September 17, 2004

Author Talks on Gays in Church

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Canadian author Chris Ambidge spoke on the possibilities of peaceful coexistence between the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community and the Anglican Church in Canada last night, drawing both on his personal experiences as a gay man as well as the Church’s role in acknowledging the LGB presence in its pews.

“The Anglican Church baptized me, and now they’re stuck with me,” Ambidge joked. Delivering his message with biting humor and bluntness, Ambidge outlined the recent history of the LGBT presence in Canadian Christianity.

In 1975, Integrity-Toronto was established to give the gay community a voice in the Anglican Church. At the time, Ambidge said, it was okay to be gay as long as you didn’t engage in same-sex acts. “It’s okay to be a bird as long as you don’t fly. I’m sure pigeons have that vocation, but not all of us can.” Integrity began attending the General Synod (the Anglican Church’s parliamentary body in Canada) in the late 1980s.

Around this time, opposition group Fidelity formed, calling for adherence to the Church’s “traditional” sexual teachings. “That was a good thing …” Ambidge said. “It meant we were having an effect.”

In 1995, the bishop of Toronto decided to form a discussion group, with three people from Integrity and three from Fidelity. Ambidge noticed that they had more in common than not. “Integrity and Fidelity have held joint services,” he said, pointing out the groups’ progress. “I think that’s very important. It wasn’t an easy thing to do … I’ve been called an Uncle Tom or even worse.” Yet, Ambidge pointed out, “we are not enemies.”

“But the Uncle Tom bit is necessary,” Ambidge said, adding that Gandhi once said, “A screaming person only hears himself.” He shared what someone had once told him: Nothing you could ever do will make God love you any less; nothing your enemy could ever do makes God love him any less. “This idea of winners and losers is pernicious.”

And there remains, as always, the conservative opposition, although this has dwindled to a minority in recent years. Ambidge explained the history of New Westminster’s battle for same-sex unions, which the diocese had wanted in 1998. The vote passed by a small margin, and the conservative bishop did not approve it. Another vote occurred in 2000, and it passed again by a larger margin, but the bishop did not consent until an overwhelming 58 percent voted in favor of blessing same-sex unions several years later.

However, Ambidge pointed out, only seven blessings have occurred in New Westminster since then. Toronto entertained a similar notion to New Westminster, and will commit itself to a year of study before voting, although that has yet to happen.

Ambidge, who co-edited Living Together in the Church: Including Our Differences, insists that “we need to be able to coexist more than anything else.” And having a dialogue, Ambidge said, is not admitting defeat. “Being a child of God does not mean being a baby …”

Homosexuality is the surface issue, he continued, but “it’s not what people are fighting for. The fight is about who gets to tell who what to do. I have been told that this will be the downfall of Western Christendom … it’s rather flattering, really.”

Ambidge closed by acknowledging that God invites everyone to the table, but humans have problems excepting each others’ differences. “But I’m not the one issuing the invitations,” he said.

It’s encouraging to see that people are trying … It’s hard for me to sympathize with the other side. It’s personally a deep issue, but I’m encouraged by this,” said John Cattley ’05. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center and the Episcopal Church at Cornell sponsored the lecture. The Rev. Suzanne Guthrie, Episcopal chaplain at Cornell, also spoke briefly.

“A few very loud people seem to have influenced and abducted what Christianity is in the U.S. . . . I’m in utter shock,” Guthrie said. “There’s been the hijacking of the church, and of our religion. There seems to be this message about prosperity and power and exclusion, which is the opposite of what the text [the Bible] gives us.”

“It is the poor ones that carry the divine spark … all the disenfranchised people carry the real power of human life,” she said.

Archived article by Maya Rao
Staff Writer