Now that Charles and Camilla are married and Fergie’s not sucking toes and Helen Mirren has turned the Queen into everyone’s favourite grandmother, it’s getting harder and finder to find a really juicy non-news story. You know, something really gripping but with absolutely no bearing on real life.
In a pinch, Quebec politics will do. But for real nutsiness, I prefer the Anglicans.
For those of you not up on the news, the worldwide communion of 80-million-odd Anglicans is squabbling over homos. Ostensibly they’re feuding over the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers and the blessing of same-sex unions, but really they’re just wondering if we have a right to live. The leader of the antigay forces, a Nigerian archbishop named Peter Akinola, supports a proposed law that would make both private sex and public identification illegal for queers.
The Anglican Church in the west has come a long way since 1992 when a local Anglican priest named Jim Ferry was fired and stripped of his powers for having a relationship with another man.
In 2003 the US branch of the worldwide Anglican communion, the Episcopal Church, approved the election of its first openly gay bishop. That same year in Canada, a Vancouver bishop named Michael Ingham authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in supportive parishes within the diocese of New Westminster (greater Vancouver). Just this year, that same bishop, called for a “better theology of sexuality.” Not a lot, you might think. It just about brings the church into line with the 1960s.
Still, it’s a clear indication of the way Anglican opinion is heading in the west — slowly, ever so slowly, toward supporting gay and lesbian people and their relationships. Unfortunately, the bulk of the Anglican church’s membership now lives in the so-called global south where attitudes are not quite so liberal. At a meeting of Anglican leaders this past February in Tanzania, Akinola and his supporters upbraided Western liberals for their pro-gay positions and threatened them with schism if they did not back down.
The Western response has been snivellingly craven, to put it mildly. The best the Archbishop Of Canterbury could do was suggest that gay men and lesbians need to feel safe in the church. His US colleague, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, was even more mealy-mouthed. In a lengthy statement filled with pleas for listening and understanding, she spent more time on the “pain” of the traditionalists whose morality was under attack than the pain of gay men and lesbians whose lives were under attack.
Lost in the shuffle was any suggestion that the church might be in a position — or even have a duty — to exercise moral leadership in parts of the world where gay men and lesbians might be particularly at risk. In North America, it makes no matter. Nobody here pays any attention to mainstream Christian teachings on sex. But in Africa and other parts of the world where the church still wields great influence it has a chance to change gay lives for the better.
Instead, its primates and princelings are squabbling about such arcane topics as good faith, episcopal authority and, weirdest of all, “scriptural fidelity.” Outside the Pauline books, the core Christian scriptures have very little to say about homosexuality. Jesus himself is silent on the matter. In fact, the word homosexuality didn’t make it into any translation of the Bible until the 20th century. Yet here we have a bunch of people wondering who’s more Christian basing it entirely on their attitude to a concept — gayness — that their spiritual forefathers wouldn’t even have understood.
I’m not above consulting spiritual texts myself, but I approach them with skepticism and an eye for their practicality. When the otherwise fascinating Bhagavad Gita inveighs against “lust” and suggests I’d be better off without it, I think, “Mmm, maybe not.” When St Paul says it’s “better to marry than to burn,” I think, “But what about the prenup? Expensive, no?”
Accepting ancient scriptures without a smidgen of self-doubt partakes of an idolatry that mistakes human creation for divine. God may be eternal but his missives to the human world take on the colours of a constantly shifting world and only a blinkered mind would suggest that cultural values never change.
So when a religion starts insisting on eternal verities, I get a little nervous. It reminds me of another even more rigid Christian, the current head of the Church Of Rome, a guy who’s considered “infallible” (in certain matters) because another group of guys, working around 1870, decided to make him so. That kind of closed-loop thinking tends to leave reality in the dust.
Christianity in general gets a bad rap. We take our cue from the TV fundamentalists and assume all Christers are knuckle-grazing homophobes. They’re not, of course. From the Metropolitan Community Church and the United Church on outward, the religion has given great comfort to many gay men and lesbians. But when it abandons its core values of love, tolerance and justice in favour of intellectual gamesmanship it deserves every rebuke it gets.