Monday, 30 March 2009

Rochester – the traditionalist schism fizzles out?

George Pitcher writing in the Telegraph says Michael Nazir-Ali's departure is a totemic event that signals the end of Anglicanism's damaging schism. That’s a pretty bold claim to make. Is it true?

Pitcher says bishop Michael’s departure is emblematic of the decline of the Global South conservative political force in Anglicanism which threatened to tear the Communion apart. Last year they dreamed of overthrowing the authority of Canterbury in favour of an African-led Communion. Michael Nazir-Ali, pitched his tent with the African rebels but now finds that army dispersed and demoralized. How quickly, says Pitcher, has the optimism of last year's rebel schismatics turned to dust. Then there was talk of an end to neo-colonialist rule in the Anglican Church, with a new biblical hegemony that would isolate homosexual bishops and build a new Communion out of Africa.

The bishops, including Dr Nazir-Ali, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury last summer expected the old order to fall, but at the Anglican Primates' meeting in Alexandria, not one primate was absent for doctrinal reasons. The Archbishops of Uganda and Nigeria were present. Type Gafcon into Google News, says George, and practically the only items are from Virtue Online, and David Virtue is interested solely in proclaiming the destruction of the Communion, as I know only too well.

My suspicions about the motives of the six English bishops (Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Rochester and Winchester) who wrote in support of the Bishop of Pittsburgh in September 2008 have not yet been totally allayed.

Is the schism over? Are we now entering a period in which skirmishes continue but the Primates and Provinces of the Communion reluctantly engage with the listening process? I have always predicted this as the most likely outcome, and events such as the recent hearing on the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in Abuja, Nigeria, and the positive effect of equality legislation in the UK confirm my predictions.

The hearings may look like a success for the huge forces arrayed against homosexuality in Nigeria. But one side-effect of introducing the bill and pushing it through the legislative process is that Nigerians are being made more and more conscious of the fact of homosexuality and the presence of LGBT people in their country and their churches.

There has been a second side effect. LGBT Nigerians are far more aware of themselves and the place that they are being denied in society and their confidence and determination is being energised.

Raising awareness and consciousness in the media is the next step on the road to a change of attitude in Nigerian society. They are where we were in the 50s and 60s, when the Church of England first produced a report and gay activism became a public force.

Whether or not bishop Michael becomes active in Gafcon after leaving Rochester won’t ultimately matter. The Communion will return to engaging with homosexuality and the real lives of LGBT people.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Conservatives are astonishing!

The Christian Institute reports Professor Michael King’s research findings as “A significant minority of mental health professionals are attempting to help clients with unwanted homosexual desires.” The Institute’s report accurately says: “There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person’s homosexual feelings is effective and in fact it can actually be harmful.”

That doesn’t fit with conservative needs, however, so instead of continuing to report Michael King’s research, they report work undertaken at Columbia University in 2001 by Professor Robert Spitzer. This shows that homosexuals could become “predominantly” heterosexual through psychotherapy. “Predominantly” heterosexual – what does that mean?

Then they turn to James Parker for support. He has been a client of a Dr Paul Miller who was referred to by Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson last year when she said therapy can help homosexuals change to become heterosexual.

Homosexuals are homosexual. They can no more change to become heterosexual than a heterosexual can change to become homosexual.

So, 41 year old James Parker praises Dr Miller and says he thinks everyone who wishes to avail of his services should have the freedom to do so. I wouldn’t dispute that. I’d just disagree that Dr Miller is a reputable therapist working with a model accepted by other therapists.

Mr Parker reveals that he: “came out as a young gay man at 17 in London without any hostility from anyone and was very active in the gay lifestyle.” Later he met a group of Christians. “I learnt it was possible to have friendships which were non-sexual”. “I saw this new community which was centred around other people and I noticed the community I was in was narcissistic and self-centred in comparison. I began to question my identity - was it simply my sexual orientation? “Through therapy I began to deal with some traumatic incidents in my past where I had been raped and sexually abused. I had found sexual abuse gave me human attention but in a perverted sort of way.” Mr Parker has now been happily married for two years. “I don’t have homosexual feelings any longer,” he said.

Mr Parker’s experience is extremely atypical. He was raped and sexually abused. His earlier life was perverted and abusive. He was in a narcissistic community.

Conservative evangelicals often produce this kind of evidence, as if it proves that this is typical gay experience. It isn’t. It certainly isn’t true to the experience of the majority of Changing Attitude supporters or of lesbian and gay Christians I know well.

Then he met a group of Christians who were person centred and as a result of that began to question his identity. He no longer has homosexual feelings. Perhaps he never was homosexual. Who knows?

His own report and the intervention by Dr Miller are not going to reveal whether he was homosexual and still is but has successfully repressed his same-sex desires or has always been heterosexual but for complex reasons indulged in a very unhealthy environment when he was younger.

Christian therapists still damage their gay patients

Two months ago I met Michael King of University College London for the first time and was impressed by the authority of the research he has carried out.

He has just published research in the BMC Psychiatry journal which attracted interest yesterday – Premier Radio recorded a quick interview with me. The study surveyed 1,400 medical professionals. It revealed that a sixth of registered British therapists and psychiatrists have attempted to "cure" patients of homosexuality. It also found that there is very little evidence that therapy can really help change whether a person is lesbian, gay or bisexual.

I trained as a psychotherapist, and what the 16% are doing is in my view unprofessional and abusive. A therapist should never have an agenda for the client nor allow him or herself to collude with a client’s perspective simply because it coincides with their own.

Reparative therapy is based on the belief that to be gay or lesbian is wrong, or to act on emotional and sexual desires is in all circumstances wrong for a Christian. If a client feels guilty about being gay or having had sexual encounters with another man, then it is the client’s feelings and experience and reactions that are the content of the therapy, not helping them suppress or deny their own sexuality. Reparative therapy, or colluding with a client who has internalized guilt about homosexuality from church teaching, is always wrong and can be abuse and very damaging to a person’s well being and healing.

As Professor King says, there is nothing whatever pathological about being lesbian or gay. Christians are wrong if they believe that to be homosexual is contrary to the will of God, full stop.

Professor King’s work is of great help to the work and message of Changing Attitude and contributes to the resources available to us in Changing Church attitudes.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Davis Mac-Iyalla, the Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, has published his thoughts about Archbishop Peter Akinola’s Pastoral Letter in an article on Comment is free: No change in attitudes

One of the two Changing Attitude Nigeria group leaders who was present at the public hearing in Abuja on the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Act has posted his thoughts on Archbishop Akinola’s letter to the group. He writes:

“It still surprises me that people refuse to see the truth when they can now see very clearly the presence of LGBT people in Nigeria. Why don’t people ask themselves why there are gay people in our society? Don’t they understand that there are some things about a person, like our sexuality, that cannot be changed?

“Where has the large sum of money come from that Archbishop Akinola refers to? Changing Attitude is a way of changing people's thinking about us lesbian and gay people and not a way of making money. We don’t need money to make is what we already are.

“They should understand that we are not possessed people as they have labelled us. Whatever deliverance ministry or teaching anyone thinks they can use to change our personality will be a waste of time. Being lesbian or gay has to do with God's creation and is natural. It is only possessed people that need and seek deliverance, not gay people. We are not possessed, we are Godly people.

“I was at the hearing where there was much talk about gays being evil, demonic and ungodly. It is because of the way people talk about us that some gay people see themselves as evil and sinners. As a result they continue to fight within themselves and cannot accept who they are.

“Now the Church of Nigeria is trying to make it look as if homosexuality is a western thing and that we are influenced by money sent from the west to bribe and corrupt us. I can never be influenced over my sexuality, not by anything in this world. We gay Nigerians can never be lured into being something that we already are by God's creation. I am sure the leaders already know the truth. We are here to let them know the truth that they have refused to accept.

“I also want to say to those who are not gay, meet us and get to know us and you will see that we are normal humans just like you. You must learn to accept us as we are. That is God’s wish for us all.”
Davis and Uche both issue a challenge to Archbishop Akinola in fulfilment of his commitment to listen to homosexual people – meet us and listen to us. This challenge will never go away because LGBT people will always be present in Nigerian society and churches. One day, the Archbishop or one of his successors will fulfil the pledge to listen.

Can gay couples share a room in a Christian B&B?

The new laws on sexual discrimination continue to make their presence felt. What do you do if you’re a gay couple on holiday looking for a B&B? I’ve done it – ring the bell, ask for a double room, wonder what kind of reaction we will get. A couple holidaying in Cornwall who had pre-booked got the ‘Christian’ response.

Martin Hall and Steven Paddy, a gay couple who are civil partners booked a double room in the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance in November 2008. When they arrived they were told that the hotel could not honour the booking. Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the owners, both Christians, refused to allow them to stay in a room together. (Pictures of the double rooms gay couples are not allowed to sleep in accompany this blog.)

Martin and Steven have launched a county court claim seeking up to £5,000 in damages alleging "direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation".

The owners defended the ban saying that they have always barred unmarried couples, whether gay or straight, from sharing a bed. Mrs Bull said: "In 26 years we have never really had a problem with it. I have found people to be very good and understanding. They realise that they are pursuing one lifestyle while we are pursuing another. "I suppose we knew there would be problems with the new law, but I can't change my beliefs and faith because of that."

Well, times and the law have changed. You could do things in business 26 years ago that you can’t do now, and for lesbian and gay couples, that’s real progress.

The hotel's website states: “Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note that as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage (being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others). Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples – Thank you.”

Mr and Mrs Bull think they are entitled to police the morality of other people. If they had couples to stay in their private house, friends who they thought shouldn’t share a bed, then their might be an uncomfortable conversation and the couple might agree and sleep separately or walk out in a huff. But the Bulls are running a business and the laws of this country apply to them.

The Bulls' solicitor, Tom Ellis, has said he will argue that the Equality Act infringes their human rights as Christians. He said: "Under the European Convention on Human Rights, people are able to hold a religious belief and manifest it in the way they act."

The increasingly familiar argument appears, that it is Christians who need protection of their human rights to enable them to hold their religious beliefs and act accordingly. No-one is preventing them from doing that, only of not infringing inappropriately on the lives of others.

All this will change when the churches let go of their sexual prejudices against LGBT people. Christians do not have a human right to be prejudiced.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Why aren't conservatives reporting the Nigerian church position paper?

Do the various organisations which are connected with the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) support in its entirety the position paper presented in the name of Archbishop Peter Akinola at the hearing on Wednesday?

None of their websites or blogs has reported the hearing or reproduced the paper. Anglican Mainstream as usual has a comprehensive range of reports with a focus on secular and religious news in North America and the UK but nothing on Nigeria. There’s nothing on CANA, VirtueOnline, T19 or Stand Firm.

Failure to report the hearing shows that these groups are only interested in what happens in the wealthy, primarily white, North American and European spheres of interest. Or is the position paper just too embarrassing to report?

Toby Forward comments on Thinking Anglicans: “The prose of this document bears very little similarity to the prose of other documents from this source.” There is a difference in linguistic style between the position paper and previous reports issued by Archbishop Akinola. That’s because previous reports were primarily written by Canon Chris Sugden or Bishop Martyn Minns.

I would like to know whether other Global South leaders, and in particular, Chris Sugden and Martyn Minns, agree with the content of the position paper and the attitudes expressed about LGBT Anglicans.

The position paper was written in Nigeria, not Truro or Oxford. This confirms something I have heard from other sources, that the Africans are distancing themselves from their North American and British colleagues. They are not supporting ACNA as the North Americans hoped they would.

Further divisions are opening between those who have formed alliances of convenience based around hostility to a single issue. Further conflict and fragmentation will occur. Left to his own devices, free from the moderating laptop of Chris Sugden and Martyn Minns, Archbishop Peter Akinola and his advisers will be freed to express their uncensored ideas, theology and ambition, as they have done this week.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Act and the Church of Nigeria’s position paper

The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) presented a position paper on the Bill for an Act to Prohibit Marriage between persons of the same gender at the public hearing on 11th March. Below are extracts from the paper interspersed with my comments.

“The present trend in certain quarters to cast the bible aside and foist on the world a religion that does not have God and the bible at the centre…”

The oft repeated myth that the Episcopal Church has abandoned Christianity and has invented a new religion. The North American and UK churches are still bible-based and place God at the centre, despite the false witness made again and again by conservatives.

“… the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which dwelt extensively on human sexual orientation…”

I thought GAFCON was not obsessed with sexuality but here we are told it was dwelt on extensively.

“The introduction of this bill at this stage of national development is one of the best things that have happened to us as a nation.”

My knowledge of Nigeria suggests there might be other more pressing things to introduce that would benefit the nation. These include policies to deal with the rampant corruption and devastation caused by the oil industry in the Delta region; the violence and killings being perpetrated by cult gangs; and the corruption which is widespread at all levels in Nigerian society. These have a far more corrosive effect than same gender relationships and love.

“Genesis 19: 1-29 “It was because of the sin of homosexuality that the city of Sodom and Gomorroah was completely wiped out from the face of the earth.”

I’m not sure which verse, if any, this claims to be a translation of. There is no word or phrase in the bible that can appropriately be translated ‘homosexual’. Dishonest use of scripture doesn’t rate highly for me.

“Same sex marriage is a violation of this divine injunction and will only endanger human existence.”

The now familiar lie, that allowing gay people to exist, form relationships and marry endangers the very future of human existence. Why do these Nigerian so lack confidence in the ability of heterosexuals to remain dominant and continue to give birth and sustain the human race?

“The presence of gay churches, fellowships and clubs in Nigeria is not only embarrassing but also very unhealthy.”

It’s good to note that the ability to be honest about LGBT people has developed further in Nigeria. When Changing Attitude Nigeria was founded 4 years ago the church denied that gay people existed. Two years later the church admitted that gay people do indeed exist. Then they denied that Changing Attitude Nigeria existed or that there could be any gay churches or clubs in Nigeria. Now they concede that such things exist.

“The family is the nucleus of any society and its destruction will lead inevitably to the destruction of society. Same sex marriage is out to foist on the world a false sense of the family which will bring disastrous consequences to mankind.”

What disastrous consequences has the presence of gay people in society brought to humankind throughout history, and what consequences have resulted in those countries that now recognise gay marriage or civil partnerships?

“One of the Corollaries of same sex marriage is the introduction of male prostitution. If male prostitution is added to the social problem of Nigeria at this stage of our national development the effect will be very catastrophic particularly to our youth.”

Male prostitution is almost certainly more prevalent now under the present penal code in Nigeria. When you punish something which is natural for a percentage of the human race, as in the case of sexual activity, prostitution is one of the results. Legalising same gender relationships is more likely to lead to a reduction of prostitution and of relationships which are clandestine and unhealthy.

“Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country. It is also capable of existincting (sic) mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria.”

Well, that’s quite a list of nasty things. The nastiest is the reference to the holocaust, given that homosexuals were one of the groups incarcerated by the Nazis. Homosexuals were threatened with extinction by the Nazis but the Church of Nigeria now alleges that we are threatening the extinction of humankind.

It would be too easy to make fun of such laughable claims, but they could have a tragic effect, reinforcing the deep prejudice against LGBT people in Nigerian society and leading to an increase in violent attacks. It is a scandal that the Church of Nigeria makes such blatantly false allegations. Canon Philip Groves’ book ‘The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality’ should be compulsory reading for every Nigerian bishop.

Where is the integrity in the position of the Church of Nigeria and their conservative friends in North America towards LGBT Christians?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

It takes courage and trust to become a Welcoming and Open Congregation

All Saints Staplehurst has just become the 28th church to register as Welcoming and Open Congregation and the first in the diocese of Canterbury.

A member of the congregation who blogs at greets the news with a Hurrah!

The initial difficulty the Church Council had in accepting the proposal “was neither theological or political, but not wanting to really face the issue; a bit distasteful perhaps. Of course we're welcoming, but we really don't want to be talking about this sexuality stuff, do we - I mean, are we going to pass a resolution saying we'll welcome heterosexuals?”“But even more powerful was a story of the exclusion from a church of a Lesbian couple known to one of the council members and another's hope that her gay friends would find a welcome here. Personal experience through someone you know seems the most vital ingredient in changing exclusive attitudes.”They considered question: How ready are we to open ourselves to the experience of people unlike ourselves; to try and suspend the point of view we have embraced through our experience of life and see through another’s eyes and consider their experiences, their perspective?

“When we walk through the church door not even thinking about our right to be here and the welcome we will receive, it may be hard to realise that some people will be very worried indeed. However, this conscious opening of ourselves to a very different other is an attitude, a journey, that needs long and continuous nurturing. To do it we need to seek out new information; listen to stories, and then listen to our own, often defensive or bewildered, reactions as they challenge our previous assumptions.

“This cannot be done in one or two PCC meetings; only in trusting relationships as we journey together in the family of God. But my impression of the family of God in our church is that one thing it is good at is welcoming people and accepting them, even when there might be questions, incomprehension or even private disapproval of the way they live. And such a welcome, of course, gives the opportunity for a greater understanding to emerge. And so it proved to be; they supported the proposal.”

The experience at All Saints should encourage other congregations to take the next step to register as a Welcoming and Open congregation. Risk introducing the possibility to your PCC and encourage them to discuss the possibility as openly as possible, trying to see through the eyes of another person, someone who feels excluded by the church.

Information about Welcoming and Open Congregations and a list of the current churches registered can be found on the Changing Attitude web site.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Striving towards an ethic of love and marriage for all Christians

In 2004 Changing Attitude published a report on Sexual Ethics produced by the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation. Although only 17 pages long, it was the result of three year’s work by a small group representing a range of traditions which sought to be as open and truthful as possible and strove for a high level of integrity. The report is serving its purpose, gaining attention and coming under scrutiny from conservative evangelicals who are asking Changing Attitude to clarify our ethical stance.

According to Lisa Nolland’s third article on Anglican Mainstream, sexual fidelity to one partner until death (or divorce) has been the norm until now, though for all sorts of reasons people deviated from the norm in practice. Divorce has been the norm until now? For a conservative evangelical to take Changing Attitude to task for not upholding traditional Christian teaching and at the same time include divorce as a possibility is taking a breathtaking liberty with what I am repeatedly told is the teaching of Jesus and St Paul.

Lisa says that culturally the norm functioned to protect wives, husbands and children, families and home life; it had an existence independent of whether people kept it or not. Now, Lisa concedes, there has been a sexual sea change within evangelicalism itself.

Across the centuries, continents and cultures there has always been a state of ‘sea change’. To boldly state that marriage normatively functioned to protect wives and children is simply not true. In many cultures and periods of history that was not the norm of marriage and marriage certainly did not always protect women and children.

Lisa says observable behaviours related to the married state were objectively, not subjectively, defined. She writes that: “Marriage was not perceived or experienced in terms of ’relationships’ — mine, yours, or anyone else’s. Relationship appears unrelated to traditional concepts of morality and terminology used in the past to describe and judge sexual behaviour, terms like fornication or adultery.”

The Ethics report was written for a group of people for whom the qualities of friendship and relationship are of the highest order. I have been told many times that lesbian and gay people often create friendships which are the envy of married heterosexual acquaintances. My personal observation is that within marriages which are faithful to the Christian norm of one partner until death, there can sometimes be a sterility or profound unhappiness resulting from a failure to relate at a deep level or create true friendship. Marriages can be competitive, sterile, obsessed with the façade, with material wealth and gain, gratifying the need for children, overly co-dependent, destructive of freedom and love.

We live in an age when the expectations placed on the quality of married life have risen exponentially compared with a century ago. This has happened at the same time as life expectancy has risen and many more people live in (or endure) marriages lasting 50 or 60 years. Lisa writes about objectively defined observable behaviours related to the married state. This sounds like a clinical examination. The church scrutinises and observes and declares objectively whether this marriage is or is not conforming to the norms and rules. Meanwhile couples live in marriages and experience them subjectively.

Every marriage is and always has been subjective. It is the creation of two unique human beings who work out their own chemistry and life stories within the relationship. Traditional Christian teaching focuses on love, and love can be notoriously rash, risky and unpredictable. That’s one of the reasons we have marriage, but the marital ideal is there to nourish love, not to satisfy church rules. Changing Attitude wants to develop a Christian marital ethic which responds to the needs of heterosexuals and LGBT people alike in the 21st century who seek lifelong fidelity in love.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Changing Attitude and Rowan Williams both in Charles Raven’s bad books

Charles Raven in an article entitled ‘England: the Final Frontier?’ has referred to the Clergy Consultation report on Sexual Ethics (Raven wrongly calls it a Changing Attitude post) He connects the phrase ‘occasions of grace’ with Rowan Williams’ essay ‘The Body’s Grace’ published by LGCM.

Rowan Williams is guilty, says Raven, of ‘the systematic blurring of truth for church political ends’. In his concluding Lambeth Presidential Address Dr Williams wants us to see in each other, including the North American bishops gathered at Lambeth, ‘the same kind of conviction of being called by an authoritative voice into a place where none of us has an automatic right to stand.’ These bishops, says Raven, ‘have persistently rejected or marginalised the clear teaching of Scripture on core Christian doctrine and ethics’. The conservatives can’t stand with the North Americans as Rowan Williams wants them to.

Neither can they stand with the majority in the Church of England. Surely the Church of England is not to be compared with TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada, Raven asks. There are many signs that England is on the same trajectory, he says. Where conservatives disagree with the church on homosexuality or have been blocked in planting new churches they should ‘qualify for the protection and encouragement that godly oversight can bring.’

Language controls thought, says Raven, quoting Orwell. Yes it does, and Raven does abuses language by repeating the falsehood that there is a new religion emerging in North America behind the façade of Anglicanism. There isn’t.

Raven wants Primates to intervene in England to rescue ‘orphan congregations’. Overseas Primates should sponsor alternative episcopal oversight in England as part of a project to reform the whole Anglican Communion. A group of churches aligned with the globally orthodox could form the nucleus of a revitalised Anglican Church in England. There is a need for godly Primates to boldly go where no Primate has gone before – and for leaders in England to be bold enough to invite them.

Alarm bells rang for me some months ago when the bishops of Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Rochester and Winchester issued a statement in support of Bob Duncan when his deposition was proposed. I suggested they were giving tacit support to those who want to replicate in England what is happening in North America – seek alternative Primatial oversight for conservatives with the ultimate goal of replacing a Rowan Williams led church with one more ‘orthodox’. Understandably, the bishops of Exeter and Winchester were outraged at my suggestion.

But that is the underlying project being pursued by ACNA and GAFCON – a new Anglican Province, not only in North America but in England where those barely committed to the Anglican way fantasise about introducing a new, supposedly orthodox, supposedly traditional church.

I think the tide is now strongly against them, but there were moments in 2008 when I feared that the Anglican Church in England might have been launched. That’s what Charles Raven is still dreaming.

[Charles Raven is the Director of SPREAD – the Society for the Propagation of Reformed Evangelical Anglican Doctrine – Peter Selby became Charles Raven’s nemesis when he was bishop of Worcester and Charles was in Kidderminster]

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Does Changing Attitude advocate casual sex?

Peter Ould has asked me to present an example of a “brief and loving sexual engagement” that constitutes not “casual sex” but rather a “Permanent, Faithful, Stable” monogamous commitment.

The Sexual Ethics report was published by Changing Attitude on behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation. It is their document, not ours. We published it as a thoughtful contribution to the process of formulating a Christian sexual ethic for LGBT people – it is not the final word.

The Report explores two possible ethical frameworks, the first scriptural and thematic, the second humanistic via a ‘friendship’ model. In the scriptural and thematic section exploring faithfulness, commitment and covenantal relationships, the report recognises that casual sex can often be addictive and destructive. It also recognises the possibility that a brief, loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be an occasion of grace.

The report is not presenting a brief, loving sexual engagement as equivalent to a permanent, faithful, stable monogamous commitment, which the report identifies as the Christian ethical ideal. Nor does it equate a brief, loving sexual engagement with casual or promiscuous sex. It briefly explores other ways in which adults engage sexually. It identifies casual sex as undesirable.

In answer to Peter, the example of a brief and loving sexual engagement that comes to mind is that between an elderly heterosexual couple, widow and widower, who meet in old age, choose not to marry for a number of reasons, form a close and loving relationship and share themselves sexually. This may not be the kind of example Peter was thinking of. The report doesn’t specify age or sexuality in suggesting that a brief and loving sexual engagement may not always be taboo.

Conservative evangelicals seem to be obsessed with gay male sexual activity. When sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage is considered, they only seem to think about gay men, rather than the majority of heterosexuals who enjoy sexual activity without being married.

Conservative evangelicals also seem obsessesed with penetrative sex. This is not an obsession shared by gay Christians. There are many ways of being sexual and sharing sexual pleasure and intimacy that do not involve penetration.

If marriage is the only context in which conservatives think sexual activity of any kind can occur, they cannot participate in debates about sexual ethics for LGBT people. There can be no ethic apart from total abstinence. An alternative for lesbians and gay men who do not have a vocation to celibacy would be same-sex marriage or Civil Partnership. St Paul explicitly advocated marriage for those unable to remain celibate; this applies equally to lesbians and gay men, who are unable to participate in a heterosexual marriage’.

Changing Attitude is engaged in an adult conversation about love, intimacy and sexual relationships with many different groups of people, engaging not only conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christians, but LGBT people who are not Christian and who live in many different cultures – the whole spectrum of humanity for whom Jesus came and comes.

I suspect God is not as obsessed with making sure that we have sex in the ‘right’ contexts and with the ‘right’ people in the ‘right’ way as some of us are. Why do I suspect this? Because of the encounters Jesus had with the woman of Samaria at the well and the woman caught in adultery, among others.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Nigerian UN Human Rights report challenged

I’ve already blogged about the appearance of Nigeria before the UN Human Rights Council to defend its human rights record. Davis Mac-Iyalla has drawn my attention to a report on the Vanguard web site reporting the presentation by Chief Ojo Madueke.

“His presentation caused a stir when he informed members of the council that the government of Nigeria had been unable to locate persons of gay and sexual orientation, despite concerted efforts by his ministry to include this category of persons in the consultations on the human rights situation in Nigeria.

“He further informed the audience that his ministry located only one woman of lesbian orientation and when invited to participate in a discussion on the rights of gay and lesbian persons, the lady informed his Ministry that she was pregnant.”

Comments on the article have been posted. Emeka writes:

“As far as Nigerians know, there were only two gays in Nigeria - a certain Davis Mac-Iyalla, who has fled the country & another person, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) of Lagos State origin, who is now deceased. “In the case of Mac-Iyalla, many people believe that he was doing his gay activist stuff as a way to fleece money from Gay groups in Europe & US. In other words, 419. In fact, he was known to have a string of girlfriends.

“As for Lesbians, they are abound in Nigeria & unashamedly so. There's a high profile lesbian woman living in Onitsha whose late father was a very wealthy industrialist from Abagana in Anambra State. Her late father had the title "Sir". She is apparently the top-dog in their Lesbian Association in Onitsha.”

The information that Davis Mac-Iyalla has a string of girl friends will come as a surprise to those of us who have known him well for 3 years, his Nigerian friends who have know him far longer, and his mother who has known him longest of all. Why do people need to fabricate lies?

The information about lesbians is unusual, since conservative Anglicans habitually deny that any form of homosexuality exists in Africa. The ministry found one woman they identify as of lesbian orientation and then add the information that she was pregnant. Emeka reveals that lesbians abound in Nigeria. Clearly the ministry should have contacted him to help with their research.

Ndibe Madu, identified as a solicitor, comments:

“I've in many occasions listened to Ojo Madueke and occasionally he sounds reasonable but on some occasions he sounds unreasonable and unenlightened. For Ojo Madueke to publicly say that Nigeria has no gay or lesbian group so sounds someone from Mars and such comment does not befit a man of his political and
educational standard. Of course, in Nigeria we have gay and lesbian groups. The issue such as this should be sensitive and the likes of Ojo Madueke should not get involved and expose his ignorance and unenlightment.

“It can be seen from his comment that he (Ojo Madueke) has never conducted or commissioned research in the area of gay and lesbian to discover facts before making his nonsensical comments over the issue. The comment of Ojo Madueke is just like a minister of health coming out to profess that there are no HIV or AIDS in Nigeria. The president should look for people who can think before they talk in place of people like Ojo Madueke who talks before thinking.

“Comment such as this makes Nigerians in these categories to run underground and provoke homophobia amongst the people. I am not one but their rights should be protected by recognising them and recognising their existence. The British inventor of binary numbers that made the invention of computer became plausible is a gay and with the comment of Ojo Madueke if he was around then, would have made him go underground and the invention dies with him. Sexual orientation is private and should be reserved to that quarter.”

Ndibe Madu confirms what we in Changing Attitude know perfectly well.
  • There are tens of thousands of lesbian and gay people in Nigeria
  • There are lesbian and gay groups in Nigeria
  • There are Nigerians who believe the human rights of lesbian and gay people should be protected
  • The Government made no attempt to conduct research

The Church of Nigeria has conceded that lesbian and gay people exist – why does the Government lie to the United Nations and claim they don’t?

Christian sexual ethics for LGBT people

What’s the point of questioning how LGBT people behave sexually if you believe that NO same-sex sexual activity is allowed?

The question occurs in the context of articles published on Anglican Mainstream by Lisa Severine Nolland

Lisa questions whether the nature of mutually loving, supportive gay partnerships is sexually exclusive (one sexual partner until death or divorce) or not? Heterosexual marriage, she writes, still carries with it the cultural assumption and expectation of sexual exclusivity, but gay unions do not.

Heterosexual marriage may still carry those cultural assumptions, but the reality is very different. It’s so easy to attack gay relationships and assume they are not sexually exclusive. My glib response when asked this question is to reply that heterosexuals set us such a bad example.

Lisa has again been reading the report on Sexual Ethics published by CA for the Clergy Consultation. She says the report challenges the whole concept of sexual exclusivity and affirms that ‘brief and loving sexual engagement’ with other people can be ‘occasions of grace’.
Lisa has, I suspect, read the whole report. Therefore she knows perfectly well that is doesn’t challenge ‘the whole concept of sexual exclusivity’.

The report says “the ideal outcome may be for mature adults to live in covenantal relationships that are stable, sexually exclusive/monogamous and permanent” – ‘may’, because it is clear that in every society and culture, heterosexuals find it hard to maintain this ideal.

Lisa introduces another favourite point of attack – bisexuals. Bisexuals, she writes, either sequentially or simultaneously have partners of both sexes: two is fine but three is better. I don’t know any bisexuals who construct their lives in this way, but it’s a favourite point of attack for conservatives.

Then she attacks the ‘Jesus-never-spoke-about-homosexuality’ view. Her argument – that because Jesus never spoke about incest, if the church accepts homosexuality, it will become morally acceptable if our society became incest-friendly.

I invite you to read the whole of the Consultation’s Sexual Ethics report – you can read it on the CA web site or order a copy from Changing Attitude, 1 Tichborne Close, Frimley, Camberley GU16 8RP for £2 including postage.

Changing Attitude published the report as a contribution to debate and to the development of a Christian sexual ethic that encompasses LGBT people. Lisa has already moved beyond the conservative evangelical position of no sex outside marriage by engaging with the ethical ideas outlined in the report.

Changing Attitude can only engage in an ethical discussion from the position that LGBT sexual relationships can be healthy, holy and as deeply fulfilling and creative as heterosexual relationships.

Has the Episcopal Church withdrawn $100,000 from the church of Sudan as claimed by Chris Sugden?

On 24 February I commented on Canon Chris Sugden’s article about Sudan in Evangelicals Now. Chris wrote that Archbishop Deng “has estimated it has already cost his province $100,000 from The Episcopal Church in the USA.”

I took this to mean that Archbishop Deng had chosen to forfeit $100,000. Chris emailed to correct me – “There is no suggestion in the article that he refused the funds. It was TEC who withheld them as far as I understand.”

I apologised to Chris for misunderstanding him. Then I got curious, because his article wasn’t clear and my mistake was understandable. I asked friends in the USA if they were aware that TEC had withheld $100,000. My contacts told me they don’t think it is true. There is very little direct designation of contributions to other provinces in the TEC budget. Most of that sort of money is raised by dioceses or outside organisations such as Trinity Wall Street or American Friends of the church of Sudan. My contacts couldn't imagine any of those sources cutting back except due to decreases in their revenues tied to the economic crisis.

I’m told that TEC's relationship with Sudan has actually become more extensive since Lambeth. The Diocese of Missouri had a lengthy mission visit over Christmas. The diocese of Virginia in partnership with others are trying to find partner dioceses in the USA for Sudanese dioceses currently without a link. Archbishop Deng's successor in Renk was recently at All Saints Chicago where they raised $13,000 for him despite their own budget deficit. The Diocese of Bethlehem and a Sudanese Diocese have just renewed their relationship. The American friends of the church of Sudan is still in existence. Lauren Stanley, the TEC missionary to Sudan still teaches at the seminary in Renk.

I emailed this information to Chris Sugden, asking him to confirm that $100,000 has been withheld by TEC. I haven’t received a reply.

Meanwhile, my contacts in the USA continued to investigate and have reported the following: support from the budget of TEC to Sudan hasn’t decreased. It is wired quarterly. No dioceses broke off relationships with Sudan over Archbishop Deng’s remarks. Rather, some dioceses are expanding said relationships and others are exploring relationships with Sudanese dioceses that currently don’t have a partner in TEC. No one my contacts have been in touch with have any idea what money Chris Sugden could be referring to.

I'd like to know the truth about the $100,000, given that so much misinformation finds its way onto the web. The Episcopal Church is portrayed as the guilty party by conservative groups such as Anglican Mainstream. Accusations such as that made by Chris Sugden made are rarely questioned or substantiated.