Low-Key, Sensitive and Carefully Monitored

CHRISTIANS IN SOUTHWARK Diocese are coming to the realisation that something very sinister is to take place in and around their cathedral on November 16. A “low-key, sensitive, carefully monitored celebration” (all descriptions given months ago by Provost Colin Slee) of the twenty years existence of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has now grown into a day-long festival celebrating gay sex with an evening reception in the nearby Glaziers Hall with tickets costing £26.

The star of the festival is retired American Episcopal Bishop Walter C. Righter, found not guilty of heresy in a church court for knowingly ordaining a practising homosexual. Co-starring with him as preacher at the celebration service is Bishop John Gladwin, of Guildford, one-time evangelical leader and ex-chairman of the Church of England’s Board of Social Responsibility. There will be “numerous workshops”, contents not yet disclosed, and a symposium.

Bishop Roy Williamson, former evangelical London City Missionary, ex-president of the Church Pastoral Aid Society, ex-vice president of the evangelical mission agency Crosslinks, ex vice president of Oak Hill Theological College, stands terribly exposed as his claims to be in favour of gay sex in “loving, stable relationships” and the ordination of clergy with same-sex partners in such relationships, clash with the LGCM publicity for November 16.

On the bookstall will be The A-Z of Gay Sex by Terry Saunderson “ranging from the how-to, where-to and who-with of man-to-man love… it gives you the facts you need to ensure your sex life is happy, interesting and safe…. will appeal to virgins and veterans.. the most playful guide to same-sex safer sex.” An array of other gay how-to books will further embarrass Bishop Roy as their contents denigrate the biblical institution of marriage and work towards the disintegration of the family.

Also likely to be embarrassed is ex-Chancellor David Atkinson, author of the widely sold and read monograph, which he publicly disowned last year, on biblical standards of morality, both hetero- and homosexual. Atkinson, personally distressed since evangelicals no longer identify with him because of his theological shift, was part of the unanimous vote to allow LGCM use of Southwark Cathedral. Now appointed Archdeacon of Lewisham, Atkinson succeeds the resolute and unashamed evangelical Gordon Kuhrt, head of ABM, who was one of the hundred clergy signatories of a letter to Provost Slee asking for the LGCM permission to be withdrawn.

Against this devilishly clever upstaging of the Cathedral guardians by Richard Kirker and the LGCM, Provost Slee, Chancellor Atkinson and Bishop Williamson are seen now to have been naive in the extreme. That is the charitable interpretation of what has happened. The alternative – and thus far disbelieved – conclusion is that LGCM always intended to hold such an event, that Provost, Chancellor and Bishop put out “soft” publicity to prepare the way for it, and deliberately misinformed the Diocese.

A deputation of evangelical leaders in Southwark including Rev Paul Perkin, chairman of the Diocesan Evangelical Union, Rev Hugh Balfour, chairman of Reform Southwark, Rev Michael Marshall, representing the Diocesan Renewal Group, failed to persuade either Provost Slee or Bishop Williamson to come out against the November 16 “service” – as it was then claimed to be.

Now events are moving quickly. Parishes across a spectrum of theological conviction are networking in discussion as to how to put financial pressure on the cathedral via the Diocese in 1997. Already a month’s “quota holiday” for next year has been mooted and some PCCs have agreed immediately. Many others are debating what to do. They recognise financial sanction is the ultimate weapon to use, and they are loath to employ it. Yet they are well aware the quota is voluntary and that if the Diocese moves against them, there is a recently-formed team of senior lawyers available free of charge to defend their integrity.

Reform Southwark chairman Hugh Balfour said “The sadness and sense of betrayal that hit us when we learned from LGCM publicity the full extent of what is going to happen in and around our cathedral on November 16 was massive. It will affect the whole Church of England. A great deal of thought and prayer is going in to how we should respond and at the moment the thinking is that every Southwark parish that takes exception to what is planned for November 16 should withhold one month’s quota in 1997 and send it to their preferred charity. If we do nothing now, the message we send to the hierarchy of the Church of England, as far as evangelicals are concerned, is that we will make a fuss – write letters to the Bishop, refuse to go to the cathedral for services, and the like – but in the end we will be rolled over and simply accept the new status quo on an issue as fundamental as this.”