Friday, 31 December 2010

Changing attitudes in Africa in 2011

Changing Attitude has a small foothold, a presence, in three African countries. In Nigeria, Uche was appointed Director earlier this year to succeed Davis Mac-Iyalla. He is working with a small group to reactivate the local groups and plan for change in 2011. In Kenya, Michael Kimindu is making connections with bishops and with groups like the Mother’s Union in dioceses, inviting them to listen to LGBT Kenyans. The group around him in Nairobi continue to meet for worship. In Ghana, Richard is leading a group of gay Christians who meet twice a week in Accra, encouraging them to be confident in their faith and their commitment to Christ and the church as gay Christians.

These are small beginnings in a huge continent where attitudes to human sexuality are beset by prejudice, hostility and unexamined beliefs. British colonial law and C19th theology and Christian teaching are the foundation underlying African attitudes to homosexuality.

The search for love
The rapid spread of mobile phones and access to the internet across Africa in the last decade is transforming the awareness of LGBT people, most of whom are under 30. Ten years ago, young gay Africans began to discover gay dating sites such as gaydar and manjam. Many still access these sites but are repeatedly disappointed by their failure to meet the man of their dreams. What they repeatedly tell me is that all the other guys want is sex, revealing that what many also seek is love, a relationship, commitment, someone who will take them and respect them. These are elusive ideals in reality for LGBT Africans.

Their frustration and inability to connect with others who share their desire to meet a life partner has begun to change, however, in the last two years, thanks to Facebook. There are now thousands of LGBT Nigerians and tens of thousands of LGBT Africans with profiles on Facebook. They are increasingly confident in indicating their sexuality on their profiles – ‘interested in men and women, relationship status complicated’.

Young LGBT Africans are becoming more confident, posting pictures of their real selves (though many, to protect themselves, still post pictures from dating sites, or of gay icons, or avoid pictures altogether). The more adventurous and confident post pictures taken with gay friends or a partner or of themselves in camp poses. It has become much easier for those with internet access and a Facebook profile to meet other LGBT people in their locality, in safety online and with greater safety face to face (blackmail is a common feature on gay dating sites).

Loving relationships become a reality
The result of this access to real people, online, who can get to know as you chat with them in real time, watch them on a web cam, and then arrange to meet for a date is that the loving relationships that young gay Africans have dreamed of are becoming a reality in their lives – potentially permanent, faithful, stable, loving relationships. Older generations complied with powerful social and family obligations by marrying and having children while discretely having a same-sex lover as an adjunct to the marriage. The new generation is not following the same, dishonest, damaging path.

They have access to information about gay rights in the west, marriage equality, civil partnerships and the undreamt of levels of freedom we enjoy in society if not yet in our churches. They long for the freedom we enjoy to live openly and inevitably, many of them dream of escaping to the west because change in the entrenched African culture of intense prejudice and violence against LGBT people seems an impossible dream.

Despite that, some Nigerians are reporting a growth of tolerance in some parts of Nigerian society and the opening of social space where LGBT people have more freedom to reveal their identity. But the huge majority remain hidden, meeting other LGBT people clandestinely.

The desperate need for change
Tens of thousands of LGBT Africans are desperate for change. Africa is sitting on a hidden reality, millions of LGBT people, with a growing confidence in their identity, engaging with each other online and their networks of friends, but hidden from their families, school mates, straight friends, and of course, in their churches. African bishops, priests and congregations have no idea how many LGBT people worship alongside them every Sunday.

Change has to happen and will happen, but how, and when? This is the question I am raising with the leaders in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria and with other African LGBT leaders for whom the question and the challenge is becoming increasingly insistent.

Colin Coward

To enable Changing Attitude’s work across the Communion to be developed and help provide modest resources to our African brothers and sisters, please make a donation or become a supporter of Changing Attitude England.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Church of England’s dramatic disconnect

The George Careys, Michael Scott-Joynts and Andrea Minichiello Williams (recently elected to General Synod, Director of the “Christian Legal Centre”) of the Church of England think that Anglicans (their type of CofE Anglican, of course) are now a persecuted minority that need protected legal status.

To me that sounds like an acknowledgment of reality – and failure. Just under 3% of the population attend Church of England services once a month and under 2% attend worship weekly, statistics show. We are indeed a minority, with seats in the Lords, the Established Church of our country, with a status and privileges way beyond our significance. It’s difficult stand back and gain a realistic picture of where we, Christians in general, C of E in particular, fit into British society. It is clearly even more difficult for those living with privileged status like bishops and retired Archbishops.

It’s difficult for Anglicans at the parish church level as well. I meet with a local support group once a month to talk about my work for Changing Attitude. The conversation is often about frustrations at the local as well as the national and international level. At the last meeting, we talked about the congregation to which most of us belong. Why is it so difficult to capture a vision of Christianity inspired by Jesus’ teaching and prophetic ministry? Why do so many feel they are just going through the motions?

My answer is that we are all victims of our normative environment, family, school, locality and church. We internalize values and ideas and they become ‘normal’, self-referential and self-reinforcing. The way we have come to read and interpret the Bible becomes normative, the way we worship, pray, conceptualise God, all become not just ‘normal’ but universally true.

Those of us of a certain age carry assumptions and expectations about church life and worship which we can see no longer work, when we are able to ‘take them out’ and examine them. There is a deep frustration and disillusion among many, of which church attitudes to sexuality and relationships are but one symptom.

It is hard for people to understand what their frustration is about and even harder to have any vision of what action they might take to change it for the better. That’s because the church is locked into maintenance mode (fabric and financial) and is on the defensive, as Carey and company repeatedly show us.

Even younger and supposedly more alert bishops like Tim Thornton, recently moved from Sherborne to Truro, can write an article about civil partnerships and marriage for the Daily Telegraph which is defensive and badly argued. He talks about the blessing of ‘homosexual practice, to put it in crude terms’ which is, from Changing Attitude’s perspective, to put it in very crude terms indeed, Tim.

Bishop Tim thinks the most significant thing is the danger of a confusion between different things, marriage and civil partnerships, which, “if we open ourselves up to blurring that difference ... would be unhelpful for all concerned.” This is a problem for a minority, for bishops who spinelessly toe the line and other Christians who still think gay relationships are unlike heterosexual relationships.

The advice to me from his replacement in Sherborne, Graham Kings, is that I should “lie low for the moment.” I suppose Graham wants me to act like a bishop.

From where I sit in Salisbury Diocese, the edifice looks insane at times, most especially around the way the church colludes in negative teaching about LGBT people and forces people into closets which our leaders seem all too willing to hide inside. There is a collusive corruption and deep dishonesty in our Church.

My heart aches and yearns not simply for a change in church attitudes towards human sexuality but for a church which inspires me and nourishes me spiritually and expresses a vision of God which responds to the age we are living into, a future in which God is doing so many creative, new things. What do we get in reality? George Carey, Michael Nazir Ali, Michael Scott Joynt, Andrea Minichiello Williams. God help us.

This is what we are up against. This is what +Rowan is up against. This is what the Holy Spirit is up against - impoverished, defensive lack of courage and imagination. The Church of England is trapped in a dualistic mode of thinking, nostalgia for a time when there was more ‘certainty’, fear of change and difference and of human beings, some of whom might be growing into greater maturity and spiritual depths despite the best efforts of the Church to restrain them and dull their hearts and minds.

Well, pooh to that! I am not a Christian who is a member of a persecuted minority in England and I don’t need legal protection to live my faith. I have a dream of a Christian community that is inspired, imaginative, creative, filled with energy, genuine in friendship and love, open, risk-taking. Rather New Testament, in fact, Christ-like, even Pauline in challenging the old and responding to the new.

So yes to marriage equality and civil partnerships, yes to new visions of God’s activity in the whole of creation (and not just the 2% the C of E tries to numb each week), yes to our campaign for equality in ministry for all, LGBT as well as straight, yes to a passionate, creative Christian witness and vision in the UK that is true to the infinite holiness of God.

Colin Coward

To help Changing Attitude campaign for a new paradigm in the church, please become a supporter or make a donation to our work.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dreaming non-dualistic dreams and seeing visions of a new creation

We arrive at the end of 2010 with an ‘us and them’ duality still firmly embedded in the mindset of some Christian leaders. Us and them as in we who are Christians set against Moslems, we who are Bible-believing Christians set against those who have deserted the tradition, we who are faithful to Jesus set against those who have abandoned Biblical teaching, we who are destined for salvation set against those who are following Satan’s path to hell and damnation, we who are heterosexual and happily married set against those sexually licentious lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are promiscuous and engage in perverted sexual practices.

The Telegraph reports that Lord Carey has written to the Prime Minister. Carey highlights one subject he defines as particularly contentious - the clash of rights between homosexuals and Christians - as if these are distinct groups at war across a great divide.

Lord Carey mindlessly repeats the belief that those who hold traditional Christian viewpoints, “in common with millions across the globe and across history, suddenly find their position labelled discriminatory and prejudiced and then discover that it has effectively become a legal bar to public service.”

In the same vein, the ever-reliable Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, told the BBC’s World This Weekend: “The problem is that there is a really quite widespread perception among Christians that there is growing up something of an imbalance in the legal position with regard to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths to pursue the calling of their faith in public life, in public service.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to George Carey or Michael Scott-Joynt that Christians such as myself and the patrons and trustees and supporters of Changing Attitude and the tens thousands of LGBT Christians and their friends and families, hold a very different view of what it means to be a Christian, in deep prayerfulness and with great integrity.

The polarities which these two bishops wish not simply to defend, but extend the reach of, are in my view a danger to the health and safety of individuals, of our society and of the well-being of our planet and the global community.

They want to protect minority traditions, an exclusive idea of God and salvation, an us and them mentality, and a defensive, judgmental system of salvation.

This is not the vision of God’s creative energy and of the incarnation which inspires (too small a word – how about fuels?) my faith and my work in Changing Attitude.

“The Word became flesh; he made his home among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1.14

“He is the image of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all creation. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created … the whole universe has been created through him and for him. He exists before all things and all things are held together in him. For in him, God in all his fullness chose to dwell.” Colossians 1.15-17, 19

All things are created in the image of God, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our loves and relationships.

Does the future of creation lie with those who want to preserve, defend and protect old paradigm, dualistic patterns of theology and human relationships? Will the Church continue to judge and find wanting those of us who are simply different from what the majority assumed to be ‘normal’?

Are those of us who dream of a new heaven and a new earth, a new paradigm, who dream dreams and see visions of the things which the apostles and evangelists were inspired and enlightened by, are we going to live more deeply into our vision of the Kingdom of God in 2011?

The apostles, evangelists and witnesses were given revelations into the nature of God and creation which can still transform our emotional, cognitive and imaginative ability to dream our own dreams and have confidence in our vision of this finite creation with its infinite potentialities which can transcend our destructive, dualistic thinking.

Today’s visionaries and dreamers include Desmond Tutu, Esther Mombo, Jack Spong, Elizabeth Stuart, Ken Wilber, Carter Heyward, Marcus Borg, Grace Jantzen, Thomas Moore, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Richard Holloway, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, James Alison, Nomfundo Walaza, Richard Rohr, Jenny Plane Te Paa, Gideon Byamugisha and many, many others.

More tomorrow!

Colin Coward

To support the work of Changing Attitude in bringing a non-dualistic, LGBT inclusive vision to the church, please become a supporter or make a donation

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Lesbian and gay members of Changing Attitude to be interviewed for Kenyan TV

The Revd Michael Kimindu, contact person for Changing Attitude Kenya, reports that he has been asked by NTV Kenya , part of the Nation Media Group to assist them in finding gay and lesbian couples who are prepared to be interviewed in order to give a positive human face to Kenyan lesbian and gay people. This is also intended to challenge the orders to arrest lesbian and gay people given by the Kenyan Prime Minister. The TV company asked Michael to accompany them so that the LGBTI people could be confident in allowing themselves to be interviewed and he will feature as the Pastor for the LGBTI Christian community.

Michael made contact with people in Mombasa, 445km south east of Nairobi, the major sea port on the Indian ocean coast. He travelled to Mombasa Tuesday last week arriving at 9pm. With his help, the NTV team was able to interview a gay couple and two single gay men and a lesbian. They also met an Italian gay couple but could not interview them, which would be seen to support the false idea that white people are the source of homosexuality in Africa. The Italians were visiting the Kenyan couple.

They left Mombasa on Saturday travelling by night bus back to Nairobi, and on Sunday took another night bus to Kisumu in western Kenya. Kisumu is the third largest city 320 KM from Nairobi situated on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Michael had made contact with two organisations working with LGBTI people and they were able to interview two couples, one gay, one lesbian. They also met a Dutch gay man but couldn’t interview him for the same reasons as in Mombasa. Some of those interviewed were willing to be filmed facing the camera but others requested that their faces were not filmed.

Tomorrow afternoon a group is coming to Michael’s house in Nairobi. So far 10 Anglicans and 2 Roman Catholics have promised to come, members of the Changing Attitude group in Kenya. NTV plan to record the service led by Michael and then conduct interviews.

For those who like to know how Changing Attitude might benefit financially from this media interest, Michael says that NTV paid his transport and hotel costs and will refund the bus fares for the group and following editing, will pay a token of appreciation to the group. Michael, being a good Anglican, will offer tea and soft drinks.

In small ways such as this, Changing Attitude Kenya is enabling LGBTI voices to be heard and faces to be seen on Kenyan TV. This is a remarkable achievement by Michael who also works as a pastor for Other Sheep Ministries and as an MCC minister.

Colin Coward

To enable us to continue to provide occasional support for Michael Kimindu in Kenya and campaign for change in the Anglican Communion, please join Changing Attitude or make a donation.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Moving at the pace of the slowest?

‘Standing on the platform’ indeed! It serves me right for blogging about waving off the Covenant Express – last night, at King’s Cross Station, our train to Leeds was cancelled and the revised timetable offered the delights of ‘extended running times and further delays’. Reluctantly, for I had been keen to see my family in Yorkshire, we returned home.

Ever since I first heard the analogy of the train departing from the station as a description of a community setting out to realise a vision I have been interested in those 'left behind on the platform’. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that they would not be forgotten by the other passengers, that they would be able ‘catch up’ if they needed to, and that the platform is at least a starting point, but that their reluctance to join in a particular excursion could not be allowed to hold up the entire train.

Very often, in parish life, the people who oppose the vision, or are unenthusiastic about it, can offer a valuable critique, and prevent the community rushing off in a wrong direction. But once a community has done its homework, and is all fired up and ready to go, it should be able to move towards the vision without being inhibited by those who are still unconvinced: their resistance cannot be allowed to act as a break on the project, otherwise one is moving only at the pace of the slowest, which would mean, in the end, stagnation and torpor.

In the Anglican Communion it sometimes seems as if we are being invited to move at the rate of the slowest. The Covenant certainly sounds like that. Jean Mayland, a Changing Attitude Patron, has said many times that if the Anglican Covenant had been in place thirty or forty years ago the ordination of women to the priesthood would probably never have been permitted. The pioneering ordinations to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate by individual Provinces did cause offence in other Provinces of the Communion at the time and might, therefore, have resulted in requests for ‘gracious restraint’ or even ‘withdrawal’ from aspects of the Communion for awhile. Instead of the rest of the Communion being enabled to catch the vision, there would have been a clampdown on this particular development, and a firm hand on the break.

But doesn’t the Apostle Paul counsel going at the slowest person’s pace when he writes about not offending the ‘weaker brother’ over the eating of meat sacrificed to idols; not pursuing one’s Christian freedom if it causes another to fall (1 Corinthians 8)? Presumably such texts shaped the thinking of the architects of the moratoria, and weigh heavily with those who are in favour of the Covenant, but are the parallels just? Isn’t the ordination of women, like the full inclusion of LGBT and T people, more on a par with ‘non-negotiable’ Pauline teaching about the Church as a community that must include both Jews and Gentiles? For Paul there was no concession to the weakest or the slowest over the inclusive nature of the Church – the Gentiles were most definitely ‘in’.

This gracious inclusiveness of the gospel has to be our starting point. Far from the onus being on organisations such as ours, or individual LGB and T people, to make their case for belonging to, and participation in, the Church, the onus is on those who disagree with us, to justify their opposition, which does not stack up either in humanitarian terms, or theologically.

At the moment it is too soon to say whether it is they or we who will be left standing on the platform. We would like to put a break on a train that seems to be heading towards an authoritarian destination where LGB and T people will be less welcome even than they are now; our opponents appear to fear a runaway train that is racing towards unbridled freedom and chaos. It all looks horribly like 'a train crash waiting to happen'. I hope I’m wrong about that!

Friday, 3 December 2010

From the vanguard to the rearguard: standing on the platform waving off the Covenant Express

Back in the 1990s the diocese recommended my benefice (two parishes) and the one next-door (three parishes) to ‘cluster’. We were described as ‘the untidy end of the deanery’ and it did make sense: the five parishes (three quite rural; two semi-suburban) did indeed encircle, physically, a growing conurbation. No matter that there had been, for decades, intense rivalries between the two benefices and former incumbents, the current ‘leadership’ believed that it was right to proceed with the idea because our communities (church and civil) would be the beneficiaries of this co-operation, and one of the first things we did together was the Alpha Course.

As you can imagine not everyone was enamoured with the notion of ‘clustering’ and an image was used to describe the various responses to the emerging vision for the future. It was a bit like setting out on a train journey: some people (the leadership of the parish) were driving the engine; others, who had caught the vision, were sitting in the various carriages, front or back, depending on the degree to which they had bought into the clustering project; and finally, as the Cluster Express began to leave the station, some people were left behind on the platform.

As one of those in the ‘driving seat’ I found it a very helpful analogy. There were some people who we were never going to convince to board the ‘train’ but that shouldn’t prevent it from setting off and perhaps, once things began to move, the people on the platform would recognise what they were missing and try to catch up (like F.W. Robertson who was left behind at Euston Station in 1849, as his lover moved off in the departing train, and overtook it later on the way to Chester).

I’d like to play a little with this analogy in terms of current Anglican politics. First of all, we had the inclusion train, with the Episcopal Church and Canada in the driving seat. Lots of people were excited by this vision and keen to ride in the carriages of its train because they knew that it wasn’t just about sexuality (gay bishops and same-sex blessings) but signalled respect, justice and equality for all who were oppressed whether it be because of gender, race, or disability.

But some of the other drivers didn’t see it like that and did all that they could to derail this train. That made the rail company very nervous and so they tried to push the inclusion train into a siding and in its place began to assemble another train, with four carriages. It was called the Covenant Express and it looked a bit strange: not quite like any other train that the people had seen before. Some were shocked by it, others afraid that once you got on it you wouldn’t actually move very far or very fast, in fact, that you’d end up going nowhere; but others loved it, extolled it, and warned, that if you didn’t climb aboard, well, you’d probably end up on that rusty old inclusion train, either stuck in a siding, or, if the company decided it was OK, allowed on the network, but not on the main track.

So here I am, a liberal Christian, once (in my own estimation at least) in the vanguard, but now, most definitely in the rearguard, standing on the platform waving off – with no regrets - the Covenant Express. Should we try to derail it – of course! Do we have the wherewithal? Probably not, but it would be interesting to find out. In the meantime we can only hope that the commuters will see it for what it is and shove into a siding and the sideline of history where it belongs.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Are you still there?

'One thing surprises me: that you, Sharon and Robert are still members of mainstream churches'. We were at the LGBT Health Summit 2010 held at Hatfield University in September The Revd Sharon Ferguson, Metropolitan Community Church minister and CEO of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and Hospital Chaplain the Revd Robert Mitchell, had joined me there to lead the workshop – which has its origin in my collaboration with fellow Sibyl Michelle O'Brien - 'Gender, sexuality and spirituality: exploring the interplay'

Of the three hundred forty delegates fifty-five registered for this workshop, an indication of the huge interest in spirituality and it was a subject that sat well with the conference theme 'the emotional connection: healthy mind, health body' (the host organisation was an NHS mental health Trust). I spoke about sexuality, Sharon about gender while Robert focused on spirituality, emphasising its breadth, and that many people who do not belong to, or identify with, religious organisations, may have a profound and meaningful spirituality. Nevertheless, the three presenters were all ordained ministers – Sharon in suit and clerical collar – and hence the observation, made privately after the session, by one participant, who was surprised that we were - given the perceived narrowness of the churches, including a grudging attitude to gender equality, institutional homophobia, etc. - still willing to belong.

As a minister of a Church that was founded specifically to include gay people, and with a wonderful record of inclusion, Sharon's position, to me at any rate (I can't speak for Robert), looks less contradictory than mine, but maybe the comment was not just about the inclusion agenda but expressed an alienation from the whole culture of organised religion by those who were formed by it and once part of it, and who now, having 'moved on,' are surprised that others have stayed.

Over the years there have been a number of occasions when I have despaired of the councils of the Church of England. Now, in an era when HIV infection can be treated so successfully we can easily forget the hysteria of the mid-1980s and how some people, who disagreed with the Revd Tony Higton, signed his Private Members motion about 'personal morality' in order to separate the gay issue from that of HIV, which achieved the sensitive debate on AIDS that they had wanted followed by the catastrophic compromise motion now enshrined as official Church of England policy.

Some priests resigned then, Jeremy Younger's resignation being the most public, but resigning, as my husband pointed out at the time, would not help the people in our parish (though some might have been glad to be rid of me). Recently I found copies of the letters I wrote to the Synod members from my diocese prior to the 'Higton Debate' and its outcome, negative as it was, led to experiences that would have a profound effect on me personally, breaking down internal defences and barriers and enabling me to 'come out' publicly two years later, though that phrase 'coming out' does not do justice to what was, in fact, a confession or testimony to the Divine love.

A Mirfield Father, on being told of this, commented that my position was 'untenable' but he was proved wrong, and with the backing of my bishop, the loving support of parishioners, and – a not inconsiderable factor – the benefit of freehold, I was able to stay for another eleven years. Sometimes, as LGB or T people it is absolutely essential that we stay put and stand firm for by so doing we bear witness to the fact, for example, that one can be both a priest and gay or a Christian and trans.

This is not an easy calling to live out; to leave or transfer to another Church might – though who knows until you try it – seem an easier option; but somehow you are held there – it might be partly due to habit, or convention, or the need for stability, though my hope is that is mainly a response to God's call to be there, and stay there, because that is where you belong.

And if the institution should so change that it begins to deny and abuse you? What then? Have we reached that point now, considering the ease with which the General Synod has sent off the Covenant for consideration by the dioceses? Or is that (like 1987) yet another bit of tactical voting (in which case it will probably go wrong)? This post is becoming longer than I intended so let me come back to these questions in another one.

What will the pattern of the Anglican Communion look like in 10 years time?

The Anglican Communion is being reconfigured at the moment. We who campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people fear that in 10 years time we might find ourselves marginalised and excluded.

The narrative of those conservative Anglican bodies and individuals opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people claim that it is the Episcopal Church that has ‘walked apart’. In practice, the groups that have walked apart and distanced themselves from the Anglican Communion are those which have failed to participate in the Councils of the Church – the Lambeth Conference, Primates Meeting and Anglican Consultative Council. There is a growing and, to me, bewildering array of these bodies and alliances – ACNA, Global South, GAFCON, FCA, ACI, CANA, AMiA, etc. These are also the groups which refuse to act on the parts of Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report which advocate listening to and the pastoral care of LGBT people. The multiplicity of groups also shows dramatically that those who edge towards schism are unable to agree an alternative identity or strategy between themselves.

Strategies for dealing with the dynamic
People in favour of full inclusion advocate a range of strategies that might be adopted in response to this dynamic. Many ideas are posted in the comments on Thinking Anglicans. Let’s take a look at some of them:

• Form a new diocese of the Episcopal Church in England. This would need to create local churches where the pro-inclusion people could worship with the like-minded. I can’t see it happening and it isn’t what I want. Devizes already has 3 Anglican churches, one evangelical, one opposed to the ordination of women, one striving to be open and fully-inclusive. I want to be worshipping in a Church of England parish church that is properly Anglican in ethos – that’s the challenge, a challenge that my Rector is totally committed to engage with, as are the majority of the congregation.
• Create our own, alternative ‘liberal’ Anglican Communion, parallel with the conservative bodies. If the Church of England is a part of a liberal realignment, then the campaign for full inclusion will have been successful. If the Church of England is not a part of this new alignment, then it will be yet another schismatic Anglican Church and at the moment, that is most certainly not what Changing Attitude is campaigning for.
• Encourage TEC to withdraw from the Instruments of Communion and continue with its own polity in – isolation? That would be to throw another bone to the conservative forces (as +Rowan has repeatedly done, which may or may not turn out to have been a good strategy). The lesson is that the bones never satisfy them, of course. They will continue to scheme and chew away at any liberal, inclusive presence in the Church wherever they find it, CofE or Canada, Australia or South Africa, until they (in their fantasy) have destroyed everything which is against their reading of the Word of God.
• Campaign for a vote against the Anglican Covenant by the Church of England. For this to be effective, practical action must be taken now to canvass, lobby and persuade members of every diocesan synod to vote against when it is tabled for debate to ensure that a majority of dioceses vote NO before it returns to General Synod.
• With GAFCON withdrawing from the Primates Meeting and many Provinces not having attended the last Lambeth Conference, why shouldn’t those Provinces remaining fully committed to the Communion, including the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England, sign the Covenant and work with the other Provinces who sign to reconfigure it to reflect Anglican polity more properly, deleting Section 4 entirely. Such a strategy is uncertain of success and is very unlikely to happen.
• Other individuals have moved out of the Church of England, either abandoning the Church entirely or their membership of a local congregation or moving into a different denomination – the Unitarian Church in the case of Adrian Worsfold, the Metropolitan Community Church for some LGBT Anglicans. Yet others continue to worship both in their parish church and with another congregation where they find a more open ethos and/or a deeper spirituality.

In 20 years time?
The outcome I fear most is that the mainstream denominations will have successfully opposed the full inclusion of LGBT people in 20 years time, and will have moved in the opposite direction, barely tolerating us, excluding us from ministry at every level and treating us as ‘intrinsically disordered’. Those LGBT people living in societies which have legislated for equality will by then, if they have any sense of self-worth, abandoned the Church.

A less extreme outcome would see a fragmentation of denominations, schisms and realignments into churches with either a conservative, reactionary ethos or a radical, inclusive ethos. This may well turn out to be the least-worst and only practicable outcome.

There is a third possibility. The global community is slowly, painfully slowly, being educated into knowing that LGBT people are present in every culture and every community. This largely secular movement will impact on faith communities everywhere, destabilizing their ability to deny the real presence of LGBT people WITHIN their own communities. Other signs give hope for a third possible outcome. The attitudes of the Primates who are announcing unilaterally the policy of their Provinces do not consult their bishops and priests and do not represent the views of their people. It’s impossible to know what their people really think because deference to those in authority inhibits their ability to think and speak freely - just ask Michael Kimindu in Kenya or Bishop Ssenyonjo in Uganda. Global South Provinces in the next 10 to 20 years may well change as the culture changes around them and this generation of leaders retires and lose influence.

One comment on Thinking Anglicans describes GAFCON as having no shame, capable of doing anything to further their ends, failing to stay true even to their own principles - demanding orthodoxy yet violating church order, lacking of integrity, plotting and planning, characterized by machinations.

Strategies for achieving change
How can those of us who are faithful to God and the Spirit and to the ethos of the Anglican Communion counter the conservative movement whilst maintaining our own ethos and without adopting their ruthless, unscrupulous tactics? I think the challenge is almost impossible, were it not for my faith that conservative, reactionary forces do not have unique access to the flow of God’s creative presence in the world and from my perspective, are actively working against the flow of the Spirit.

Changing Attitude is totally committed to full inclusion of all the baptized, including all LGBT people, in every Province of the Anglican Communion, and to the Anglican ethos of scripture, tradition and reason. We have demonstrated our commitment by being the only pro-inclusion group to have been present at the Lambeth Conferences in 1998 and 2008, every meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council since Nottingham in 2005 and Primates meetings since Dar Es Salaam in 2007.

The strategy of pro-inclusion groups has to be to oppose the Covenant if there is any possibility that it will be used to inhibit progress towards overturning Christian prejudice against LGBT people. Our strategy also has to be positive, committed to building relationships with bishops and Primates across Provincial boundaries and with the Instruments of Communion, being present and not abandoning territory to conservatives, working out what practical action we can take which will make a real difference to the outcome. I’m not an idealistic dreamer (well, not only). I am also always looking for the practical strategies that are going to affect outcomes favourably for us.

Say No to the Covenant has to be more than an internet campaign. Say yes to LGBT people has to be more than saying no to the Covenant or strategising for our own schismatic body. And however we campaign, we have to do it in a more Christian, Bible-centred, holy way than those who wish to suppress us.

Colin Coward

To enable us to continue to campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude or donate to our work

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Should LGBT Anglicans be more suspicious of the Covenant?

Erika Baker in a comment on the last blog and Adrian Worsfold and Church Ferret (naughty little creature) on Facebook, have raised questions about the blog which they think was too tolerant in stance and tone, I suspect.

I decided that +Rowan’s Presidential address should be take absolutely at face value. There are other leaders in the Communion whose words I would not take at face value.

I also think you have to look at what has happened in the 13 years since the Kuala Lumpur statement was published (which initiated the conservative campaign against LGBT people) and make a balanced assessment. They have repeatedly issued threats and challenges, to evict other Provinces, that the Communion is already split, the net torn, they have absented themselves from Lambeth and Primates meetings and refused to share Communion, and where has it got them?

Bishop Graham Kings made a case on the Radio4 Sunday programme for the GAFCON group being marginal to other conservative evangelicals in the Communion who have not rejected the Covenant. I think Bishop Graham is being fanciful. The Primates he named have announced that they are not attending the Primates meeting, so they are absenting themselves and abusing one of the Instruments of Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. They will not be present to contribute to any decision making process. Canada and TEC will.

The Covenant will not come into force for at least 3 years, 3 years in which the conservatives will almost certainly absent themselves from the next ACC meeting and the following Primates’ meeting. Do you imagine that they will suddenly march back in once other Provinces have signed the Covenant and demand to be allowed to sign and take over the Communion? I know they might, their tactics are that crazy, but I think it’s highly unlikely, and who’d want to be a part of such a Communion?

Bishop Graham also pointed out that the GAFCON Primates can’t make a unilateral decision about not signing the Covenant and that the decision will have to be put to each Province. These are Primates who are making unilateral, authoritarian decisions without any democracy or reference to their Province or House of Bishops and I think it highly likely that the decision they announced last week will stand.

These Primates do not represent the opinions of their bishops. I have now had many reports about the unhappiness of individual bishops in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya who disagree with their Primate. Other tensions are building in these Provinces, and Primates eventually reach retirement dates. This generation with its extreme version of Anglicanism will not live forever.

Erika commented that Rowan clearly said that actions in one place have consequences for the Communion, whether we like it or not. Yes, but not necessarily only in one direction. The Global South/GAFCON/FCA axis has been allowed huge latitude and their actions tolerated in a way which for me and many others feels intolerable. But after 10 years of posturing and threats, they haven’t got what they demanded.

Removing TEC from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue certainly isn’t what the conservatives had in mind when they demanded punishment. Better they hadn’t been excluded at all, but it isn’t exactly onerous, is it?

The Covenant may need nothing more than a group of only 15 people stating loudly that they feel offended before the offender has relational consequences imposed on them by the offended and Father Jake may be right in identifying just what those relational consequences are, and it might come to pass that punitive action is taken against a Province and they are removed from the ACC Schedule of Membership.

I’m not pointing out to Rowan that we LGBT people really have been playing ball all this time. I’m living the faith in prayer and love and I’m not walking away and I’m not going to stop reminding the Communion of the presence of LGBT people in every Province and the scandal of homophobia and prejudice and support for punitive legislation.

I am not becoming co-dependent and I am not colluding with my own abuse. The point at which Changing Attitude did either of those things would be seen very clearly, I think, and rightly challenged by all who care about the full inclusion of the tens of thousands of LGBT people in the Communion.

I think a lot has changed in the last 10 years, and the Church of England has become more isolated in our society and is continuing to isolate itself. There is a lack of courage and integrity in individual members of the House of Bishops and in the corporate institutions of the Church at times, and there are also shining examples of truth-telling, courage and integrity, and I would name Jeffrey John, Christina Rees, Colin Slee and Nick Holtham among others.

The Church of England might collude in applying the Covenant unwisely, punitively and against LGBT people 5 or 10 years down the road if it continues to allow what I consider to be unchristian forces to determine the culture of our Church.

This is all ‘my opinion’ and others will vehemently disagree with me. To some, it does indeed look as if nothing that happened in the Anglican Communion in the last 10 years has been wise, measured and politically middle of the road. People, good people have left and others are considering leaving, in despair at the unbelievable dishonesty practiced by some bishops. I think it’s a scandal but it doesn’t get reported because those of us who know these things don’t want to make life difficult for those in the circles around us. We all, CA, IC, the Coalition, WATCH, make calculated political decisions.

The Global South conservatives think God is on their side and not on the side of LGBT people. That is their fatal mistake. God is on everyone’s side, and God knows that the theologies we all construct are sometimes fatally flawed.

I may not have Permission to Officiate at the moment (and that’s another, confidential story) but I know I am loved, blessed, welcomed, enriched by God, journeying into the Kingdom of God, whatever foul things the conservatives say about me as a gay man, because I have a deep, prayerful relationship with God, a relationship to which they seem blinded – and there’s many a quote I could make from Scripture to support my claim. But I’ll leave it there.

Colin Coward

To enable us to continue to campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude or donate to our work.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Anglican Covenant – dangerous progress in Synod? Or GAFCON statement – dangerous threat withdraws?

Archbishop Rowan began his presidential address to Synod in Church House last week by referring to a sermon preached by John Wesley on 'The Catholic Spirit' which opened with a text from II Kings 10.15: 'He greeted him and said, "Is your heart true to mine, as my heart is to yours?" Jehonadab replied, "Yes." "If so," Jehu said, "Give me your hand."'

Rowan urged Synod to surprise those who are looking on by demonstrating their loyalty to each other: 'Is your heart true to mine?' Loyalty grows and flourishes when we spend time together exploring God who has brought us together - if our hearts are true to each other, different things become possible, Rowan said.

Being true to each other, in our hearts, is to me obvious and fundamental to our Christian life and witness. Heart truth is important to the life of General Synod, the Church of England, the Anglican Communion, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans. Is the Anglican Covenant going to lead us into more heart truth?

GAFCON/FCA statement
As Rowan was delivering his address a statement was released by a group of Anglican leaders under the GAFCON/FCA banner, a statement which had been written at least two weeks earlier. The statement is almost, but not quite, a declaration of independence from Canterbury.

Those issuing the statement declare that they will no longer maintain an illusion of normalcy and will join other Primates from the Global South in absenting themselves from the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland.

They further declare that the current text of the Anglican Covenant is fatally flawed and so support for it is no longer appropriate.

They plan to expand their ministry through other Anglican Provinces taking the ‘theological clarity’ of the Jerusalem Declaration as a solid foundation on which to engage with other Anglicans - those who affirm Biblical theological foundations of what Anglicans have always believed and practiced. They invite people in England ‘to re-affirm what they have always believed in Anglicanism by adopting the Jerusalem Declaration as a statement of their own faith and join with us in partnership in working to win the world to Christ’.

The statement rejects the Anglican Covenant, the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ meeting, the Anglican Communion as at present constituted and swathes of Anglican history, experience and tradition. I might describe it as both audacious and abusive – audacious in its rejection of truth and abusive to issue it deliberately at the same moment as the Archbishop of Canterbury is asking in an adult way for Christian hearts to be true to one another and loyal to God.

The Anglican Covenant
In his address, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“it is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire process. The unpalatable fact is that certain decisions in any province affect all. We may think they shouldn't, but they simply do. If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly.”

The GAFCON/FCA leaders had already decided to derail the process and begun the dissolution of the Communion by setting out to create new structures which will exclude the Church of England and the See of Canterbury. Rowan, your words to Synod were taken to heart by those present, Synod members and those like me in the public gallery. Of course it is right to expect us to relate in ways that are mature, loyal, exploring God together, hearts true to each other. What then of the GAFCON leaders – are you going to ask them to behave in an equally mature way? That won’t be easy since they are already going to absent themselves from your presence.
The Archbishop continued to address the Covenant and the whole paragraph is worth quoting in full:

“The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some steps are too costly. The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences. Whatever happens, with or without the Covenant, the Communion will not simply stay the same. Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted. They will survive and develop only if we can build up durable and adult bonds of fellowship.”

Managing it in a careful and orderly way has already been made impossible by the arrogant and aggressive actions of the GAFCON leaders, supported by a minority of members of General Synod. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the challenges of covenant and communion in an intelligent, relational, heart to heart way when people are acting so abusively. Changing Attitude is committed to adult behaviour, but the temptation to infantile responses is strong when Communion leaders act in infantile ways themselves.

The Synod motion moved by the Bishop of Bristol, Michael Hill, asked ‘That the draft Act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant be considered.’ It was passed by a large majority and will now be sent to the dioceses for discussion. The Church of England did not, last week, adopt the Anglican Covenant, as some have asserted. England is continuing to discuss the Covenant and explore our differences of opinion.
In Rowan’s words, the Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult ... and disagreements need to be managed in a careful and orderly way.

“It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province's canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.”

Those of us who are anxious about the effects of the Covenant on progress towards the full inclusion in the Body of Christ of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are yet to be convinced that it is not possible to use it in a tyrannical and exclusionary way. If the GAFCON Primates (with others) have already decided to leave the Anglican Communion then there is not only less anxiety about the Covenant being used in a punitive way, there is no longer any real need for a Covenant at all.

Same-sex unions
Earlier in his address, the Archbishop had talked about the Communion’s approach to the ‘still bitterly divisive issue’ of same-sex unions.

He said:

“The need for some thoughtful engagement that will help us understand how people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism can come to strongly diverse conclusions is getting more urgent, because I sense that in the last few years the debate on sexuality has not really moved much.”

“And if we are not to be purely tribal about this, we need the chance for some sort of discussion that is not dominated by the need to make an instant decision or to react to developments and pressures elsewhere.”

Leaders and supporters of Changing Attitude are among those who have engaged in patient and thoughtful theological discussion in many different contexts and with a wide variety of opinions. We are committed to continuing conversation and exploration but the patience of many LGBT Anglicans is being tested to the extreme. We are living with an understanding of our own integrity in Christ which means that we deliberately ignore the guidelines adopted by the Church – Issues in Human Sexuality, Lambeth 1.10 and the House of Bishops’ pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships. The conversation and exploration can continue within the Church but we have already moved beyond.

Rowan asked for the help of Synod in working with him to create an ambience where better understanding may happen, taking the debate forward without the pressure of feeling we have some single and all-important decision to make. He pointed to the success of the 'Continuing Indaba' project in creating many such spaces for face-to- face discussion across cultures, considering a wide range of actually and potentially divisive matters. It has, he said, been pursued with heroic energy and imagination by many people of profoundly diverse convictions in the Communion and needs prayer and support.

We LGBT people in the UK and North America have personal security and legal protections which enable us to pursue our goals in the Communion with confidence, engaging openly with the Church. In other, socially conservative parts of the Communion, homophobia and prejudice in Church and society mean that open conversation is impossible and LGBT people remain invisible.

I am increasingly concerned about their safety and security and their inability to live spiritually, with integrity, in relationship with other Christians, when Anglican leadership in Nigerian, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere equivocates about or actively supports punitive legislation. They need an active campaign for freedom and justice now, not at a time to suit the patient theological discussions within the Communion.

Susan Russell on her blog An Inch at a Time displays a Get out of the covenant free card and has her own take on what happened last week. Now that the folks the Anglican covenant was designed to keep at the table have turned their noses up at it, she says, it seems that sacrificing the vocations and relationships of the LGBT baptized on the altar of Anglican Unity becomes redundant at best and throwing out historic Anglican comprehensivness in response to hysteric Anglican politics becomes ridiculous at least.

The Episcopal Church instead of studying the Anglican Covenant that's already failed to hold the Communion together needs instead to be studying how to create something that will bring us together. “Like maybe focusing on the values that unite us rather than the issues that divide us. Like building a church for the 21st century that worries about who will COME if we proclaim the Good News of God available to all rather than who might LEAVE if we include everybody.”

Will sending the Anglican Covenant to be discussed in the dioceses have a negative effect regarding progress for LGBT people or does the statement from the GAFCON leaders have a beneficial effect which far outweighs any potential negative from the Covenant?

Colin Coward

To enable us to maintain a relational, principled, heart-true campaign for LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude or donate to our work.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bishop Gene Robinson to retire in 2013

Bishop Gene Robinson has announced his plan to retire as Bishop of New Hampshire in January 2013 when he will be 65 to give the diocese enough time to elect a new bishop. He will be retiring when he is 7 years below the mandatory retirement age for Episcopal bishops of 72. He made the announcement at the end of his diocesan annual convention and gave, as reasons for his early departure, the toll taken on him and on the diocese having been at the centre of international controversy.

He said: "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, you. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn't say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate."

I first met Bishop Gene at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church held in Minneapolis in 2003. The pressure on him was already intense and the Convention was marked by false rumours about him, designed to influence approval of his election. He retreated to a protected space leaving others to navigate the media and the conservative storm opposing his election.

In 2005 he came to England for the first time as bishop to address Changing Attitude’s 10th Anniversary Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. He received a prolonged standing ovation and, as he said in his announcement yesterday, made "the case for God and for God's church – either to those who have never known God's unimaginable love, or to those who have been ill-treated, in the name of a judgmental God, and who have left the church."

Riazat Butt of the Guardian phoned me for a comment at 10 this morning, catching me as I was about to leave for the 10.30 Communion at St John’s Devizes. When I first read the news, I felt sad that he will be retiring. He has made visible for tens of thousands of LGBT Anglicans the reality that we are present in every Province of the Communion, in every congregation, many of us ordained, some bishops and primates. He won’t retire into invisibility and by 2013 further lesbian or gay bishops bishops may have been elected to join Mary Glasspool.

Bishop Gene’s election in 2003 did indeed transform the landscape, and he has had to lie with the responsibility for, and consequences of, that transformation. At last we had somebody as a bishop who was fully visible and embodied the quality of life so many of us long for, a committed, faithful and loving relationship as a Christian.

He has borne the cost as an iconic figure on behalf of LGBT Anglicans. But his visible presence is the tip of an iceberg. There are many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of LGBT Anglicans who experience stress, anxiety, pressure, depression and at the extreme, suicidal feelings. I know that this is true from the Changing Attitude England network and from friends and colleagues in the Church of England.

Increasingly, I know it to be true in Africa and across the Anglican Communion. A young gay Kenyan Anglican told me yesterday that he “is living in great stigmatization due to my sexual orientation. I don’t want anyone to know. Please help me and keep my secrets close. Thank you for that understanding. I have disclosed to you so much more than I have ever done to anyone else.”

It is people like this lonely, desperate, isolated gay Kenyan, who longs for the kind of loving relationship enjoyed by Gene and Mark, that Gene has been an icon for. He has, thanks goodness, had Mark beside him, a diocese which took him to his heart, and a personal resourcefulness and spirituality. Most Africans have none of these resources beyond a deep commitment to their faith and to Jesus the Christ.

One conservative response to Bishop Gene’s announcement has been to accuse him of playing the victim card. After 7 years of abuse and vilification by primates, bishops and conservative pressure groups in the Anglican Communion, I might have hoped that some Christian love and wisdom might have begun to surface by now, but no, the evil and lies and misrepresentation of truth continues. Riazat reports that s spokesman for the Global Anglican Future Conference, Gafcon, said the "agonising dispute" over homosexuality was not about the New Hampshire bishop "personally". Now I wonder who might have made such a disingenuous statement?

Colin Coward

To help us continue and develop our commitment to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England and of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude England or make a donation.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Changing Attitude trustees develop our vision and strategy for the coming year

The trustees and Director of Changing Attitude met at the Peace Centre in Tadcaster from Friday afternoon to Sunday lunchtime for a residential meeting. Meeting for 48 hours provides time for us to talk at length (and some of us are good at that!) reflect at leisure and discuss both the practical needs of Changing Attitude and our strategy and vision. Our vision is developing and unfolding all the time and our strategic initiatives need to evolve and change in response to the developing vision.

On Friday evening for 2 hours and for the first hour on Saturday morning, I introduced a reflection (outlined in a previous blog) on the way in which we envisage or conceptualise ourselves in relationship to God and to the creation in which we dwell. I have become aware that we use religious language in ways traditional and radical which risk misunderstandings, and I wanted to check whether there was a common mind among the trustees of our theology, spirituality, ethics and morality. We discovered that there is, having cleared up misunderstandings and misconceptions along the way.

In the past decade, global communications have evolved at an exponentially dramatic rate. Decoding DNA, the exploration of deep space, the origins of the universe in the Big Bang, have expanded our awareness of the finite and the infinite in similarly dramatic ways. The evolutionary pace of the church, in response to the changed status of LGBT people in British society, for example, proceeds at a snail’s pace. The resistance in the church to granting any kind of equality or dignity to LGBT people is viewed with astonishment by those who are unaware that minority forces in the Church of England combine with a commitment to maintain unity in the Anglican Communion to prevent progress to full inclusion. The church looks like a dinosaur compared with the transformation of spiritual and scientific imagination and vision in the global community. We in Changing Attitude have no doubt that many are alienated by the Church’s lack of courage and vision. It takes extraordinary and often perverse determination to stay in the church, working for the full inclusion of LGBT people, when it is so dishonest in its practice and so

The extensive agenda covered several major topics, and I will write briefly about the most significant.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships
The agenda for marriage and civil partnerships for LGBT people has developed dramatically in the last 6 months with OutRage! advocating equality for all. The trustees agreed that we should be campaigning for equality in the Church of England, recognizing that our supporters have a variety of views, and we are campaigning for the freedom to make a choice, including the blessing of relationships and marriage in church.

Day Conference
The overnight conference planned for October didn’t take place because too few people were able to come, apart from Birmingham residents who wanted a non-residential event. Instead of a residential conference for Changing Attitude group leaders and Diocesan contacts we are planning two one-day conferences, one in Nottingham in May and the second in London in the autumn. The vision is to create days set in the context of a Eucharist which will help create a flourishing environment for LGBT Christians in particular and for all who yearn to participate in worship in which our dreams and longings for God, for intimacy, truth, tenderness and justice can find expression. It’s an ambitious aim, but we have an ambitious vision for the days and planning will begin immediately, finding churches which will create the environment in which we can pray, praise and worship with passion and glory.

LGBT Anglican Coalition
The Coalition meets this coming Saturday in Waterloo. Jeremy Timm is chairing the meeting on behalf of Changing Attitude – the group responsible for preparing the agenda this time. The chair rotates every 6 months. Some of the issues discussed at our residential will be brought to the Coalition as the more appropriate context for them to be dealt with. The issues include a strategy for General Synod and encouraging LGBT people with vocations, which we would like to develop in consultation with the Clergy Consultation.

Women in the Episcopate
The Director and every trustee is committed 100% to the successful passage of legislation which will open the episcopate to women.

Our campaign to discover whether the Church has a policy for Readers which equates them with the ordained ministry is progressing slowly. Progress has been made, and Jeremy Timm agreed to draft an article for submission to the Church Times.

Web site
The web site is being redesigned at the moment and should be online in November. We want to include brief videos on the site in the mode of the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign in the USA, with people describing their faith as someone who is LGB or T or supportive of our full inclusion. This is a project we hope to develop very quickly – if we can master the technology!

Sunday Eucharist
After a final session on Sunday morning, we concluded our time together with a Eucharist in the room we had set aside for prayer and meditation. Jeremy Pemberton had prepared a service in which we were primarily silent together. It brought the energy of our discussions into our worship, calmed and focused us as we broke bread and shared wine, absorbing the stillness and beauty of our creator and celebrating our faith in God’s infinite presence and love.

Our vision and our goals are ambitious. We are striving in faith for the Kingdom of God, in which all are welcome in a Church where all can flourish.

Colin Coward

To help us develop our vision and turn our strategy into reality, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude England or make a donation.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Two cheers for Bishop Stephen Platten

Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield, in an article in the Church Times last Friday has come out in support of a renewed listening, real listening, to the voices of LGBT people in LGCM and Changing Attitude. He says the Church of God and not just the Church of England should take a lead in encouraging real listening which allows for the possibility of a change of heart if not, he says, our own moral outlook.

The article was received enthusiastically by the trustees of Changing Attitude who met over the weekend in Tadcaster and they wanted me to blog about it, post an article on the web site and write to Bishop Stephen and the Church Times - and I will do all those things, starting here.

Having re-read the article, I want to be more critical, especially since bishop Stephen wants the Church universal to take a lead in ‘real’ listening. My first message back to Bishop Stephen is that it’s a bit rich to ask the Church to take a lead in ‘real’ listening. The Church is so far behind secular society which having undertaken a process of 'real listening' has mostly dealt with the ethical, moral, emotional and legal dimensions of homophobia and has already transformed the landscape for LGBT people. It is primarily in the church, and in particular pockets of society, in football, in schools that homophobia continues.

Bishop Stephen says the Church is not unlike our culture in which there are a variety of views with both calls for equality and rampant homophobia. I do not meet rampant homophobia in society, but in the church I meet an all-persuasive prejudice which has a rampantly homophobic effect. Try getting appointed to a new post in the church if you are in a civil partnership or recommending to a lesbian, gay or transgender seeker a church in which you can confidently guarantee they are going to receive a prejudice–free welcome. Changing Attitude has just 30 churches out of 10,000 listed in our Welcoming and Open scheme.

Perhaps the Church serves a purpose as a place where all this can be discussed, says Bishop Stephen, though he admits it would need to bring people together to claim to be that place. ‘All this’ is discussed freely in pubs and bars and cafes, homes and offices across the country. It’s in the Church that people have the greatest difficulty discussing human sexuality freely and openly. In my own church, which in a comment on a previous post a member denies is homophobic, I am told that it’s better for me not to constantly talk about being gay but keep it quiet. It isn’t something I talk about or preach about, but simply being there with my partner is too much for some of the congregtion – that’s homophobia, Frances.

Bishop Stephen thinks stereotypes would break down if Christians simply sat down with gay people, whether active, single, in committed relationships or not. I’m not so sure. For starters, outside the Church it’s immaterial whether gay people are active, single or in a committed relationship. The Church agenda is not society’s agenda. The moral and ethical attitude of the Church to gay relationships is not relevant and won’t be until the Church overcomes it’s institutionalized homophobia. Then people might attend to what the Church has to say about the ethics of gay relationships.

Bishop Stephen wonders when most diocesan synods last sought a presentation from gay Christians about their life in Christ or dioceses last held day conferences on sexuality and faith. The trustees of Changing Attitude wondered whether there was any chance of the newly elected General Synod passing legislation which might change the two most pressing issues for LGBT Anglicans – equality in selection and training for ministry and in clergy appointments and the blessing of gay relationships in church.

We concluded that there is almost zero chance of this happening in the current quinquennium. When General Synod or the House of Bishops finally get around to a homophobic-free discussion and attitude it will be totally irrelevant to LGBT people whose place in society was transformed by the legislative changes introduced by the last government.

The trustees were taken by Bishop Stephen’s use of the phrase ‘human flourishing’ in his last paragraph. The gospel, he says, obliges us to build a healthy society which is both sensitive to all and responsible in deriving a moral code that promotes human flourishing, and that’s not how it feels at the moment for lesbian and gay people. Actually, for many it does feel as if that’s what our society promotes – it’s the Church that doesn’t.

Can we now expect Bishop Stephen himself to take a lead by persuading the House of Bishops to listen directly to the experience of LGBT people in an open way that allows for a real possibility of a change of heart, and will he consult the LGBT Anglican Coalition, which includes both LGCM and Changing Attitude, to hear our proposals for legislation which we would like General Synod to pass?

Colin Coward

Changing Attitude needs your help to get the Church to listen accurately to LGBT people and to pursue our campaign to change to church. Please become a supporter or make a donation.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Sonia made a deep impression on me from our first meeting, in January last year, at a Rainbow Space evening at St Anne’s Soho, where she was then a member of the congregation. An entirely passable Trans woman, with a beautiful face, I was surprised to learn from her, on that occasion, that she was not living full-time as a woman but still worked as a male. Unnecessarily diffident about her feminine appearance/presentation and even about her work as a human rights lawyer, which we now know was of the highest quality, I had hoped, on that occasion, that she would join Sibyls, Christian spirituality for transgender people, which she subsequently did.

The last time I saw her was in June this year, over dinner at the Sibyls’ London meeting, following Evening Prayer at St Anne’s. With a mass of bubble hair, and a Zara shopping bag at her side containing her latest purchase, she looked lovely, and over the meal, characteristically, took a newer, younger, disabled member under her wing.

My husband and I sat opposite them, enjoying her company and the conversation, during which I learned three things that I did not know about Sonia: she and I grew up in the same part of England, where our paths could have crossed, but didn’t; that she too had been a student in Cambridge, Sonia being a few years ahead of me; which was the third thing I discovered about her that night - although I’d assumed that she was younger than me, she was in fact older by about five years. As the summer months passed I continued to hear from a friend about how well Sonia was settling into her new church where she had begun to participate enthusiastically in the life and ministry of the congregation.

Autumn arrived, the beginning of the dark months which, in my experience, have frequently led me into a period of personal upheaval and psychological shadow. A week ago, on Monday 25th October, in the early evening, I was angry and agitated as I began undoing all the work I had been engaged in earlier that day and which was not right. I had no idea of course that at the very same time Sonia was in mortal danger.

The next evening, when Rob arrived home, he immediately drew my attention to the front page of the free London paper where the headline read: “Man in dress ‘pushed’ to his death on tube”. It seemed needlessly sensational, if not bordering on the offensive. Evidently there was a story here, and one that, whatever the details, was almost bound to have a trans-related angle. According to the reporters commuters had seen two women, one younger than the other, interacting excitedly with each other at the edge of the platform at Kings Cross underground station, one of whom then either fell, or was pushed, into the path of the oncoming tube train. Witnesses were shocked and travel chaos ensued. Police attending the scene discovered that the dead woman was a biological male.

It sounded a very strange case indeed. Never, though, even for a moment, did Sonia come to mind as the likely victim, but the next evening, by which time further information was appearing in the press, though not the name of the deceased, a friend from Sibyls rang to inform me that Sonia was indeed the person who had died. So began my grief at her loss, combined with disappointment and anger at much of the press coverage with its insensitive and inaccurate stereotypes of ‘a bloke in a frock’: an image far removed from the petite, fashionable woman I had known for the past couple of years. Commuters’ first impressions of her had been spot on, and whatever her anatomy might be, she was, in heart, and soul, and yes, when dressed, in body, a loving and lovely woman.

And even though she continued to present as a male in her working life, perhaps there too she operated as a female in masculine clothing; certainly, her family have emphasised that although she worked in male mode they would prefer her to be known as Sonia, because that is who she was. Meanwhile, her colleagues have paid tribute to her pioneering work as a human rights lawyer, and the landmark cases for which she was responsible, making her death not just the loss of a precious human being who will be sorely missed, but of a professional lawyer with a passion for justice and the marginalised who still had much to give to society.

This weekend, praying at the Eucharist with the Changing Attitude Trustees, I watched as leaves fell from the trees – light, delicate, beautiful – and thought of Sonia and the fragility of human life. She appeared physically fragile and yet, as her working life demonstrates, she had tremendous courage, strength and determination, and it is shocking that she should have died in the circumstances that she did, not gently, like the falling leaves, but violently and in public view.

Privacy, for all people, is a human right that promotes dignity and a sense of self-worth, and is particularly precious to Transgender people as they approach, hover on, or begin to cross gender boundaries, while negotiating this process with significant others in their lives; and yet, as the coverage of Sonia’s death shows, in late 2010, despite the media having being responsible for greater general knowledge about Trans people’s lives, in death a Trans woman can still be stigmatized by the press in the grossest possible way by referring to her as a ‘man’ or by the use of male pronouns. The Telegraph on-line report, somewhat surprisingly, was an exception, and exemplary in referring to Sonia throughout as a woman, which is what she was.

Let’s hear it too for the journalist who knocked a dozen or more years off her age – Sonia would have loved that!