The opening day of the conference was remarkable – nineteen people spoke in the five sessions into which the day was divided. The Conference is being live-streamed and the agenda for the second day of the Conference can be viewed here together with the live stream link.
Yesterday’s programme began with worship followed by the keynote address delivered by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Dr John Holder. It was a remarkable address. I doubt that many Church of England bishops would be able to deliver such a well-researched, deeply historical and theological survey of the way in which we can understand the way in which what we now name homosexuality is, and isn’t, described in the Bible. He very carefully dismantled every reference and text in an address lasting nearly an hour. The Archbishop’s conviction that decriminalisation must be achieved is total.
Lord Anthony Gifford is a remarkable man and his address was delivered with the passion and humour only a senior judge can provide. He lives in Jamaica and noted that a breeze of change is blowing through Jamaican culture. He’s not a believer, but he has a passionate belief that good will triumph over evil, love over hate. He reviewed the way in which, after World War 2, a new kind of law emerged recognising the dignity of every human being enshrined in human rights. What emerges is the recognition of a right to love, a right for people of different sexual orientations, our love being as deep and real and close as heterosexual love.
I only have time before setting off for the second day at the conference to mention a couple of other contributors.
Alan Wilson scored a hit with his address both because it was focused and delivered within the allocated 10 minutes and was illustrated with a wonderful, witty, power-point accompaniment. The problems we are dealing with now are all the fault of Henry VIIIth and the 1533 Buggery Act. I learnt new things from both Bishop Alan and Archbishop John.
Michael Weeder from South Africa talked of the radical constitution adopted following the overthrow of apartheid, and the declaration by the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1998 that the law of sodomy was inconsistent with the right of people to enjoy freedom to love whom they choose.
The organisers of the conference had made a great effort in advance to contact Conservative Christian leaders, inviting them to contribute to the panel discussions. Not one of them responded to emails, phone calls, or personal encounters in the street. Instead, a number came yesterday and persistently disrupted the day with interventions from the floor, which the conference team handled as best they could. The interruptions were abusive, and that comes as no surprise to those of us who experience the church as having a systemic culture of abuse justified by a literalist reading of the Bible.