Bishop George Browning on gay and lesbian people in the church

Bishop George Browning made mention of gay and lesbian people in his presidential address to the 2005 meeting of the Canberra and Goulburn Synod.

Our theme is Living the Mission! […] We are moving to a networking of shared enthusiasms for the Gospel of Life: may the Wind of the Spirit link us together in faithfulness to our common mission. […] Imagine God really has only one idea, a very large idea, an all-consuming idea; but never the less, one idea. In the Old Testament this idea is called Sabbath, or Shalom while in the New Testament it is called the Kingdom of God. I want to suggest the human vocation is to run with the idea of God — Misseo Dei! Nothing can be more exciting, more all-consuming, or more important.

I also want to suggest that this idea, the understanding of it and the living of it, is essential not just for eternal salvation, but also for the sustainability and wellbeing of life on this planet. […] The idea of God to which we are committed knows no boundary and has no restricted sphere of interest.

If we run across folk who seem to be fanatical, narrow, or condemnatory, or who use faith as a weapon of power, it is immediately clear that these folk have lost sight of the single idea of God and are either reacting out of their human desperation, or have developed an ideology which while claiming its origins in the eternal story of faith, has never the less perverted it, making a monster out of it, denying the very sources of life that Jesus lived and proclaimed.

It is the contention of all religions that God’s idea(s) are knowable; it is the contention of the Christian faith that God’s idea is a choice for life. […] Living the mission is simply to place ourselves within the prevailing wind of God that we might run on the energy of God rather than our own.

To explain what Living the Mission might look like for us, Bishop Browning then took three headings: money and possessions; sex; and power. In talking about sex and gender, he rejoiced in the growing role of women in leadership and service within Canberra and Goulburn. This is part what he said about sexuality:

There can be few aspects of human life that are more clearly creative than our sexuality, but few that are more in need of redemption. Gender, for the vast majority of us, is a relatively uncomplicated matter, it is essentially about difference. However, we are increasingly aware that for a significant minority it is not simple at all. [. . .] The attraction that many feel for intimacy with someone of the same gender is a complicated mix of the biological and the cultural. [. . .]

[I]t is true that Christianity has appeared to focus more on the “dirtiness” of sexuality rather than its beauty. There is absolutely no doubt that the emphasis should be the other way around. We should emphasise the wonderful, life-giving beauty of human sexuality as a gift from God for human fulfilment.

[…] The homosexual debate continues to have the power to divide our Church. […] In Australia there is universal loyalty to the Lambeth decision that no practicing homosexual will be ordained and that same-sex partnerships are not to be addressed with the same language as a heterosexual marriage.

And then came these words:

As I look down on the floor of Synod I know that some of the laymen and women present are gay or lesbian […]. I want to sincerely say how glad I am that you are here and I hope you feel safe and welcome. As you Live the Mission the one thing expected of you is expected of us all, namely that we not enter a relationship in which there is an inappropriate balance of power and that we are faithful to the relationships we are in.

It’s odd that George seemed to suppose there to have been no gay or lesbian clergy present! I am quite certain that there were. I discussed George’s welcome with one of them afterwards!

I recognise that as a relatively small minority in our midst, you suffer most pain in the discussions of the Church. I want to acknowledge this and recognise the inequity of it for you. As debate continues, I do not believe it is possible for us to have a common mind, in this Synod, or in any other convocation of Church life. This is partly because we are more comfortable entering debate and relying upon well-rehearsed, and for us, authoritative scripture, than we are entering the life and story of those so different to ourselves. This is a painful reality for us to live with. There will be a few in this Synod who believe that any form of homosexual activity is like a sickness that, under God, can be cured. Many will simply believe the matter is irrelevant. Most will be somewhere between. I believe that to live the Mission of God we must have communities in which all feel safe and expect that in them respect is offered to all across the divide of opinion. Whatever our standpoint, we must speak and act with the intention of embracing the Sabbath rest.

A little later, there was time for responses to the Bishop’s address. I said to the Synod that

if the Bishop has the courage to say to gay and lesbian members that we are welcome, then I must have the courage to publicly say, ‘Thank you.’

I was humbled but happy that many members applauded loudly. (Another member, a lesbian, said a similar thing and was applauded too.) Quite a number of people shook my hand.

Later that day, Synod members voted in various elections and I was chosen to be one of our five lay delegates to General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, our national governing body. I am glad that Synod felt able to do this after hearing my public acknowledgement of the Bishop’s welcome of gay and lesbian people.

To give a complete account of Bishop George’s views, I should mention that he also said,

A summary of my position in relation to the Anglican Communion is that on the one hand I not only accept, but promote, the Lambeth resolution on the non-ordination of practicing homosexuals, for while I accept that some believe it to be unjust, to do otherwise is to present a massive stumbling block to the community of faith and to vote for the possible end of our Communion. On the other hand I do not accept the fairly aggressive stance being taken by some Primates and Church leaders against the Church in the USA and Canada. If one is to lay strong weight upon biblical injunctions, those that relate to wealth and money are clearer and less ambiguous than the ones dealing with gender, and yet inequity and justice is treated by some of the same leaders with mere lip service. I strongly resist the notion that in the mission of the Church, matters of personal piety and morality are some how of a higher priority or status than matters of public justice and equity. Within the story of God both have equal importance.