Lambeth Perspective - Sexuality Rows

Canterbury: Friday, 24 July 98

This report was filed by Simon Sarmiento, on the scene in England.

Other Anglicans Online coverage, with links to many other articles, is on the web at


Lambeth Perspective - Sexuality Rows

Sexuality issues have surfaced at Canterbury earlier than expected. On Wednesday unofficial reports emerged that a majority of the 60 bishops in the subsection dealing with human sexuality had fiercely objected on Tuesday evening to the plan to have a presentation made to them on Thursday by a British Christian lesbian and gay group. This presentation was therefore postponed from Thursday and, although it may yet be held somewhere at the conference site, it is unlikely that those who objected to it in the first place will be willing to attend it.

Although no official press release was issued until Friday, it was discussed at Thursday's official press conference. The Bishop of Johannesburg, Duncan Buchanan, head of the section, had clearly been surprised at the ferocity of the opposition expressed to his plan, and to him personally. He said his fellow bishops held such polarised views on the subject that a two-way conversation was virtually impossible. "They were articulate, but I don't think there was much listening." He doubted whether plans for an international commission to discuss the place of homosexuals in the church would be fulfilled. "I believe that for many people that would not be the best way forward ... One of the things we will almost certainly have to do in our report is say we reached no consensus on this. That's an honest statement. We are not trying to say all is well or that we are all at war with each other. ...One of the delegates said they don't even have a word in their vocabulary for homosexuality." But he added: "We have got to live with diversity. If we don't live with diversity, we are not fully human."

Many bishops clearly disagree with him. At Evening Prayer on Thursday, the preacher - from Pakistan - categorically denounced homosexuality, saying that it was something that must be eradicated. Others from Nigeria and Uganda made it clear that they would not tolerate any compromise on traditional standards and they indicated that they would unite to oppose any attempts to set up a commission to study the issue. The Times today quotes the Bishop of Mityana (Uganda),Wilson Mutebi: "The issue of homosexuality is leading the Anglican Church astray.... The Bible clearly states that homosexual practice is wrong. Homosexuality is a sin. Any bishop who says this is not true, we consider to be out of communion with us. We are calling on them to repent." And the Bishop of Kajo Kegi (Sudan), Manasseh Binyi told The Tablet that some Africans would rather walk out of the conference than debate any relaxation of sexual morality.

However, Bishop Buchanan also said: "While many people are saying that it is a white man's importation, much of the evidence is that homosexuality - particularly with men - is practised extensively throughout Africa. It's not quite as innocent as you think... homosexuality does not mean paedophilia. Some of the most aggressive paedophiles are heterosexuals". And the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Richard Holloway said: "If the Church is to be true to the all-embracing nature of Christ's love, it will one day have to accept with joy the fact that among God's children are gay and lesbian people. ...We hope that some time will be found to think about the injustice that has been done to generations of gays and lesbians, God's hidden people, misunderstood, maligned, persecuted and killed. It is in our day and in our culture that they have finally said 'enough', and walked out of the shadows to claim their place in God's light."

Based on events so far, it is clear that the 60 bishops in the sexuality section will propose a highly conservative resolution for the conference as a whole to consider during the third week. It looks likely that those who favour more liberal attitudes to homosexuality will issue some kind of minority report, especially if the international commission which the Archbishop of Canterbury has recommended as the way forward, is not what the section recommends.

Meanwhile, back in London, the English bishops who took part in the House of Lords debate were not unanimous in supporting the archbishop. Nine of the 26 bishops who have seats (by virtue of their seniority as diocesan bishops) were present. Of these six voted against lowering the age, and three voted in favour. Two other retired archbishops who are now life peers also voted against. The speeches delivered by the Bishop of Winchester and by Lord Habgood the retired Archbishop of York (both against lowering the age) and from the Bishop of Bath and Wells (in favour) are worth studying.

The voting details were:

Against lowering the age

Donald Coggan (retired Abp of Canterbury) Stephen Sykes, Bishop of Ely John Habgood (retired Abp of York) Keith Sutton, Bishop of Lichfield Christopher Mayfield, Bishop of Manchester David Young, Bishop of Ripon Patrick Harris, Bishop of Southwell Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester

For lowering the age

James Thompson, Bishop of Bath and Wells Robert Hardy, Bishop of Lincoln Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford

A particularly outspoken attack on the role played in this political episode by Archbishop Carey appeared in a column on the leader page of The Independent. I refer to this in order to illustrate to readers outside the UK the overall context in which religious news here, including the Lambeth Conference, is viewed by the general public. David Aaronovitch said in part:

...if either the Bill itself is delayed, or the clause is lost, then we have - above all - the Archbishop of Canterbury to thank for it. ...Dr Carey, I am not a Christian, but I too have strong moral principles. They include tolerance, respect for others, concern for the weak and a desire for truth. I may be a flawed vehicle for such principles, but there they are. And they are very different from the principles of some of those whose support Dr Carey is so proud of. I know, because I too have received letters from them. Couched in tones of sorrow rather than anger, and argued with sophistry and disguised illogic, they still amount to the same illiberal proposition: homosexuality is aberrant, unhealthy and damaging, and should be discouraged by law. That's it. Carey's position, when cleared of all the pompous penumbra, concurs with this view. He thinks that the equalisation of the age of consent will mean that boys of 16 and 17 will become prey to the wiles of older men and, as a consequence, will be seduced into a lifetime of gayness when - otherwise - they might have grown up to be decent, God-fearing heterosexuals.

...Dr Carey has power. He is the top man in a big institution, and wields considerable influence. By virtue of its position as the established church, no fewer than 26 "Lords Spiritual" sit beside the Woolsack in the House of Lords. And we criticise the Irish for hanging on archaically to their history! There are no rabbis representing Judaism in the Lords, no Hindus, no Muslims, no Sikhs, no Catholics, no Methodists, no Zoroastrians, no Humanists, no Druids - just 26 representatives of one sect of one religion sitting among the peers, ...

Archbishop Carey has allied himself with the forces of intolerance and reaction, and is using his power as a leader of the established church to assist an unelected group of backwoodspersons to frustrate the decisions of the elected chamber, and to keep sexual relationships for men between 16 and 18 criminalised.

But how can we now argue against the outing of senior members of the Church of England, on the basis that their sexuality is their own business? No, by God, let's have them outed. And then let's chuck them out. For we liberals now know the truth: the House of Lords must go in its present form as soon as possible, and the bishops of this one church, raised by tyrants to pontificate over us, must go too. We should thank the Archbishop for at last letting the scales drop from our eyes.

It will be interesting to see what response if any Bill Beaver or Lesley Perry issues to this diatribe.

Today the bishops are due to consider the issues of third world debt. The conference organisers will no doubt be pleasantly surprised if this gets as much press attention as sexuality.

Copyright © 1998 Society of Archbishop Justus.
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