Mugabe condemns Williams and sides with anti-gay Anglicans

By staff writers
27 Jun 2008

In a campaign comment ahead of today's uncontested election in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has condemned Archbishop Rowan Williams as lacking a "moral compass" and said that gays in the church are a sign of "moral degeneracy".

The embarrassing endorsement of their cause, shown on Channel 4 television news in Britain and elsewhere last night, came as hard-line Anglicans have been meeting in Jerusalem.

In the past, anti-gay and homophobic rhetoric has formed a strong part of Mr Mugabe's attack against the West and against the human rights standards advocated by the international community.

British gay and human rights activist Peter Tatchell has been badly beaten by the dictator's security staff trying to make a "citizen's arrest" of Mugabe for his abuse and crimes against sexual minorities.

The comments came after two African archbishops declined opportunities given at a press conference earlier this week to condemn violence against lesbian and gay people, saying that it was not the churches' business to get involved in arguments with governments.

Speaking with them, conservative Archbishop Jensen from Australia made his own condemnation clear - as have other evangelical leaders.

Writing on the Guardian newspaper website, evangelical Christian Iain Baxter, who describes himself as "not a typical gay activist" describes his own presence with the media in Jerusalem for the Global Anglican Futures Conference - a gathering of those who want to see a much tougher and more restrictive policy for the 78 million Communion.

Mr Baxter has been reporting for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in the UK, though he himself is based in Egypt.

Along with Guardian religion correspondent Riazat Butt, a Muslim, he was the reporter asking pointed questions to Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Henry Orombi of Uganda over violence against gays.

Mr Baxter wrote yesterday: "I am an evangelical because I believe in the supernatural power of God to change people. I believe that God revealed himself in Jesus and showed his love by even being prepared to die for us. I believe that this was more than the action of a great man, and that this is demonstrated by his rising from the dead. These are orthodox Christian views that I share with Christians all over the world. I also believe that it is not wrong to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender."

He added: "I am marching in the Jerusalem pride march today [26 June 2008] because, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus came to set people free from legalism, that God loves us just as we are. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind'. And the second was like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'."

Though hardliners regularly accuse all their opponents of being 'liberal', a growing number of conservative and evangelical Christians have been calling for the churches to have a change of heart and mind on the sexuality issue - including Presbyterian theologian Dr Jack Rogers and the British group Accepting Evangelicals.

Meanwhile, President Mugabe's endorsement of their cause will be of little succour to anti-gay activists.

In a paper published by the UK religion and society think-tank today, Savitri Hensman, who lives and works in Britain but was born in Sri Lanka, writes: "This has sometimes been portrayed as a conflict between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’. Yet those arguing contrary views tend to emphasise some aspects of tradition and reject others: both could be regarded as conservative in certain ways, liberal or radical in others. And there are churchgoers who are quite conservative on many matters yet who are far from happy with the approach to Anglicanism adopted by some reform movements seeking to rid the church of ‘liberalism’."

Her research essay, 'Tradition, change and the new Anglicanism', locates 'Anglican wars' in the larger arena of the church's long history, the struggle against authoritarianism and the global quest for human rights.

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Read Iain Baxter's full article: http://tinyurl.com/5af3p2 and Savi Hensman's research: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7386

Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow (Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia, 2008) – available in the UK from Metanoia Book Service, and elsewhere via Amazon.

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