Those who have been supporting the process of Bible Study followed by an Indaba were vindicated this morning. I sat, listened and contributed as one of 40 bishops engaging with issues in human sexuality. As far as I could tell, everyone was able to make a contribution and the challenges facing us were clarified. There was no ‘grandstanding’ and people were able to make their contribution without having to run the gauntlet of a plenary of 660 bishops – which would have ensured that only a minority were heard.
In my Indaba, one thing about which there was unanimity was that our attitude to homosexual people must be positive, generous and full of Christian love. There, however, the unanimity ended. In my Bible Study group there had been a recognition that we are each trying to be faithful to God and to our understanding of the nature and authority of scripture. By the time we came to the Indaba I detected the underlying presumption that a ‘real Christian’ is essentially fundamentalist when it comes to using the Bible.
The discussion was however very helpful in enabling both sides to hear the problems faced by the other. The problems are essentially both theological and cultural – but culture can be a vicious thing. So we encountered one Bishop who shared his concern that, if the Communion was understood to be accepting of homosexual practice, then he would have no credibility amongst the people of his Diocese and he would be deposed. It also became evident that homosexuality in many parts of the world remains taboo and so the Church cannot even raise the subject. In many countries in the Communion homosexual practice remains illegal and again the Church cannot be seen to be accepting it.
Yet we also heard from cultures where homosexuality has become an accepted expression within the spectrum of human sexuality and so a Church which is perceived to be ‘anti-gay’ is seen to be prejudiced and hypocritical in its call for justice and peace. One Bishop shared his concern that young adults in his congregations were looking for a Church which is inclusive and that they would leave if he went back without this issue having been resolved to enable their church to be an inclusive one.
Where is all this going? Well, the one thing which has become apparent is that there is no general appetite for a ‘winners and losers’ outcome about this issue. It may well be that the time is still not right for a clear way forward to be found. That will frustrate the press (who are back here again in large numbers now that we are on to sex) and those who want a clear resolution.
Sometimes it takes a very long time for the Church to absorb the challenges which modernity thrusts at us. The discussions about homosexuality have been going on within the Communion for about 30 years – which feels a very long time. We need to remember however that the Church is still trying to accommodate the theological implications of a Sun-centered theory of the universe which Galileo posed in about 1610, of Darwin’s theory of evolution from the 1840s, of the double helix in the 1950s and of Lemaître’s Big Bang theory from the 1920/30s. Perhaps we need to just allow ourselves the time needed to find a balanced way to accommodate issues in human sexuality, in the same way as we have found ways to accommodate evolutionists and creationists within the theological spectrum which is part of the Anglican identity.
The Archbishop of Burundi started the day with a memorable sermon which ended with the words “…..before the Communion was, I am.” Whatever comes out of the Conference about these matters, in the end we have been Christ centred in all this and there has been no room for those who would wish to demonise those with whom they disagree.