How I felt the wrath of a bishop... fury as the Church votes for gay ban

Clare Garner
Wednesday 05 August 1998 23:02

PERHAPS IT is a little unwise to tell a bishop that his use of Bible quotations is selective. Without warning, the chubby finger complete with huge square-cut purple amethyst came jabbing towards my face.

"Do you know the wording of Corinthians?" the Right Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma, Bishop of Enugu, Nigeria, shouted accusingly. When his question happened to be answered in the affirmative, he was momentarily wrong-footed. And changed tack. "Are you a lesbian?"

Perhaps I should have turned the other cheek, but I'm not in the business of being a martyr. When he persisted in pushing his finger in my face, I physically attempted to lower it myself. The more I tried to remove the bishop's thrusting hand, the harder it came pushing back.

The farcical scene came to an end when, with a cry of "You're a devilish woman", he turned on his tail and stormed off in a flush of episcopal purple.

Displays of such extreme emotion are not what one comes to expect at Lambeth Conference, which is being held in Canterbury. It is after all a Christian occasion. But Bishop Chukwuma's outburst was characteristic of the high emotion seen before the climactic vote on the issue of homosexuality.

After the intensely heated two-hour debate, 526 of the 750 assembled bishops backed a highly conservative resolution on sexuality stating that it could not "advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions, or the ordaining of those involved in same-gender unions."

Instead it provided two options: "faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union" or "chastity" for those "not called to marriage".

The hours leading up to the vote saw scenes of unprecedented vitriol, near violence and when argument failed, the prolific and unsolicited laying on of hands. "Father, in the name of Jesus, deliver him. Father I pray to you, make him a Christian, in the name of Jesus. Hallelujah, hallelujah," roared Bishop Chukwuma, crowning the head of the Rev Richard Kirker, the bewildered general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

Somehow Mr Kirker managed to keep his cool, returning the compliment with the words: "May God bless you and deliver you from your prejudice against human creation."

The only hope of reconciliation came when Mr Kirker let slip that he was born in Nigeria and had lived there until he was 18. The bishop softened briefly, until Mr Kirker added: "I had my first sexual experience there."

Inside the Plenary Hall, the Most Rev Robert Eames, Archbishop of Armagh, brought all his experience as both a lawyer and a broker of peace in Northern Ireland to bear in his role as chair of the sexuality debate. He pleaded that bishops should make their three-minute presentations "prayerfully".

But there was no holding back the bishops. The Bishop of Lahore, the Rt Rev Alexander Malik, revealed the depth of his concern. "What happens if we have people asking for the blessing of their relationships with pets, with their cats and dogs?" he asked the assembly. "Will you bring that to the next conference?"

Speaking out against homosexuality was not "gay-bashing", but "a matter of safe doctrine and gospel," he said. He was unapologetic about not permitting practising gays to be ordained clergy. "There's no discrimination," Bishop Malik said. "They're not qualified for the job."

The liberal view was left to, perhaps appropriately, a woman; Catherine Roskam, the Bishop of New York, who warned of the consequences of the resolution.

"It will lead to a divided church," she said. "I respect the African bishops who say that to condone homosexuality would be evangelical suicide, but to condemn homosexuality in the form it has been in this resolution would itself be evangelical suicide in my region."

Last night members of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement were consoling themselves - in a Canterbury pub, appropriately called The Bishop's Finger.

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