08 July, 2010

Celebrating Diversity (pars v)


The Mildmay Hospital and some issues concerning HIV

The latest London bulletin from the Terrence Higgins Trust paints a tragic picture for the capital in regards to HIV and AIDS. The number of newly diagnosed cases of HIV has risen by two percent in the year 2007/8 bringing the total of new diagnoses to 3,098 for that period [cf. Terrence Higgins Trust Bulletin, London, (July 2009)]. More statistics from this leading HIV trust reveal that forty-eight percent of individuals affected by the virus live in the London area [cf. Terrence Higgins Trust Bulletin, United Kingdom, (July 2009)]. This very serious situation could have disastrous consequences for the NHS and for the livelihood of the LGBT community. It is important to remember that the majority of indigenous people affected by HIV are homosexual men although the comprehensive figures show that heterosexual people constitute the majority of the newly diagnosed thus defeating the arguments of HIV and AIDS as a 'gay plague'. This phenomenon can be explained considering the influx of immigration from African countries badly affected by the virus and the relatively small size of the LGBT community if compared to the heterosexual one.

In the past twenty years St Botolph's and few other London churches have ministered to those affected by the virus through fundraising, services of healing, prayers and above all through an open-door policy. In obedience to the Jesus' invitation to care for those in need, these churches have succeeded in changing people's attitude towards the disease and in employing an essentially Anglican 'view of pastoral care which extends beyond the confines of the congregation' [Kenneth Leech (2009) 102]. Alongside churches, one Christian London hospice has been the pioneer in the treatment of terminally ill patients and in the care for their families. The Mildmay Trust has a long tradition in caring for the sick; however when the present facilities opened in 1998 it was unique in Europe as it focused entirely on HIV and AIDS. In 2004 the Mildmay Hospital moved to a new building improving its levels of care and maintaining the prophetic character of its vocation. This charity – like St Botolph's and Southwark Cathedral – does not aim to convert the people to whom it ministers, but rather to fulfil its Christian ethos and bring forth the justice of God's Kingdom.

It seems that the threats posed by the HIV virus are underestimated by the younger generation of gay people as more effective drugs are now readily available. Moreover, a considerable number of businesses aimed at gay men have popularised promiscuity and advertised plainly in favour of unprotected sexual intercourse. It is very difficult to envisage the ministry of the Church to help the current situation as many Christian denominations have not yet reached a consistent pronouncement about homosexuality. However, the Church and particularly her Anglo-Catholic tradition can claim a wide experience in caring for sick, destitute and outcasts; drawing on this, Christian communities should be able to respond to the needs of those affected by HIV as well as to point towards healthier understanding of sexuality focused on monogamy. This approach can be readily implemented by those churches which celebrate the 'right to love' and coupledom of gay people and reject the blanket principle of celibacy advocated by some parts of the Anglican Church and the Vatican.

Conclusion and thoughts for the years ahead

London is a peculiar place for pastoral work with the LGBT community. On one hand the presence of Oak Hill College, St Paul's Theological Centre and of conspicuous conservative Evangelical groups contributes to create separation between the gay community and the wider Church. On the other hand, the localised ministry of the LGCM, of the Inclusive Church and of parishes like St Anne's is able to reach out in a supporting way which many gay people find inspiring and appealing. Furthermore, congregations like St Anne's, St Botolph's and St Patrick's fulfil the Church's own call to be relevant. Their 'crisis ministries' reach out to anyone disregarding denominations or sexual orientations.

The wider religious debate about homosexuality is far from reaching a conclusion, but as mentioned in the introduction, there is a need for the LGBT community to be explored from the inside. This task is especially important in the case of gay Christians. However, these churches hold an invaluable experience with the gay community which should not be regarded by other branches of Christianity as heretical but as a helpful insight towards the quest for integration. Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did provide an inspiration for these churches but it did not justify their ministry. It proved itself to be 'too unclear and instrument for forming any constructive Christian mission to gay communities' [David Atkinson, "The Church of England and homosexuality" in Terry Brown (edit) (2006) 310] in Britain. The Lambeth Conference did not consider aspect of friendship and covenant between homosexual partners [cf. Ibid. 309], examples of which are treasured by St Luke's, Charlton.

A type of 'gay-friendly' ministry is helping many homosexual men and women to rediscover their relationship with God and to break down the barriers between 'ordinary' society and the LGBT community by making 'strangers' into fellow members of the Body of Christ. On this point it can be argued that celebrating diversity leads to integration and that renewed Christian communities can be formed through this – but not through uniformity. These prophetic actions points towards a model of Christian communities where the integrating ontological character of their members is the belonging to the Body of Christ where 'there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female' (Gal 3:28) and the unifying call is the one to live the risen life of Baptism.

In the early 19th century a single congregation in rural suburban South London succeeded to change the heart of both Church and State against some notions of Scripture and Tradition with the use of Reason and Experience. Perhaps ironically –due to its Evangelical character – the Clapham Sect today is a source of inspiration for the churches considered in this essay.

Bibliography

  • Church of England, Homosexual Relationships, CIO Press (London) 1979
  • — House of Bishops, Some Issues in Human Sexuality, Church House Publishing (London) 2003
  • Terry Brown (edit), Other Voices, Other Worlds, Darton, Longman and Todd (London), 2006
  • Peter Coleman, Gay Christians, SMC Press (London), 1989
  • Michael De-la-Noy, A Lonely Life, Mowbray (London, 1996
  • Chris Glaser, Coming Out as a Sacrament, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 1998
  • Jeffrey Heskins, Unheard Voices, Darton, Longman and Todd (London), 2001
  • Jeffrey John, 'Permanent, Faithful, Stable', Darton, Longman and Todd (London), 2000
  • Malcolm Johnson, Outside the Gate, Stepney Books (London), 1994
  • Kenneth Leech, The Sky Is Red, Darton, Longman and Todd (London), 1997
  • — David Bunch and Angus Ritchie (edit) Prayer and Prophecy, the Essential Kenneth Leech, , Darton, Longman and Todd (London), 2009
  • Elizabeth Moberly, Homosexuality, The Lutterworth Press (Cambridge) 1983
  • David Peterson, Holiness & Sexuality, Paternoster (Waynesboro, GA), 2004
  • Graham Tomlin, The Provocative Church, SPCK (London), 2002
  • Michael Vasey, Strangers and Friends, Hodder & Stoughton (London), 1995
  • Rowan Williams, The Body's Grace, LGCM (London) 2002


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