Monday, July 07, 2003

Church Sacrifices Gay Bishop

What a headline. I couldn't work out whether we were looking at an Abraham/Isaac scenario or a report of an ecclesiastical chess tournament.

The BBC Today programme, as ever, was quickest off the blocks in condemnation of this hideous act of homophobia. The interviewer actually seemed convinced that a small minority of anti-gay 'bigots' had moved the Church away from its historic acceptance of homosexuality in a sudden 'lurch to the right' - whereas this seems to me to be the opposite of the truth.

The Very Reverend Colin Slee of Southwark said on the programme "I think it is a catastrophe for the Church, mainly because there are many people who look at the Christian church and they see the extreme Evangelical churches and think that is certainly not for me, thank you very much.

"The people talk about empty churches. Empty churches may well be empty because of the image that we are presenting of narrowness and bigotry and prejudice. ".

Now that's possible - but the strange thing is that the Evangelical, Bible-based churches are the only part of the C of E with increasing congregations. It seems improbable that if the Evangelicals are driving good folk away their churches should be full. And I haven't heard of lockouts every time Richard Harries or Peter Selby (to name two of the Bishops most exercised by the oppression of gay clergy) get up to preach.

Perhaps St John The Divine is right - and this quote was also a favourite of Jerry Lee Lewis :

Rev. 3:15-16, "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth."

The Guardian and Independent are predictably outraged - and find it a great deal easier to abuse UK churchmen who hold to Biblical teaching than to probe too much into the real reason for Rasputin's about-turn - the threat of secession by overseas Anglicans - particularly Nigeria. I think Dr. Williams and his colleagues in Oxford, Southwark and Worcester would have been happy to split the Church in the UK - they just didn't fancy losing all those Asians and Africans.

Being Archbishop of Lagos must be a bugger of a job - le mot juste in this case. Your main competitors in the ecclesiastical market place are the radical Islamists - the sort of people who like nothing better than to kill a few hundred Christians in protest against Miss World - i.e. thirty women in bikinis. If the head of your 'corporation' is quite happy to state in public that uphill gardening is an acceptable hobby for a Bishop of the Church I can quite see this could present you with a marketing issue - perhaps even an issue of life or death for some of your flock.

So it wasn't surprising that the leader of 17 million Nigerian Anglicans was definitely not lukewarm on this one.

"The Most Rev Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, said of his schism warnings: “I wasn’t making threats, it was a statement of fact. We aren’t a Church of ‘anything goes’. We believe in the Scriptures, we believe there are boundaries. We believe that there are ‘don’ts’ and there are ‘dos’. "

But to Andrew Brown of the Times "it cannot be an entirely pleasant experience to find yourself in bed with the Archbishop of Lagos, even metaphorically". And for the Guardian it was an outrage that these uppity Nigerians should forget who pays the bills.

"While Africa has burgeoning numbers, it is the church in the west's money which has helped to support them. Liberals are exasperated that their churches should defer to bishops operating in vastly different societies." complained the Guardian's Religious Affairs Correspondent, Stephen Bates.

Strange then that Colin Slee should complain that Evangelicals "use monetary wealth as a tool ", and that the Times should report that "Church leaders’ fears about the appointment had grown when it became clear that threats from wealthy evangelical parishes to divert funds away from the diocese were real. Had parishes in other dioceses followed suit, the Church’s financial problems would have become crippling."

I think I've got that. Nigerians are obliged to obey their paymasters. UK liberals are not obliged to obey theirs.

Peter Cuthbertson considers the outcome 'a victory for the Church', but barring a miracle I think it's a rearguard action (le mot juste again) in a long and losing struggle. And I'm presuming he won't be at Holy Trinity Darlington this Sunday !