The archbishop of Canterbury is in a divine fix. It looks as if the 70-million-strong global network of Anglican churches is about to split. And the issue over which this schism might occur is, of all things, that most ungodly of deviancies — homosexuality. There have been three recent crises for the Anglican communion that the archbishop heads. A Canadian diocese has authorized official blessing services for same-sex couples; a celibate, but openly gay, theologian had been appointed to an English bishopric, and then asked to resign; and a divorced, gay cleric living with his male partner has been elected to an American bishopric. This has split the Anglicans, spread across more than 160 countries, into liberal and conservative camps. Not surprisingly, the conservatives (who are outraged by homosexual ordinations and deviant partnerships) are mainly supported, and funded, by American right-wing millionaires and religious organizations, together with the more assertive churches of the third world, representing the majority of practising Anglicans. The archbishop of Nigeria has called homosexuality an “aberration unknown even in animal relationships”. The Vatican has also called such reforms the “legalization of evil”. The modern god can deal — just about — with women, usury and divorce, but must be kept protected from the taint of contraception and sodomy. The archbishop is generally respected for his liberal rationality, but will have to think, in this case, of a particularly clever middle path to keep his communion together.
Anglicans, according to the Church of England, believe that practising gay and lesbian people are a “precious and valuable part of God’s creation”. But the fundamental biblical objection to homosexuality is that it is contrary to “nature” — “it crosses the boundaries of appropriate sexual behaviour established by God at creation”. It might astonish some people that such a discourse should continue to interfere with and complicate the private and public lives of men and women in the 21st century. It might also reassure Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government to learn that its recent directive to the Delhi high court expressed exactly similar views on the legalization of homosexuality — it should continue to be a criminal offence as most Indians believe that it is “against the order of nature”. Hence the Indian penal code should not be reformed. Nor should there be any discussion or debate about this in the Indian democracy because the Centre has spoken for the majority. Conservative Anglicans and the Indian government must therefore remain some of the last bastions of legalized homophobia.