Saturday, March 23, 2013

Peter Tatchell Calls Fudge

Peter Tatchell calls out the Anglican fudge in an open letter to Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
 One of your first public statements, when you were confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury last month, was to declare your support for discrimination against gay people: namely your support for the legal ban on same-sex civil marriage.
Moreover, although you have expressed your support for civil partnerships, it is reported that you have not approved civil partnerships taking place in churches or church blessings for same-sex couples. You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic - in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist.

 Good for Peter Tatchell.  I'm glad someone, especially from the outside, is calling out the Anglican waffle on this issue.  To his credit, Archbishop Welby is offering to meet with Tatchell.

Justin Welby enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury last week

I'm afraid the old Anglican response of splitting the difference or meeting half way won't work this time.  It would be tough to defend a "traditional teaching of marriage" as between a man and a woman while trying to insist that the church opposes homophobia and denying civil rights to lgbts.  The nature of sexual and marital relations is precisely the issue that sets gays and lesbians apart from the majority.  The Roman Catholic position may be wrong, but it has the virtue of being internally consistent.

The new Pope Francis supposedly made similar statements endorsing gay civil unions in Argentina while he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.  But how much of that was really a change of mind, and how much of that was a calculation to make a strategic retreat in what turned out to be losing political struggle with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner?  I tend to take the more skeptical view.  The Roman Catholic Church actively fought civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians just as much as marriage equality, both here in New York City and around the world.  I don't think anything has changed -- not even slightly -- in Rome.

Archbishop Welby, according to Tatchell's letter, seems to have evolved some over this issue.  Perhaps Tatchell wrote the letter out of hope as much as protest.  Contrary to the official statements coming out of Lambeth Palace, the Church of England is very badly split over the gay issue.  There is no consensus.  There are large parts of the C of E that can be just as LGBT affirming as anything in the Episcopal Church in the States, and there are large Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic factions which remain implacably hostile.  That public opinion is rapidly turning against those factions only convinces them of their rightness, and makes them dig in their heels even more.

There are times when I think that homophobia is dying as a political and cultural force in the developed world.  Even major public homophobes like Maggie Gallagher are admitting as much.  The rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights and marriage equality in the USA is dramatic and amazing.  I think it is the result of generational change, and the critical mass finally built up from so many years of people coming out and publicly declaring themselves to be gay or lesbian.  I also think that we've been so very fortunate in our enemies.  They do so much of our work for us by being their own repulsive selves.  Now that they are becoming marginalized, they are feeling singled out and victimized which makes them take even more extreme and revolting positions (see Scott Lively).  The dam has burst.  The chain reaction has started.  The toothpaste is out of the tube, and they know it.

The cause of LGBT equality is raising expectations in the Developing World.  There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in India.  There are the courageous small groups in central Africa.  There are even small LGBT groups meeting deep underground in the Islamic world.  The dam has burst in the West, and it's leaking everywhere else.  I think it is no accident that the Vatican and the mullahs frequently join forces to fight progress on gay rights and women's rights in the Developing World.

I cherish a hope, with a lot of anecdotal evidence to back it up, that some of the churches, including the C of E, will eventually come around on the gay issue.  Some in the USA like the Quakers and the UCC already have.  The Episcopal Church is almost there, but not quite.  The Lutherans ELCA are moving in that direction.  The Methodists are in the midst of civil war over the issue.  I even think Rome will eventually come around, though I will be long dead and buried before that ever happens.

The deeply sad part is that once again on a major humanitarian issue the Church is being led instead of leading.  The world is finally opening up for a long despised segment of humanity after a lot of blood sweat and tears.  Once again the Church insists on retreating into the role assigned to it by the Roman Empire, as spiritual enforcer of established power and social convention.

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