30 bishops support gay Christians

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The Independent Online
THIRTY ENGLISH bishops who have never before publicly registered support for lesbian and gay Christians have pledged to "reflect, pray and work" for their "full inclusion" in the life of the Anglican Church.

A total of 146 bishops from the world-wide Anglican Communion, including eight primates, have signed a pastoral statement which insists that the resolution on sexuality emerging from the Lambeth Conference is not the last word.

There are even signatories from parts of the world which were assumed to be universally hostile to a relaxation of the church's rules, notably two bishops from central Africa, one from Brazil, and six from South Africa, including the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev Njongokulu Ndungane, who chaired the conference's section on human sexuality, and the Bishop of Johannesburg, the Rt Rev Duncan Buchanan, whose sub-section drafted the motion on homosexuality.

After three weeks of polarised debate, a resolution declaring homosexual practice "incompatible with Scripture", and ruling out blessings of homosexual partnerships or ordinations of practising homosexuals, was passed by a vote of hands: 526 in favour, 70 against and 45 abstentions. All concessions to the liberals were eradicated, except for a promise to "listen to homosexuals".

The result was widely regarded as an uncompromising defeat for the Western liberal wing of the Anglican Church. However, lesbian and gay Christians are capitalising on the fact that the issue is now on the church's agenda and maintain that the conservative resolution could, in the long run, work in their favour.

The Rev Colin Coward, founder of Changing Attitudes - a group of Christian homosexuals whose presentation to the conference was cancelled because bishops from Uganda, Chile, America and Australia threatened to go home if it went ahead - believes that the "apparent defeat" at Canterbury has become "a great opportunity for change and progress".

"Far from achieving a final verdict on lesbian and gay sexuality, the conference has provided a new impetus for the church to explore the experience of lesbian and gay Christians and affirm their calling and ministry as lay and ordained members of the church," he said.

Thirty three bishops from the Church of England (three of whom had already pledged their support for gay Christians), four from the Church in Wales, seven from the Scottish Episcopal Church and three from the Church of Ireland, promised lesbian and gay Christians: "You, our sisters and brothers in Christ, deserve a more thorough hearing than you received over the past three weeks. We will work to make that so."

Mr Coward described the UK contingent as remarkable and unprecedented. "Never before has such a large number committed themselves publicly to the support of lesbian and gay Christians," he said.

In the statement, which is addressed to lesbian and gay Anglicans, the bishops say: "We apologise for any sense of rejection that has occurred ... This letter is a sign of our commitment to listen to you and reflect with you theologically and spiritually on your lives and ministries. It is our deep concern that you do not feel abandoned by your church and that you know of our continued respect and support."