Commentary from Giles Fraser "from across the pond":
Uniting in homophobia, the Anglican church has delivered another blow to the battle against global religious fascism
Thursday September 27, 2007
After months of "Anglican church to divide" headlines, the end is, at last, nigh. Those Anglicans who are really no more than fundamentalists in vestments will split off and form a version of the continuing Anglican church, or whatever they will call it. And the moderate conservatives and the moderate progressives will settle down to business as usual. After much worry, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be able to have a good night's sleep. The church is safe.
If only it were as simple as that. The deal that the archbishop has brokered with the Episcopal church in New Orleans protects the unity of the church by persuading US bishops that the church is more important than justice. The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures would have been appalled.
For all the high-sounding rhetoric about how much they value gay people, the church has once again purchased its togetherness by excluding the outsider. The biblical text that hovers over this whole shoddy deal is John 11:50. As Jesus stands before the court, the high priest Caiaphas persuades the others that for practical reasons he must be got rid of: "You do not understand that it is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed." And so the deal is done.
OK, so no one has died here. A gay American bishop hasn't been invited to the Lambeth conference, a hugely expensive jolly that brings all the church's bishops to Canterbury once every 10 years. On top of this, the US church has agreed not to make any more bishops if they admit to being gay and having a partner. And they won't do gay blessing services either. Is this really so onerous a set of compromises in order to keep everybody round the same communion table? After all, compared with the desolation and misery that Hurricane Katrina wrought on those who hosted the meeting in New Orleans, ought we not to get a bit more perspective?
No: the struggle for the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life of the church is a frontline battle in the war against global religious fascism. Robert Mugabe has called homosexuals "worse than dogs and pigs". Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government denies that gay people exist in Iran, and hangs the ones it finds. The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria thinks homosexuality "evil" and "cancerous". There can be no compromise with any of this, irrespective of whether it is backed up by dodgy readings of holy texts or not.
Which is why the collapse of will in the US House of Bishops is so disappointing. Whatever happened to the spirit of the Boston tea party? One visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury and they get suckered into history worship, falling in line behind the ancient mother church as if they were still suspended on colonial apron strings. Unfortunately, for all its sharp prophetic witness, the Achilles heel of the Episcopal church is its snotty-nosed Anglophilia. Establishment liberals have only so much bottle.
US bishops are now returning to their dioceses with a troubled conscience. Many know that the logic of the New Orleans deal is the logic of unity through exclusion. The church styles itself as not playing by these rules, yet this whole sorry business is as visceral as a group of playground kids coming together to slag off the boy with the unfashionable haircut or funny accent. Finding someone to point the finger at is the best way of bringing people together. Global Christian cohesion is being achieved by a church that is defining itself against some representative other - in this case, a short, rather geeky gay bishop with a bit of a drink problem. He is a scapegoat straight from central casting.
The sad truth is, the issue of homosexuality isn't splitting the Anglican communion: it's uniting it like never before. Before this great global row, we hardly knew each other existed. Anglicans in the pews could hardly care less about Christians in the next door parish, let alone care for those thousands of miles away in Africa or Asia. But as crisis looms, common cause has been achieved. The Rt Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, has brought people together: hands across the ocean, united in homophobia.
It was the Episcopal church that held out longest against unholy unification. But in agreeing to these terms, they too have now bent the knee to the will of the collective bully. The fact that a fringe of rabid evangelicals may now quit the church must not distract from Rowan Williams's achievement in keeping us all together. A crisis has been averted. Gay people remain firmly on the outside; used by the church for vicars and vergers and sacristans, but officially little more than outcasts.
I have never been persuaded that Jesus was gay, as some do believe. But there is no doubt that he too was the outsider, despised and rejected. He also was the victim of official religious persecution. Which is why the other passage that today's Christians ought to give some thought to is the one from St Matthew's gospel that goes: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford