Conflict over gays in Church deepens

Leading evangelist aggravates split with `pornography' charge
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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

A leading evangelical campaigner against homosexual clergy yesterday attacked the church press for accepting advertisements from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. "The movement has been involved in pornography and anti-Christian actions," said the Rev Tony Higton, Rector of Hawkwell, in Essex.

Full-page advertisements in the Church Times and the Roman Catholic weekly the Tablet yesterday boasted that it was 20 years since the foundation of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. A body whose name once seemed a contradiction in terms is now at the heart of one of the most damaging conflicts facing mainstream Christian churches.

The crisis is an international one: among the 300 signatories to the LGCM's advertisement are Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Primates of the Anglican Churches of the United States, Scotland, and Canada. Another signatory, an American bishop, the Right Rev Walter Righter, is about to be formally tried for heresy for ordaining a gay man; but he is almost certain to be acquitted.

The Church of England's General Synod provides a theatre in which such conflicts can be dramatised and the subject has arisen at every synod since 1987. The Church of England expects its official teachings to bear some resemblance to its members' behaviour; it must also wrestle with the traditional English belief that sexual perversion is a sin.

In fact, the Bible has much more to say about the sinfulness of lending money at interest than about about homosexuality, which is mentioned only five times throughout its length. Unfortunately for gay Christians, all these are unfriendly. The story of Sodom turns out to have nothing to do with sodomy, but the book of Leviticus prescribes the death penalty for homosexuals - as for adulterers - and St Paul reserved some of his fruitiest rhetoric for gay men.

These texts, and the general unpopularity of the cause, give many evangelicals and traditionalists great confidence as they face rising pressure to recognise Christian gays. "The Church needs to settle what it believes, and I think that is quite clear," Mr Higton says.

On the face of it, they have achieved some notable victories over the last 10 years. LGCM was driven from its headquarters in a London church by a court action which nearly bankrupted it in 1988.

A General Synod motion in 1987 reaffirmed the sinfulness of "homosexual genital acts", and since then it has become much harder for open gays or lesbians to be ordained.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, tries to be balanced on the issue, but all his evangelical instincts, as well as his policy, are opposed to the open recognition of gay clergy.

Yet the fact remains that there are a lot of gay Christians. Though no one has reliable figures, they appear to be over- represented in the clergy. The gay pressure group Outrage! claimed to have identified 10 gay bishops in 1994; and the present Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, has said his sexuality was " a grey area", though not one he has explored.