Gene Robinson in Glasgow: “There was an open service at Lambeth and my picture was put up at every security checkpoint so I could be recognised and ejected if I turned up. Yet one of the hymns sung was called All Are Welcome.”
Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
except for queers.
A place where
saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
all but queers.
Here’s how the Anglican Communion works (from the point of view of an interested non-Anglican): In 1534, Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife Katherine, partly because he’d fallen for Anne Boleyn, and partly because she’d only borne him a daughter, Mary. Henry thought he could divorce her (Katherine had been married to his brother Arthur, and he said it said in the Bible that a man shouldn’t marry his brother’s widow, and, like most egotistical fundamentalists, he ignored the several other verses in the Bible that said a man should) and the Pope said he couldn’t, so, Henry VIII had Parliament pass three Acts: Ecclesiastical Appointments Act, requiring the clergy to elect only bishops nominated by the Crown: the Act of Supremacy, appointing the monarch of England the “only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England”, and, for good measure, a Treasons Act which made it treason to object to one or to question the other.
And he got his divorce, and married Anne Boleyn, and Anne had a daughter, Elizabeth, so Henry had Anne executed and – as Katherine had been starved/neglected to death in a royal prison – married again, to Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth after giving him a son, Edward.
Edward reigned briefly (1547-1553 ) and gave his country a second English Prayer Book (1552) and Forty-Two Articles of Religion (issued by Royal Mandate 19th June 1553, a few weeks before he died). Mary reigned even more briefly (1553-1558 ) and declared that England was now Catholic again. This didn’t work – England had had nearly 20 years of not being Catholic, and didn’t take well to being reformed from above.
Elizabeth then inherited for a good long stretch (1558-1603) and in 1559 reclaimed her father’s powers as Head of the Church (Act of Supremacy), approved a new Book of Common Prayer, and passed an Act of Uniformity, which basically required Catholics to attend Anglican services or be fined, but allowed them to think what they liked. Elizabeth was excommunicated in 1570, and there wasn’t another Roman Catholic monarch till 1633 – and he was so unpopular that, faced with the prospect of another one, in 1701 Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which calmly forbade the monarch or the heir to the throne to either be, or to marry, a Roman Catholic. (That law too is still in force today: Charles Windsor may convert to Islam or declare himself an atheist and still be King in turn, but he may not be nor marry a Catholic.)
The powers taken by the Crown in the 16th century are still in force today. Anglican clergy in England do not appoint bishops or archbishops: they present a shortlist to the Prime Minister, who appoints from that list.
As the English left England – to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the colonies – they took their Anglican church with them. It’s now an “an estimated 80 million Christians who are members of 44 different churches. These make up 34 provinces, 4 United Churches, and 6 other churches, spread across the globe.” official website statistics.
All of the churches take part in the Anglican Communion, bishops attend the 10-yearly conference at Lambeth, bishops ordain priests, who marry, christen, and bury – a network of religious interaction that is, if you look at it one way, sort of ridiculously colonial and bizarre, a sect of Christianity that stemmed from an egotistical man who declared himself Pope in England, supported by his egotistical daughter who knew she wouldn’t be Queen – perhaps, wouldn’t have existed – if her father hadn’t defied the Pope in Rome: that went across the world because the English set up an Empire and took their bizarre church with them.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
except for queers.
But here’s what I think is genuinely different about the Anglican church. Born out of schism, the Thirty-nine Articles – what Edward’s 42 articles became in 1563 – is that they specify, quite clear and plain, that a person may in conscience hold a belief against the authority of the church (XX: “it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation”), and that (XXXIV) “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manner”. 39 Articles
In short, Anglicans are required by the 39 Articles to agree to disagree. That is, you must admit, a fairly unusual position for a church to take – in the 16th century, or today.
Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew
except for queers.
Bishop Gene Robinson is not unique in being a gay bishop with a same-sex partner: he is not unique in separating from his wife. (Contrary to some nasty claims, he and his wife separated voluntarily several years before Robinson met his partner: and they formally separated primarily because his wife had met someone else.) Where Gene Robinson is unique is that he has not lied or concealed his sexual history: he is a gay man who married, under some social pressure, a woman – in the hope that this would somehow change his nature: when it didn’t, he and his wife separated, agreeing that together they would respect and care for each other and be good parents to their children: and Gene Robinson met his life partner and lived with him openly and wed him legally when that option became available to them. Other bishops are gay: are married: have male lovers: but they are acceptable within the Anglican Communion because they lie.
Gene Robinson’s honesty is what makes him unacceptable.
Bishop Robinson was lawfully appointed according to the 39 Articles and the practice of the US Episcopalian Church. And the custom and practice and Articled authority of the Anglican Communion is that, if one part of the church does something which other parts of the church cannot agree to, they must agree to disagree.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
except for queers.
Two hundred bishops refused to come to Lambeth, even though the Archbishop of Canterbury had formally – and uniquely – forbidden Gene Robinson himself to attend. No other gay bishop was forbidden to attend, or ever has been forbidden. The bishops who ordained Gene Robinson would attend, as would bishops who supported Robinson’s right to be ordained – as would bishops who had supported the right of same-sex couples who wished it to receive a blessing on their marriage in the Anglican Church.
The two hundred bishops who refused to attend were declaring that for them, the Anglican requirement to agree to disagree was unacceptable: they could not agree to disagree with the bishops who believed that their God was not a homophobic God: they held as an article of faith that the God they worshipped hates lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and will only permit those sexual orientations into church – if they lie.
Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet
but not for queers.
If you are a logical outsider, the solution is clear: the two hundred bishops have declared that they are no longer part of the Anglican Communion. Fine: let them go.
The problem with that is, that while most of the remaining bishops are not willing to give up the Anglican ethos of agree to disagree, they do in fact – apparently – agree that Anglican bishops, if gay, must learn to lie and to live in the closet: they want no more honest gay bishops ordained. They do not like their church to be in the position of being more welcoming to lesbian, gay, and bisexual Christians than it is to Christian homophobes.
The solution offered by the Lambeth Conference – or rather, the solutions, since it wouldn’t be Anglican if there was just one – was either to set up a kind of Anglican Inquisition, a Holy Office which would have the power to declare what was and was not acceptable to the Anglican church (and yes, my mind went instantly to Eddie Izzard’s cake or death! skit – which is NSFW) or else to a two-tier church, with inner churches required to be homophobic, and outer churches allowed to be tolerant and welcoming.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, addressing the Lambeth Conference plenary session, speaking for the homophobic wing of the church: “We don’t see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person must mean blessing what they do in the church’s name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle.”
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
except for queers.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place,
except for queers.
Lyrics from “All Are Welcome”, by Marty Haugen, 1994. Slightly edited for the new Anglican Communion.