United Nations

Showdown with religion

Buoyed by growing political acceptance of homosexuals worldwide, a United Nations group promoting gay and lesbian rights met in New York to sharpen a multi-pronged strategy that includes a ‘showdown with religion.’ The meeting was sponsored by Unglobe, a group officially recognized by the worldwide body in 1996. At a forum attended briefly by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, panel members singled out Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants as opponents.

Speakers included US Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat for Massachusetts, who urged Congress to withhold support for a free trade agreement with Muslim-majority Egypt because of its treatment of homosexuals. Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the San Francisco-based Iglhrc, announced a coming ‘showdown with religion’ and vowed Pope John Paul II’s ‘call to arms’ against homosexual marriage would be successfully combated.

Another panel member, Princeton University professor Anthony Appiah, wondered whether or not religion should be limited, as it poses a ‘challenge’ to the homosexual agenda. To thunderous applause, Svend Robinson, a member of the Canadian parliament, told the Catholic Church to ‘clean up your own house’ before criticizing the morality of homosexuals.

Kofi Annan less strident

Robinson is the sponsor of a bill that would add sexual orientation as a protected category in Canada’s genocide and hate crimes legislation. Opponents believe it would criminalize public expression against homosexual behaviour, including making quotations from the Bible. The UN group that hosted the event is pressing the United Nations to recognize same-sex couples and treat their partnerships as equal to traditional marriages.

Annan told panel members the world should become ‘much more tolerant and compassionate… I think what is important is that we should stress those positive aspects in our society, the things that bring us together, and move away from discrimination and persecution,’ the secretary general said.

Annan was asked to comment on the debate over what constitutes a family. ‘I believe that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices and that we should be careful not to draw conclusions or adopt prejudicial attitudes towards people for their choices and preferences,’ he said. ‘That’s not something I think this organization should get involved in.’

The Revd H.A. Bergsma


Dissident plans in USA

n late September, Lutheran dissidents said they would hunker down for a year and study whether to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ECLA] and create a new church body. Less than two months later, on 19 November, the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal [CORE] announced that indeed such a body ‘will likely be necessary’.

‘What happened was the idea of a discussion for a year became kind of scary for people who want to leave now,’ said the Revd David Baer, a CORE spokesperson and pastor of an ELBA church in Whitewood, South Dakota. Baer said his own church will vote this weekend on whether to join CORE, which he estimates counts around 700 congregations as members.

CORE said no ‘firm decisions’ have been made about how the new church body will be structured; recommendations will be released in February. ‘The working committee is just beginning their work,’ Baer said. ‘What we’ve done is paint a little picture of what a church body will look like.’

Conservative Lutherans have been distressed since the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly voted in August to allow gays and lesbians in committed, same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy. The assembly also voted to allow congregations to recognise and support such relationships.

‘The vote on sexuality opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from biblical teaching,’ the Revd Paull Spring, CORE’s chairperson, said in a statement on 19 November.

Daniel Burke


Not welcome here

he Vatican’s announcement on 20 October of the enactment of a special Apostolic Constitution to take in Anglicans discontented by the ordination of women and homosexual persons certainly represents a new and unexpected level in the relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church…

In stating that the Vatican’s initiative represents a new and unexpected level in bilateral dialogue, we mean that it is not directly related to the process that has been ongoing for the past 40 years, but rather a unilateral initiative that will certainly require deeper analysis. Below are just two elements that merit close attention:

1. The most recent official documents of the Roman Catholic Church have successively reaffirmed not only its identity as a universal church but its singularity as the true and original sign of the presence of Christ among peoples. This implies a self-understanding of ecclesiological and organizational exclusivity that hinders the advancement of dialogue between both our churches.

2. The theological underpinnings for the Vatican’s initiative are based on the understanding that the unity of the Church is grounded in the claim of Petrine ministry. This postulate must be seen through the lens of its theological dimension and the historical reality of the See of Rome and to this day has not been satisfactorily resolved in Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue.

Clearly, these issues must be faced with honesty and open dialogue, to which we have always been committed in a respectful manner. We express our concern over the initiative unleashed by Rome, considering the way in which it took place and its content…

In the Brazilian context, we have received and welcomed clergy from the Roman Catholic Church and have cared for these people like brothers who wish to respond to their call to mission, which comes from God. The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has a specific canon for this and we recognize the sacred orders of each person, without a new ordination process.

We hope that this matter is discussed with sincerity on the international and local levels of dialogue of both our churches and that the progress already made may be restored in the quest to overcome our misunderstandings and resume the path to unity aspired after by Christ and dreamt of by all of us!

D. Mauricio Andrade Primate of Brazil


Same-sex church weddings

Clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts may now celebrate same-sex marriage ceremonies without restriction, including the practice of signing marriage certificates.

The Rt Revd M. Thomas Shaw ssJE, announced the new policy, effective on the first Sunday of Advent, in a letter dated Nov. 29. Bishop Shaw cited the language of General Convention Resolution C056, which says that bishops, ‘particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response’ to church members.

‘Your bishops understand this to mean for us here in the Diocese of Massachusetts that the clergy of this diocese may, at their discretion, solemnize marriages for all eligible couples, beginning Advent 1,’ Bishop Shaw wrote. ‘Solemnization, in accordance with Massachusetts law, includes hearing the declaration of consent, pronouncing the marriage and signing the marriage certificate. This provision for generous pastoral response is an allowance and not a requirement; any member of the clergy may decline to solemnize any marriage.’

Bishop Shaw wrote that clergy may not use The Book of Common Prayer’s marriage services to celebrate weddings for same-sex couples. Instead, the three bishops ‘ask that our priests seek out liturgical resources being developed and collected around the church.’ The bishops also recommended Pastoral Resources for Province 1 Episcopal Clergy Ministering to Same-Gender Couples, a 23-page document distributed by the Episcopal Church’s Province of New England.

Following the announcement, Bishop Shaw told the Boston Globe, ‘It’s time for us to offer to gay and lesbian people the same sacrament of fidelity that we offer to the heterosexual world.’

Robert Lundy


Horrendous anti-gay legislation

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams is said to be in ‘private’ discussions with the Ugandan Anglican Church over the country’s proposed anti-homosexuality laws. Pressure has been piling on the Church of England to speak out over the legislation, which would see gays executed or jailed for life.

Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a prominent member of Uganda’s Anglican Church, has described the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 as ‘state-legislated genocide against a specific community of Ugandans’.

A statement from Lambeth Palace given to The Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill said: ‘It has been made clear to us, as indeed to others, that attempts to publicly influence either the local church or political opinion in Uganda would be divisive and counter-productive. Our contacts, at both national and diocesan level, with the local church will therefore remain intensive but private.’

On her Times blog, Gledhill suggested that the Archbishop was obviously ‘distressed’ by the proposed law, but added that intervention could be seen as white-led colonialism.

Ekklesia spokesman Jonathan Bartley said: ‘We still think he should publicly speak out. The statement from Lambeth Palace doesn’t hold a lot of weight. The gay Christians in Uganda are asking for him to speak out publicly, the gay Christians in this country are asking him to, and as our petition shows, the clergy are asking him to speak out.’

‘The fear is that the Church of England’s silence has more to do with fears of causing another split in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. It would be tragic if the Archbishop remains silent for the sake of political reasons.’

Ekklesia News Service