Lambeth 1998: The Crux of the Matter

I started browsing old headlines for 1998 at Anglicans Online, because I wondered why the bishop of Chicago didn't sign a letter of apology to gay Episcopalians after the Lambeth 1998 bishops' conference passed the notorious "incompatible with scripture" statement on homosexuality. I found out that we didn't have a bishop at the time – +Frank went on to be Presiding Bishop, and +Bill wasn't elected until November of that year.

I barely paid attention to the news items from Lambeth then – I wasn't really part of a parish yet, having just moved to Illinois the year before – but I got curious about what went on since a few Episcoblogs referenced some rather irregularly  conducted sessions. Turns out Anglicans Online keeps really amazing archives, including yearly headlines that really help you sort out a timeline, whether the links to the actual articles are still live or not. And they kept EVERYTHING they could find relating to Lambeth 1998. Have a look at this excerpt I ran across – what's going on now was predicted then, and it suggests to me why the battle lines have hardened over time. 

Andrew Brown: How fear of Islam forced the church to attack gays

One answer is fear of Islam. Most of the fervent opposition to gays has come from countries which were, historically, christianised by missionaries for the protestant, evangelical wing of the Church of England. They are also locked in a ferocious struggle with Islam, which is often, literally, a matter of life and death. They desperately need converts because–as Nigerian bishops argue–the only way to stop the Muslims persecuting them is to be numerous.

If Christians are a tiny minority, as they are in the North of the country, they will be persecuted and reviled. If they make up half the population, as they do in central Nigeria, they will be respected. To get the converts they need, they must stand up for the Bible as they see it. To pass a resolution condoning homosexual priests would be "evangelistic suicide" one of the African bishops warned yesterday. And, paradoxically, Africa is one of the places where the Church of England still really matters.

The conference is keenly followed on the Internet. Islamic missionaries and rival Christian groups constantly use the example of liberal bishops such as Dr David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham, to discredit Anglicanism in other parts of the world.

But at the same time, in the Western world, and especially in larger American cities, the Anglican churches are kept alive by gays. In some parishes, half the congregations are gay Christians, looking for a church that will not condemn them. For these people, as a woman bishop from New York sad, yesterday’s resolution is just as much evangelistic suicide, for condemning them. It is certain that the echoes of this row will continue; and just as certain that they won’t change anything much.

This is the crux of the matter for me. After becoming an Episcopalian, it was obvious to me that I had joined a church that welcomed everyone, most definitely including gay men and women. In Seattle, half the men in the choir, and several of the adult acolytes, and a significant fraction of the congregation were gay. I think there were a couple of gay women in the choir as well.

After moving to Illinois, I drifted around, occasionally attending this or that parish, before I started attending Holy Innocents and realized I had found my church home. None of the other local parishes really had the music and the high-church "thing" going on, unless I drove a long way into either Park Ridge or Oak Park, where a couple of high-church parishes are located. Holy Innocents was small, but high-church, and they had just welcomed their first woman priest, who was in a committed relationship with a woman. With her help and the help of her partner, we re-started the choir and for a few years, put on some really nice services. After that priest left, we called another priest who was in a committed same-sex relationship, this time a male. For some reason, we couldn't get the same "feeling" going of things happening, of optimism. It was harder to get things together, and people drifted away.

Maybe they were afraid of the growing controversy, maybe they didn't like the male priest or his partner as much as they had liked the previous priest and her partner. But those of us who remained got a lot of solid formation work done on ourselves. And in that time, we went through a number of guest organists, and I began to realize that in this area, a hell of a lot of high-church musicians who are male generally tend to be gay. It just seems to go with the territory.  

At "St Nicholas with the Holy Innocents," there are a number of single and partnered gay members. Just last week, a new couple showed up who seemed to like what they saw and who will probably be back soon. We reach out to younger families than was possible at Holy Innocents, and there's a lot of stuff going on on Sundays. Music is starting to really pick up again, too. And to do this, we need all the people of faith, not just the ones who can legally marry and procreate and bring their progeny to Sunday school.

I don't know about fear of Islam, although I can certainly see that Nigeria and other nominally Anglican countries in Africa are feeling the pressure. But it seems that in Nigeria, gays are experiencing fear of certain purple-shirted Anglicans and like-minded fundamentalist Christians who want to pass laws limiting their rights and freedoms, and maybe some zealots aren't above threatening them… by calling them on their personal cell phones. 



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One thought on “Lambeth 1998: The Crux of the Matter

  1. I’ve greatly valued the contributions of gays to our parish, both lay and clerical, and one of the things that made me very joyful about joining the Episcopal Church was its acceptance of women and gays.

    I’ve heard the excuse from the South that antagonism toward gays is necessary in order to “compete” with Islam. I’ve always been boggled by that excuse — to gather converts we have to preach hatred? To increase our congregations we need to shut people out? Did Jesus go around preaching that in order to increase his followers, he had to drive off Samaritans or Romans or Greeks? Heck, even Paul was more inclusive than that …

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