, May 20, 2006.

To the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen
May 28, 2006

Re: Conservative Anglicans livid over lesbian priest in Ottawa, May 20. (Ref.)

In reading this article on the controversy surrounding the appointment of a lesbian priest who is living in a marriage relationship with her spouse, I cannot help but be amazed how a few clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa have managed to portray themselves as the victims.

As an advocate for what is now called gay rights, I always believed that the victims were the millions of gay and lesbian people worldwide whose personal safety and dignity are at risk every day because of institutionally sanctioned homophobia. To assert, as some opponents to this liberation movement do, that their opposition has nothing to do with bigotry but 'rather faithfulness to biblical teaching is like saying slavery (which is also sanctioned by the Bible) has nothing to do with slaves.

One spokesperson for the group in the Ottawa diocese opposing Bishop Peter Coffin's actions and the gay-rights advocacy of the Church of St John the Evangelist said that this group has been betrayed by the liberal hierarchy in the Anglican Church. This conspiracy theory simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

The policy decisions of the Anglican Church in Canada and the United States in supporting gay people and their committed relationship are all, without exception, based on the decisions of duly constituted synods representative of all Anglicans. By their constitutions every synod is at least two-thirds lay people. Every bishop is elected by a synod. How then can the so-called betrayal be blamed on the hierarchy?

In the Diocese of Ottawa, the "betraying liberal" bishop, Mr. Coffin, generously continues to licence as priests these protesting clergy, thereby allowing them to hold office and to receive their salaries even while they actively promote within their parishes separation from the diocese and its financial blackmail. This concession by Bishop Coffin to personal conscience and religious freedom can only be described as "betrayal" by the most convoluted reasoning.

I am sure that these same people would not fare so well under the episcopal direction of Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, an advocate of their own persuasion, whose declarations have no synodial authority and whose oppression of homosexuals will be recorded by church historians as nothing short of heinous.

Meanwhile, back home at St. John, church members here affirm the deep faith and sound vocation to priesthood of Linda Privitera and the sanctity of her marriage to Melissa Hauss-man, Archbishop Akinola and friends not withstanding.

Ottawa, Rector,
The Church of St John the Evangelist

Same-sex blessings

A response to Garth’s letter

To express disapproval or sadness is hardly to portray oneself as a victim. The objections of some local clergy (to the acceptance of someone involved in a lesbian marriage as a priest in good standing in this diocese) were based on what they had been taught and believe as theological truth. For them not to have spoken up for that truth would in their eyes have been to betray it.

All true Christians must share the Reverend Canon Garth Bulmer’s concern about bigotry and discrimination against anyone, including homosexuals. They are our neighbours, and we are commanded to love them as ourselves. The assumption by liberals that they are the only ones concerned for the rights of homosexuals is false, yet it is their constant implication.

The point of Canon Bulmer’s comparison of homosexuality with slavery is somewhat obscure. Slavery was almost universally practised and accepted in biblical times both as the fate of the conquered and the recourse of the bankrupt in societies without welfare safety nets. The Bible did not teach that it was either necessary or desirable for anyone. It merely regulated the practice to make the treatment of such unfortunates more humane at a time when the abolition of the institution was simply not an option. On the otherhand, while the Bible said much in favour of freedom that could and did lead to the abolition of slavery once this was culturally supportable, it said nothing at all in favour of homosexual acts that could lead anyone to think that they were desirable or should be acceptable in any culture. On the contrary its condemnations are unambiguous, strong and consistent. The relevance of the parallel drawn by Canon Bulmer is therefore hard to discern.

With regard to the culpable actions of the liberal hierarchy of the Anglican Church, Canon Bulmer defends them by pointing out that they have been supported by synods with a composition that is at least two-thirds lay people and only one-third clergy. This is true and should be seen in the context of St. Paul’s prophecy (in 2 Timothy 4:3-4) that the time would come when people would not put up with sound doctrine, but would gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears wanted to hear, and turn away from listening to the truth. That fact does not, of course, excuse the hierarchy from culpability in sharing the attitudes of the laity. Priests and bishops take special vows at ordination and consecration, and have a special responsibility to “follow the pattern of the sound words” derived from the apostles and to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to them. It is the business of the shepherds to lead the sheep in God’s safe paths, not to encourage them in wilfully and dangerously following the ways of the world.

Now, regardless of the make up of the synods, our diocesan synod and our national synod have NOT produced any warrants or permission to bless same sex unions as rites in the Church. That's the betrayal: our diocese has put through this acceptance of a homosexual civil union by permitting a priest in one to function fully as if her union was a marriage or as if living together in a sexual relationship is now acceptable. Neither is supported by Scripture; neither has been OK'd by our synods. This is a unilateral action. It's outside of historic Christianity, Anglicanism as practised around the world and even outside of our own current local standards. No wonder some of us feel betrayed!

Canon Bulmer then goes on to make some remarks (about Bishop Peter Coffin’s continuing to license the protesting clergy) that come close to a suggestion that the Bishop should withdraw the licences of the protesters. That priests should be threatened with exclusion from the diocese for adhering to their ordination vows and speaking in defence of historic Christian and Anglican teaching would be radical indeed.

After that remarkable assault on the conscientious objectors to unfaithful innovation in the Diocese of Ottawa, Canon Bulmer turns his guns on Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. A poll in Kenya last summer on same-sex marriage showed that 98% of the population was opposed to it. The situation in Nigeria is similar and is further complicated by numerous violent attacks on the Christians by Muslims who have come to regard Christians as fair targets because of the reports on the attitudes towards homosexuality in western “Christian” countries. Archbishop Akinola has taken the steps he regards as necessary to protect the lives and property of his people in the circumstances of the culture in which they live. It is hypocritical to condemn traditional African cultures for passing legislation that we also passed at a time when our circumstances were similar to theirs now, and which was still in force in our countries a mere 50 or so years ago.

Instead of condemning the Anglicans in Nigeria for not living in a liberal western-style democracy, it might be more to the point to recognize that they have entirely valid reasons for objecting to the way in which the Anglican Church in the West is forsaking the authority of the Bible. Jesus told us that the Bible is God’s true word and cannot be broken, and that has been a foundational doctrine of apostolic Christianity for almost 2,000 years. We have no right to abandon it, but that is what our radical redefinition of marriage would amount to. Christian teaching has always been that sanctity is conferred on heterosexual marriage by the sacrament of marriage. To confer sanctity on homosexual unions, as General Synod 2004 imagined that it could, (ref.) will take a lot more than Canon Bulmer’s wishful thinking.

- Tony Copple
President, The Anglican Gathering of Ottawa