Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Anglican Church, Sexuality and Colonialism

If you've been reading the papers over the last week then you've probably realised that the Anglican Communion (which is global and includes the Church of England), is in a bit of a mess at the moment. Not unusually in the church its all about sexuality, homosexuality specifically. I should probably clarify before I go on that I'm not an Anglican and have only a very limited knowledge about this way of doing church (as I'm Scottish and therefore a puritanical presbyterian!), so please forgive and correct any errors you say.

One of the more recent events is the marriage (or as most of the newspapers put it 'marriage') of two male Anglican priests in London earlier this month. While this has been controversial for a long time, a lot of the controversy started when Gene Robertson was the first openly gay person to be made a bishop. Theres a really nice profile on him here . There was a lot of anger over this, particularily from many of the African Bishops, which has culminated in an alternative to the Lambeth Conference (big gathering of Bishops) being held for conservative Bishops in Jerusalem at the moment, with a lot of time being taken up discussion homosexuality.

Some people have rightly highlighted that these Bishops have behaved appallingly in their unwillingness to condemn homophobic hate crime (in many of the African countries, often state sanctioned violence).

I am equally shocked by this, and pray that as they discuss these issues they will be able to reach a gracious and compassionate stance even if they don't end up reaching more liberal conclusions about the bible. And yes, I wish that we weren't so obsessed with sex in the church, but I recognise that this is a real difficult issue. While so many of these conversations are laced with some disgusting homophobia, at root this is a question about the very nature of the bible, and so it is important that people in the church are given the space to engage seriously with issues of sexuality and reach their own conclusions.

However, the thing we have to remember is that this alternative meeting is a lot more significant than just a big disagreement over relationships and sex. We have to remember that the history of the Anglican Communion goes right alongside the British Empire and Colonialism. Even now, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is British) is in charge. This isn't just a question of sexuality, its also a question of whether or not wealthy white countries (Britain being in charge, and the US being where much of the controversy is coming from, the Episcopalian church there is very liberal) should be able to tell developing countries what to do.

While always keeping in mind the awful, un-Christlike abuse and violence towards LGBT people all over the world (in Africa and the middle-east in particular), we cannot win this battle by continuing in fundamentally racist and imperialist attitudes. If the African Anglican Church is to change its mind on issues of sexuality, then African Christians and African LGBT people will have to lead the way. We can give our opinions and assistance to their struggle, but we don't get to be in charge.


Anonymous said...

I find it helpful to think of the row as being the tension between those who want to bring the kingdom of god "now" and some who are utterly focused in the world to come.

African Christianity often exists in a shitty situation, and the focus becomes on the world to come.
European Christians find themselves in the place where changing things now seems more appropriate, and "what would Jesus do" in the here and now becomes the focus.
The european christians who get their knickers in a twist are often those who emphasise the utter depravity of the world around them

boxthejack said...

That's useful Miriam.

The big issue here is also hermeneutics. I don't think Gafcon is a homophobic conspiracy, but that it's born of the selectively literalist heritage of evangelical abuse of scripture.

Great blog Rachael by the way.