Reverend Michael Tamihere had a crisis of conscience when out youth pastor Brittany Kusserow put together a GLBT feature in The Anglican, the church’s monthly magazine. He tells us about his evolution on the issue.
In 1998, a meeting of Anglican Bishops from around the world, while arguing for tolerance, declared that homosexual acts were “incompatible with scripture”. It would appear that many Anglicans were (and continue to be) content with this status.
In 2004, Gene Robinson entered office in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of the United States of America as the first openly gay Bishop in the Anglican Communion. A move that followed on the heels of the authorisation of a rite for the blessing of same-sex unions in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in Canada in 2002.
These Anglican provinces, in the US and Canada, were quickly called upon to desist from and reverse these actions; delegates from the same were asked to “uninvite” themselves from international Anglican bodies and they were also called upon to present and explain their actions in the international arena—they agreed, they presented and were largely ignored. The debate had polarised Anglicans around the world and the battle lines had already been drawn.
Much has happened since but the Anglican communion has never recovered and many consider our Church worldwide to be impaired if not in schism.
While we have our own particular context here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have the same struggles and range of diverse beliefs when it comes to the place of GLBT people. Some have no qualms with it whatsoever and believe that being GLBT is no bar to ordination or marriage, others won’t stand for it and many are in between; all of them cite scripture to support their stance.
But for all our range of beliefs as it stands, we don’t allow for the ordination of openly gay people or same-sex marriage (not that the latter is legal but if it were we’d not be able to automatically, nor do we have authorised rites and I’m not allowed as a priest to even preside over a civil union).
If it’s any consolation we’ve established a commission called “Ma Whea” (Where to [next]) to look at and “to report to the General Synod/te Hinota Whanui”. This report will look at three issues:
Firstly, the report will have a summary of the biblical and theological work done by our Church on the issues surrounding Christian ethics, human sexuality and the blessing and ordination of people in same sex relationships, including missiological, doctrinal, canonical, cultural and pastoral issues. It will also outline the principles of Anglican ecclesiology and, in light of our diversity, the ecclesial possibilities for ways forward for our Three Tikanga Church. The report will then talk about the implications of the above items on the place of our Three Tikanga Church as a whole within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
We are also expecting the report to talk about what care and protection there would be for those who could be marginalised.
In the meantime though, while there are places where GLBT people are encouraged and unequivocally welcomed in the Anglican Church, regardless of all our talking, the Church is not overall a particularly encouraging or safe place for GLBT people. We are as riddled with homophobia and ignorance as society at large – sometimes more so as we call upon religion and scripture to back up our prejudice – which, if we preach love and peace and welcome, should never be the case with even the least and the last in society (who are the very ones we are called to look to and stand with first!).
When the call went out from youth pastor Brittany Kusserow to find or write stories for an Anglican publication from a queer perspective, I ignored it for a host of reasons. One reason nagged at me though. I personally find no barrier to the ordination of gay people or same-sex marriage. I do not believe being gay is a choice. I believe attempts to cure people of or repress being gay to be harmful and even dangerous. And yet I was reluctant to say so for selfish reasons.
In my role I have to minister to and work with a host of people and leaders who run the gamut of views towards being GLBT. I think a little part of me knew that saying nothing was the easiest course to allay any fear I had of straining any of those relationships. So I ignored the request.
When the publication came out, two things happened. The first is that I was moved by the heartfelt stories of those who had had the courage to answer that call. Even if by anyone’s summation one publication can’t change the world, if just one young person read one of those stories and found an ounce more courage or faith or any sense that they weren’t as alone as they’d thought, or even if it moved someone like me to think more deeply about what it means to be ‘queer’, then that publication had done an amazing job. The second was that I was shocked at the adverse reaction these stories drew from Anglicans and ashamed that I hadn’t taken up the offer when asked.
As another Anglican has put it: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”; but then Desmond Tutu is a far better Anglican than I. Here’s hoping I can begin bridging that gap.
| Rev. Michael Tamihere