Lambeth attendees invited to discover Christ in human rights

Savi Hensman
By Savi Hensman
25 Jul 2008

Since the marketplace at the Lambeth Conference, offering a range of items from ecclesiastical clothing to theological literature, was opened four days ago, one of its centres of attraction has been the stall "Seeing Christ in Human Rights".

It is an exhibition put together by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), with support from a wide range of church and civic bodies - and it is challenging participants in the gathering to ask who Jesus really is in a world of suffering and discrimination.

The year 2008 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an event which was enthusiastically backed by the fledgling World Council of Churches as a sign of the advancement of Christian values following a period of war and destruction.

More recently, in England, churches have been seeking exemptions from human rights and equlaities legislation which others are willing and required to comply with. But others in the churches object to this "opt out" approach and suggest that there are solid theological reasons for "opting in".

"Seeing Christ in Human Rights" is in a prominent place facing one of the entrances to the marketplace. It includes an attractive array of pictures of lesbian and gay Christians with Bible verses on various aspects of the Christian faith, and a world map from the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) showing which countries impose penalties for same-sex partnerships.

The human rights situation remains grave in many parts of the world for lesbians and gays among others, say campaigners, and their human rights is a key theme of the LGCM display, which includes a powerpoint presentation.

While international Anglican gatherings since 1948 have repeatedly affirmed the importance of human rights, many church leaders still have a long way to go in grasping the need to treat all God's children with care and respect, says LGCM.

Some of the sermons and talks since the conference began have had an emphasis on the need for justice and inclusion (including mention of sexual orientation), and careful listening, and the structure encourages bishops to spend time listening to one another.

But the exclusion of Bishop Gene Robinson - though he is present on campus - has weakened the ability of bishops to hear first-hand what it is to lead an openly gay life in the context of a loving and supportive relationship, ministering to a diocese. And (probably not only for security reasons) communication by groups, and contact with the outside world, has not been made easy for the bishops.

This is particularly hard on those from less prosperous dioceses who do not have their own laptops and perhaps are not even on email, or reliant on diocesan staff to facilitate communication for them. This does not foster listening to the wider people of God, so important if bishops are to be truly servants not masters.

Those involved with and supporting the "Seeing Christ in Human Rights" exhibition include Amnesty International (AI), Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), Stonewall, International Bible Reading Association (IBRA), St Deiniol's Library, Holy Rood House, Ekklesia think tank, Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), Unite: the Union, Modern Churchpeople's Union, O Books, Progressive Christianity Network (PCN), Peterson Toscano, DV8 Physical Theatre, Gisela Mann, Archbishop Barry Morgan, and Donn Mitchell.

The book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia. It has several chapters by Savi Hensman and a preface by Archbishop Desmond Tutu - and is available from the LGCM stand at the Lambeth Conference.

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