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BY RALINDA B. GREGOR, EXECUTIVE EDITOREncompass: First Quarter, 2012
In October, many of the Episcopal Church's (TEC) leading activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) concerns met with African Anglican bishops and clergy to discuss theological and "justice" perspectives on LGBT sexuality. The meeting included contextual Bible study, presentations by TEC representatives, and twice - daily tea breaks for socializing among the participants, all within the framework of the Indaba process. About 15 of the participants were from North America and 30 hailed from Africa - specifically Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
The Chicago Consultation, a group of Episcopal and Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people who support the "full inclusion" (i.e. ordination and marriage/blessings) of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion, funded the conference in Durban, South Africa. (Chicago Consultation news release) The Ujamaa Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a theological and ideological community development organization that focuses on poor and marginalized people, hosted the meeting. The Ujamaa Centre, led by Professor Gerald West, views Christianity through the lens of liberation theology, and its name - Ujamaa - is a term for African socialism.
Some of the African participants were unwilling to make their participation publicly known and their names have not been released. However, various TEC participants have talked and written about the conference and revealed some individuals' names.
|Ujamma Centre and Chicago Consultation hosted the gathering at the Salt Rock Conference Center overlooking the ocean near Durban, South Africa.|
During the conference, four TEC representatives shared their stories with the group. The Rev. Winnie Varghese spoke from her perspective as a lesbian Episcopal priest. The Rev. Bonnie Perry, partnered lesbian and co-founder of the Chicago Consultation, shared the story of her "inclusive" parish, All Saints Episcopal in Chicago, Illinois. Bishop Jeff Lee, Diocese of Chicago, shared TEC's theology of the Baptismal Covenant (see also God's Call and Our Response) which supports TEC's actions in consecrating non-celibate gays and lesbians and developing official rites for same-sex blessings as a matter of justice for all who are baptized. The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler, dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta, Ga., told the corporate story of TEC - how the decisions of General Conventions since 1964 have explored sexuality issues and laid the framework for the current policy not to bar anyone from the ordination process based on sexual orientation.
Another one of the speakers was Canon Grace Kaiso, General Secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). Kaiso spoke on the three different viewpoints African Anglicans have about TEC: 1) TEC is an example of Western cultural imperialism and moral decay; 2) Acceptance of what TEC does but they don't want gays and lesbians at bishop level or higher; and 3) Progressive - homosexual identity is not a choice, progress comes incrementally.
According to Perry and Candler, it was the first time many of the African church leaders had met an American, not to mention an openly gay or lesbian person. In a sermon following the meeting, Perry related how one Tanzanian priest told her, "I must confess my sin to you. I did not know about gay people. I have been wrong about what I thought about you. Now I will go and tell people. I have a platform. I am a teacher. I will go and tell my people that we have been wrong about gay people. I am so sorry." Perry also related how Canon Kaiso asked her, "When can I come to your church? I want to go to All Saints for that is how church should be."
Bishop Lee said that he discussed TEC's theology of the Baptismal Covenant (which essentially asserts that all who are baptized are entitled to all of the sacraments all of the time) with a Tanzanian priest who told him, "Very orthodox, and practical too. I can use this!"
While the Chicago Consultation claims it won over a few African Anglican hearts and minds by hosting this conference, their February 24 email to supporters suggests that their more immediate goal was to win over the "movable middle" in TEC and convince them there will be no serious repercussions for approving same sex blessings at General Convention in July. The letter promises a report and video of the conference will be released soon and states: "Opponents of the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church frequently argue that doing justice within our church will ruin our relationships with others in the Anglican Communion. This honest, joyful gathering demonstrated that this is not the case." However, others see meetings like this as little more than disingenuous political moves.
"Any time a member of a conservative province participates in Continuing Indaba or meetings such as the one held in Durban, it's used by the revisionists as a sign of agreement with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada's moves toward ordaining lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to all three clergy offices and approving same-sex blessings and marriage. It is not just a conversation across differences" said the Rev. Canon J. Philip Ashey, AAC chief operating officer. "Make no mistake about it, the Chicago Consultation and TEC leadership believe it is their "Manifest Destiny" to spread their false gospel to the rest of the Anglican Communion. By hosting this conference they hope to gain a foothold in the conservative African provinces, and they are using their new African "friends" to try to prove to the rest of TEC that there will be no cost to approving same-sex blessings," Ashey added.
See more coverage on the South Africa Sexuality Dialogue: