Anglicanism's Ugandan moment of truth

By Colin Coward
5 Nov 2009

The Anglican Communion and its leaders have reached a critical moment of judgement in its attitude to homosexuality. It is now 23 days since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 was tabled by David Bahati, the MP for Ndorwa West in Uganda, but the leaders of the Communion have remained silent. The only Anglican groups to have responded are those working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Let us speculate on two possible reasons for the silence. The Communion leaders might say we are focused on bigger issues – poverty, climate change, conflict zones, for example. They might say that homosexuality and a Bill proposed in Uganda are peripheral to the concerns of the Communion – homosexuality is not important to us.

This is clearly not true and might even be categorised as a lie. For over 11 years, homosexuality has been centre-stage for the Anglican Communion.

The proposed Bill legislates for capital punishment, will criminalise anyone who responds in any way to a homosexual person in Uganda and increases prejudiced attitudes towards homosexuals. American conservative Christian groups are complicit in encouraging the tabling of the Bill.

We know that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) actively supports the proposed Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2008 in Nigeria. Church leaders and busloads of church members attended the hearing in Abuja on 11 March 2009.

We have no evidence that the Church of Uganda or other member churches of ACNA or FoCA are directly involved in supporting the Uganda Bill. Anglican Communion policy demands that they actively oppose the Bill.

Lambeth resolution 1.10 acknowledged the presence of homosexuals in the Church. It acknowledged that many homosexual people seek pastoral care and moral direction from the church and acknowledge God’s transforming power for the living of our lives and the ordering of relationships (though I might interpret this to mean something different from those who formulated it).

The Communion therefore assures us that we are loved by God and are full members of the Body of Christ. This is the official position of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Communion must therefore oppose the proposed Ugandan and Nigerian legislation. There is no possible alternative position. It must do so in Uganda because the legislation proposes the death penalty (to which the Communion is opposed) and in both countries because the Bills will oppress members of the Ugandan and Nigerian churches, members both churches are committed to care for pastorally by Lambeth 1.10.

The Anglican Communion has made these commitments at the highest level of the Councils of the Church, the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates via the Windsor Report ("...any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care. We urge Provinces to be pro-active in support of the call of Lambeth Resolution 64 (1988) for them to 'reassess, in the light of study ... and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.'" (Windsor #146).

Note that the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops introduced the language of human rights into the narrative. This is what the Communion is committed to – no demonising, no ill-treatment, care for homosexual persons.

This is why the Anglican Communion must oppose legislation which dehumanises, fails to protect and makes pastoral care impossible for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

People’s lives, the lives and security of my friends in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, are daily at risk from pernicious attitudes and legislation. Changing Attitude has campaigned patiently for change within the parameters set by the Anglican Communion.

These same parameters demand that everyone, at every level, in every part of the Communion, must oppose the Ugandan and all other similar legislation. This includes countries where legislation against homosexuality remains on the statute book.

Let us be clear – one strand of Anglicanism wants to split the Communion into two groups. One group wishes to maintain prejudice against LGBT people (and a very extreme minority which wants to ‘heal’ homosexuals and return them to heterosexual ‘normality', or even more extremely, deny that homosexuality as an identity has any reality).

The other group wants to respect the place of LGBT people in the Communion and respond pastorally and appropriately (and some of us want full inclusion and equality). The second group are faithful in respecting and responding to the Councils of the Church. We are faithful Anglicans.

For this reason Changing Attitude and Inclusive Church have invited Fulcrum, Reform, the Church Society, Anglican Mainstream (all Anglican evangelical societies), the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, Uganda and the bishops of Bristol, Sodor and Man and Winchester to join us in voicing opposition to the Bill.

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(c) Colin Coward is an Anglican priest and coordinator of Changing Attitude (http://www.changingattitude.org.uk/). This article is adapted from his blog, with grateful acknowledgments. http://changingattitude-england.blogspot.com/

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