|How fear of Islam forced the church to attack gays
by Andrew Brown
Copyright the Daily Express (London), Friday, August 7, 1998
(Note: The Daily Express has no web site.)
If bishops of the Church of England are caught at something shocking in the open air, it is more likely to be fox-hunting than attempted exorcism. But on Wednesday the breadth of the Anglican Communion was unforgettably demonstrated by the Nigerian Bishop Emanuel Chukwama attempting to exorcise the English deacon Richard Kirker on the campus of the University of Kent.
Kirker's sin, or distinction, was to be a homosexual. The bishop regards this as a satanic perversion which will, if not repented, drive him to hell; both men are so satisfied with the truth of their positions that they repeated their confrontation three times in one afternoon outside the sports hall of the University which is at present serving as the arena for the spiritual wrestlings of the Lambeth Conference.
Between the second and third stagings, the conference passed by an overwhelming majority a resolution which pretty much confirms the bishop's position: among those who voted for it was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. Yesterday came the backlash: the Bishop of Edinburgh, the Most Rev Richard Holloway, denounced the Archbishops intervention as "pathetic" and, asked what he thought of Dr Careys leadership, replied "what leadership?"
But does any of this all matter? One member of the Archbishops staff said that the sight of an angry black man haranguing a white homosexual would probably make many people feel more sympathetic to blacks. That is not an official interpretation though.
On the other hand, Bishop Holloway and his American allies have made it quite clear that they will not change anything they do as a result of the conference's vote. They will continue to ordain gay men and lesbians without enquiring too closely into the state of their sex lives. They will continue to tell gays that individual Bible stories or verses cannot be taken as a guide for conduct in the modern world.
It's not just the problem, which has bothered generations of bored Bible readers, of what exactly it was that the inhabitants of Gomorrah did to deserve the fiery rain that fell on them alongside Sodom. There is also the story of Sodom itself, which has lent its name to the sin of Sodomy, so passionately denounced by Bishop Chukwama and his allies. The way the bible tells the story, Lot, the hero, refuses to allow a crowd of his townspeople to gang-rape a couple of angels who are sheltering in his house.
This seems moral enough behaviour to modern eyes; but the Bible goes on to tell approvingly of the compromise Lot offered to the angry mob: they could have his two virgin daughters instead of the angels. The sodomites turned this offer down and the traditional interpretation is that this shows how very wicked they were. But how is one to describe a father who thinks his male guests are more valuable than a couple of daughters? If you did that in modern Britain, you would not end up in the Bible, but in the register of sex offenders, and quite right too.
Perhaps things are different among Christians in Nigeria, Uganda, and Pakistan, to name three countries where passionate speeches were made to uphold biblical morality. But I doubt it. So why is it that the bishops from third world countries, who are in my experience men of exemplary courage and unusual ability, still take the Bible seriously as a guide of conduct? Why is it that Dr Carey, two of whose children are divorced and remarried, can vote for a resolution which makes them both adulterers?
One answer is fear of Islam. Most of the fervent opposition to gays has come from countries which were, historically, christianised by missionaries for the protestant, evangelical wing of the Church of England. They are also locked in a ferocious struggle with Islam, which is often, literally, a matter of life and death. They desperately need converts because--as Nigerian bishops argue--the only way to stop the Muslims persecuting them is to be numerous.
If Christians are a tiny minority, as they are in the North of the country, they will be persecuted and reviled. If they make up half the population, as they do in central Nigeria, they will be respected. To get the converts they need, they must stand up for the Bible as they see it. To pass a resolution condoning homosexual priests would be "evangelistic suicide" one of the African bishops warned yesterday.
And, paradoxically, Africa is one of the places where the Church of England still really matters. The conference is keenly followed on the Internet. Islamic missionaries and rival Christian groups constantly use the example of liberal bishops such as Dr David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham, to discredit Anglicanism in other parts of the world.
But at the same time, in the Western world, and especially in larger American cities, the Anglican churches are kept alive by gays. In some parishes, half the congregations are gay Christians, looking for a church that will not condemn them. For these people, as a woman bishop from New York sad, yesterdays resolution is just as much evangelistic suicide, for condemning them. It is certain that the echoes of this row will continue; and just as certain that they wont change anything much.
As I write this, the conference is debating euthanasia, but the question the bishops should be asking is this: If you see a church committing evangelistic suicide, is it right to put a resolution on homosexuality over its face?