This is (I hope) going to be the last post I write about Lambeth for a while. This one is inspired by an article, written by Henry Orombi (Archbishop of Uganda), published in Friday’s Times as Lambeth was drawing to a close. You can read the whole letter for yourself at the link.
Henry Orombi in The Times: “In every case, homosexual practice is considered sinful – something that breaks our relationship with God and harms our wellbeing. It is something for which one should repent and seek forgiveness and healing, which God is ever ready to do. Not only is Scripture to be taken seriously, but it is to be obeyed, because God intends for us things far better than we could ask or imagine.” “The Church cannot heal this crisis of betrayal”, 1st August 2008
MCC Manchester about a Ugandan refugee: “Prossy had been forced into an engagement when her family discovered her relationship with the girlfriend she met at university. Both women were marched two miles naked to the police station, where they were locked up.” – Prossy Kakooza Must Stay!
Henry Orombi about Prossy Kakooza: “Simply saying that the Christian faith that we practice, which was brought from the West, by the way, taught us what biblically sexuality is. We’ve embraced that faith, we are practicing that faith, and moving away from that faith would be a contradiction to what we have inherited. First of all our communities will not accept them because they will want to let them know that if that is your orientation you can come back to life.” GAFCON, 23rd June 2008
Jesus Christ: ” ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ – ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’ – Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’” – Matthew 25, 43-45
Henry Orombi in The Times: “How can we go to Holy Communion, sit in Bible study groups, and share meals together, pretending that everything is OK?, that we are still in fellowship with the persistent violators of biblical teaching and of Lambeth resolutions?
The Bible says: “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked us to “wait for each other”. But how is it possible when we are not travelling in the same direction?” “The Church cannot heal this crisis of betrayal”, 1st August 2008
MCC Manchester: “[Prossy] was violently raped by police officers who taunted her with derogatory comments like ‘’we’ll show you what you’re missing’’ and ‘’you’re only this way because you haven’t met a real man’’. She was also scalded on her thighs with hot meat skewers.” – Prossy Kakooza Must Stay!
Henry Orombi about Prossy Kakooza: “It’s a possibility there. We believe there is a possibility culturally. Secondly, we believe there is a possibility according to Christian faith. And we believe that, that God can bring you back when you have gone out of what is supposed to be intended by God. Now there is a complement in believing there is transformation, there is restoration, that makes us stand on the word of God which can bring change to people, as it has done to us over a period of time.” GAFCON, 23rd June 2008
Jesus Christ: ” ‘…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” – Matthew 25, 35-36
Henry Orombi in The Times: “The Church of Uganda takes its Anglican identity and the future hope of the global Anglican Communion very seriously. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we love the Anglican Communion. Lord, have mercy upon us. ”
MCC Manchester: “Prossy was eventually taken out of prison after her father bribed the guards. Her family had decided they would sacrifice her instead, believing this would ‘’take the curse away from the family’’. Whilst her family were making arrangements to slaughter her, Prossy managed to flee to the United Kingdom to seek asylum.” – Prossy Kakooza Must Stay!
Henry Orombi about Prossy Kakooza: “I would not believe a thing like that is done in the public knowledge of the people of Uganda because the gay people who are Ugandans are citizens of the country and we would cherish the fact that we would want to send it our people. For some of those things probably you get information in England and we may not even get information, I don’t know how they get their information.” GAFCON, 23rd June 2008
Jesus Christ: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6, 37-38
Ruth Gledhill, the Times’ religious reporter, writes of Henry Orombi’s open letter to the Times: “it will accuse the Archbishop of Canterbury of a betrayal at the very deepest level. ….. Nor is the absence of Uganda, Nigeria and other Global South churches a sign that they want to leave the Communion. Far from it. It is a sign of how much they care that it endures. Read it all ….it is strong stuff!” Nowhere in her blog about this message by Orombi does she reference Orombi’s opinion that if a lesbian is marched naked through the streets, tortured, raped, and threatened with murder, that’s just fine.
At the 1998 Lambeth conference the resolution on Human Sexuality contained a number of profoundly contradictory statements:
– “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”
– “We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”
– “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;”
– “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”
The first and the third of these resolutions agree with each other and with Henry Orombi’s position: lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are inferior, unwelcome as Christians, unloved by God, who have the choice as inferior Christians of forcing themselves into card marriages or remaining celibate: they can’t be accepted as fully equal members of the Anglican Communion. God is a homophobic God. Orombi evidently has no fear that, at the gates of Heaven, he will be greeted by Jesus with the question: “When you saw Me marched naked through the streets, imprisoned, tortured, raped, why did you did not look after me?” – because he has confidence that Prossy Kazooka, and her fellow victims in Uganda and elsewhere, are not included in Jesus’s apparently inclusive statement: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Orombi can be sure that God is a homophobic God, who always has the (unspoken) clarification: “Except for queers.”
The second resolution contradicts the first and third: if you believe that your God is not a homophobic God, regardless of sexual orientation, then you cannot engage in the kind of spiritual apartheid that is required to deny lesbians and gays – and some bisexuals – a religious marriage, ordination if that’s where you’re called.
And the fourth part of the resolution that I’ve quoted here, is the key to the muddle. Orombi and other homophobic Christians, whether they attended Lambeth or boycotted it, argue that at the centre of Christianity is homophobia – this comes before everything else. Orombi argues that for the Anglicans of New Hampshire to ordain as bishop a gay man who was honest and open about his sexual orientation was to “plunge the Anglican Communion into a crisis” that “tore the very fabric of our communion at its deepest level”.
If we are to believe the Lambeth record of 1998, Orombi and others came away from it believing that the resolution to “minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation” meant that anyone of the sexual orientations that God hates ought to be imprisoned, tortured, raped, and if necessary killed, because it was possible that, under enough abuse, they might manage to escape being murdered for their sexual orientation by managing to fake heterosexuality. Presumably this is “irrespective of sexual orientation” in Orombi’s view because he would want anyone – irrespective of their sexual orientation – to be abused as Prossy Kazooka and her lover were abused (her partner is, as far as Prossy has been able to discover, still suffering within the Ugandan prison system) if they were to “practice” homosexuality.
Other bishops came away believing that regardless of what it might say in selected quotes from the Epistles written in the 1st century CE, or early Jewish legislation written 1450 BCE, the Lambeth conference had resolved that “all our people [should] minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals” and “We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”
Who was right?
Well, I’m an atheist. If Rowan Williams and Henry Orombi declare that the God they believe in is a homophobic God, who am I to argue? I don’t believe in any God. There are things I like about Christianity – but if Christians declare that homophobia is central to their faith, all I properly care about is that they should not be allowed to exercise their faith by being actively homophobic towards LGB people… including their own children.
The cost of having an entirely and consistently homophobic sect, which supports itself by laws and penalties and promotes a homophobic society and culture, is that it claims many of the lives of the children born to that sect and culture, who happen to be LGB. Growing up knowing that you are that evil, that sinful, that appalling, drives many young people to suicide. The survivors – who learn to repress themselves, to disguise their real feelings, to pretend to all the world – may live and die unmarried, or force themselves into deeply unhappy marriages. Their parents may never know how miserable and lonely and isolated their LGB children are, nor why their marriages seem fundamentally flawed: but at least they won’t be required to condemn their own children to torture and death, only to risk some of their children committing suicide.
But if the children know that outside the world of their parents’ religion, there is a secular world in which LGB people exist and live happy, normal lives with partners, children, families: that there are other Christian sects which argue that being LGB doesn’t mean God hates you – then their children may be happier, but their parents are more likely to be unhappy. And as normal human beings, the parents are more likely to care for their own happiness than that of their children. Hence the opposition, of course, among most homophobically religious people, to equal civil and human rights for LGB people: hard, exceedingly hard, to keep your lesbian, gay, and bisexual children as isolated and alone and convinced that they are by nature evil people whom God hates and condemns – when they can see for themselves that their parents’ God is not the only moral force in the world. That’s why I care, atheist or not: an adult does have a right to choose to be miserable in their own way, to believe if they wish in a God that hates them – even to believe in a God that hates others, so long as they don’t themselves carry out God’s punishments on the people they believe God hates. But no child deserves to live like that: no child deserves that kind of unremitting psychological abuse from their parents without any hope of escape. Children deserve to grow up with hope and self-love and joy and hope that their lives will be better than their abusive parents will for them.
(And yes, I do know that homophobic parents often have no notion that they are inflicting psychological abuse on their children, because it never occurs to them to think that one of their children could be one of the disgusting, offensive, inferior, evil people whom they feel free to verbally abuse and humiliate and condemn to hell.)
So, returning to the question: who was right? And ignoring for the time being the effects on the outer world:
Well, Orombi could be right. Maybe the Abrahamic God is a homophobic God. Maybe these Christians are genuinely interpreting their Scripture the way it’s supposed to be interpreted, and homophobia really is the central tenet of Christianity. Who am I, an atheist, to say?
As an atheistical believer in human rights and civil rights and generally trying to be good to other people because I think that’s the right thing to do, I prefer the Christianity advocated by Gene Robinson and Desmond Tutu: “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.” (BBC, 18th November 2007) It does appear to be closer to the Christianity I was taught as a child, and when I pick and choose which passages from the New Testament or the Old I like the best, the bits which encourage obsession with and condemnation of other people’s sexual behaviour are not among them: I like the upholding of kindness and generosity and truth and love better in a religion than I do the upholding of the belief that God so profoundly cares that George Takei and Brad Altman love each other passionately and intend to wed each other that God intends to send them both to hell for it.
But here’s what Rowan Williams says “traditional believers” who hold by a homophobic God will hope have been heard: “‘What we seek to do in our context is faithfully to pass on what you passed on to us — Holy Scripture, apostolic ministry, sacramental discipline. But what are we to think when all these things seem to be questioned and even overturned? We want to be pastorally caring to all, to be ‘inclusive’ as you like to say. We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God. Our love and our welcome are unreal if we don’t truthfully let others know what has shaped and directed our lives — so along with welcome, we must still challenge people to change their ways. We don’t see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church’s name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle. We seek to love them — and, all right, we don’t always make a good job of it : but we can’t just say that there is nothing to challenge. Isn’t it like the dilemma of the early Church — welcoming soldiers, yet seeking to get them to lay down their arms?” – (Second Presidential Address to the Lambeth Conference 2008, 29th July 2008)
What Rowan Williams is missing (he does also attempt to speak for the “not so traditional believer”, too) is that while Orombi and his fellow homophobic Christians always claim they’re being “welcoming” and that their condemnation of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals is done “lovingly”, the reality is more brutal: the reality is Prossy Kazooka and thousands of others, humiliated, abused, beaten, raped, tortured, murdered, while homophobic Christians look on with approval and with certainty that such treatment is what their Jesus Christ wants done. Still speaking for the homophobic believers, he points out (as Orombi also pointed out in his statement about Prossy Kazooka at GAFCON), that: “‘But please remember also that — while you may say that what you do needn’t affect us — your decisions make a vast difference to us. In this world of instant communication, our neighbours know what you do, and they see us as sharing the responsibility. Imagine what that means where those neighbours are passionately traditional Christians — and what it means for our own members, who will be drawn to leave us for a “safer”, more orthodox church. Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the ‘gay church’ in a context where that spells real contempt and danger.”
Yes. I agree. If Henry Orombi had reacted to the news (which he claimed was news to him) that lesbians and gay men in Uganda are living under threat from their homophobic government and the homophobic Abrahamic religions of Uganda with an outspoken condemnation of violence, or any kind of upholding of the right of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Ugandans to be let alone to live and love as they choose, Orombi would have been in deep trouble when he got home, not only with his co-religionists but with the Ugandan government. Should we then be charitable towards poor Orombi, perhaps wonder if he was forced by social pressure to conceal his true views?
Not according to Rowan Williams: “Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not looking for safety and comfort. Some of us know quite a lot about carrying the cross. But when that cross is laid on us by fellow-Christians, it’s quite a lot harder to bear. Don’t be too surprised if some of us want to be at a distance from you — or if we want to support minorities in your midst who seem to us to be suffering.”
Well, (cite), according to the 2002 Census, the religions in Uganda are: Roman Catholic 41.9%, Protestant 42% (Anglican 35.9%, Pentecostal 4.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.5%), Muslim 12.1%, other 3.1%, none 0.9%. So the cross that (we are to suppose) of being forced to appear to be a “gay church” – at least, a non-homophobic church – is being laid on poor Orombi by fellow-Christians: not by the Anglicans who ordained Gene Robinson or who ordained other honest and gay clerics, or who bless the marriages of same-sex couples: but by Orombi’s fellow Christians in Uganda, who believe that the Abrahamic God is a homophobic God.
Yet I think Rowan Williams here means that the love, respect, and charity shown towards Gene Robinson is the “cross” which Orombi and others are being forced to bear: that for them, being around people who are not actively homophobic is slow, unbearable torture. Unlike their God, faced with the prospect of being slowly tortured to death – of having done to them what was done to Prossy Kazooka and to others like her – they cannot pray, faced with the torture of associating with LGB people, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire” – because they believe in a homophobic God: they believe that what God desires is to see Prossy Kazooka stripped naked, abused, raped, tortured, and killed if she won’t quit being a lesbian. If Rowan Williams will not acknowledge the violent hatred of the homophobic wing of his church, he cannot claim to speak for them.
What Rowan Williams wants – what he says when he “speaks for” the not-so-traditional, not-so-homophobic believer – is to welcome LGB people into his church – but only halfway. Not to admit that lesbian, gay, and bisexual Christians are the equals in religion of heterosexual Christians. Not to respect loving, faithful, and committed relationships regardless of sexual orientation. And above all, to presume that God so hates and abominates all LGB Christians that no LGB Christian who is honest and open about their sexual orientation can possibly feel any valid calling to priesthood or bishopric.
And this – thank you for bearing with me so patiently and so long – is what I think is the lesson that can be drawn from Lambeth for people who are not Christian or who are not Anglican. The resolutions of 1998 were a compromise that would work only if LGB Anglicans were grateful and humble enough to be allowed to crouch on the floor and eat the crumbs thrown to them like dogs: it would not work if, having risen to their feet, they were not then whipped from the Church for their presumption in thinking that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” could apply to them (Galatians, 3:29) – they had forgotten what is claimed as the eternal, unspoken, permanent central fact of Christianity: except for queers.
But equality doesn’t work like that. You cannot welcome someone as an equal – which is what the 1998 Lambeth conference resolved to do – and then say “but you have to sit on the floor and not expect us to treat you as if you were really our equal” – people will not accept that kind of treatment. Either you must keep your unequals under permanent, terrible, restraint – accepting that this means they will die young, die lonely, die miserable, convinced only that God hates them and that all their co-religionists despise them – but if you let them get up, let them have even a little self-respect and self-love and self-belief, if you let go of the death and hellfire threats –
– then sooner or later, you have to deal with them as full equals. You will have to invite them all the way in or watch them walk away. If some of the people already there then leave, grumbling and complaining that they don’t expect to have to share with those kind of people, you have only the choice of asking those not actively bigoted to pretend they still are, and asking the objects of their bigotry to always behave as if they considered themselves inferior, and begging the bigots to come back and promising that their inferiors won’t try to get up anymore –
– and no: this won’t work. You must either institute the kind of repressive regime that drives the LGB people in your group to escape or suicide or lifelong lie, and accept this means that many people will lose their children, one way or another: or accept equality. All the way. No halfway measures.
People will not be grateful forever for merely not being subject to abuse: unless people are subjected to continuous and unremitting abuse that never allows them to think that perhaps they do not deserve it, once that level of abuse is lifted, they will start to feel they deserve more than merely the experience of not being abused.
People are never content to stand in the doorway forever: either they will be allowed in, or they walk away.