Homophobia, Adoption and the Church

Argus title : Children’s needs are what count

My friend Teresa was once a Church of England nun. She left the order after several years, trained as a doctor and then moved to Brighton. She became very active in her local church.

When I met Teresa I immediately felt drawn to her. I liked her sharp mind and insightful attitude to church and politics. I also liked her partner Bernadette. She was a devout Roman Catholic, much gentler than Teresa and with little interest in politics.

Although she’d never been a mother, Bernadette seemed perfectly maternal. She was kind, with an extraordinary ability to convey warmth and acceptance to the people around her. Children instantly gravitated towards her.

My daughter C.J., who was then quite small, used to love it when Teresa and Bernadette visited. She could talk about serious matters to Teresa who would listen carefully to her views as if she was an adult. And when Teresa and I had discussions about politics or religion, Bernadette would be down on the floor with C.J., playing endless games with rare patience.

Teresa and Bernadette had no children of their own, but we thought of them as our daughter’s aunts. Eventually, they separated and Teresa went to another city. C.J. rarely sees them now, but she misses them. Teresa is still her “adoptive godmother”, and never forgets to send Christmas and birthday presents.

C.J. has been fortunate, as I was in childhood, to have many aunts, actual and honorary. Most of mine were elderly and respectably married – though I must confess that my favourites were the unmarried and the widowed. They seemed more adventurous somehow, less corseted and ladylike and more prone to laugh.

My aunts were – at least apparently – heterosexual. As it’s turned out, my daughter’s aunts are very different. None are married and the majority are lesbians. Since most of these are in very long term relationships, they’ve provided a double supply of aunts.

Our daughter’s “aunties” have looked after her for as long as she can remember. From the days when they babysat for her, inspected her wobbly teeth and played with her Barbies and Polly Pockets to more recent times when they’ve bought her CDs and clothes and been prepared to discuss the bands we refuse to listen to, they have always been there for her. Some are religious and others are not, but they are loyal and they are loving and we know that if anything happened to us they’d look after her and keep her safe.

C.J. takes their presence for granted and their sexuality is simply irrelevant. Until recently she wanted to be a bridesmaid. It didn’t matter to her if it was at a wedding or a civil partnership ceremony.

This summer she was asked to be bridesmaid and “arch-bearer” at the marriage of a young woman called Emma. Emma is in her late twenties and C.J. loves her like a big sister.

The wedding took place in the open air in the Oxfordshire countryside. Emma and her new husband exchanged their vows in the presence of Emma’s lesbian mothers and other family members and friends, in dappled sunlight in a wooded glade under an arch that C.J. carried and had helped to make. It was a lovely wedding, marking the coming of age of a beautiful, capable young woman who was nurtured and grew to adulthood amongst lesbians.

I’ve been thinking about that happy day quite a lot recently, as the debate about adoption by same sex couples has raged on, and church leaders have demanded “exemption” from the terms of legislation obliging adoption agencies to fairly assess them.

I’ve wondered how on earth anyone, within the churches or outside them, can assume that homosexual couples are by definition “not fit” to adopt. My daughter has spluttered more than once “It’s ridiculous! How can they say that?”

She’s right, of course. It is ridiculous, and flies in the face of her experience and all the evidence. It’s not that she’s unaware of homophobic attitudes. She just didn’t expect the Archbishops to express such views. She couldn’t understand how church leaders instructed to love their neighbours could act so hatefully, or be so blind.

I have none of her innocence and therefore had few expectations of these men. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s period as archbishop has been marred by revelations that, as a bishop, he failed to address the abusive actions of a paedophile priest. The Roman Catholic Church as a whole is scarred by the ongoing disclosures of child abuse by its clergy, collusion by bishops, cover up by the Vatican and unwillingness to properly apologise or pay compensation to victims.

It beggars belief that the weakened leadership of this besmirched institution should dare to lecture homosexual couples on their fitness to care for children. It is bitterly disappointing that Archbishop Sentamu supported the Catholic initiative, though unsurprising given his background in the conservative Ugandan church. However, it is nothing short of tragic that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, elected to his position as an apparent liberal, should have attached himself to the Cardinal’s bandwagon.

Time and again, Williams has paid lip-service to his past commitment to progressive ideas, but has given way to pressure from deeply conservative Roman Catholic or evangelical forces.

Williams forced his old friend Jeffrey John to give up his position as Bishop of Reading because of pressure from homophobic elements in the Anglican Church, who objected to even a celibate “out” Gay priest becoming a bishop. Williams betrayed women priests by telling the Roman Catholic newspaper “The Tablet” that their ordination had not brought the positive effects he’d hoped for. Now, in the last week, he has undermined gay parents everywhere – and those children who could have been matched with gay or lesbian adoptive parents – by urging an opt-out from equalities legislation.

Rowan Williams wrote in support of the Roman Catholic Archbishop “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation however well-meaning”. This is a quite astonishing statement given that Christian churches have at various times defended as matters of “conscience” such practices as slavery, torture, witchburning, the Apartheid regime and the general suppression of Jews, women and black people. Legislation is required to end injustice.

Under pressure from conservatives, Archbishop Williams claims to be seeking a middle way, a compromise to keep together the Anglican fellowship, including deeply homophobic and misogynistic elements within the African and English churches. In fact, all that he has achieved so far is to give ground to conservative fundamentalism.

Williams is soon to meet Primates of the international Anglican Church who are threatening schism because the US Episcopal Church has appointed an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. There will be no real compromise. The conservatives will stand firm and Rowan Williams will roll over. It is difficult to know where it will end, save that lies will be involved.

The pious pronouncements of the two churches on the subject of homosexuality are shot through with hypocrisy. The truth is that there have always been gay priests and bishops, but they have simply not been acknowledged as such. Some have lived as celibates, but many have not.

Some are godly men living the gospel as best they can. They dare not risk openly acknowledging their sexuality, and in some cases their long-standing partners. Occasionally, in progressive parishes they feel free to do so, but they know that while they are open about their relationships and faithful to their partners, their careers will not progress.

Others however, often far from celibate, are less honest and consequently rise through the ranks. These hypocritical, closeted and often misogynistic men form a central strand of opposition to female ordination and openly gay priests and bishops. The reasons are not theological.

Now all candidates for the Anglican priesthood are asked if they are in sexual relationships. Those who lie stand a chance of becoming priests. Those who do not are excluded. Hence, my clever, honest friend Teresa, who would be a wonderful priest, is never likely to be ordained.

Similarly, lesbian or gay Christians who, in their desperation for children, decide to lie to adoption agencies will probably be approved. Those who tell the truth will not.

It is an obscenity that a church based on declared truth encourages its people to lie, and that its organisations, in approving adopters, set greater store on their sexuality than on the needs of the children.

It is an abomination that a church based upon love, penalises people who live and love faithfully and well, asking for nothing more than to be accepted as equal members of our human family.

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