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Bashing the Bishops

The Lambeth Conference opened last Sunday with the one person who the Anglican communion are getting their vicars in a twist over, cast out. The Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, the world's first openly gay bishop is also the first bishop in history to not get an invite.

He has had to put up with a lot of Christian love recently – he had to wear a bulletproof vest at his civil union after he received loving death threats, he was heckled in Putney – called a "heretic" with "darkness in his heart" who should repent his (God-given) homosexuality, and now, cast to the fringes of the conference where he will no doubt be debated without the opportunity to have his voice heard by his Anglican family. How charitable. How loving.

How encouraging also of that other Christian tenet – truth. For how many of the other attendees have secret gay lives? How many whose sexuality is a grey area? How can the church in good faith espouse the value of truth, when it refuses to encourage a culture of truth in its own ranks?

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but rather a lot about treating people with dignity and respect – something that his opponents have very rarely done, instead resorting to name-calling and public bullying. The Bible says as much about money-lending, shellfish and mixed fabrics as it does about homosexuality, yet I do not hear it said that churchgoers should forego mortgages, that Rick Stein should be cast into the eternal flame, and I have certainly met priests who wore a polycotton mix. Where is the consistency in this theological thinking, or is it more to do with the way that the Bible has been consistently plundered in such a way as to confirm prejudice and strengthen power bases?

And that's what I think this comes down to, in truth. Surely, though, this is not really about sexuality, or gender, but rather about a power base. The Anglican communion numbers around 90 million souls, but with only about a million regular churchgoers in the UK, surely Lambeth (which is in a shining example of geographical truth, held as it is in Kent) itself is losing its power as the church's centre of gravity and it is shifting towards Africa?

Is Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, who has been leading the breakaway bishops, fomenting trouble with Lambeth as a ploy for increased global power for his church? Is he using gay people as pawns in his power game? If the church was meant to protect the vulnerable, it has done a wickedly bad job in Nigeria, where homosexuality is already criminalised, and there is a new set of laws passing through their parliament to make life even more difficulty for gay people. Akinola has of course, enthusiastically supported this.

The more than 200 conservative bishops who have not shown up in protest at Gene Robinson's ordination, the idea of female bishops and the blessing of gay unions, have been gently admonished by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, but they should be ashamed of themselves. If their scripture is so important to them, they should return to it, look at it with fresh eyes and ask themselves what parts they are championing because their Lord tells them, and which words they are ignoring because they does not fit in with their truthfully perverted orthodoxy.

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