When reconciliation theology colludes with injustice

The Anglican Consultative Council heard a report on the Listening Process around the sexuality debate yesterday. There are reports of the session here.

I wonder when the voices of LGBT people from around the world and those of our our families and friends will be properly heard (which was surely originally part of the intention)? Otherwise, how can people who know little about the issue get a feel for what it is about, let alone come to an informed view?

Once more I also find myself wrestling with Rowan Williams’ theology of reconciliation. If, as I gather, his response to the impatience expressed by a delegate from the Church of Nigeria over the ongoing nature of the Listening Process, was to urge him to follow Jesus’ teaching to Peter to keep forgiving, this raises interesting issues. The Church of Nigeria leadership has made no secret of its flat refusal to engage in the process of study, listening and dialogue affirmed at successive Lambeth conferences. Indeed, it has stirred up hatred and encouraged human rights abuses.

If the Nigerian Anglican response had been full compliance with Lambeth resolutions and the Windsor report, (but after decades of discussion most church members felt that the case for greater equality was weak), this would be a different matter. Archbishop Rowan’s response could be read as an assurance that the Church of Nigeria will not be publicly challenged for its stance, but should instead try to be patient and forgiving to those LGBT people who make a nuisance of themselves by persisting in asking for greater inclusion, along with their allies and supporters. This may not have been the intention, but this is how it may be read.

In a world divided by racism, caste discrimination, ableism, sexism, homophobia and so on, I cannot see how reconciliation may be achieved without challenging members of dominant groups to go beyond their comfort zone. Recognising that the fact that we are all sinners does not mean that in every situation each party is equally guilty.

A sermon by Archbishop Rowan in 2007 seemed to acknowledge this point but then denied its significance. And I think there is a real problem if Church leaders, even unwittingly, reinforce the notion that those on the receiving end of hatred and discrimination bring it on themselves.

Archbishop Rowan may well have been making a general point about the need to persist, even in strained relationships, in his response to Bishop Ikechi Nwosu. But given the Church of Nigeria’s position that LGBT people are a grave threat to the moral fibre of Nigeria and indeed, to the existence of humankind (http://blog.deimel.org/2009/03/anglican-blogosphere-is-very-upset-with.htm), urging its leaders to be willing to keep forgiving is perhaps not the most appropriate approach and may in fact reinforce their sense of grievance!

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(c) Savi Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities in the UK and she is also a respected writer on Christianity and social justice. An Ekklesia associate, Savi has contributed several chapters to the recent book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow (Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia, 2008).

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A 'Cutting Edge' conference on faith, homophobia, transphobia and human rights is taking place in London on Saturday 16 May 2009 - more here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9436

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