One of the reports on the Lambeth Conference was The Times’ ‘Lambeth voices: a panel of Anglican bishops share their views with Faith Online’. Here’s a quote from 30th July: I find that many of our North American friends blame us and criticise us for bringing in the issues of sexuality and homosexuality but in fact they are the ones who are bringing these issues in. Here at Lambeth, you come across many advertisements for events organised by gay and Lesbian activists which are sponsored by the North American Church. If you visit the marketplace at the conference, you will notice that almost half the events promoted on the noticeboard promote homosexuality and are sponsored by the North Americans. And in the end, we, the people who remain loyal to the original teaching of the Anglican Communion, which we received from the Apostles, are blamed. They say that we talk a lot about sexuality and that we need to talk more about poverty, about AIDS, and injustice. They are the ones who are bringing sexuality into this conference. It’s not us. We want to talk about the heart of the issues which divide us, not only sexuality. That is just a symptom of a deeper problem.
Interesting how things are changing. Throughout the twentieth century there was a tendency for evangelical opinion in the English-speaking world to coalesce around one or two ethical issues, a sharp contrast with liberals who vary much more widely in their interests. Without doubt the current focus on homosexuality was an evangelical initiative: liberals and catholics have never been so bothered about it. Now however the tune seems to be changing. At the end of the GAFCON conference Peter Jensen declared that their agenda was not homosexuality but what he called ‘loyalty to Scripture’; and it now appears that anti-gay church leaders are increasingly claiming that it’s liberals who are obsessed with it.
It is certainly true that the Lambeth Conference Marketplace was better represented by pro-gay than anti-gay organizations. I was greatly surprised as it’s usually the other way round. I put it down to the fact that at the time when the bookings had to be made it looked as if liberals would have to lobby hard to retain their place within Anglicanism and conservatives had less to worry about. And of course you lobby when you want change but when you don’t want change you accuse your opponents of being obsessed.
I suspect that there is more to it. The focus on homosexuality suited the hardliners for a while, as it provided the best chance of uniting evangelical opinion around a single campaign. It was never going to work for ever. Increasing numbers of evangelicals are getting bored with the issue, rightly wanting to engage with other matters like world poverty and global warming. Worse still, as the affluent West becomes more tolerant of homosexuality increasing numbers of evangelicals are meeting open gays and discovering that they are not the devil incarnate.
My hope is that the campaign against homosexuality will soon decline. My fear is that it will be replaced by some other campaign, equally designed to foster a sectarian, black-and-white picture of goodies and baddies, equally willing to sacrifice some unfortunate minority in the interests of providing those who need it with a sense of belonging to a select Gnostic elite of true believers.