Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to look at what really happened at the Lambeth Conference, rather than what we were told happened. And there is convincing evidence that the rumour of a conspiracy by US evangelical churchesto manipulate the agenda,and buy the voices of bishops from the developing world, has substance.
Ian T Douglas, the Associate Professor of World Mission and Global Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass, has followed the process in some detail, and published his findings in the May edition of the US religious magazine, The Witness. It is a complex story, but also an object lesson in the way that US fundamentalists are conspiring to undermine everything that gay people have achieved in the past 20 years.
It began some five years ago, when concern was growing within Western Anglican circles that churches in the Southern hemisphere were not having a proportionate say in the development of the Anglican Communion. And so, a meeting, specifically for churches from the Third World, entitled the “South-to-South Conference of Anglicans”, was held in Kenya in 1994.
It was successful, and a further encounter was proposed for Kuala Lumpur in 1997. This was planned in North Carolina in 1995, at a conference called G-CODE 2000.
Ian T Douglas takes up the story: “Traditionalist Episcopalians in the US who helped fund and organise G-CODE 2000 began to appreciate the possibility of recruiting Third World church leaders to their position [on moral and sexual issues]. Specifically, William Atwood, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Dallas, a member of the G-CODE 2000 planning group and a donor to the conference, saw the gathering as a catalyst for his Ekklesia Society.
“Ekklesia was designed as an international network of Anglicans committed to ‘counteracting the negative impact of revisionist teaching which seeks to undermine the historic faith of the Bible and the’ Creeds’, and affiliated to the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC).”
The leadership of the emerging AAC was also involved, as was the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. And after the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, it emerged that the Episcopal Church had supported the gathering to the tune of $10,000.
The planners saw the choice of the Kuala Lumpur encounter’s theme, “The Place of Scripture in the Life and Mission of the Church in the 21st Century”, as the perfect means of chastising those in the West who take a pro-gay and lesbian stance. And it was thus no surprise that the ‘Second Trumpet from the South’, the report from the Kuala Lumpur meeting, should contain a statement in line with traditional standards of human sexuality.
The report, however, included little overt criticism of the West’s supposed “errant position” on homosexuality. It was mostly about the “crippling effects of international debt” and called on Western churches to put pressure on the international banking system to relieve it. The word ‘homosexuality’ occurs only once, but US evangelical spin doctors quickly set about making this the most prominent feature, turning it into “The Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality”.
“Armed with the new abbreviated statement,” writes Ian T. Douglas, “traditionalists in the US were quick to use the voices of sisters and brothers in the South to advance their own aims. Conservative media soon misrepresented Kuala Lumpur as an authoritative, unanimous statement from all of the bishops in the Third World chastising the church in the US for ordination of gay and lesbian people and the blessing of same-sex unions.
“Because so many people in the Episcopalian Church, USA, are ill-informed and uneducated as to the realities [of Anglican politics]… such misinformation about the Second Anglican Encounter in the South was not challenged as to its truthfulness or its completeness. The fact that at least one participant at Kuala Lumpur— an archbishop, no less — spoke forcefully against the report’s statement on human sexuality was never mentioned in the press.”
As Mr Douglas puts it: “The sins of the new colonialism are not so much in the funding of the Second Encounter in the South, but rather in the West’s misuse of one article from the encounter report to fuel debates over sexuality in our own context.”
Soon after this, the Ekklesia Society organised another conference, in Dallas. Privately, the conservatives drafted a statement confirming what had been said in Kuala Lumpur on human sexuality. Ian T Douglas says: “What these drafters had not bargained for was that the Third World bishops, who were enjoying a free trip to the USA at the expense of the Ekklesia Society, had more pressing concerns than the West’s hang-up on sex, namely the sinfulness of Western capitalism… In a classic case of money for sex, the bishops from the Southern hemisphere traded their concern about international debt relief for the Americans’ statement regarding traditional ‘biblical’ norms of sexuality.
“What ensued was ‘The Dallas Statement’ linking the traditionalist agenda on human sexuality with the call for debt relief in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. What many fail to realise, however, is that many of the African bishops who signed the ‘Dallas Statement’ embracing ‘biblical’ standards on human sexuality had been the key advocates at [the previous] 1988 Lambeth conference for a more accepting position on polygamy!”
As the Lambeth Conference approached, a group of US Episcopalian priests known as “First Promise” signatories, along with others in the American Anglican Council, gave $50,000 so that the bishops in the provinces of Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, the Sudan and Tanzania could meet ahead of the Conference and plan tactics. They certainly got value for money. When the sexuality debate arrived, the African bishops spoke out in immoderate, one could almost say hateful, terms about homosexuals.
The Sunday Times then revealed that the AAC had been present at the Lambeth Conference, beavering away behind the scenes to ensure that they got the result they wanted — a vote reaffirming biblical opposition to homosexuality. Led by James Stanton, bishop of Dallas, the AAC gave pagers and mobile phones to bishops who were sympathetic to their cause. They could then call the AAC’s central HQ, which was based in a Franciscan Study Centre not far from the conference centre. There, 30 carefully trained volunteers provided points of instant rebuttal for use in the debate.
The Sunday Times said: “During the preparation of the resolutions, the American lobbyists were supplying bishops with arguments and powerful explanatory material to aid their case. In one preliminary discussion, a liberal bishop argued that homosexual orientation was something people were born with. As such, it must have been intended by God and was not, therefore, unnatural. Immediately, AAC researchers produced ‘medical evidence’ to show that people’s sexual orientation could be changed.”
Other right-wing American groups supplied traditionalist bishops with controversial pamphlets, one of which described homosexual sex acts in what was termed “pornographic detail, designed to make the flesh creep”.
Even The Church Times conceded in an editorial that: “For once, the conspiracy theorists are right. A close relationship had been forged before the Conference between bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America and conservative bishops in the US… As for the further charge that the Americans had bought the Southern vote, there appeared to be a grain of truth in this, too. Though no cash changed hands at the Conference, as far as could be seen, the southern American states have offered to replace any money lent by the official Anglican bodies… There is a sense, then, that this Lambeth Conference was dominated by the internal politics of the American Church.”
We should not underestimate the far-reaching tentacles of US fundamentalists. Their influence is not restricted to the US. It is here and it is hidden, but there is now enough evidence of their activities to show that such thinking is not mere paranoia, and that there is genuine cause for concern.