Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lord Harries: speech in Lords debate on LGBTI Citizens Worldwide

On September 17, the House of Lords debated a motion

That this House takes note of the treatment of LGBTI citizens worldwide.

The record of the entire debate can be found starting here.

Readers may be most interested in the contribution of crossbencher Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. His speech starts here. Two extracts follow.

…Some Christians, while not able to accept same-sex marriage as a Christian option, have, however reluctantly—some have been very reluctant indeed—come to accept civil partnerships as a valid option for society as a whole. It is that second kind of change that I believe we have to work to achieve first in relation to conservative religious institutions.
In short, church leaders and institutions in those countries where LGBTI people are criminalised have to be urged to make a distinction between teaching which may be applicable for their own members in their private lives and the basic rights and dignity that need to be accorded to everyone in their society, whatever their religion or belief. Of course, working through secular channels to challenge the laws in those countries is fundamental. But behind those laws is a culture, as the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Paddick, mentioned and stressed—very often, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, a “toxic” culture. That toxic culture is, sadly, intertwined with religion.
It is no secret that the Anglican Communion has become very frayed at the edges on this issue. That is what I wrote in the first draft of this speech, but from what we read on the front page of some papers today, “frayed” is much too weak a word. The churches in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking a very conservative and hard line and see themselves as quite apart from churches in North America. Nor is that the sum of it: the frontier of the culture wars in the USA has moved to Africa, with conservative forces in America lining up with and reinforcing the conservative forces in some African countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly mentioned. Indeed there is evidence, which the Human Dignity Trust has on film, of some American churches actively proselytising in Uganda with a view to strengthening hard-line attitudes to gay and lesbian people.In those countries, the Christian churches have been and continue to be very strong. In contrast to Europe, they are a major influence in shaping the lives of people. If it is unrealistic to think of changing the minds of those churches on the issue itself in the short term, what can and should be done is to work on getting them to accept the legitimacy of the civil sphere, and, in particular, laws which protect the rights of minorities, not least LGBTI people.
The way that such people are treated in those countries is an affront to any concept of human decency, and the church must be challenged to see that its support for their criminalisation is a direct cause of this. It is an offence against the human person: the unique value and dignity of the individual, whatever their sexuality. It is a violation of everything that the Christian faith is meant to stand for. As a minimum, those states must be urged to act against those who commit acts of violence against LGBTI people…

And this:

…Behind those wider discriminatory attitudes there is a strong religious influence because, as I mentioned, most of those Commonwealth countries still have a strong Christian presence and continuing influence. That has to be addressed. I know that the main focus of diplomatic work is Government to Government, but there are opportunities to relate to wider civic society.
My concern, of which I hope that the Government take account, is that all those involved in setting up diplomatic meetings or organising conferences recognise the key role that Christian leaders play in many of the countries which have the most conservative attitudes, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. If they are not to change their church teaching, they might be encouraged at least to acknowledge, and to help their churches to acknowledge, the validity of the civil sphere in its own right as safeguarding the rights and dignity of all human beings, whatever their sexuality.
I recognise that the main responsibility lies with the Christian churches here to help the churches in those countries to acknowledge the validity of this distinction, but I believe that our Government, through our normal diplomatic channels and intergovernmental agencies, also have opportunities to engage with wider civic society. Here, the Christian leaders, especially in the countries I mentioned, the Anglican archbishops and bishops, have an influential role. They themselves need to be decisively influenced to speak out for the human rights of LGBTI people…

Some extracts from two subsequent speakers in the debate may also be of interest.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): …I also take up points made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, in relation to the Church. I, too, read with great interest the comments attributed to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in today’s papers about effectively realising that the Anglican communion is probably two or possibly three different churches, and that an attempt to make them all look alike at subjects such as this is an impossible task. I hope that he succeeds in that and does not attempt to follow in the intolerance in parts of the Anglican communion, particularly in Africa, that we heard about from so many speakers, and that he concentrates on the liberal approach adopted in North America.
In the United Kingdom and Church of England, can we please adopt a sensible, non-hypocritical approach to same-sex relationships? We all know that there are very senior priests and probably bishops who are openly gay and yet unable to openly profess that because of the strange, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule that applies in the Church of England. The sooner the Church of England comes to terms with this and agrees that the exceptions it was granted when we passed the same-sex law should no longer apply to it, the sooner our own society will be more tolerant and a much happier place.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, like others, I thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for securing this debate and opening it so effectively. We heard some extremely powerful contributions, including the searingly brave personal account from my noble friend Lord Paddick.
I am very glad that we are discussing this subject immediately after our debate on the new sustainable development goals. Key to those goals is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 while leaving no one behind. We know that those whose sexuality is not accepted in their home countries are particularly likely to be excluded, and in poverty, so those SDGs are absolutely relevant here.
In that debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield made a very effective contribution. I note that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was down to speak on the dairy industry debate that followed. So I wondered where the Bishops’ Bench was for this debate. I was very glad to hear the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who just spoke, because I noted that there was nobody sitting on the Bishops’ Bench, even just to listen. How could that be? I assume that the Church of England must surely move on from appointing women bishops to addressing this issue of human rights. I thought that that lay behind the moves quoted today made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury where he spoke of drawing together the communion and conversation across the whole Anglican communion. I wish them well, even if they are frayed at the edges— as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, put it…

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Comments

I agree with everything Harries says, with one crucial exception: given its ongoing institutional homophobia, the Church of England is in no position, whatsoever, to lecture African provinces about equality and inclusion.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 at 3:57pm BST

Pace James, it is because it is struggling openly with the issue, and is prepared to acknowledge its divisions, that the C of E's witness is more powerful. We come at it, not from a position of power, but from one of weakness, and in many cases, repentance. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of power and violence to impose our will on others.

Posted by: gerry reilly on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 at 5:31pm BST

James and others: please read the whole debate. What struck me was the very negative things that some other peers said about the way that the serving bishops were conspicuous by their absence. I hope that someone will seek an explanation, because it has to be concluded that their absence was deliberate.

Posted by: Turbulent priest on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 at 5:50pm BST

Excellent speech by Lord Harries. Separating the religious from the civic spheres is a crucial step.

Where were the Lords Spiritual during these speeches? Baroness Northover speaks of their absence.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 at 6:40pm BST

I've read Harries' speech in its entirety, along with much of the surrounding debate. I agree it was, on the whole, excellent. It does nothing to bolster the Church of England's moral authority on this issue, or the need for it to get its own house in order before telling others how to run theirs.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 at 11:52pm BST

Who was the Duty Bishop, detailed to lead the Prayers, last week in the House of Lords when this debate took place on 17th September?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 5:37am BST

Bishop Harries is one of the most humane and enlightened figures in Anglicanism, and he addresses the problem of African homophobia here with courage and honesty.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 6:21am BST

Lord Harries, when he was Bishop of Oxford, was known to have commended the election of Fr. Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. No doubt he was surprised when Archbishop Rowan Williams (then ABC, but now Lord Williams - also with a seat on the H. of L.) requested J.J. to retire from that election - because of the pressure from homophobic Primates from the Global South.

One wonders how many Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords would have applauded Lord Harries' speech in the House, recommending the British Government's intervention on behalf of the Gay community around the world. Not many one suspects.

What would have been good, would be for Lord Williams to have been at the meeting to affirm the crying need of proactive intervention with world governments on behalf of the LGBTI people some of our own Prelates in Gafcon Provinces still seek to vilify and condemn.

Thank God for the intestinal fortitude of Lord Harries, whose own conscience is alive and well on this important issue for the Anglican Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 11:28am BST

Splendid speech by Lord Harries. If he had been chosen to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury in his day the Church would now be in a very different place. It is so sad

Posted by: Revd Jean Mayland on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 4:30pm BST

> What would have been good, would be for Lord Williams to have been at the meeting to affirm the crying need of proactive intervention with world governments on behalf of the LGBTI people some of our own Prelates in Gafcon Provinces still seek to vilify and condemn.

Why would Lord Williams do that? He sold out to the Primates of the Global South in 2003 and has done nothing for LGBTI people since.

Posted by: Robin on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 5:06pm BST

According to Hansard, prayers were led by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.

Posted by: Turbulent Priest on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 7:12pm BST

Agreed, Robin.

Rowan Williams has never gone to bat for LGBT people: he published a sympathetic academic paper back in the '80s, ordained a few closeted priests, and that's about it. At heart, he's an authoritarian Anglo-Catholic, who puts church unity above all. There's no evidence that he even holds an affirming position, or has done for a long time.

It's bizarre that this deeply conservative member of the Anglican establishment, who contemptuously denounced liberal theology in an open letter to John Shelby Spong, and appointed N.T. Wright as his episcopal aide-de-camp, could ever be percieved as a liberal.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at 11:49pm BST

Why would Lord Williams do that? He sold out to the Primates of the Global South in 2003 and has done nothing for LGBTI people since.

Posted by: Robin on Thursday,"

Please don't sell ++Rowan Williams short. I believe he did what he could only have done in the circumstances. He weighed up the lack of support he would have found among the English Bishops - on this issue of 'lack of nerve' about dealing with homophobia in the Communion at that time - and found their likelihood of support wanting.

I believe this was a similar situation experienced by Lord Runcie, when he was in charge, on the issue of Women Clergy. Backbone is excellent to have in hindsight, but it needs supporting tissue to support it. I believe the supporting tissue in the C. of E. House of Bishops was not there at the time of The bishop of Oxford's proposal of Jeffrey John's election to that House.

Everyone was aware of Rowan Williams' support of Gay people in the Church. However, the Church did not support his outlook at the time and he was stymied. His time as trend-setter has now gone, unfortunately, but both he and archbishop Runcie did their level best in the circumstances.

Maybe the present archbishop is on the right path with his appeal to 'Unity in Diversity' Let those who hear the call rally around, while those who insist on out-dated Uniformity - at the expense of Justice - pursue their limited goal.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 7:07am BST

It's a major human rights issue of our time. Yet the Bishops' Bench was empty for a speech by one of their own.

That speaks volumes about the Church of England. Even on a day when an Archbishop gave the Bishops very public cover to disagree with other Communion churches, none of the Bishops dared to show up to listen.

This does not bode well for the so-called "listening process."

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 9:17am BST

Agree with many here, especially Jeremy. Our bishops and archbishops are in this respect disgraceful. They themselves must know how shoddy they are. A great cheer for all the 'noble lords' (not my normal vocabulary) who spoke, especially Harries and Fowler, who has grown remarkably in stature since the great AIDS crisis of the late 80s.

Posted by: John on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 12:39pm BST

Father Ron, in 2003, a substantial number of English bishops released a letter supportive of Jeffrey John, but even if Williams had stood alone, he had no excuse for not taking a stand. Leaders are supposed to lead. He could've tried to fight, or resigned in protest. This isn't hindsight, people at the time were outraged at his capitulation.

This was a case in which a gay man who obeyed even the church's discriminatory rules was driven from his job by a mob who flouted them. You couldn't find a clearer example of prejudice-fueled injustice, and Williams caved.

God save us from the white moderates.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 2:32pm BST

Having left Episcopalian / Anglicanism altogether and joined the ELCA, I haven't been paying much attention recently to "all that," but Lord Harries's excellent speech has me wanting to think out loud.

I am struck by his repeated calls for the African churches to accept that there is a difference between the disciplines imposed on church members, as such, and the laws governing the conduct of all citizens of a nation, both churched and unchurched.

I wonder whether the lingering "Catholic" notes of the Church of England -- e.g. its special role in Government, or its approach to parish membership -- make it difficult for its leadership to accept that the duties and prohibitions enjoined on Church of England members are not binding on all citizens of the nation. Perhaps this "Catholic" approach has been communicated to the churches of its former colonies, now the "Global South," so that they also believe their particular beliefs should be made binding law for all citizens of their nations.

In the United States, "Establishment" of this kind is forbidden by the Constitution. The Episcopal Church in the US has all the notes of a church to which one belongs by choice, rather than a church co-extensive with a nation, something Canterbury never seemed willing to understand.

On the other hand, US Protestant Evangelicals, the supporters of African Anglicanism, often try to chip away or circumvent the prohibitions against Establishment. This is a continuing feature of American life. It may be that their Calvinist tradition encourages them to inscribe their beliefs in the civil law, fulfilling what they believe is a command to enforce the Law on the reprobate as well as the elect.

The Lutheran tradition is different. Acceptance of religious pluralism was enforced on the churches of the Holy Roman Empire in the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War, and by the end of the 18th century the leading state in the Protestant lands, Prussia, had developed something close to religious neutrality in the modern sense. (Later, though, there was some backsliding.)

Here might be one of the reasons that Lutherans have, by and large, been able to avoid the destructive and cruel debates over sexuality that have torn the Anglican Communion apart. Marriage, to Luther and his tradition, is a civil matter, governed by civil laws. In most Lutheran traditions, the civil and religious spheres are inherently separate, and only in extreme circumstances should one trespass on the other's territory. I think it's a better model for the mainstream American Protestant tradition, which is why I continue to hope for "ever closer union" between TEC and ELCA.

Posted by: Charlotte on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 5:26pm BST

"God save us from the white moderates!"

And from the Immoderates of any hue!

"Let us REASON together. The past is past. Do we have a future, in Communion?"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 25 September 2015 at 9:23pm BST

Charlotte, Lutheran pluralism is indeed why, here at least, they managed to avoid the tearing and destruction. There were already different synods of the church allowed into the same geographic area. ELCA for liberals, Missouri for conservatives, and a few more here and there. Unfortunately they exist because of prior splits and mergers. Several churches and priests switched synods in both directions and most were allowed to keep the building. It's much easier to avoid a public spectacle if the majority is free to go where they want and still remain a part of the church. Anglicanism, for all its vaunted "via media", is more "all or nothing." Perhaps Welby's attempt to get the Primates together and change the communion and churches in America joining other Anglican churches is the beginning of a similar system of synods in Anglicanism.

Posted by: Chris H. on Saturday, 26 September 2015 at 3:04am BST

Much in what Charlotte says. Many Christians simply can't see - still less accept - the distinction between religious and civil dictates. When you try arguing it to them, they start spluttering about 'the exclusion of Christianity from public life', 'the oppression of Christians', etc. They're not helped by the fact that people who really should know better (like NT Wright, even R Williams) tend to say similar things.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 26 September 2015 at 11:06am BST
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