Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Listening Process

As many of you know, every 10 years the bishops of the Anglican Communion are invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to what’s called the Lambeth Conference. The next one is coming up in mid-July; some bishops are refusing to attend, including many African bishops. But more on this later.

Right now I’m more interested in looking back at Lambeth 1998. Although lots of other business got done, I would guess nothing has gotten as much attention as Resolution 1.10: Human Sexuality.

Now, I’m not doing a whole lot of research here, but as I remember it, the general feeling was that the group that had spent the entirety of the conference crafting language for this resolution was outvoted by a new Global South majority. Ten years earlier, in 1988, the North and West still held most of the seats, but that had changed by 1998. A more moderate view that allowed for differences of opinion on the subject of human sexuality was taken out of the resolution and replaced with the unambiguous stance of “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.”

I’ve been looking the resolution over again as I write this and it’s a much less violent statement than I remembered. The debate at the time was so very impassioned--even harsh. But looking merely at the language that is left in the resolution without the painful context of the actions around it, there's a lot that is commendable. That statement I just quoted is not the sum total of even that subsection of the resolution, which says “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.” Certainly there’s some of value in that, if one could indeed minister pastorally and sensitively to people under these circumstances.

Reading it now, I was intrigued by a statement from the resolution offered by the West African region that I had never seen before, which “accepts that homosexuality is a sin which could only be adopted by the church if it wanted to commit evangelical suicide.” I’ll want to think more about that.

The main reason, however, that I called up Resolution 1.10 was to talk about the “listening process,” oft mentioned when talking about homosexuality in the Anglican Church. Certainly this part of the resolution is both hopeful and charitable. Here’s what the resolution called for:

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

A couple of things. First of all, this resolution says the bishops will listen to the experience of homosexual persons, not vice versa. Oft times it has seemed that there’s been serious resistance to that with a call for equal time for those who have (truly) suffered under colonial powers. But the resolution doesn’t say this should be a two-way street.

Second, one of the struggles in this listening is that the experience of homosexual persons very often comes from the West. I’m generalizing here, but some African bishops refuse to listen to anyone from the West saying homosexuality is a Western deviation and doesn’t exist in Africa. And anyone who is gay in Africa is assumed to be corrupted by Western influence. It’s kind of a no-win situation, there. Katie Sherrod who writes a blog called Desert’s Child out of Fort Worth, Texas, has gone to Africa to interview LGBT Africans. You can read about what she did here.

I have to go back to the West Africa resolution’s comment on “evangelical suicide,” because I do have to wonder what the African church loses by listening, or by changing its mind. I’ll be curious to learn more about this. I’ll keep you posted.

1 comment:

qoe said...

As I have recently been writing about, listening and hearing are two completely different functions.