Lambeth Conference: God help the church
The row over gay bishops threatens to tear apart the Anglican Communion. It's not all about sex, explains Cole Moreton. But why should the rest of us care?
Sunday, 20 July 2008
So, there's this group of men from all over the world, and they're having a fortnight away together. They like to wear long, flowing robes and are very fond of the colour purple. Some have ostentatious rings, others go for flamboyant hats or blingy crosses on long chains. Right now, they are staying on a university campus, living in halls like the old days. What's on their minds? Sex. Particularly gay sex. They are obsessed with homosexual intercourse. They think about it all the time, and the rows they have over it are tearing them apart. But only one of these men, at least in public, is gay. And guess what? He is the only member of their club who has not been invited to this great big house party. Sometimes the Lambeth Conference does look very queer indeed. So much attention has been given to this gathering of bishops, but what is really going on? Is it really a huge moment in the life of the Anglican church, part of the biggest change in English religious life since the Reformation? Or is it just a series of incomprehensible hissy fits? And why should unbelievers care, anyway? In the immortal words of Cilla Black's camp classic...
What's It All About, Alfie?
The 650 bishops who are there represent 80 million Anglicans. The Lambeth Conference happens only every 10 years. Which part of Lambeth is it in? Er, the part that is Kent. Canterbury, actually, where they are talking and praying together for the next fortnight and not falling out. Definitely not. They're all friends, honest. Except the ones who were too angry to come. About a quarter of those invited did not turn up. They had their own soirée instead, in Jerusalem last month. But why were they so angry?
Let's Talk About Sex, Baby
That's what it's all about. Not bonking bishops, vicars in knickers or curates with their hands on the organist, though. Tabloid tales of lusty clergy are a great English tradition, like saucy postcards. Only last year a real-life rector's wife told how her former husband wanted tarty sex every day – or, as the News of the World put it: "the Vicar of Dicker forced his wife to defrock like a stripper". Phew! There have been serious sex scandals too, of course, but none has brought down the largest Protestant church grouping in the world. That seems to have been left to the love between a 60-year-old Kentucky man and his partner.
Mad About The Boy
Gene loves Mark. They've been together for a long time now, and were when the Rt Rev Robinson became Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. He had to wear a bulletproof vest that day, because someone promised to express the love of God by shooting him. Millions of others decided the Episcopal Church had departed from the "traditional" view of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. If it did not repent, they could no longer bear to be in the same worldwide family of believers. Liberals asked who the traditionalists were to impose their interpretation of the Word. Others prayed hard and wished it wasn't happening – including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the thoughtful, fretful Rowan Williams, who really didn't want to be the man who let the Anglican Communion destroy itself.
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