three matters raised then have never been resolved.It is interesting thata in relation to the gay issue no one talks about polygamy which is still part of African society.. (and incidentally is implied in the Bible as the Jews did not abolish it until the 4th century AD.)
    The second thing to note is that the 1968 Lambeth Conference was meant to be the last and to be replaced by the Anglican Consultative Council representing Bishops Clergy and laity in the Anglican communion.(The comfecne had been preceded by the 3 post war Anglican Congresses.The last one took place in in Toronto in 1963.
    It was at the second meeting of the ACC in Canada the the Africans raisid strong objections to there not being another Lambeth Conference because they all enjoyed the ten yearly visit to the UK (for which few of them paid). It is against this back ground that we see the pressure building up by Conservative Evangelicals in America, Sydney and elsewhere to create conformity of their theological perspective in Anglicanism
    The next thing to note is that the resuolutions of Lambeth Conferences (or indeed of the Primates )have no authority unless they are raitfied by each Province.They are simply an indication of the way things were. at those meetings. Anglicanism, as a deeply incarnational, faith needs to be expressed differently in different cultures any any attempt to unify everything is more like Rome than Anglicanism. It was only the resolutions of 1988 that the evangelicals claimed as definitive but such a claim is contrary to the culture of Anglicanism which thrives on diversity
    So I regret these decisions and not least the decision to have another Lambeth Conference in 2020.
    I hope this brief summary of a complex matter might help some people.

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