Issue No 6Friday 24 July 1998
The Official Newspaper of the
Lambeth Conference

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Bishop seeks bridges for sexuality debate
by Nan Cobbey

The hoped-for dialogue on human sexuality almost derailed when polarised positions on the issue dominated the first meeting of the sexuality subgroup. Bishop Duncan Buchanan (Johannesburg, South A
Bishop Duncan Buchanan
frica), the subgroup's chair, said that in the group's first meeting progressive bishops argued with conservatives over whether homosexuality should even be on the agenda.

The hostility caused him to cancel a planned presentation by "Changing Attitudes," an English coalition of gays, lesbians and their supporters that promotes non-confrontative dialogue on issues involving gays and lesbians. The subsection members had voted to delay the group's presentation. Bishop Buchanan said he was "shocked and traumatised" by the degree of anger, but he hopes the effort for productive conversation can begin afresh. "I expected [anger].What I didn't expect was the strength of it." Bishop Buchanan added, however:

"I respect their right to be that angry. That's where we began in South Africa. "One of the things we have learned in South Africa is that you can start by being hugely polarised but that doesn't mean that's where you'll end," he said. Peeling away "the suspicions, the misunderstandings and misperceptions" is hard work, he said, but it is working in that country recuperating from apartheid. He implied that it can work at the Lambeth Conference as well. "People have come from all over the world with vastly different agendas...and while, for some, issues around homosexuality are crucial and urgent, for others it doesn't even exist," he said.

Before opening the briefing to questions, Bishop Buchanan confided that "many people have come with some very heavy agendas from their own constituencies. Some have been mandated to react and say certain things in certain contexts."

When asked whether bishops would walk out if the homosexuality issue were pushed too aggressively or whether there might be a way to bridge the divisions, Bishop Buchanan responded: "What we will almost certainly have to do in our report is say that we reached no consensus. I think that's an honest statement. It's not trying to cover up." Asked about the "delayed" presentation by the advocacy group, Bishop Buchanan said he hoped "that we will see them, whether it's the whole group or a part of the group."

His statement prompted a reporter from Christian Challenge, a conservative publication based in Washington, DC, to ask whether celibate homosexuals and those who claim to have obtained healing from homosexuality would also be permitted to speak.

"I am told there are people in both contexts who would be available and ready to give their point of view," Bishop Buchanan said, adding:"I would certainly be open for that process to take place."

But when the reporter continued, "Also paedophiles, adulterers and any other ..." Bishop Buchanan cut him off. "Do remember that homosexuality does not mean paedophilia," he said, his soft voice picking up a sharpness not present earlier. "Let's get this right. Some of the most aggressive paedophiles are heterosexual. So please don't come at me with that one. That is one of the bits of mythology that we are going to bust right down."

Asked if he could "envision the Anglican Church ever blessing same-sex marriages," Professor Buchanan said: "The answer is, if this is what God wants, it will happen. That may sound naÔve but that's where I come from." A reporter from the All-Africa News Agency asked whether Africans might be permitted to preserve their "innocence," given that "Africa is not quite ready to debate this issue, let alone practice it." Bishop Buchanan suggested that "while Africa as a whole may say it's not for us," the extent to which homosexuality does exist will start to emerge. It is not quite as simple as the way your question was posed."

A reporter from The Guardian newspaper wondered if permitting the bishops to self-select the sections they would join did not "particularly polarise" the section Professor Buchanan chairs. "It is my belief that many people have got into the section in order to protect a point of view.

"I don't argue with that," Professor Buchanan said. "That's where we start."

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