The Essay is a good read, but finally unsatisfying. But I do thank the authors for reminding me of that incident.
“Ever since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Western Anglicans have been aware that their African counterparts express a far more strongly negative view of homosexuality than they do. At that time, for instance, we witnessed the Nigerian Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma's public attempt at "exorcising" Richard Kirker, leader of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) in the
I remembered that if one is interested you can still hear an audio of that attempt at exorcism. Click HERE to hear. It is a chaotic bit of audio, with the Bishop’s voice attempting to exorcise overlaid by Mr. Kirker’s voice attempting to reason with the Bishop.
That was eight years ago. Acting on the notion that being gay involves possession by evil, for which exorcism is appropriate, was shocking then. It seems distant and archaic now. But the madness lives on.
Such exorcism is the consequence of belief at the far end of the argument that being Gay is a choice and a choice for moral evil. The intervention of the Bishop in attempting to exorcise The Rev. Mr. Kirker was based on the Bishop’s perception of the presence of evil possession and he did this exorcism with the assumption that intervention is necessary, even if it is not with the consent of the person receiving the benefits of the exorcism.
Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma’s attempt was a bizarre example of a continuing belief held by some in the realignment community: namely that being Gay is a curable state of affairs and that the change from gay to straight is a change for the better. It assumes that such a change is for the good even if the candidate for change is unaware or uninterested that change is possible, or unwilling to change. Those who believe that one can be healed from being Gay are not particularly interested in what the gay or lesbian person wants or whether he or she believes themselves curable.
The American Anglican Council, from which the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, aka the Anglican Communion Network, sprang carries this slogan with it’s logo: “God changes lives for good.” That slogan is an appeal to a principle that applies to the matter of conversion, but in the context of the AAC’s ongoing critique of The Episcopal Church and its “pro-gay” agenda, it is on the face of it an affirmation of the notion that gayness can be cured, healed, exorcised. “God changes lives for good,” means that you too, dear Gay person, can be made whole, and by the way heterosexual or at least celibate.
In all the debates of the past few years in the Anglican Communion this particular notion has continued by some: that being sexually active as a gay person is a matter (as is all sexual action) of moral choice, and that being attracted to persons of the same sex is either a moral choice or a confusion of some sort, either of which can be cured. The “cure” consists of psychological and spiritual healing running the gambit from psychological counseling to exorcism.
It has been accompanied by the belief, mostly unspoken, that the disease can be communicated. This gets lived out in a variety of ways: gay members of the parish can’t teach Sunday School because they might be a “bad influence” on the kids; gay people can’t be in leadership because the church might “turn” gay or be perceived as a gay church; gay relationships cannot be observed with thanksgiving in church because others might come to think gay relationships are ‘normal.’
And, deeply held is the continuing notion that gay people can become straight people, with a little help from Jesus.
Jesus, who came to give us life, and that abundantly, might beg to differ.
In this past week it has come home again to me on two different occasions just how miserable and hurtful this notion of gay as a disease or gay as possession really is.
On good report I understand that a Happening for young people in one of the realignment dioceses included an invitation to youths attending the happening, that if they had any confusion or concerns about their sexual orientation or were thinking homosexual thoughts, they could come forward for healing. God, it is reported, would heal them of their wandering and wavering thoughts. Because I have this second hand I will not say the diocese in which this reportedly occurred. With more information I might.
So that is second hand. Bad enough. The story as told to me stressed that the young people were, like Mr. Kirker, simply presented with this call to be healed. Nothing was told them about whether or not they should consider themselves sick. If they had such thoughts they were sick. If they were confused they were sick. Ergo, they were in need of healing.
The second story I know of first hand. In a parish in a town neighboring my own the rector and parish were to host the annual ecumenical Thanksgiving service. The Choir of the parish was going to sing and a young man of the congregation was going to do a solo. When clergy of some of the evangelical / Pentecostal churches heard that the soloist was gay they came to the rector and stated their objections and said that because the young man was in a special ministry (of singing) he was, on the face of it, a parish leader. Because they believed that no gay or lesbian person should be in a position of leadership in the church they felt they had to object. So they said that either he had to go or they could not attend.
To his great credit the Rector indicated that sorry as he was for their leaving, he would not and could not ask the soloist to step down. The service would continue. About half the churches in the ministerial group then left and stated that they would not participate.
The notion that gay persons in leadership, however defined, would taint the whole group is only an extension of believing ‘gayness’ to be a disease. It is part of the larger notion that “God changes lives for good” applied specifically to all those efforts to reconstruct gay persons’ lives as straight.
The people in the ministerial association, the people of the AAC and the Bishop forcing his exorcism all understand being gay as a disease at best, possession at worst.
No matter the other outcomes of the current struggles, most of what is going on in the Anglican Communion does not have to do with homosexuality, but with an understanding of ecclesiastical power as something exercised by divine right and by men only. The matter is mostly about governance. Gay people are simply the pawns, wreckage in the fast lane where every effort is being made to clear the way for a more pure, more powerful, more, dare we say, perfect community.
That realization makes all the more insidious the claims for the right to exorcise, demonize, ostracize or otherwise declare unclean and sick, people who are gay. I believe the realignment crowd is deeply entrenched in this attack on gay people. Under the cover of pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons (which claim I believe has not been given any credence in the gay community) the realignment crowd professes to care about gay persons recovering. I am sure the clergy who refused to take part in the Thanksgiving Day service would have professed their love for gay people and their desire to see them made whole.
But underneath the professions of love and care, the desire to see gay people made whole, is expressed the absolute right to exorcise, cure, heal and otherwise change gay persons, with or without their permission or engagement. “God changes lives for good,” true enough. But God also confirms lives as good. And it is the work of arrogance to demand that gay people be changed and not confirmed.
The attempted exorcism was an aberration and an obscenity. The separation from community because a leading member of the choir is gay is no better. And a banner that “God changes lives for the good” is code for God changing gay people for the good, not allowing for the possibility that God has confirmed gay and straight alike for the good.
The Episcopal Church needs to reject in clear and well articulated terms every attempt to make being gay a sin, an illness or the possession of an evil spirit.
Sin is an equal opportunity employer, and forgiveness is an equal opportunity loan available at the times of deepest despair. Gay and straight alike are subject ot sin, illness and possession. There is no special state of uncleanness reserved for those who are Gay or Lesbian.
Louie Crew is right: God loves absolutely everybody.
I’m right too: God is no doubt disappointed in our recent performance.
Anyone who has ears to hear, hear.