Why I can’t sign the Changing Attitude Letter

SigningChanging Attitude have published the letter that they circulated around various groups in the past week, especially Anglican Mainstream, Fulcrum and Reform. There are parts of the letter that are very good, succinct and powerful, but other aspects which mean that Evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics should not sign it in its present form.

Here’s the text:

A bill has been introduced into the Ugandan parliament that consolidates previous legislation relating to homosexuality and introduces several new measures. According to the text of the bill introduced in the Ugandan Parliament last week, the new law would:

  • Reaffirm the lifetime sentence currently provided upon conviction of homosexuality, and extends the definition from sexual activity to merely “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”
  • Create a new category of “aggravated homosexuality” which provides for the death penalty for “repeat offenders” and for cases where the individual is HIV-positive.
  • Criminalizes all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda with fines and imprisonment of between five and seven years.
  • Criminalizes the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
  • Adds a clause which forces friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24-hours of learning about that individual’s homosexuality or face fines or imprisonment of up to three years.
  • Adds extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.

Anglican bishops in this country have long-standing relationships with the Bishops of the Church of Uganda. They have participated in Lambeth Conferences where the bishops committed themselves to speak out against capital punishment (Lambeth 1988 33:3b), and to condemn the irrational fear of homosexuals (Lambeth 1998 1:10d).

While it is well known that, as organisations, we stand on opposing sides over the controversies about homosexuality and the Church, on this occasion we set aside our differences and call on the Church of Uganda to make her voice heard in protest at this draconian legislation and in defence of the civil liberties and dignity of an oppressed minority of the population of Uganda. We further call on our Primates and the English bishops of the three dioceses linked with the Church of Uganda to use their friendship with the Primate and bishops to urge them to publicly oppose the bill.

I’ve highlighted the section that makes it impossible to sign the letter. Let me explain why.

It is entirely disingenuous for Changing Attitude to demand that conservative groups sign a letter (and to imply that those who don’t are somehow bigoted and uncaring) which contains a reference to Lambeth 1998 1:10, when it and other revisionist groups seem to want to pick and choose which clauses of that resolution to accept. If we need reminding, other clauses of that resolution include:

b. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;

d. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

e. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;

Indeed, the very clause that the letter refers to includes a clear rejection of homosexual activity as utterly incompatible with Scripture. Changing Attitude seem to want to completely ignore that section, but insist that other organisations publicly affirm the portions of the text that don’t conflict with the revisionist agenda. That is an utterly unacceptable position to maintain and it shows a highly derogatory view of the institutions and processes that underlie the Lambeth resolution in question.

Can I propose an edit of the letter? Strike everything onwards from (and including) the sentence beginning, “They have participated…” and replace it with the following:

We remind the Church of Uganda that its bishops signed Lambeth Resolution 1998 1:10 and we call on them and commit ourselves to implementing Lambeth 1998 1:10 in its entirety across the whole Communion, including, but not limited to, the need to “condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.

We further call on our Primates and the English bishops of the three dioceses linked with the Church of Uganda to use their friendship with the Primate and bishops to urge them to publicly oppose the bill.

Now that’s a letter that I’d be happy to sign. Changing Attitude over to you, but to be honest if you’re not able to sign my version (which calls on the Church of Uganda to oppose this Bill) why should I feel under any pressure to sign yours?

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10 Comments on “Why I can’t sign the Changing Attitude Letter

  1. I couldn’t sign that letter either, but there are other ways which do not contain any problematic clauses, e.g. the cross-denominational group Warren Throckmorton created on Facebook which got up to 1600+ members within ten days:

    Irmgard

  2. But what about the line the says, “on this occasion we set aside our differences”? If you agree with CA that the bill should be opposed (you evidently do from your edit of the letter), why not join with them in opposing it? Signing their text does not (as far as I can see) commit you to anything you don’t agree with or believe in, whereas for CA to sign your amended text would commit them to something they don’t agree with.

    Or, if you refuse CA’s text, how about finding another way to oppose this bill?

    Am going to Box Turtle Bulletin to send some e-mails to Ugandan officials – as (a) it’s high time I did and (b) then I’m not asking anybody to do things I haven’t myself done…

    in friendship, Blair

    • To answer your opening question Blair, quite simply because such an (joint) opposition to the Bill could easily be achieved with a letter that doesn’t selectively misquote Lambeth 98 1:10. It is that selective misquoting which has changed this letter into an exercise in political manoeuvring.

      • But CA doesn’t misquote Lambeth ’98 1:10 – their letter only refers to it. And the reference is to a paragraph (d) with which I don’t doubt CA partly disagree. As I said above, I don’t see how signing their text commits you to anything that you don’t in conscience agree with.

        • Oops. Rereading this, I should have either added to (or not put in) my second paragraph above – the one beginning “Or, if you cannot…”. Shouldn’t have implied that you’re not finding other ways to oppose the bill – or implicitly judged you like that. Sorry.

        • But can you not accept the point that it is disingenuous of Changing Attitude to want to use Lambeth ’98 1:10 when it suits their agenda but ignore it when it doesn’t? It is a mis-quote because it ignores the context of the quote and makes it sound (in the letter) as though that was the key portion of the resolution.

          I would happily sign up for and promote every single word of Lambeth ’98 1:10. Given that Changing Attitude will not give it the authority it bears, why do they think they can pick and choose? And why therefore quote that section of Lambeth ’98 1:10 when the letter could be adequately written without?

          • Hi Peter,

            disingenuous possibly, but to be honest I think you’re reading CA’s letter a bit uncharitably. I don’t accept that the letter makes it sound as though the line condemning “the irrational fear of homosexuals” was the key portion – it quotes it because it’s relevant to the point at hand, surely?

            You “would happily sign up for and promote every single word of Lambeth ‘98 1:10” – but what of the bishops (one Rowan Wiliams among them) who would not vote for it? Can the resolution have quite the authority you impute to it, given that it was disputed at the time? I’m not aware of any other Lambeth conference resolutions which are given the kind of status that 1998 1:10 seems to have. And if several dozen bishops would not vote for any of that resolution, why is CA to be condemned for ‘picking and choosing’? In any case, their letter does not advance any ‘revisionist agenda’ as far as I can see. And, on the other hand, couldn’t it be said that CA is giving 1:10 some authority, simply by appealing to it in the letter?

            CA’s disagreement with the line in 1:10 that says ‘homosexual practice’ is “incompatible with Scripture” is, looked at one way, a question of exegesis, isn’t it? – but their letter doesn’t touch on this question. And it still seems odd to me that you want CA to affirm something that they cannot, but would not do this yourself…

            OK, may have gone off on one a bit there…

            in friendship, Blair

  3. I agree with Blair here. If lives are at stake and this bill is unjust and we should oppose it, then this is not the time for squabbling over what our differences are or trying to score points.

    Why not ask CA to strike out the whole of the highlighted paragraph, or, as Blair suggests, find another way?

    I contacted Peter about this issue separately, by the way, and I am not responding to comments on this post.

  4. I think that the harder groups like Changing Attitude, and NGO’s, donor government representatives, and others who advocate for ‘gay rights’ push, the more the backers of the bill will resist.

    Groups like AM, if they want their voice taken seriously in Uganda, have to distance themselves from the gay rights lobby, even if they can agree on a common letter.

    AM’s lobbying approach must focus on the point that the bill is fundamentally un-Christian. They must take a tack similar to that of <a href="http://www.independent.co.ug/index.php/component/content/article/106-myblog/2032-put-down-the-stones"Warren Throckmorton's letter in the (Ugandan) Independent newspaper.

    And of course, as Peter has said, initially at least, the less public the lobbying, the better.

    In the final analysis, though this is a draconian and yes, un-Christian bill, I don’t think the bill is the main issue for the church. I think there is a huge dearth of proper Christian teaching on homosexuality (or sexuality in general) in Uganda, much as has been the case in the West. But churches in Uganda have the opportunity to learn from the West, to learn that unless they get their act together before politics gets into it, before they know what’s hit them, they are going to lose lots of souls.

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