Book Review

The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality – A resource to enable listening and dialogue

Edited by Phil Groves (SPCK – £14.99)

The clearest call for a process of listening to the experience of lesbian and gay Anglicans came 10 years ago at the Lambeth Conference of 1998. That this book is being published just a couple of weeks before this year’s Lambeth Conference is a testament to the failure of that previous call.

The process of listening to the experience of lesbian and gay Anglicans has been comprehensively hijacked and turned into a process of listening to the different warring factions of the communion. Things are not going to get better until those gay voices are heard more clearly and I am unconvinced that the process that has been adopted here will help matters much at all. Rather than ensure that we are listening to the experiences that the Communion bishops told us to listen to, we are being encouraged to listen to schism. Who can be surprised if further division is the result?

The book, like the Communion, is a mixed bag. Parts are good, parts are bad, some parts look rather uneasy and insecure and some parts are sick.

By far the best chapter is the one on Listening and Dialogue which appears near the beginning of the book. Would that this had been published as a pamphlet for the churches after the last Lambeth Conference. Less secure is the strategy of locating the listening process within the context of a discussion about mission. There is much in the experience of foreign missions which can throw some light on the current crisis, yet that experience goes largely unexamined here.

Near the beginning of the book, we are told, “The aim of this book is to enable you to begin or to continue listening to those identified as ‘homosexual persons’ and to discover and engage with the diversity of responses found among Anglicans.” Herein lies its failure. It presumes that the reader is straight, it uses terms like “homosexual persons” which unravel the identity of those very voices it claims to be promoting and it sets the whole within an agenda of listening to schism.

By far the worst parts of the book are the last couple of chapters which claim to be about listening to the “Witness of Science”. The placing of these chapters at the end of the book unchallenged and as though they were some kind of a conclusion is unfortunate at best. The clearly stated agenda for this work is an examination of what causes homosexuality in order that it can be cured. Are gay people supposed to welcome this kind of agenda being published as a response to a call to listen to their voices? We are warned in an introduction to this section that the depersonalized and medicalized language might be upsetting. Indeed, there is a suggestion that we read it in the company of a scientist or a doctor. However, we don’t need a medic present to conclude that it is not gay people who are sick.

It is the Communion itself.

Purchase from Amazon here

The Listening Day

To Stirling today for the Scottish Episcopal Church’s day of listening.

Quite a lot of the day was food for thought though it would not be appropriate to blog about the people or the stories involved. In the end I was generally glad that I was there though sometimes still frustrated by the process. It is all beginning far too late.

Two significant moments for me. The first was experiencing and articulating a sense of outrage that the main speaker had been put in the position of accepting to speak in the first session when he could not stay for the whole day. The act of speaking without listening could not more clearly sum up much of what is wrong. I still have reservations about the fact that the only two people who gave talks to the whole group were straight bishops. To speak and not stick around to engage with people modelled precisely what should not be.

WIth the exception of some inaccuracies about the Porvoo churches, Richard Clark actually spoke very well indeed, but by that stage, that was not the point for me.

Later in the day there was another significant moment for me. I realised in a group that I was hearing people speaking positively and lovingly about gay relatives. All of a sudden I was struck with the realisation that I have almost never heard anyone in a church context say anything positive about anyone gay. As that realisation dawned, I began to weep.

So you see, I’m glad I was there and I heard something that I was not expecting to hear. I never knew until today that I had not heard such things before. I was surprised by tears and now know not what to do with them.

Oh Lord, Kum by yah

I’ve spoken before about my frustration over a day which is planned this coming Saturday in Stirling for the Scottish Episcopal Church to do some listening in the arena of human sexuality. I got rather bad tempered about it at one stage – more so than felt good.

I hope that one of the things that has been learned from the business of promoting this day is that you cannot focus a day around the experience of certain people without approaching them and involving them right from the word go in the process. To exclude people from planning a process which is essentially about their own sense of inclusion or exclusion is asking for trouble.

Anyway, over the course of time, the agenda for this particular day has changed very significantly. I’m glad that it has and am looking forward to being present on the day and taking part. It has not felt a comfortable journey to reach this point, but I’m glad to have reached it and glad that I feel that I can join in.

Someone’s listening Lord. Kum by yah.

College of Bishops Says Sorry

In a letter to lesbian and gay people in the church, the College of Bishops has said:

…it has not been possible to hear adequately your voices, and we apologize for any sense of rejection that has occurred because of this reality. This letter is a sign of our commitment to listen to you and reflect with you theologically and spiritually on your lives and ministries. It is our deep concern that you not feel abandoned by your Church and that you know of our continued respect and support.

We pledge that we will continue to reflect, pray, and work for your full inclusion in the life of the Church….You, our sisters and brothers in Christ, deserve a more thorough hearing than you received over the past three weeks. We will work to make that so.

Now, these are some of the most heartening words that I’ve heard upon the subject of how the church should begin to change in its thinking about lesbian and gay people. It is encouraging to see all the signatures of the members of the College of Bishops.

However, the date on the letter is 1998 – these are the words that they signed up to after the last Lambeth Conference. It is the apology that they issued the last time around.

These words now ring rather hollow to me.