In the face of anger and hostility towards homosexuality in many parts of his own church, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has reaffirmed that the churches of the Anglican Communion - including the Church of England - must become 'safe places' for gay and lesbian people. Now he is being asked to turn words into action.
As reported last week on Ekklesia, Dr Williams' comments came in response to an interim report on the 78 million strong Anglican Communion’s Listening Process - a commitment to listen to the experience of homosexual people which many lesbians and gays say has been observed more in the breach.
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), Changing Attitude (an Anglican network in several provinces), Inclusive Church and other pressure groups say that these words need to be met with more decisive action - by Dr Williams himself and by churches locally, regionally and internationally.
The practicalities of the debate have been highlighted this weekend with the news that the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, is to appear before an employment tribunal in Cardiff on Wednesday 4 March 2007, in a case involving the Employment Equality Regulations (Sexual Orientation) 2003 - over the alleged blocking of a gay youth worker’s job.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop's full statement reads as follows:
"I am profoundly grateful to Canon Phil Groves and all at the Anglican Communion Office who have worked so hard to produce this preliminary account of what the Communion has done to honour its commitment at Lambeth 1998 to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people. It is a commitment that has been repeated many times but it has not proved easy to set up an appropriate process that will involve the whole Anglican family.
“The sensitivities of this exercise are obvious. Social, cultural and legal contexts are very varied indeed. And in the present climate of the Anglican Communion, there is inevitably a suspicion either that this is just window-dressing, or that it is a covert programme for changing doctrine and discipline. Real – and mutual – listening is hard to achieve. There are contexts where it is difficult to find a safe place for gay and lesbian people to speak about their lives openly. There are contexts where people assume the debate is over. The report shows that listening is possible, but also that there is a great deal still to be done. The work continues, but we have a solid start here.
“The commitments of the Communion are not only to certain theological positions on the question of sexual ethics but also to a manifest and credible respect for the proper liberties of homosexual people, a commitment again set out in successive Lambeth Conference Resolutions over many decades. I share the concerns expressed about situations where the Church is seen to be underwriting social or legal attitudes which threaten these proper liberties. It is impossible to read this report without being aware that in many places – including Western countries with supposedly ‘liberal’ attitudes – hate crimes against homosexual people have increased in recent years and have taken horrifying and disturbing forms.
“No-one reading this report can be complacent about such a situation, and the Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain. It is good to know that the pastoral care of homosexual people is affirmed clearly by so many provinces.
“I welcome this document as a valuable first stage in our collective response to the challenge that the last Lambeth Conference put before us, and I hope that it will be part of the ‘deep and dispassionate’ study of issues in sexual ethics for which an earlier Lambeth Conference called.”
The report is here: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/42/50/acns4270.cfm